Mistakes in Virtual Ecologies

I have been playing a bit of Guild Wars 2 of late. The game isn’t great but it is also not the worst game I have played, and the lack of a subscription fee makes it perfect for a situation where I can’t afford one. Playing an MMO inevitably makes me start thinking about the design of the genre and my own past ideas on how to build an MMO and I eventually returned to thinking about Ultima Online’s Virtual Ecology.

For those who do not know, since it has been so long… Originally, Ultima Online had a Virtual Ecology where each animal and monster had a set of desires in which controlled its AI. Deer wanted to eat grass and  have a bushy hide out, Wolves wanted to eat Deer, Lizardmen wanted to attain gold. If a Wolf, could not find a deer to eat, they would start looking for other things to eat, like players. This actually created a system where a Bear would not be aggressive to players unless it was starving and to some degree it actually worked. The problem with the system though was it really only worked with the absence of players. Once players were introduced into the ecosystem, they would kill everything en masse, bears would starve because food would be scarce and players would get attacked by bears. This culminated in a famous event during beta where dragons began attacking Britain because they were so hungry. An event that essentially caused the devs to remove the ecology totally, even though to this day I consider this event to be one of the most fun occasions that I have had in an MMO ever as I remember the calls going out to save Britain and players returning from across the globe to help out!

I think one of the main problems that this virtual ecology had was that the predator to prey aspect was completely wrong. I believe I have talked about this in previous blog entries years ago, but it needs restatement. I don’t know what the ratio that Origin used initially, but my guess would be 2 to 3 prey for every predator. I mean this was a fantasy universe and it was a game, you need decent amount of predators in the world to ensure players can feel like heroes. However, I do feel like the ratio should be in the range of 10 prey per predator. What this means is that for every 1 wolf in the world, there should be 10 deer at any given time. If not more, the number may actually need to be 15:1 or 20:1 or 25:1. It should be so high that the prey should be overpopulated in the absence of the player.

On top of this  previously thought of issue, I had another realization or two last night while thinking about the ecology. The way that players killed deer in UO was spectacularly odd.  You see deer, and other creatures in UO, weren’t actually  very fast. So players would take their swords and start hacking away at a deer. The deer would turn and run, but from memory it always seemed like the deer would take a step, pause, step pause step pause. Players could completely outrun a deer and this fact is backwards. In real life, a Red Deer (which I am pretty sure deer in UO were modeled after) can run around 40 mph. Have you ever heard of a human running that fast? The fastest recorded speed of a human is 28 mph on a 100 yard dash, meaning a short distance run for someone who trains for running fast, wearing light clothing not medieval armor. A human might be able to leap upon that dear unawares and stab at it once, but if you didn’t get a killing shot on the deer in the first blow, you can kiss the deer good bye. Even with say a magic potion that might double your speed, it would be a pretty tough race. I also would wager that trying to stab a deer to death with a sword is not entirely as easy as one might think, however I’ve never tried so I can’t entirely comment on this concept. My overall point here is that in real life, animals tend to run when they get attacked. It is the best defense they have against anything trying to attack them, human or predator. In Ultima Online, this didn’t happen all that much. Animals more often than  not just kind of stood there and took it.

Conversely, predators probably wouldn’t outright run if you attacked them. They’d probably attack back, or at least it seems logical enough that they might and thus not lose a realistic feel by programming that in. If injured enough, they probably too would run and if they run, unless seriously injured the player probably would be out of luck. However, a human attacking a bear is no easy thing. They kinda hurt, and they can take a beating as well. I imagine even a warrior in full plate would get a bit beaten up by such a fight and it might not be worth it overall.

This whole idea that when animals get attacked, they generally flee lends itself to attacking with bows and crossbows instead of swords. Thinking back on my experiences with Ultima Online, I certainly never used a bow and can’t think of anyone who did (though admittedly it has been 15 ish years!). Everyone used Halberds and Viking Swords and Magic because those weapons did the most damage. But in a combat system where flight was an option…. Rangers wielding bows might be more useful. Thinking of Rangers, it seems like a natural addition that maybe traps could have been a thing as well in this game. Traps are a slower way to capture all the animals you want, and it works in a more natural progression and could have required a completely new skill. It also creates a new play pattern which I think would have suited UO quite well. Granted, this is yet another mechanic to add to a game that was already way behind schedule and still too buggy to launch but it might have made for a nice expansion addition.

The other side of this is that the main reason that players felt the need for over-hunting the predator’s food supply is that deer offered up leather which  you needed to make armor. I believe deer in particular was one of the better sources for leather as well. But here’s the thing. In real life, we can get leather from deer. We tend to get it from cows though. Now you could kill a cow and get it’s leather as well, but cows weren’t as common as deer and I don’t think they gave as much leather (I know not why). I believe all animals dropped leather, but deer was one of the better sources. So if you, as a player, needed leather, it didn’t pay to go get wolves, it paid to get deer. I think overall they needed to give wolves and other predators some sort of drop in order to make it desirable for a player to hunt them down. That could have been one solution. Another solution would have been the inclusion of yet another skill type for a farmer which could raise sheep, cows, and even llamas which could produce leather and cotton. The farming aspect, coupled with deer that ran when they were attacked would make it so that if you wanted to get leather, it might be more efficient to get a cow off a farmer than it would be to go find a deer and convince it to die for you.

Of course, this has the problem of requiring land to start a farm. More than one developer at Origin has since stated that they never intended Ultima Online to house 10,000 players per server. I think the number I heard was they initially intended between 500 and 1000. Space was sparse in the game, and sooner than you knew, the server was packed with houses everywhere. Even if you wanted a house it was difficult to find a location that wasn’t already taken.

