Why? Life happens. I may write for a video game blog in my spare time, but that spare time seems less and less. I get home from work each weekday with about 7 hours before I end up going to bed. Living in the greater Philadelphia area, approximately 3 hours of that is chewed up by watching the Phillies, especially now in the postseason. (How ’bout that Halladay no-hitter last night?) Even after baseball season is gone, that time’s gonna be funneled into the Flyers. (season opener tonight on Versus)
Weekends have even less time for gaming, since I spend most of the weekend with my girlfriend. Can’t play videogames because of sports and women? Am I developing a life? I might have to turn in my geek badge and soldering gun after a quarter century of dedicated service.
When all’s said and done, I think I now have less than 10 hours each week to dedicate to gaming. Coming from being used to making gaming a second full-time job, it’s a huge shock. My pile of games to play grows as my time to play them shrinks. I haven’t finished a game since last October when I was unemployed and powered through Brutal Legend in two days.
The current list of games I’ve been playing (and what I’ll spend the rest of this post on – I swear this is a gaming blog, not a “living a boring life” blog) is as follows:
Team Fortress 2
Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers
Assassin’s Creed II
Team Fortress 2
Yeah, it’s a game I’ve had for more than 2 years now, but the recent (probably not as recent as I think) Mann-Conomy pack has breathed a lot of new life and fun into the game. I had stopped playing right after the Sniper/Spy updates, so the weapon dynamic has completely changed with all the newer class updates. The number of achievements has nearly doubled, and the new item drop/shop/trade/upgrade system has made the game incredibly rich and complex, while still being fun and simple to jump into when you have 15 minutes to kill.
If you haven’t played TF2 in a while, break it out. It’s still able to eat 5 hours of your time in a sitting.
Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers
I’ve been a Magic player for 16 years now. I’m sure there are first-time readers stumbling onto this blog who were born around the time I started playing Magic. I was always quite good at the game mechanics, but had a very simple problem that kept me out of building incredible decks. Some decks cost $100+ just to obtain the basic resources to cast your spells. You could be looking at another $75-300 for your actual deck concept. It’s a game of outbuying your opponent, and I was always broke as hell as a kid.
The economic metagame is taken out of the equation in Duels of the Planeswalkers. There are a handful of fixed decks with unlockable sideboards (expansion cards that can be optionally added or swapped with cards in the base deck), each with roughly the same level of power depending on their core concept. I found this aspect highly enjoyable, because I was no longer at the mercy of my collection. (My actual Magic collection is expansive, more than 6,000 cards, but very few of my decks have all of what they need to reach their maximum potential. Furthermore, these decks are quite old and no longer sanctioned for tournament play.)
What I especially like about Duels of the Planeswalkers is the “Challenge Mode.” This is a series of single-turn puzzles that throw the player in the middle of a game in-progress (often in dire straits) with a simple objective: Win the game. This mimicked a series of similar puzzles published as a single photo in InQuest magazine back when I used to play heavily. It’s a fun bit of nostalgia, though I ran into a few cases where I successfully completed the challenge in a way the game wasn’t prepared to handle and lost.
Challenge Mode is my current go-to time waster when I sit at my computer and have a few minutes (rapidly spiraling into a half hour) to waste.
Assassin’s Creed II
Rounding out my “wasting my life on games that are nothing new” collection is AC2. I never played the first one, but the second one has me pretty deep. The storyline is presented in an awesome way, the ease of performing pretty badass assassinations on guards is a lot of fun, and the game does a great job representing boring collection systems (statues, feathers, seals, weapons, etc) in a slightly immersive way (having to drop items off at various locations, integrating it with the villa’s development)
There’s really just one thing keeping it from locking down my time 100%: Jumping puzzles. It’s not 2003 anymore. I know Ubisoft made Prince of Persia and probably even used the same engine to make Assassin’s Creed, but there’s nothing fun about jumping puzzles, especially with Assassin’s Creed’s wonky freerunning controls. I’ve abandoned several Assassin’s Tombs because the jumping puzzles were tedious and frustrating. It’s an unfortunate detraction to an otherwise perfect game.
So that’s too many words on why I haven’t done a Cataclysm beta live stream recently. Hopefully I can scrape together the time to do one in the next week or so. Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll let you know when I expect to do it. It seems my Vashj’ir blog posts were somewhat popular, so I’m sure some of you would like to see Vashj’ir live.
In one word: Amazing.
In a song, what else?
Seriously, it looks and feels like this, which is a great thing. I might need to loop this song when I do my live streams of it.
The Vashj’ir experience starts with one of the most cinematic events you’ll ever see in-game, but I don’t think I want to spoil it. Suffice to say, it has fades and soft focus and all sorts of storytelling visual aids you wouldn’t expect to find in an MMO. Blizzard certainly learned their lesson from Wrathgate, and has the cinematics team working overtime on in-game content.
Vashj’ir proper begins inside of a shipwreck. Mercifully, the first quest rewards you with the Sea Legs buff. Before I go on with the zone flow, I’d like to say a few things about Vashj’ir conceptually.
