Posted in November 2012

Hugo Reviews: American Gods and Hyperion

Some more literary thoughts here!

American Gods – Neil Gaiman (Winner, 2002)

This kept me sane on some long flights to and from America itself over the summer, but didn’t help much as a guidebook if I’m honest! American Gods is an epic tale of the new gods of a modern age supplanting an older pantheon of immigrant deities brought to America in the minds and folklore of its historical settlers, and the war between them. Sounds clunky, but works well, with strong characterisation in the hidden maneuverings of the New Gods; Media, Technology, The Freeways, etc and the crafty countering of the Old; Odin, Anansi, Thoth, etc.

In to the middle of this invisible battleground comes Shadow, an ex-convict just released from prison to find that news of his wife’s death and infidelity has severed all ties to his old life and left him at a loose end. Taking up a job as bodyguard for the enigmatic Mr Wednesday leads into an increasingly surreal hidden world which is very much at war.

It’s all very Gaiman, echoing many of the core themes of Sandman, Neverwhere, Good Omens, etc; the personification of much greater concepts; gods and memes as actual people, walking the earth and the trials and tribulations they then cause, and face. Firmly in Magical Realism territory, Gaiman really runs with the All Myths Are True premise of the work and does it well; attempted by anyone else, it would seem very cluttered. There’s also a huge sweep of Americana running through the work too, a captivated fascination with cheesy mid-western roadside attractions I’d previously only seen treated this way in Sam’n’Max: Hit the Road and the whole book feels like a kind of textual version of ‘Nighthawks‘, only with more Vikings. I’ve no idea how this comes across to the American reader, but I quite enjoyed it.

The flow of story is quite a meandering thing, which takes its time to get anywhere specific, and which makes a huge number of lengthy detours, particularly the “Mr Wednesday Recruiting Allies” bits, but perhaps this accurately reflects the “road trip” nature of the story itself, a thing of whimsy as well as action. Anyway, enjoyed this one a lot, despite it not having any atomic jetpacks or laserbeams!

Give it a go if you like; Mythology Made Modern, The Largest Ball Of Twine In The World, Road Movies, Just About Anything Else Gaiman Has Ever Done.

 

Hyperion – Dan Simmons (Winner, 1990)

On the eve of war between the 28th century Hegemony of Man and the post-human Ouster barbarians, seven pilgrims begin the journey to the enigmatic Time Tombs on the outback world of Hyperion. Each seeks out an audience with the alien and awesomely powerful Shrike, a creature beyond conventional science and limits, with a bloodthirsty reputation. One will be granted a wish, at the cost of the lives of the others, while in the skies above, powerful empires and factions manoeuvre to gain the upper hand from the outcome.

Hyperion is one of those finds which is precisely why I’m working through this list in the first place. Why hadn’t I read this before? Simmons skilfully blends the epic space opera format with intense personal stories and characterisation in a way I’d only really seen done well by Iain M Banks, and there are many similarities of style, although Simmons’ Hegemony is a much more earnest place than Banks’ wilfully irreverent Culture, and while the Culture is interesting enough, the Hegemony is us; human beings, into a fantastical future, complete with future history; how we get there from today, which always fascinates me. The sci-fi is not especially hard, but certainly internally consistent enough, highly inventive and thought provokingly woven into the story, rather than just used as deus ex machinae or plot device; the tech is relevant and important to the plot.

The story is structurally interesting as well. The pilgrimage itself is a well crafted travelogue across a fascinating and exotic planet on the brink of interstellar war, and believably so; refugees fleeing, a sense of panic, urgency, and this would make an excellent short story by itself. But to pass the time the seven pilgrims, each expecting to die at the end of the journey, decide to pass the time by each telling the story of why they are on the pilgrimage in the first place, making the trip a framing story in which are contained ‘The Priest’s Tale’, ‘The Soldier’s Tale’, and so on in a very Canterbury Tales style of device which is brilliantly executed. Each of the contained stories is interesting and highly thought-provoking, examining various quirks of sci-fi physics, and the world and society in which they live. Remarkably, none of them feel like filler! It initially comes across as a bit of a short-story anthology, but soon reveals how connected each pilgrim already is to the Shrike, and Hyperion.

