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RAID!!! Running With the Guildies… or Why WoW Just Keeps Players Going May 23, 2009

Posted by fvter in Gaming, Technology.
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So early this morning (around 02:00 23.05) or late evening server time, I hooked up to World of Warcraft (WoW) for a guild organized RAID of Blackwing Lair (BWL). One of my characters, Balaluze Death Knight, is a member of the «Project Lore» guild. The premise behind this guild is that everyone is a fan in some form of the Project Lore Video/Blog/Guides getting together to play WoW and have a good time playing as a team. About 2hours in, it reminded me why I still invest my time and attention in WoW enjoying every moment.

After a small delay of getting everyone together, Executation lead us into Blackrock and up to the BWL entry point… We entered the instance with about 10 people (plus or minus – to be honest we lost a few because they had not been keyed which is a necessary step to open the door and been given access to the dungeon), which was a little more than 10 shy of the required number of players. We figured it might work since we had a few high levels… This was our mistake and despite a tough battle but victorious one against the 1st boss Razorgore the Untamed, we proceed to the 2nd area with Vaelastrasz the Corrupt. Here we hit what might in the end be construed as an epic fail in the Lore history books. We just did not have enough damage per second (DPS) capability with our combined strengths. In fact whenever Vaelastrasz hit 15% health, the dragon would launch its power attack and we would go down one-by-one in a matter of seconds. 3 tries down, we called it a night as there was just noway that the group would be able to down the dragon and let alone continue on.

So outside of a quick & dirty recount of the night, the reason this post came to be is that the RAID reminded me why WoW, & other MMORPGs, just keeps drawing me in. The RAID reminded me of some important aspects of an aspect of gaming playing in MMORPGs that defines its ability for continuous challenge and enjoyment. In most games be they RPG or RTS there is a level of certainty and consistency in the game by that I mean that the tasks, quest, combat or other game scenarios share a goal and that goal is always the same each time you play. In a standalone game, one can build a strategy and consistently repeat the strategy to win the trial leading to a play once only scenario. One might even say that this stays true in whatever game you play.

However, MMOs bring an external factor that changes the certainty and consistency in the game. That factor is a higher level of human interaction and game play style that quickly becomes apparent. Each human player brings his/her own way of directing his avatar’s actions into the group and the combined different play methodologies actually changes the way the events happen & the outcome. Let me clarify using the BWL RAID that was run this morning in WoW,  despite following a well-known strategy and having a leader to coordinate the RAID party our efforts did not achieve success. Not for a lack of willingness of the team but that’s not the point nor was it the issue, the players each used there style and abilities giving different outcomes and thus changing the way the battle laid itself out… Essentially each try gave a different play experience and keeping the player on his/her toes trying to achieve the best possible set of actions! Turning every encounter into a new challenge and definitely not the same reptitive thing.

To sum it up, a continuously evolving and changing game play driven by the individuality of all the human players making the game and keeping it attractive as if it were day one…

Let me know you thoughts and/or comments through this article or via my Seesmic Profile or thru Twitter

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OnLive :- Thoughts and Ramblings April 4, 2009

Posted by fvter in Gaming, Hardware, Networks, Technology.
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During this weeks GDC’09, the OnLive service was announced and demoed. I can only really comment on this service based on the reviews and reports coming out of Joystiq, Gamespot, Engadget & others… The idea behind OnLive is to marry cloud computing with high end PC gaming. It is best described on the OnLive website How OnLive Works. Personally, I find this service intriguing and potentially a mini-revolution (might be a bit strong but that’s why the mini prefix) in PC gaming. It also has the potential to open the availability and introduce gaming to a much globaller audience who don’t have the buy-in power. It could also be a simple and interesting entry level platform for testing games before purchasing.

Much of the initial commentary coming out goes from amazement and how incredible a service like this would be to a yes but attitude and sceptism on the actually possibility and ability of the service to work. The main concern in current commentaries is the ability of the service to perform as stated due to a lack of network bandwidth and responsiveness. While I do agree that there a lot of challenges for this service to be able to get thinks working as smoothly as possible, my humble belief is that this service will get kicked off and have more than acceptable performance capabilities. One fo the reason I feel strongly is due to some of the minds behind OnLive. Steve Perlman, being on of those minds and one of the original technological minds behind Quicktime, has done a lot for streaming and has already provided some amazing solutions to optimize the interaction of the user and media across the Intranets [ed. note: I’ve had the chance to see Perlman talk in an Apple Dev. Conference and he knows what he is doing to be quite honest].

However, I need to disagree with the main focal points that a lot of commentary has taken. Much of the commentary has centered on the fact that they don’t believe the service will work because of the network performance. My rant here has a lot to do with the fact that most of these reviewers are making assumptions based on their current network experience which is mostly USA, Canada or UK centric. These assumptions are based on areas where ISP performance is average and not fantastic or where there are known (or suspect) ISP network controls and restrictions. Nigel Cooke on his recent Monkyenuts podcast (episode 7) bought about similar comments but with a touch of his own experience on optimizing and managing corporate networks. While I respect his knowledge on the subject, you can’t compare an Internet based service and network optimization approach to that of a corporation. Most coporate networks are based on a hub & spoke model which tends to lead to fixed route paths and a series of bottlenecks that hamper performance. The Internet being a much more meshed environment is constrained in this manner at least not until the last leg between the user and the ISP.