The reality is that Origin tried to do too much with Ultima Online. A lot of the issues that they had really just came down to they didn’t have enough time to truly develop the idea.  It’s too bad, but at the same time I applaud them for trying to do too much. i remember beta in UO fondly. The world seemed natural and real. I lament all the time about modern MMOs no longer feeling real, I hate the genre much more now than I used to.  There doesn’t seem to be a game in the genre going for the Virtual World feel that UO began.

As a parting shot on this idea. Another thing I remember in UO early days that I am not entirely sure was due to the ecology or not… When you left a city in UO, what you found immediately near the city tended to be more naturalistic animals… deer, rabbits, mice, the occasional bear or wolf, maybe a llama or an eagle. It was extremely rare to find a lizard man. In today’s UO, you leave town and you can find lizard men, skeletons, and ogres right outside town. And that concept is really mirrored across the genre unfortunately. Anyway, I remember going out with a friend in beta days and we stumbled upon a lizard man camp. We were amazed. Had never seen such things. We killed a lizard man on the outskirts and he wasn’t the easiest kill, we were used to the animals which were a lot easier to terminate. But we did kill him and were entreated to a weapon, some money and reagents! Reagents were actually quite difficult to find in those days and we felt like  we found the mother load if every lizard man had one because there were maybe a dozen right in front of us. However, we soon discovered the danger of trying to take on lizard men and soon found ourselves fleeing. I assure you, we were not taking the same step-pause technique in running that deer in the game practiced.

3 Weeks Later

For those that may not know, 3 weeks ago was my last day at my job. Ever since that point, I’ve been unemployed and searching for gainful employment. If you want to hear a more immediate description of my termination, you can check it out on youtube, where I talk about it in more detail in one of my Minecraft videos.

This morning, I realized it has been a long time since I have updated my blog, and that it has also been awhile since I really talked about my unemployment. I reference it a lot in my youtube videos, but outside of the initial video, I have wanted to avoid the subject as I felt it was kind of depressing. Logically  to me, it seems to make sense to then talk about it more here, since blogs are supposed to be depressing right?=P

Finding a job has definitely had its ups and downs. I clearly have not found a job as of yet. New hopes come up, old hopes die out. Unfortunately, finding a job in my field revolves around working with recruiting companies. Most companies tend to employ people on a contract to hire basis to allow them to get an idea of if they  want to keep the person long term or not without any negative impact of firing the person. I have dealt with about a dozen agencies in town and every week a new one contacts me. I even have been contacted with an agency out of India which after trying to work with for a few days, I bowed out of the position because the agency was awful. I am still trying to figure out what happened to one particular position that I felt perfect for and was being hyped up by my recruiter but it has been 2 weeks since my recruiter said a word to me. Doesn’t seem good.

Next week, for some reason, I am getting an explosion of interviews and almost none of them are coming from recruiters. Currently have 2 interviews that are direct to hire without the aid of a recruiter to companies that I very much would be interested in working with. One interview is the first interview over the phone, the second is a second interview in person. This is the first in person interview I have had so I am both nervous and excited for the chance. It means that I made a cut past the first 20 down to likely 3 to 5 people and so I feel my chances are way high that I can land this job. I have a third interview that is with a recruiting company for another position and i kind of expect a 4th interview to occur from a different recruiting company. So things are moving along well even if I don’t have anything concrete as of yet.

So what am I doing with my new found time? I am probably not being as productive with this time as I should be. The first week out of employment,  I went gung ho on the youtube channel, deciding to increase the frequency of my videos to twice a day rather than once a day. My theory was that with my extra time I might as well try to grow my channel and more videos means more exposure. That hasn’t turned out as well as I’d hope as the views and subscription numbers have not increased much. This realization that number of videos doesn’t help, coupled with interest in other games has caused me to step back from that. Also, I must admit that my mind isn’t in the greatest places right now. I don’t usually stress out too much about life, but in general I have been very stressed and that has led to difficulty for me in showing myself as having fun. Instead, I have turned to Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3 as a way to blow off steam.

I do need to start being more productive around my house, and this is something I realize. My house is generally kind of a mess but it has gotten pretty bad. I used to always blame work as a primary reason that I didn’t have it as clean as I wanted. Well I don’t have that excuse anymore. Now I am just lazy. I have been cleaning little bits every now and then but it isn’t enough and it isn’t actually making a large difference. This last week, I have started getting more restless playing video games all day long. Playing lots of video games the first couple of weeks was great, finally I could sit and relax! But this last week for whatever reason I feel like doing more. So maybe cleaning my house will help with that. I will say in regards to restless video game playing, that generally I have been an MMO  player for the last 20+ years, and though Guild Wars 2 is technically an MMO, I never have really considered it to be one any more than Diablo 3 is. Yeah you can go online and talk to people, but the game seems to be designed to be played alone which means it’s not really an MMO.  Maybe I will go into more of that another time.

Money saving has been a major source of effort for me.  I have begun doing paperwork to go into forbearance with my student loans which will save me $400 a month. I cancelled the DVD portion of my Netflix. I eat smaller meals and less often. I never go out to eat anymore. I’ve increased the amount of items that I sell on eBay to not only get rid of old junk but also get more money. And I’ve put more effort into things like Swagbucks, instagc, Bing Rewards and Perk TV to give me gift cards to purchase things. This last one alone has been a godsend as I early on was able to get a prime pantry package valued at $85 for no cost to me thanks to gift cards which contained food and toilet paper and paper towels. It gave me meals and saved me money. It was great. I am trying to increase Bing and instagc payout right now as a matter of fact. Even if I only get like $100 a month via the rewards programs and ebay, it’s money that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and that stretches out my capability to remain unemployed and looking for a job that matters rather than resorting to moving onto retail or something.