An absolutely cracking read, I immediately went out and bought the sequel, ‘The Fall of Hyperion‘ (spoilers abound in there) and am reading it right now. Highly recommended and just my cup of tea!

Give it a go if you like: Iain M Banks’ Non-Culture Novels, Quirky Public Transport, Sweeping Sagas Of Future Empire, Chrome Spikes

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How To Murder Time 2.03

It’s another hour of informed rambling on the important games of the week, and this time we’re continuing with the unexpected chat about new MMOs like Planetside 2 and Guildwars 2.

There’s also some chat about Assassin’s Creed, Need for Speed and the Walking Dead episodic games from Telltale Games and Tim’s favourite subject, Star Wars, as we played the X-Wing miniatures game. He even quite liked it.

I, Mesmer: Swords

Continuing on with an attempt to find Mesmer Comedy Builds in Guild Wars 2!

My standard runabout build has developed over a month or two of trial and error and mostly uses the Greatsword in the Primary Weapon slot, For Massive Damage! The Secondary Weapons can be important too, and possibly a way of exploring a more in-depth complexity than initially seems present in the game.

At L7, the Weapon Swap button unlocks (Unless you’re an Engineer or Elementalist, who get some different mechanics instead) and from there, a press of the tilde key can instantly change half the skill bar, even during combat with a 10s cooldown. A useful and complementary Secondary Weapon set is clearly an important part of the build, effectively turning 10 available skill slots, into 15.

Being so gleefully destructive with the Greatsword, I tend to use the Secondary set more for utility than straight fighting and typically go with Sword and Focus.

In the main hand, the Sword is the Mesmer’s only proper melee option, designed for actually getting up close and wailing on the problem. The alternatives; Greatsword, Staff and Scepter, are all ranged weapons. In many ways the Sword type builds remind me of the old Illusionary Weapon builds of GW1, using trickery, speed and evasion to frantically stay alive in an otherwise untenable toe-to-toe position.

 

Mind StabMind GashMind SlashThe auto-attack skill here, #1 Mind Slash/Mind Gash/Mind Stab, is a three-skill attack chain which constantly cycles through. Reasonably punchy, it also debuffs with Vulnerability and strips a Boon on the third hit. Interestingly, like most melee attacks in GW2, it appears to be a very short-range AoE cone attack, rather than single target direct damage, so is an ideal fallback if things are going a bit too melee for a more ranged Primary Weapon (GS, Staff). DPS is reasonable, but it offers no survivability itself so do not just stand there auto-attacking with this – use lots of other skills and dodging to stay alive. Mesmers typically aren’t suited to proper melee fighting for extended periods; even with quirky +Vitailty/+Toughness/+Healing Power builds it seems pretty difficult to build a proper Mesmer Tank, in any real sense.

Blurred Frenzy#2 is Blurred Frenzy and is my top pick for Sword. It simultaneously does a very high amount of damage all targets in a point-blank frontal arc and also gives 2s of Distortion, an effect which causes auto-evasion, as if you’d just dodged, but without having to actually dodge. In effect it makes you invulnerable for two seconds. This skill alone makes the Sword a highly useful way to buy time in a melee gone wrong, swapping in from Greatsword or whatever. The damage is nice, but consider holding off spamming this, instead reserving its use as a survivability panic-button for big incoming melee wind-up attacks; hammer knockdowns, etc. Coupled with well-timed proper dodging, this makes melee a pretty viable option for a Mesmer, particularly when dual-wielding swords (see below.)