The problem with this overall line of thought is that it doesn’t reflect a reality of what the network can actual do (where I live, my two ISPs provide me with amazing performance with average latency of @400ms, @1100 kb/s down & @350kb/s up) and the potential that a service like this can do with a proper network environment, network optimization and more importantly the optimization of the compression & handling software. The comments also don’t take into account on the amount of advances that have been made in data center hardware and network advancements that have been made over the years especially by companies like Google that have learned how to make small footprint high-performance hardware and optimize the placement of that hardware to better serve the Internet.

Finally, some of my beliefs are founded on the fact that I have been involved over the years in projects where bringing distributed high-end pc computing over a network was successful. In a similar case, all graphics and manipulation was to be done on core centralized machines while the user would be provided with a web interface to manipulate the data and visualize the graphics models and displays.

So definitely a gaming technology to keep an eye on and potentially something bound for success. I for one would use this type of service to avoid the heart break of having to own multiple PCs or to continuously upgrade those machines!

Discuss this with me via my Seesmic Profile on this thread.

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Halo Wars Demo – Hits my Sweet Spot February 8, 2009

Posted by fvter in Gaming, Technology.
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At the end of the week, the Halo Wars demo was released on the x-box live service. As soon as of hit the Europe servers, I jumped onboard.

I admit that I have always enjoyed a good RTS (real-time strategy). They tingle my logic neurons and I enjoy having to sit down plan and be tactical in order to achieve a goal unlike FPS type games which are more fast action pace & brute force.

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Surprisingly, Halo Wars brings a good balance between the need to be tactical and the fast pace of an action game. Building and creating your force-de-frappe has a good feel to it as you can get things up and running quite quickly but you need to plan ahead to be able build more advanced units. Combat is fast paced and easy to jump into. The parts I played on the demo were very focused on achieving goals and the intermingling of the Halo Wars storyline (including some amazing cut scenes) made it attractive and enticing to move forward in the game. Now I did not get a chance to play the online team mode but I’ve heard that it is quite an experience as well.

All-in-all Halo Wars looks like it will hit a sweet spot :- a must buy!

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Games @ X-Mas January 4, 2009

Posted by fvter in Gaming, Technology.
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So this X-Mas we had a good set of games as presents (of course most of them being for my son): 2 xbox360 and 1 Wii games.

The Wii game was a no brainer for this year – I carried on the Raving Rabbids series and got the latest one :- Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party. The nice part of this game is that it exploits the Wii Balance Board as a component for controlling your character. The game is still a riot and you can have some serious fun (in the stupidity sense) but with the Wii Balance Board it adds another dimension that makes the antics more physical ranging from space surf boarding to rhythm dancing. The kids (my cousin’s & my son) played together and it was giggles all evening. Honestly these kinds of games, the Wii and the social interaction they bring is the platforms advantage. I keenly have to give this game a thumbs up just for the stupid fun.

For the xbox360, it was Star Wars Force Unleashed [SWFU] and Guitar Hero World Tour [GHWT] Band Pack. SWFU I find to be your typical FPS type of game where instead of being armed with a gun, you end up going around killing with a lightsaber & powers of the force… The twist here is that your on the dark side , w00t! Overall the game plays quite well and is fast paced. The ability to manipulate & throw things with the force is fun but I am bit disappointed in the lightsaber attack moves. The graphics are impressive and you get a wide range of open spaces to explore but it is still very directional based so the environment still seems stunted. Overall this turns out to be a neutral rating for me and to be honest my son has played this more than I have for the moment but I will get back to it someday…

Very much having enjoyed Guitar Hero 3 and having learnt a little about drumming when I was young, I’d been quite excited and impatient for the release of GHWT. Truth be told, I preferred to look at GHWT than Rock Band as, at least in France, the release dates were similar and I’d already had experience with Guitar Hero franchise and wanted to continue to support it. It was a good choice, GHWT turns out to be all around a good continuation of the franchise and, at least for me, continued to be a good multi-player experience on both a local and online level. If you’re already familiar with the play still then you can quickly jump into the game. As previously said the experience and interface has a lot of similarity, however, I did find that game play was much faster as well as being some what easier in the sense more forgiving of mistakes. I find the new instruments well balanced but find the vocal part some what difficult (definitely not a singer) as hitting the right tone is hard. The new guitar feels much better than the default guitar in GH3 but the slide bar touch buttons I find difficult to move to (it’ s locating the right colour that takes time and mess you up). Overall though, GHWT is a definite winnner and a great play solo or with others – definite thumbs up!

So that was a quick  dirty review of my first days impression! If you want more details visit your usual game review online sources…

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B’Day Equals Gamerific! August 30, 2008

Posted by fvter in Gaming, General.
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Today, August 30th, is my son’s birthday. Both he and I really look forward to this period as it’s a damn good excuse for dad to go crazy on the new games (Christmas is also a good excuse).
This year it’s: one PSP game – Naruto2; one xbox360 – Soul Caliber IV; three Wii – Ski, Boom Blox & Smash Bros Brawl.
I’m satisfied with the general game play and am quite enjoying the fast paced & quick to pick up action gaming that both SC4 & Smash Bros is providing. I was to a certain extent impressed with the graphics and overall customizablity of both games. These were games that were quick and easy to jump into and get a lot of fun out of
I still need to try out the other three fully but so far my son’s has been having a good time and doesn’t seem to want to put down Naruto. The Family Ski on Wii was especially fun with the Wii Board. Its a much more interesting ski simulation than the default one on Wii Fit. Boom Blox was fun as well, and remind me of long evening hours of playing jenga with friends while on vacation,
Maybe more on this crop of recently obtained games in future posts!