So yeah we are moving onward. i initially wanted to have a job in the beginning of May. I knew that was an unrealistic goal, my friend had the idea that I would have a job mid-May, and that hasn’t happened either. I am fairly hopeful that the current interviews that I am going into will result in something, even if it is a temporary position. And so by that aspect, we are hoping to have a job by the end of May. Am crossing my fingers at least…

YouTube and The Witcher

It has been three months now of playing video games and posting my game play footage to YouTube. I have definitely had my ups and downs whilst doing it, but overall have enjoyed the experience. I am surprised in a lot of ways that I am still persistent in recording and editing and doing all the things that go into video creation, and in fact in many ways am more into it now than I was three months ago.

This past Monday, I went to my computer after work with the intention of recording the latest few episodes of my The Witcher playthrough. I tend to bulk record a few episodes at a time for my non-Minecraft games and Witcher was next up. But I didn’t, instead I went and did some recording for Craft the World instead. I didn’t because, well, I  don’t like the game that much, I don’t enjoy playing it almost at all. Sure, the series has traditionally done the worst of my 4 videos, even worse than the 15 year old Zeus game, but that doesn’t actually bother me that much. I knew it wasn’t going to be that much of a draw going into it.

Going into the game. I did want to play off the release of Witcher 3 by playing through Witcher 1 and Witcher 2 and then going directly into Witcher 3. But honestly, I don’t like the first one so much that I do kind of wonder how 2 even got made.

There’s a lot bad about the game like the  re-use of models so much that they don’t even bother changing the clothes of characters when they change the names. I can excuse this even though the game isn’t old enough for that to really be an excuse, but it was the first game from Projekt CD Red. But the things that actually bother me is stuff like the fact that it literally feels like every female in the game’s main purpose is to have sex with the main character, many times I accidentally stumble into yet another sex scene without even realizing that is where the conversation is going. Maybe it is a translation thing but I feel like I should know where it is headed if that is the result. There is a quest board… which I don’t even care for in MMOs. And many of the quests revolve around kill quests (blech) and various weird mini-games. I only ever have played the mini-games when I am forced into them by the story. There are three main offenders… The Poker Dice (read Yahtzee), fist fighting (which seems to be in every single inn), and the let’s get drunk. I actually feel the time where I had to get drunk and go off and fight was somewhat interesting, but only good once and every time they force you to drink, it feels somehow forced. “I will only tell you the info if you drink with me!!!” Really? How bout I just give you alcohol and you tell me what I wanna know. Wait, why isn’t that an option? You see that theme in all the mini-games too… “I will only tell you the info if you play poker dice with me!!!” Uhh, how bout we pretend I just lost, I pay you some money and you spill the info?

To be fair, there are some cool things about the game too. I like the discovery involved in the alchemy tho I still don’t entirely understand how it works, it’s kind of cool, and it’s kind of cool that you need to learn skills to advance that (even if it isn’t clear). There is also some interesting story going on. But overall, I just haven’t liked it. I think there has been more than one occasion where I have said that I have no idea what I’m doing has anything to do with the ultimate storyline and sometimes I don’t even know why I’m doing what I’m doing other than… quest.

And so I  have just today made the decision to make today’s episode of The Witcher the last episode, at least for awhile. I may  come back to it later. I do kind of want to go through the game as a whole at some point, but right now I feel the need for a break with it. After all, maybe the entire storyline is really good and will make the rest of the game’s issues feel silly. But for now, I’m not having fun, so it is out.

I will say that the decision to discontinue the season had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that today’s episode is the 25th episode of the series. When I was recording it, I didn’t even realize it was going to be the 25th episode as I made no mention of it at all. It’s just kind of that time in my recording. Tomorrow will bring the 25th episode of Minecraft (a fact I knew full well going into it). And I think Zeus is going to be hitting 25 in two episodes. I do feel like 25 episodes might become a standard minimum for me though. I like the number, it basically is equivalent to one season of TV programming (which usally has between 18 and 22 episodes these days). And I like the idea of giving a game a full on shot before I give up on it. 24 episodes at 20 minutes a piece is about 8 hours of gameplay and I think that is a good amount of time to give a game before I decide that I don’t like it.

So what will happen for Witcher’s normal Thursday/Sunday time slots? In short, I don’t know. I am pretty sure at the very least, I will move Craft the World from Wednesday to Thursday. And there is a good chance I move Minecraft into either the Wednesday or Sunday spot. I may actually do a near complete re-work of the schedule to be honest. I am hesitant of penning in Minecraft more than 2 times a week for sure, I have liked the flexibility putting up “bonus” episodes has given me. Which would leave me with a hole in the lineup. I might fill that hole by extending Craft the World to three times a week… Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.  If I did that it would probably be Minecraft on Monday & Friday and Zeus on Wednesday & Saturday. This would be a pretty big shift for me. So I have some decisions to make over the next couple of days.

Looking forward. I do expect that either Zeus or Craft the World will finish up their first seasons in the next couple of weeks. I do have some ideas for what to replace them with though I am open to suggestions. I do feel the need to take a break before I continue on with both of those games, though I love both of them and definitely will be continuing them both in the future. I just feel I need to keep it fresh to keep it interesting for me.

iZombie Review

I haven’t actually done a review or early thoughts of pretty much anything recently. Very strange for me. Not sure why that is, but I felt compelled to do something for iZombie. Why? Because when I first heard of the show I thought… well that sounds stupid! And well conceptually the idea of a Zombie living amongst us living folks is very stupid and I’m not a huge fan of Zombies anyway, but as it turns out, this particular show is really really good.