SwapIllusionary LeapSlot #3 is Illusionary Leap, the obligatory Illusion generating skill. This one creates a Clone with a one-handed sword that will leap at the target and start Mind Stabbing. It’s a Clone rather than a Phantasm, so isn’t very tough, functioning more as a distraction than actual DPS or tankage. Its initial leap causes cripple, but only on the target, so Illusionary Berserker (Greatsword) is probably a better bet for that. The leap is a Combo Finisher: Leap, so if launched into a Combo Field: Ethereal, will create a Chaos Armor bubble on the clone. Apart from adding a useful pip to the F1-4 Shatter skills, the main point of this skill is its follow-on flip-side, Swap. Used within five seconds, this will swap your location with that of the Illusionary Leap clone, above. Typically this will be from range into a melee position with the earlier target. The clone arrives where you were and will then run back toward the target to help, while you can start slashing with wild abandon. Your arrival roots all adjacent targets for 2s and also counts as a Combo Finisher: Leap, so if you set up a dome before hitting the button, you’ll get Chaos Armor on arrival. Handy for closing with kiting or ranged enemies quickly. Note that because the clone needs to run from where you are to the target, the subsequent Swap is unlikely to be able to teleport you anywhere you couldn’t walk to anyway; i.e. WvW wall-tops, jumpey platforms, and so on. (I need to test this!)

 

All in all, not a bad choice for a Secondary Main-hand, particularly if using a Greatsword or Staff Primary, which are both ranged weapons. It offers moderate DPS, but a lot of useful point-blank survivability. I tend to use this mostly because you might as well hold something in the main hand if you want a utility off-hand item and I love the Focus. However, if you’re serious about panicky Mesmer Melee, the Sword should be dual-wielded. In the off-hand, the sword offers two further skills.

 

Counter BladeIllusionary Riposte#4 is another potent melee defensive option, Illusionary Riposte. This makes you block the next incoming for two seconds, and creates another clone when you do. Also causes damage, but not a huge amount. While blocking, the skill flips to Counter Blade allowing you to pre-emptively end the block and instead shoot a bolt which does low damage, but dazes the target. The timing of this skill is quite tricky and will need a bit practice to use well, but the accomplished Mesmer swordsman will be able to use this, #2 above, and general dodging to keep alive in all but the most hectic of melee scrambles, despite wearing just a frock coat or ball gown. Again, more use as a panic-button for specific big incoming attacks, rather than spamming whenever it lights up.

Phantasmal Swordsman#5 calls in a Phantasmal Swordsman to help out. Being a proper Phantasm, not a Clone, it’ll do real and considerable DPS and is substantial enough to take a few big hits. Avoid shattering it unless absolutely necessary – this one is more use alive. It sometimes evades but doesn’t do anything else too clever, being mostly a straight damage attacker. Like the Phantasmal Berserker, it leaps about a fair bit, so watch for secondary aggro. These leaps count as Combo Finisher: Leap, so throwing out a dome before starting will grant it Chaos Armor.

 

The Swords are clearly about melee; dishing out point blank damage, and surviving the retaliation. As Melee DPS, a Sword/Sword Mesmer is surprisingly effective and a lot of fun, but I’m still unconvinced about overall viability as a ‘Mesmer Tank’. If it’s possible at all, it’ll need a lot of stat building to augment it and make it work. Perhaps not an optimal weapon for maximum efficiency, it’s a fantastic change of pace from the usual “stand at the back and shoot purple magic” of the rest of Mesmering.

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Hugo Reviews: The Fountains Of Paradise and Blackout

I keep meaning to talk more about books on the podcast, but we usually run out of time with all the gaming we’re doing these days. I’m still as voracious a reader of Science Fiction as ever and never gave up on my plan to read every winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, which is actually going quite well!

I can’t enjoy a thing unless there is an arbitrary collection-based secondary gameplay achievement element to it all. And a list! I’ve read a couple since last posting about any of it and here are some thoughts! I’d be keen to see yours in comments!

The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C Clarke (Winner, 1980)

A relatively short work, The Fountains of Paradise is a fairly hard-sf exploration of the Space Elevator concept, (Which I think is awesome, but not nearly as awesome as the Space Fountain). Being responsible for popularising the idea of the geostationary satellite, Clarke typically examines his sci-fi flights of fancy in meticulous technical detail and the design and construction challenges of the space elevator form the fascinating core of the story as we follow the life and magnum opus of Dr Vannevar Morgan, a kind of 22nd century Isembard Kingdom Brunel.