I always wanted to see an underwater zone, ever since the first time I had to run into the Temple of Atal’Hakkar in Swamp of Sorrows. Having to swim underwater to get to an instance was a really different experience, and made me want all the combat to take place underwater. Also, playing a Warlock at the time, I saw that as requiring a Warlock to complete the dungeon, which would have been a positive for me.
Vanilla-era WoW environment design would have been awful at implementing an underwater zone or dungeon. This was the design mindset that thought a 5-hour slog through Blackrock Depths would be fun. There would be no “quality of life” buff like Sea Legs in a Vashj’ir designed by that mindset.
Sea Legs makes Vashj’ir. Vashj’ir without Sea Legs would be awful. The zone is absolutely massive, essentially its own continent roughly the size of Nagrand. Moving around that at 70% movement speed would take forever and make the zone very unfun. An underwater zone needs to be huge to work properly. The 60% movement speed buff works out very well, making walking speed in Vashj’ir slightly faster than normal ground walking speed, making the space between mobs and quests more than tolerable. Furthermore, a lack of permanent underwater breathing buff would have made the zone as much fun as those underwater levels in Sonic the Hedgehog. (I know how much everyone loved the “running out of air” music or that little chime warning that the panic music was about to start.)
Thanks to this buff, you can explore the depths of the ocean freely and at a pace that keeps it fun. Which is great, because the atmosphere of being underwater is something that truly needs to be experienced. The color scheme and art design is great, but what really sells the concept is the feeling that certain death is everywhere and about to strike. With raytraced shadows on, the massive shadows of mobs loom overhead, leading you to believe that large sharks or naga are about to descend upon you. Combat happens in 360 degrees, which is a blast. Adding to the confusion are the towering kelp plants obscuring your vision. On numerous occasions, I had mobs hiding behind them, aggroing me when I got too close.
The final touch of genius is that Blizzard found a way to neutralize the convenience of quest objective sparkles. There is an early quest where items are resting on the seabed against sand that is nearly the same color as the sparkles and the items. With the underwater wave effect, the sparkles are almost invisible further than 5 yards away.
After the first hub’s worth of quests, you get your underwater mount, the Abyssal Seahorse. The Abyssal Seahorse makes a great zone even better. It swims at 450%, which I don’t feel like doing the math on, but I believe it makes it a bit faster than a 310% flying mount. While riding the seahorse, you absolutely fly along underwater.
So far, Vashj’ir has been a brilliant zone. I spent 2+ hours there last night and didn’t even finish the first subzone or find the entrance to the Throne of Tides instance. Hopefully in the coming days, I’ll do another live stream of the zone, with many more viewers this time.
That’s right, I’ll be running a live stream from the Cataclysm beta tonight at 6:00 Eastern Standard Time. From the poll that I ran for the past 18 hours or so, it looks like I’ll be primarily be playing either a Feral Druid tank or a Resto Shaman.
I’ve never played a Shaman above level 25 or so. You may be in for a treat as I try to struggle my way through healing instances for the first time on a class I have little familiarity with.
I’ll also be taking viewer requests for what content they’d like to see. Feel free to post requests in comments to this post, as I’ll be checking it before starting the stream.
Available here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/surrealcatalyst-live
So I’m in the Cataclysm beta, and I could fire up a Ustream of beta footage, taking requests from viewers as to what content they would like me to find. Does that sound appealing to anyone?
I’d most likely run the stream around 6 or 7 PM EST on weekdays.
Last Night was fun, not only was I crapped on by my errrrday hell, I was given the wonderful fun of getting my butt handed to me in the Starcraft 2 beta by 12 year olds name PWNZORSRUS and LAWLURMOMISMYWIFEY.
The first thing you notice is that the graphics look really really good. Blizzard continued with their whole cartoony look with over sized shoulders (we will get bored of this blizzard..just not right now). However things have edges! and Vibrant Color! And Details, OH MY! The game play is still there, if you play an rts this is no different. The thing is there is a counter to everything in a 1:1 scenario. Problem is…
The other people, because the beta is only multiplayer. And fuck those mmo-wow-kid types. The ones WHO HAVE TO BEAT YOU IN EVERYTHING AND MUST GO FASTER FASTER FASTER MOAR MONSTER DRINKS. I play and do my thing, quickly, but not that quickly. So I lost. A lot.
I’ll be excited for the single player game, and campaign modes. That will be fun. but multiplayer. Nah. Not my cup of team brother.
Starcraft 2 will be released on July 27, 2010
Blizzard has released another video containing gameplay, a match rather, where the Protoss are playing against the zerg. That nulifier looks sick for the protoss. The scope of this game looks amazing. I’m way excited.
The StarCraft II beta-test period is coming in the months ahead! If you’d like a chance to participate, now’s the time to let us know. Simply go to the “Beta Profile Settings” page in Battle.net account management to go through the new beta opt-in process and upload a snapshot of your system specs. During this process, you’ll also have the opportunity to opt in to future betas for other Blizzard Entertainment games. Please note that even if you’ve opted in to our betas previously, you’ll need to complete this new process and upload your current system specs to have a chance to be invited.
For more information, see the FAQ — or create a Battle.net account to opt in now. If you have an unused beta code from BlizzCon 2008 or WWI 2008, visit this site to enter your code.