To give a basic breakdown of what the show is about… iZombie is about a girl who becomes a Zombie in a world where a Zombiepocalypse is NOT occurring, yet at least. Big surprise. And where Zombies aren’t generally just mindless drones wandering around eating brains. I mean she does eat brains, and seems to be able to zerk out, thus becoming a mindless drone, but it is temporary. Zombies also seem to have the ability to see moments of their victims lives, which leads into the fact that she helps solve crime pretty well.

So this isn’t your normal zombie TV show. If you were looking for gore and violence with brainless killing, you are looking in the wrong place. This show is actually about someone coping with changing into something new, coping with the struggles of this change, and keeping the secret from those she loves. In essence, this show has more to do with a super hero ™ show than a zombie show, just using zombiism as the super power.

The show also doesn’t take itself overly seriously. It is more than anything a comedic crime fighting show. I couldn’t help but think of Psych while watching it when she plays off her zombie visions as a Psychic vision.  It’s style really plays into Psych a lot as well with its comedic crime fighting.

iZombie is a show very solidly aiming at an interesting mix of demographics. You can tell that the general every day life of the lead character is meant to appeal towards teenage girls, the zombie aspect and humor is geared towards everyone else. The creator of the show has also created Veronica Mars and the new 90210, and these roots definitely show. But this doesn’t entirely detract from how entertaining the show is. You as the viewer just need to let it entertain you.  If they can keep it up, you won’t be sorry.

And really I don’t think enough can be said that even though iZombie’s title makes you think it is a show about Zombies, it really is anything but, and to me that is what makes it special. I suggested it to my daughter who likes Zombies and she wouldn’t even let me finish telling her what it was about because a Zombie show shouldn’t be from the point of view of the Zombie. “Zombies are undead and are supposed to decay” she said. Well maybe, Vampires never did decay so I am not tied to that philosophy quite as much. Zombies were always boring previously. I applaud that someone decided to sit down and think about Zombies and try to make them more interesting and dynamic rather than just brainlessly create another show that was the same as all of the others, like the creatures that they are portraying. The original point of the zombie was that we shouldn’t all be part of a brainless horde, and each zombie creation that gets made just emphasizes how much of a zombie the creators actually are. The fact that this show is stepping away from the same old formula is in and of itself a commentary on the genre. Good for them.

Why Madden Doesn’t Sell on Nintendo

Today is the biggest football day of the year. I choose not to care. But I did decide to post some thoughts on why,  I think, that Madden NFL does not sell as well on Nintendo consoles as it does on other consoles. For that matter, this applies to sports titles, Call of Duty, and other franchises that send out a new title on a yearly basis.

And right there, I kind of hit the nail on the head. See, the average user of a Nintendo console has been conditioned by Nintendo themselves to not like this type of release schedule. Nintendo generally doesn’t believe in putting out more than one of their main franchises per console release. Let alone put a new version of such titles on a yearly basis. Super Smash Brothers is a great example. We just saw one come out on the Wii U and 3DS. Don’t expect another until next gen. Smash Bros. has only previously had a single entry on every other console.

It hasn’t been this way for every series however. I’m pointing my finger at you Mario Party. Unlike a lot of Nlntendo titles… Mario Party was an especially easy and cheap game to put out new versions of. In addition, they  tended to sell really well without major new additions. There was 3 Mario parties on the N64 and 4 on the Gamecube.

But then I think something happened. First, sales started to dwindle with each iteration. But I think during the Gamecube days, Nintendo made a very large mistake. They started putting out too many generic Mario titles. In addition to Mario Party and Smash Bros., we also had Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Super Mario Strikers (Soccer), and Mario Baseball (sure I am missing a few). I think at this point, Nintendo began to notice that all of these titles, many of which started up on the N64, started to decrease in sales. Even though they were fun to play, it became too much. It was around this time during the early years of the Wii that they stopped pushing yearly Mario Party and many of the sports titles ceased getting updates at all. My belief is that Nintendo took a step back and realized that over saturating the market with these types of titles was actually damaging their brand. And so they began the philosophy of only one per console.

Now, in general, we will only see one Primary Mario Platformer, One “New” Mario Platformer, perhaps a “3D” Mario game, a Mario Kart, a Smash Brothers, a Donkey Kong Returns, a Zelda, etc. But likely no more than one. This isn’t always going to be true, I think. We did get treated with a second Primary Mario Platformer on the Wii, but I think this will be more the exception than the rule.

And this turns to other companies who do over-saturate the market and ruin their brand. By and large, I do think that the market on Nintendo platforms will allow for multiple releases of a single title on a single platform, but known yearly commodities Nintendo consumers are more hesitant about. Madden for example… I for one enjoy having a Madden game. I bought one of the Maddens on the Gamecube and played it  for hours on end. I wanted to get a Madden on the Wii, thinking that the platform was perfect for sports games but early reports were that the game was not very good and so I waited for a later release. Later in the Wii lifecycle, EA decided to changeup Madden on the Wii, likely because sales were soft because other consumers like myself wanted to wait for a good Madden rather than just blindly buy crappy ones, so they made a “kiddy” Madden. This had almost no interest for me so I didn’t buy any Madden at all for the Wii, I imagine others had the same issues. Finally  for the Wii U, EA decided to make a straight port, not the kiddy version of Madden, but like early Wii games, reports were that it was a pretty bad port. So again, I was choosing to wait a generation or two until they could figure it out. But by then EA had squandered 7 years of crappy  Madden ports that weren’t selling and decided to stop making Madden entirely. Personally, I’d rather have no port than what they were giving us, but it is sad that they  aren’t even trying anymore.