Intertwined with these tales of heroic mega-engineering is an intricately detailed series of flashbacks to the turbulent times of Kalidasa, the 5th century ruler of the island of Taprobane, a made-up island which becomes the future ground station of the elevator. The B-story here is interesting enough, but I did wonder how much of it was a relevant attempt to draw parallels between the two men’s troubles, and how much was just Clarke wanting to go off on one and write a load of stuff about his clearly beloved home of Sri Lanka and also do something historic for a change. He even admits as much in the foreword!

Overall, it has that excellent ‘old-school sci-fi’ feel very characteristic of its time; the grand projects of The Future which were very much driven by the spirit of the age in which this was written; a vibrant scientific 60s and 70s in which the Apollo Program was merely the start of an awesome age, rather than a highpoint or faded unreproducable history. I love that sort of sci-fi, full of boundless optimism, and conquerable horizons of knowledge and self; an antidote to a more modern, grubbier and less ambitious current age.

Give it a go if you like: The Engineer As Hero, Man Conquering His Universe, Big Stupid Objects, Sri Lankan History

 

Blackout/All Clear – Connie Willis (Winner, 2011)

I’m not sure if I can technically tick this one, since I only read Blackout, and the award went to both novels as a ‘diptych’, which I didn’t even know was a word! Blackout focuses on the trials and tribulations of a group of Oxford University History Students from the year 2060 who use the ever knotty technology of Time Travel to do their coursework through some very primary sources indeed. When four students are sent back to observe different parts of 1940’s Blitz-riddled London with fake personas provided by ‘Wardrobe’, troubles begin as their return-trip ‘drops’ start failing to appear, leaving them stranded in the past during a very inhospitable age.

To be honest, I’ve no idea why this is a Hugo winner in the first place. While ostensibly a book about time travel, the usual examinations of The Rules, Treading On Butterflies, Not Killing Ones Grandparents, Multiple Coexistence, The Trousers Of Time and so on are mostly glossed over in favour of a highly detailed exploration of Life In London During The Blitz, turning this from promising sci-fi jaunt into lengthy period piece. Brief talk of ‘Slippage’ (Time Travel destinations being moved or blocked by other time travelling) and crossing your own stream and so on happens just enough to pique my interest, only to be lost in forty page descriptions of an air raid shelter and everyone in it. Mostly the time travel comes across as hasty handwaved plot device and wouldn’t leave the book in any worse shape if it hadn’t been there at all. It all left me quite unsatisfied really, with a faint hint of bait and switch. Does historical WWII fiction sell worse than sci fi?

Still, credit where it is due; as a piece of believably researched historical fiction it is very good indeed. The horrors of the average person’s life in the Blitz are lavishly painted and interesting characters abound; the ‘contemps’, natives of the time, are interesting and believable people (Binnie and Alf in particular), with a wry Britishness barely masking a genuine terror of sudden death from above in the middle of the night. The problem is with the time travellers themselves, who mostly spend the entire book dithering and second, third and fourth-guessing themselves as they get helplessly buffeted about by unfeasible amounts of bad luck and missed timing. Not only is this highly irritating itself, to the point where I was gritting my teeth, letting out strangled groans and wanting physically shake some them, but it also undermines the credibility of the entire premise. Who the hell allows these idiots to time travel in the first place? Would you install a largely unsupervised time machine in the common room of your university? Exactly! (See Asimov’s’ End of Eternity for a far less aneurism-causing treatment of time travel)

All in all, it was okay, but not really what I was after. Finished it, but not going to buy the second half, as I got so irritated by the protragonists that I no longer care what happens to them in the end.

Give it a go if you like: Second World War Stories, Not Having To Worry About The Details Of Time Travel (a.k.a “Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey“), Hilarious Misunderstandings Which Aren’t Actually That Funny, Smug People With Lists of Historic Bomb Sites Being De-Smugged Quite Abruptly.

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I, Mesmer: Greatsword

Any attempt to create Comedy Mesmer Builds in Guild Wars 2 must begin with an understanding of the weapon slots. In Guild Wars One terms, a weapon sort of translates as a kind of preset unalterable ‘half-build’, presumably with a particular kind of purpose and gameplay style in mind. In this case, the weapon becomes the starting point of any Guild Wars 2 Comedy build.