Still, you see what was happening? I was holding out for a playable copy of the game because I didn’t want to get a second version of Madden. Contrast this to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 owners who seem to blindly buy every single edition of Madden, FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and so forth, just based on name brand alone despite offering nothing new to the series and it is a wonder that they don’t seem to sell when in addition to offering nothing new, they also do bad ports.

When did this idea of reselling the same game on a yearly basis really take hold anyway? I remember in the NES and SNES days, you did get sports games more frequently, but I don’t remember them being yearly. I think on the NES RBI Baseball was the most frequent series at 3 editions, and the NES was out for what 8 or 9 years? I feel like it wasn’t until 3D became a thing that we started seeing yearly updates. The big thing people seem to enjoy is having stats and players updated, but why is this a thing? Does it really enhance the game to have Johnny Manzel in the series? If the game is good, it shouldn’t matter that rosters are a little out of date. And really rosters don’t really change that drastically year in and year out anyway. I know EA has mentioned in the past that they were working on adding downloadable roster updates in the future, but if they do that they risk losing their cash cow. Even if they charge $10 per year of roster updates, that still is going to pale in comparison to the yearly $60 they get now. The yearly update also protects them from shoddy work. They don’t have to care as much each year if one game is bad, there’s always next year right?

We as consumers really need to stop allowing this to happen. Having a new Madden, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or Mario Party is not good for the games industry. Quite the contrary, this type of marketing has the potential to crash the industry again. Over-saturation of a product is not good. Just ask Harmonix and Activision how that worked out with Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

What it Takes to be an RPG

Over the last several years I have put a lot of thought into what exactly makes an RPG an RPG. A big reason this has been happening is the inclusion of games that are clearly NOT RPGs into the genre due to the inclusion of Levels and Items in that particular game. Borderlands is probably the biggest example, but I have seen Bioshock Infinite mentioned as an RPG as well, and heck if that is what it takes… SSX is probably an RPG in many people’s eyes as well. So with that, I have talked about what it takes to be an RPG with many friends in Real Life and we have kind of come up with this list of qualifications:

1) Story – An RPG must have a story. There is a caveat here in that early RPG stories are excusable to be near non-existent. Though, early RPGs are almost a proof rather than a counter to this point. Akalabeth for instance has nearly no story, but there is in fact a story. Just having a story in 1979 or 1980 is not a small thing so we do count it every bit as much as modern games even though it wasn’t any better than the story of Super Mario Bros. Presence of a meaningful story (to the times) is a must though, I am hard pressed to think of any RPG without a meaningful story outside of early games in the genre.

2) Non-Questing Items – This implies items whose sole purpose is made for a quest or solving a puzzle, such as a key. In addition to just having items, there should be a choice in the usage of these items. For instance, there not only is a sword, but maybe different types of sword and it is player choice as to which sword to use (even if there is a clear “best” sword to use).

3) Stats – Whether directly viewable by the player or not, there should be stats for the character as well as items, and generally there is a way to manipulate these stats. (Equipping an item to raise your strength for instance.)  In fact, i generally consider the manipulation of stats to be one of the ultimate objectives  of an RPG besides the story. An easy example is that you can play Pokemon, but there is a second level to the game where you are trying to breed and train pokemon to have the best stats possible. This is the manipulation that RPG fans enjoy that a non-RPG with stats often lacks.

4) Indirect Combat – Combat in an RPG has with it the player directing combat rather than the player with direct control of a character within combat. What I mean by this is, with Combat in an RPG, you tell a character to fight a monster with a sword and that character fights said monster using the character’s stats and random chance to win or lose. In combat that has direct control, you as the player directly aim a weapon and click a button where every button click is a usage of the weapon or spell. It is for this reason primarily that games like Zelda, Borderlands, and Gauntlet are not RPGs, but are a different beast. There is a similarity to God-Games here… you are a God influencing your character very strongly, but you are not the character himself.

5) Distinct Protagonists – This is seems like kind of a no duh type of requirement, but there are games out there lacking a distinct protagonist. For instance, Black & White contains no protagonist at all. Protagonists can come in the form of a solo adventurer but in an RPG you rarely will have more than say 6. Usually it is 1 to 4 protagonists.

That is in essence an RPG as I see it. I will note, though I am sure there is room for breaking these rules, I cannot think of a game that breaks any of them outside of the caveat for story. Really, it comes down to feel. Most RPG fans can sit down and play a game and tell if it is an RPG. This is my best attempt at explaining why it is that I can sit down and play Dark Souls and recognize it to not be an RPG even though on the surface it can seem like it. Other games can have aspects of an RPG, and in fact I would say level and items in this day and age should be in pretty much every game. Heck, you can consider Super Mario Bros, to have a second level if you consider being big the second level.