I particularly like the Mesmer Greatsword and use it almost exclusively as a default weapon for almost all activities, only switching in the Sword/Focus for particular specifics.

Spatial SurgeThe basic attack (#1 Spatial Surge) is a hoot; the Mesmer makes the thing hover between outstretched arms and then uses it as the focusing lens of a massive purple stabby laserbeam. What’s not to like? This auto-attack is surprisingly powerful, relatively fast and seems to crit pretty often. Worth noting that the beam does more damage the further away you are. It’ll work at point blank range (Base Damage: 201), but the ideal range is also the maximum range; 1200 (Base Damage: 348; about +70% improvement), so be sure to tumble backwards for preference when dodging, and use the various Illusions to try to distract the foe and keep them at range where possible. Keep this going any time you aren’t casting anything else. Remember, in the hands of the Mesmer, a Greatsword is a ranged weapon.

Mirror Blade#2 Mirror Blade is a dependable Combo Finisher, of the Physical Projectile type. This means when fired into or through a Combo Field skill (#7, #8 or #10 in my typical skillbar), it will cause the Confusion condition on the enemy it connects with. It also Combo Finishes through other people’s Fields too; lines of fire, healing domes, etc. Use into any persistent friendly AOE you see! It also bounces between several targets, which I’ve improved with traiting. As with many Mesmer skills, it variously debuffs enemies and buffs friendlies, which is a nice bonus. This one does Vulnerability or Might. It also looks cool. It doesn’t do a huge amount of straight damage, so I usually save it for Combo work, rather than spamming it whenever it lights up. On contact with the first target, this will also create a Clone directly into melee, which isn’t powerful, but does a good job of running interference, and can be used for the F1-4 shatter skills as needed.

Mind Stab#3 Mind Stab is a bit weak. It doesn’t do a huge amount of damage, it has a fiddley flow-breaking positionable AOE template which itself is quite small and the boon stripping isn’t a massive gamechanger. A useful fallback in point-blank melee scrums, or if everything else is cooling down.

Phantasmal Berserker#4 Phantasmal Berserker is the real workhorse skill on this weapon. It summons an imaginary you with a greatsword who then does great big charging sweeps on the chosen target. These sweeps are AOE spinning attacks every 7 seconds or so which cause Crippled condition, have a satisfyingly high DPS and seem to crit like crazy. The spin attack is a Combo Finisher: Whirl so if launched into an Ethereal field will also start firing off Confusion bolts in all directions! Interestingly, this skill does not require line of sight to use; very handy for WvWvW Keep Battles – with some clever targeting, it can be summoned on the other side of closed keep doors or along wall tops. In large zergs (PvE events, or WvW), the Cripple component is the most valuable aspect, ensuring you tag almost everything and help prevent most of it from getting away or getting to you while the rest of your zerg now grinds them up at leisure. It’s not a real tank (See Phantasmal Defender and Phantasmal Warden), but opening with this skill buys you a valuable few seconds of DPS time, and when the enemy does start to notice you, they are limping when they come for you. As a phantasm, it counts as Active Illusion pip for F1-4 shattering, although in my opinion is far more useful alive than exploded; there are plenty of more disposable Illusions more suited for that, not least the one created by a Mirror Blade hit, above. Aim to have an iBerserker in play at all times, and remember to resummon a new one after each target dies. One thing to watch out for; the long sweeping dashes it makes, in largely random directions, can be hell for secondary aggro, so watch for unavoidable adds when using this skill; the iBerserker will end up pulling the entire room or campsite pretty much on its first sweeping pass. Plan accordingly.

Illusionary Wave#5 Illusionary Wave is okay, but situational. A kind of mini panic-button in function, it is a hefty on-demand forward facing arc knockback which can be used to quickly gain range on an enemy who is too close, particularly when followed up by Crippling #4 sweep and a backward tumble. Unfairly, while monsters with knockback can gleefully punt players off tall ledges to their deaths far below, this skill will not. Enemies will be driven back to the edge of a ledge or drop, but cannot be forced over them. In fights against large numbers, correct application of this skill can refocus and herd the fight back into more manageable front-lines, especially when adds are starting to peel off and attack back-row people. It causes poor damage and no conditions (a Mesmer rarity!) and used incorrectly can even drive enemies to safety from damaging AOE bubbles and the like. It does Interrupt, (or what passes for interruption in Guild Wars 2), so assuming the big uber-monster is capable of being knocked over, and is telegraphing a big wind-up teamkill special move clearly enough, hitting them with this will buy the team time. Interruption is nowhere near the science it was in the original game though, so best of luck with that!

 

On the whole, the Greatsword seems to fulfil a decent offensive ranged DPS role without too much in the way of tricksey gimmicks. Illusion generation is decent, with two clones created per skill rotation, neither needing complex circumstances to do. I haven’t done any Structured PvP yet, but in all other areas of the game, I find it performs well and is a solid dependable DPS beast. Its skills work together reasonably well, and anyway, it looks damned cool.

Getting long, so more on the Sword/Focus secondary and my Heal/Utility/Elite slots next time!

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How To Murder Time 2.02

It may have been slightly delayed by evil web hosts suspending our account and not wanting to publish with the new one before I’m sort of sure that the site is stable, but I’m sure you’ll all agree the wait is worth it.

In this episode we discuss using computer games to become better guitarists, believable humans and also show a complete lack of interest for revolutionary America.

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In Search of Comedy

One of the things I loved about Guild Wars (and still do!) was the dizzying complexity of the basic Skill Bar Build game. Although everyone had a single hotbar with only eight slots, there were hundreds of skills which could be put in those slots, opening up endless vistas of elaborate theorycraft, clever interplay and intricate sequence building. Check out this dedicated wiki for a mind-boggling sample of this fascinating secondary gameplay!

I used to dabble myself, and if I can ever work out where all our historic posts vanished to, I’ll re-add all my old Comedy Mesmer Build posts back to the site! With a bit of work and without switching to an alt, I could be DPS, Tank, Healer, Crowd Control, Buffer, Debuffer and all sorts of crazy concept gimmick roles of my own devising. Some builds worked very well and others were more in the nature of abject lessons in the perils of Things Looking Good On Paper; exercises in Overdesign. I suspect this reflects many people’s experience with the system during GW’s heyday. Was it too complicated? Did most players shun the theorycraft and just run around with the same eight skills from their primary profession, forever?

Arenanet seem to think so and the system in place in Guild Wars 2 is a far less complex beast.

There are now ten skills in the bar, but the first five of those are a fixed set, based on your profession, and the type of weapons you are holding. Slot six is now a mandatory self-heal skill, chosen from a very small list. Slots seven through nine are now the ‘Utility’ skills, and perhaps most resemble the older game; free picks from a list of about twenty options. Slot ten is the ‘Elite’ skill, chosen from an eventually unlocked list of about five skills. It all seems… much smaller to me.

Most of the available skills are defined by your choice of profession, of which players can only now be one, chosen at character creation and fixed forever. Gone is the quirky but interesting dual-classing of the original, which is a shame. The remaining skills available in the lists are defined by your choice of race, although these seem to be more of a bonus type of thing, an accent, rather than an entire viable alternative. The difference between a Human/Mesmer and Norn/Mesmer is almost negligible compared to the difference between a Mesmer/Necromancer and a Mesmer/Warrior.

The Attributes are gone, replaced by a more standard kind of Talent-Tree-and-Respec sort of thing which affects innate character stats and twiddley class features, instead of directly powering the numerical performance of normal skills.

In this brave new world, can the concept of the Comedy Mesmer Build even exist?  I hope to find out in a series of informative education blog posts!

 

But before trying to come up with anything quirky or unusual, a look at the basics I usually run around with.  It’s developed on the base of this build here but without the staff and more emphasis on combo work.