I also feel the need to note that not classifying a game as an RPG is by no means a slam on the game. I talk about certain games not being RPGs with people and for some reason they get very angry about the idea that the game they enjoy is not an RPG. As if their game is somehow worse because of it. Neither of these is true. Borderlands, for instance, is not an RPG, I enjoy playing it from time to time. Zelda is not, and I love that game. Dark Souls is not, and is a great game. Games can be good without being an RPG.  And RPGs can be bad games despite being an RPG. There are a lot of genres out there and all of them have really great games that are totally worth playing. The entire logic behind why we categorize into genres is because people have preferences in games. I for instance have a general dislike for sports games, FPS games, and RTS games. And so when someone classifies an FPS as an RPG, I may be more inclined to get into a game than if it were just a great FPS game. I might try to put up with some of the negatives about the genre just to get the experience.  Hell I always have thought there is no way you could have a game that is an FPS and an RPG so the idea kind of intrigues me. When a game fails to live up to the RPG side of things I am let down. I would rather a game be a great FPS than a crappy RPG and I’m not sure why others would rather it be a crappy RPG just because it is a great FPS.

Dez Bryant’s Catch

To Dez Bryant, Cowboys Fans, and any others who don’t understand why it wasn’t a catch yesterday, the above photograph explains why he didn’t have control. Put another way, don’t let it be a question, it won’t be.

Even before the review, I didn’t think he had the ball where he had it. I thought he didn’t actually get control of it until he rolled into the end zone but had no way of knowing whether the ball touched the ground in the meantime, which the refs must have decided it did. It was a risky flag to throw on McCarthy’s side because it very well could have turned into a Touch Down. Then again, that would have saved Green Bay some time as they would have needed to score a TD to win.

X-Box 360 Review

X-Box One has been out for a year, therefor it is the perfect time for an X-Box 360 Review! Actually, I had never bought one before. I firmly believe that if I want a console, I would like to play games that aren’t better on the PC, and really the 360 has very few games that aren’t available on PC so I never really cared. I have more want for the PS3 and honestly was close to getting one but the price dropped low enough on the 360 that I finally caved and got it.

With that I wanted to share my thoughts on the console…

First, the Operating System. Windows 8 works extremely well on the TV. I have always felt that the OS was best suited for Media Centers and Tablets and seeing it in action on the 360 just furthers that belief. The problem is that it is an extremely limited version of the operating system, and not unexpectedly so. You can’t move things around, when you pin an item, it doesn’t go on your homescreen, instead it goes into a pin section which might as well be renamed favorites. I have also found it is very cumbersome to pin something as well. For instance, I go to videos and to the Twitch icon, and there is no place to pin it from there. Instead, I have to go to recently viewed and then pin it there.  How backwards is that? The real problem though is the rampant advertising. Every screen  has crap  tons of advertising. I would say 80% of the screen at any given time is an ad. there are about 6 screens  with between two and three actual apps and 6-8 advertisements on each screen. Realistically, you probably only needed two screens… Apps and Settings. And then gotten rid of the rest. This made me curious, am I spoiled coming from Nintendo which had a fairly customizable and ad-free operating system? So I checked out screens of the PS3’s menus… and they were ad-free too. Must be an American thing that says the product you own must be filled with ads… the gall that Microsoft also charges for their online service with all these ads is amazing.

I will say that the Xbox 360 has a good variety of apps available. Way more than Nintendo has on their system. The best example I have is Twitch, which isn’t on Nintendo platforms, but they also have apps for SyFy Network, CW, ESPN, and a bunch of other channels I have no interest in.

As a side note, I thought I’d talk about Microsoft’s Avatars… clearly a rip off of Nintendo’s Miis. They are somewhat cute though not nearly as iconic as what Nintendo did. I do like that you can change your clothes and pay for new outfits. As money grubbing as it is,  it is a feature I actually wish Nintendo had instituted with the Wii U. Even something like allowing Mii outfit changes thanks to amiibos would be appreicated but I don’t think will happen. Microsoft’s Avatars aren’t very widely used and are far more gimmick than it was on Nintendo’s platform though. Even though they offer more options, I’m far less likely to PAY for said options due to the lack of use. Ironically, I always felt Nintendo’s Miis were underused, but they are still actually used unlike Microsoft’s.

Anyway who cares about that? I got the newer X-Box One themed version of the system and I do really like  the new design. I think it is a much more sleek design than the older 360s. I think Microsoft did well on this design both for the 360 as well as the Xboned. I was hoping that the system was quieter than earlier versions, and the sad thing is that I think it is. But it is still a much noisier system than the Wii, the Wii U, or my PC. Microsoft has seemingly no understanding that this thing is in the living room. I did get the 4GB version of the system and bought a 500GB HD on the side. I do think the mechanism of installing the HD was super easy and pretty nice but the $40 I paid for it seemed a tad overpriced, usually  they run for $100… considering you can generally  get 2TB at $100 now adays… completely outrageous prices. If you are in the market for an HD, make sure to shop around!

I bought 7 games with the system and had 1 other game previously. The games I bought were SSX, Kameo, Diablo 3  Ultimate Evil Edition, Dark Souls, Enslaved, and Blue Dragon. The game I already owned was Lost Odyssey. I’ve played at least a little of most of them and the graphics are fine. Overall a bit worse than the Wii U generally can pull even in its first year titles and a bit better than the Wii could pull even in its end times. While loading the game initially is loud, the system does quiet down while playing. I heard a lot of Microsoft’s achievement system, and I do like the basis of it. But I kept getting achievements and I had no idea why… unlock a character in SSX that is rather cheap? Achievement! Ok that’s silly. I still like it as a concept though and I had heard that the system became abused by developers which seems to be true.

I will admit that one problem that i had getting into the X-Box 360 and why I was leaning towards PS3 was the severe lack of exclusive titles. I’ve been setting my sights on mostly the exclusives and already feel like I have many of them with games like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey and Kameo. Gears of War series, Fable series, Viva Pinata, and Banjo Kazooie are on my radar as well. But outside of that I really don’t know where to go for exclusives, most everything seems to be elsewhere. The next thing I’ve been looking at is what games are better on the 360 and the PS3? This is a good question. I feel like it is a difficult one to get good answers on because opinion is fairly subjective. I have been using Eurogamer as my source of comparisons and that put SSX and Dragon’s Dogma and a couple other games on my radar.

The X-box controller is essentially an evolution of the Gamecube controller. It has an offset right stick with buttons taking prime real estate instead. The buttons are backwards (XYAB instead of YXBA) and this is offputting for someone who is a long time Nintendo player and got used to the standard that was set decades ago. I also dislike the little dots they put on the stick pads. After a good half hour of play my thumbs begin to hurt just because they are rubbing up against those. I’ve never been a fan of the  external batteries, I know Microsoft initially used it as a good thing, but I think it makes the controller wonky. I like the feel of the lower two triggers, though I still miss the click of the gamecube at the end of the trigger pull.  I like the layout overall, but honestly neither layout really bothers me (the other being the classic PS layout of sticks taking the same position on both sides that Nintendo has now followed suit with).

I haven’t gotten the Kinect yet and still debating whether I will. I probably will just for collector’s aspect. But realistically, the best thing Microsoft put out for it in its 3 or 4 years of existence was a dancing mini-game that was part of a star wars game. Microsoft never knew what to do with the thing and then they wondered why no one wanted it on the xboned. Well to my knowledge they still haven’t found a use for it on the xboned,  in fact not even sure if there is a game out there that actually utilizes it outside of standard voice commands. As much grief as people give Nintendo for the Wii Remote and the Gamepad being gimmicks (and the gamepad so far I can’t disagree with), the Kinect is the definition of a gimmick.

Overall, for what I paid it wasn’t a terrible buy. Out of the 3 Microsoft consoles to date, the 360 is the only one I have any interest in as a collector. I am glad I got it for that purpose.

Goals of 2014-2015

Tis that time of year again where I review what happened to me in the previous year and think about what needs to occur in the coming  year. It was an off year for me and many of my goals from last year fell by the wayside unfortunately. This happened I think largely due to a depression that leaked into my  life an ultimately one of the larger goals I have going forward is getting out.

Online Life

I feel like my blog has been pretty regular over the past year. It has had ups and downs but overall I think I have been averaging 3-4 articles a month which is about where I want to be. I definitely want to get the number more regular for 2015 and closer to 4-6 a month. It’s funny looking back at previous years and seeing that I had updated around 12-15 a month at one time, but a lot of that was due to having extra time from being in school. Still, there are definitely moments in work that are dead that I could use the time to write blogs and I should use it as such more often.

I picked up playing Ingress this year which I consider to be an online game. It is both online and offline, a weird hybrid. This has gotten me involved in several real life get togethers and it has been a lot fun meeting new people in the area and region. I have been waning on my interest of the game of late but am sure I will continue to have small spurts of play.

BucketGeek had a small surge in postings. However, the postings have largely died. If anyone actually  followed the blog, I still do the bucket list items but overall I think I set myself up for failure on the blog. It takes almost as much time to blog about the items as it is to just check the items off my list. That puts it into a problem spot. Be that as it may, I do want to get that site back up with regular updates.

I am happy to say that I did in fact start putting out Let’s Play videos on Christmas Day this  year and so far have kept it up for the last week. This project I admit is bound to fail from time to time as it is an incredible amount of work getting the videos together and uploaded.  Still, I have been enjoying it so far and hope that the game aspect of it keeps me involved. I foresee the biggest problem with keeping up with Minecraft, and already have lowered production of my series to be from Monday, Wednesday  and Friday to just Monday and Friday. The problem is it really does take way more time to produce than other videos. I also do The Witcher and Zeus+Poseidon and for both those games I can sit down and record and in an hour I will have two episodes, then another hour and both of those episodes are fully edited. For Minecraft, if I put in an hour I am lucky to have a single episode and it’d likely take an hour to edit that episode. I wager that it actually is 3 to 4 times the effort to do Minecraft than it is to do the other series. But I kind of see Minecraft as the longterm glue for the channel… the thing that will always be there as other games come and go.

Gaming Life

I feel my gaming life has picked up largely due to the let’s plays. I currently have 4 current games that I am playing for recording and have a couple other games I put a few moments to here and there that I don’t record. I definitely feel like the number of games I play has risen which is nice and bad all at once.

My game collection is also coming along. In 2014, I got a Dreamcast, a Genesis, and an X-Box 360, as well as several games for each. I also purchased a RetroN 5 and have purchased a couple dozen Super Famicom games imported from Japan. Most of the games that I have been collecting thus far have been centered around the RPGs and older games that I always wanted to own but couldn’t. In 2015, I’d like to expand my games even more and get a PS3 and Maybe a Sega Saturn.

My update of my computer did get completed last year. I even got a new keyboard and mouse which weren’t planned, but nice additions. I even got a second monitor, though it was gifted from my company and so isn’t particularly great. Thinking ahead to 2015… my computer related goals includes getting at least 2TB of HD space on my computer added in. I already have 7TB but almost my entire movie collection was digitized so I need more.

Work Life

I don’t have a ton to say. Work is good. I got a raise at the end of the year. I got moved to a project I love and have hopes of going to another project in 2015 that is related to my current one that I think I will enjoy. My only real complaint with my current job is that towards the second half of the year, a lot of the people I conversed with on a regular basis became part of a project in which I never see them so work life has gotten a lot more stale. Not much I can do about that. Can’t have everything, at least I enjoy the job.