Primary Weapon:  Greatsword

Spatial Surge Mirror Blade  Mind Stab Phantasmal Berserker Illusionary Wave

Secondary Weapon: Sword/Focus

Mind Slash Blurred Frenzy Illusionary Leap     Temporal Curtain Phantasmal Warden

Heal/Utility/Elite:

Ether Feast     Feedback Null Field Phantasmal Defender     Time Warp

Traits:

  • 20 Domination: Crippling Dissipation, Greatsword Training
  • 20 Duelling: Phantasmal Fury, Deceptive Evasion
  • 10 Chaos: Debilitating Dissipation
  • 20 Illusions: Compounding Power, Illusionary Elasticity

Gear, gems, etc: Berserker’s, building for +Power, +Precision and +Critical Damage %

 

The basic thinking behind the build is not terribly cunning – MOAR DPS! Its very glass cannon and I do sometimes struggle with the lack of any gear boosts to native Toughness or Vitality, instead relying on the double-tap dodging, along with knockbacks and cripples, to stay alive. This works most of the time, but doesn’t do well against group-scale alpha strikes. The frailty is more than made up for with the sheer DPS output though – you do need to stay on the move a lot while you are fighting, but those fights don’t last especially long!

Combos are an important part of the build, both group and solo. Including secondary weapon set and follow-on effects, there are four Combo Field: Ethereal and three Combo Finshers of various types in the build, making liberal application of the Confusion condition an important part of overall solo DPS, and helping boost DPS performance of groups and large ungrouped event and WvWvW zergs too.

The build also attempts to make the Illusions more useful while active than shattered, and to keep a full set of three in play at all times during combat. There are probably better builds for specifics, but as a general purpose, have-a-go-at-anything type of set-up, it works well enough for me so far.

 

So to think in terms of Comedy Builds, perhaps the various weapons are best thought of as single skills, a kind of multi-button meta-skill comprised of several individual skills which must always be placed in the bar together? Syllables instead of letters? Is a weapon just a preset half-build? Comedy Builds can exist if the choice of weapons can augment or interact with the choice of utility heal and elite skills. If not, then any ‘build’ can only really be expressed in the Utility slots, which would be very limited and a shame. So the first step would have to be an understanding of what the weapons each do in themselves.

More thoughts to come…

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Admirable, Regrettable

After much scepticism and astonishment on my part, PlanetSide 2 is more or less here! Even late into the beta and actually playing it, I found it hard to believe it was a real thing. A niche project even when new, the unrelenting harshness coupled with numerous technical obstacles it never quite managed to fully overcome meant that the predecessor, PlanetSide, never really captured the attention of the masses and I often marvelled at its continued existence, let alone thoughts of a sequel. I get the impression that the franchise is a personal favourite and pet project of John Smedley and so carries more weight than matters of mere profitability would otherwise suggest. I would have been axed long ago otherwise.

The sequel is undeniably fun. It seems well-executed and a bears a worthy comparison to the modern console FPS in performance, execution and style. Comparing PlanetSide One against its own contemporaries, CounterStrike et al, was always painful and a lot of the cause of its marginality; too pacy for MMOists and too lumbering for FPSists. There were always better games of that type to play, back then. Differences between PlanetSide 2 and the latest Battlefields, Calls of Duty and Halos are much subtler and more in the nature of subjective stylistic matters, I think. Mind you, I do say all this as someone who doesn’t do a lot of FPS so take my thoughts as you will.


The graphics engine is very fine indeed, giving the old planet a fresh new look and looks particularly good during night-fighting; tracer fire, neon highlighting and inky shadows. The new class system works well enough, at once making basic gameplay more flexible, with roles being selectable as needed from respawn to respawn, while at the same time opportunities for long-term specialisation seem abundant and rewarding. There is a hefty range of toys to play with and although I personally didn’t get on with the aircraft, the ground vehicles seem potent and fun to drive, although nowhere near as robust as the PlanetSide 1 juggernauts – not necessarily a bad thing, pace-wise. New and much more elaborate base designs make for some challenging indoor-style combat, but the new continents still retain that large overland scale that so defined the first game, hills and canyons to plan advances through with open field battles commonplace, and it’s fascinating seeing those familiar old logos and names in a new context. It all harks back to a purer PlanetSide, before stupid giant robots, stupid Unreal Tournament style caverns and a stupid lack of players.