Personal Life

Well drama occurred with the former work group that I was trying to get together on a regular basis for movie night and so that idea died early unfortunately. I may give it another go but I don’t have hopes at this point. That group is pretty well fractured at this point.

The RPG podcast and the game night have also not happened, I think to a lesser degree because of the above drama. I kind of have hopes of putting together a game day with another friend, we’ve had 2 thus far but it has been infrequent so far.

Unfortunately, at the end of 2014 my long standing Pen & Paper RPG group broke up. Not entirely sure what happened, we ended a Pathfinder campaign and when prompted to do something past that, one guy said he was out and others showed no interest at all. Towards the end of the campaign I had started having some issues with one of the guys and I wonder if that in combination with my general lack of roleplaying (it was a roleplay heavy group) led them to just kind of drop me off at this point. Or if people’s schedules just became too much to have the game as well. Not sure, there were a couple of people who were consistently showing up later and later, or not able to show up at all which was causing problems. So it might have just been a natural end to the group. Is too bad, but I needed a break from it anyway so I think it is good. Timing wise it gives me an extra night to get stuff done and I wasn’t a huge fan of Thursday nights as it made preparing for weekends with my daughter more difficult.

I did go through a few spurts of learning Japanese and found a new way to learn it which I think was working quite well. Unfortunately that dropped off a bit and I need to get back into doing that.

A Long Journey Begins… Hopefully

It happened on Christmas Day. My first Let’s Play video was uploaded to Youtube. The video is a simple let’s play of Minecraft where I head out from spawn and make a fancy mine entrance. Nothing overly special, but it was my first.  You can view the video here, or here:

I have since uploaded a couple more Minecraft episodes and also uploaded a Let’s Play for The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. Over the next couple of days, I will also be adding first episodes of the old school God Simulation Game, Zeus, and a new indie game that is similar to Terraria crossed with Lemmings called “Craft the World.”

I feel in some ways that a new journey is beginning. My goal is to upload new content daily, and i have a plan in place to make it happen. I have no doubt that ultimately I will miss it from time to time. Life seems to affect my plans in ways I don’t like and have a hard time getting around sometimes. But my plan will hopefully alleviate that and give it some space.

I talked a little bit in my first video as to why I decided to start doing Let’s Play videos, but thought it was worth talking about more here. The honest truth is, that I see it as an extension as to the original purpose of my blogging, which isn’t really this site at all. It goes back to my original site… The Life and Times of Kazar. That blog, was created for the purpose of writing a weekly summary of the things that I was doing in Asheron’s Call 1. At the time, I feel the site had a decent following. It wasn’t huge considering the niche it was, but I felt it did OK.

When I stopped playing AC1, I closed that site and moved onto this one. I don’t think my intent was ever the same. There was definitely a break between the two sites and by the time this one came around, I had either stopped playing MMORPGs, or come to the realization that the genre had changed. You see, for AC1 and UO, these games weren’t on rails quite as much as modern MMOs are. Sure the MMO genre still feels fairly wide open, it isn’t exactly a rails game. But when you start a quest, everyone follows the same path. There really isn’t a lot of derivation in the game, the change comes in what class or race you play and nothing more. If you play a Dwarf Paladin in WoW, you get pretty much the same leveling experience as everyone else. There does come some daily changes once you max out, which doesn’t take long, but it is a lot more repetitive. AC1 was so wide open, that literally no two people’s path was the same, and even when you were doing a specific quest, two people could go about it a different way depending on the quest. The point is, I felt there was something to write about back then, and when I started the new blog I didn’t feel that as much. So instead, I started writing about what was happening in my life, my thoughts on the game industry, game reviews, politics and other random crap. Anyone who has followed this blog at all has some understanding of how random it can be, and to some degree I enjoy that.

But with YouTube, I see a path back to what I was doing with Life & Times of Kazar. The Witcher is a great example. Sure, the first game in particular seems to be very much on rails. There are some parts where you can deviate and take a different path, but the result often is the same. I hope that others have enjoyment in watching me take the path though and because it is a more direct viewing, I feel like there is something more to watch than if I were to write about it later. There is also something more fun in watching something as it is happening, I feel. Let’s Play videos take a bit of slack out there, and I admit, it’s a little weird watching others play video games, but there’s also something interesting about it as well that I can’t put my finger on. It is entertainment. So I hope others watch it and enjoy it, but like with Life & Times of Kazar before this, I am really doing it as a way to just catalog what I’m doing in the world. I have gone back and read those blogs in the last couple of years and smiled at the times I had back then. Now would I enjoy it if my videos became super popular and I could quit my day job and do nothing but that? Hells yeah. Do I think that I will be able to? Hell no.

I will say so far the process has been weird. I feel that even though something new is just beginning… really this is the end of a lot of work. I’ve actually been working on creating these videos for 3 months now. I haven’t been recording until the last couple of weeks, but there was a lot of effort that went into finding the right programs to record and then edit, doing various test runs to ensure everything was working correctly, doing research on a good way to do descriptions, titles and tags, figuring out  what games I want to play and then going out and getting permission to play those games. And let me say that it is kind of annoying that I am required to get permission to play someone else’s games… just stupid. I very much hate how copyright law is working right now. And so with me finally publishing my first videos… I feel like a lot of difficult and annoying work is over. And there is definitely a sigh of relief on  my side.

If anyone is interested, my youtube channel is https://www.youtube.com/user/Razakius/. I will not be posting here when I update there. For that, you will need to either subscribe to my video, or follow me on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter (Links should be on the right hand side). I may do an update here from time to time, but I really don’t want to bog down this blog with video posts.