 

The basic feel of gameplay is mostly the same – a good thing. Much tinkering with the basic format during beta seems to have settled on a measured push from base to base which will be familiar and the big draw of the thing for me,  the hundred player pushes and sieges  still exist in recognisable form. Most of the time these base fights seem to roll through a fair bit faster than in PS1, but now and then the multi-hour battles of attrition can still be found.

 

Some things are different. Hacking to capture, in the old sense does not exist, instead its more capture the flag based. A new system of resource accumulation now regulates vehicle spawning and also consumables like med kits and grenades, although in practice it sounds worse than it is and I never had any problems with resource scarcity. Sanctuary is gone – instead the warp gates function as safezone ‘bases’ for each empire on each continent. Repair guns have an overheat mechanic now instead of needing glue canisters. Little things mostly.

 

The business model, for those who care about such things, seems to be the increasingly standard two tier F2P setup; the box cost, then free with cash shop, with a subscription option for extra bits and pieces, including a regular micropoint stipend.

 

All in all, as an on and off veteran of PlanetSide One, I recommend it – a fresh look at a familiar game which pays appropriate homage, yet revitalises the brand. It’s all surprisingly fun – go take a look.

 

Personally though, I won’t be joining you.
You see, as a valued long-time European customer of Sony Online Entertainment, I’ve been deported to the questionable custody of some German media company I’ve never heard of called ProSeibenSat.1 and this annoys me on several levels. I say questionable, as I know literally nothing about these people. I’ve heard lots of negative hearsay from unreliable internet people, but on the other hand, the only good things I’ve heard about them are from the FAQ put out by SOE themselves; hardly an independent analysis, from either side, leaving me all a bit confused and paranoid in this age of regular and inevitable customer details database hacking.

 

And even if I knew ProSeibenSat1 to be sterling and dependable fellows, it’s the manner in which I’ve been commodified that irritates me. I’ve been a regular and reasonably loyal customer of SOE, in Good Standing, since they were called Verant Interactive. So to be offhandedly handed off after twelve years of generally contented custom does feel like a betrayal somewhat. No-one asked me about all this! Perhaps I want to stay a SOE customer? Maybe I don’t want to go with the strange man into his creepy van.

 

So what can I do about it all?

 

Well, I’m not going to bang on about ‘my rights’ or any of that nonsense. These are luxury goods and services and to the uninitiated reader I’m already in danger of sounding quite fatuous about the entire thing. I could just hang my head, go ‘alright then, I’ll do what you say’, sign up at PSS1, trade in my Station Cash for ProPlusPoints or whatever and get on with my life. It would be easy in fact; a streamlined conversion process seems to already be in place.

 

Or I could vote with the only means available to me, my custom. It feels important to me to not just go along with something I don’t agree with. It’ll change nothing, but if I don’t have at least one stupid self-denying principle to stick to, what else is there?

 

So no PlanetSide 2 for me, a game I was quite looking forward to and which seems quite fun. Or EverQuest 2, a game I’ve always quite enjoyed and in which I own a floating island I was working at landscaping and in which I’d only just obtained a flying mount. Or EverQuest Next, which I’ll likely never know. Or DC Universe Online, Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics, and PoxNora, which admittedly I had no interest in anyway, but now never will.

 

Some of SOEs games appear to remain unchanged, accessible via the usual Station account even for European customers; the original EverQuest, the original PlanetSide and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes all seem to be business as usual, but only because PSS1 likely didn’t want them. Possible nostalgia visits, but not viable main gaming for me, I think.

 

This is not a crusade. I am not trying to change anyone else’s mind. (It’s the internet, Haha! That would be impossible!) If you are in Europe and enjoy these games, by all means, do some research and perhaps give PSS1 an informed try. I’ll be watching with great interest how they perform. I am just explaining to anyone who cares why there won’t be any more coverage of the above games on this blog or the podcast anymore. Perhaps in one distant sunny future time, there might be a big u-turn, similar to when Codemasters gave up EU operation of DDO and LotRO and reverted it all back to Turbine and we’ll all meet again, but for now, adieu, SOE gaming, you will be missed.

 

As an amusing farewell, the PlanetSide 2 Beta left me with an inexplicable error message when I tried to uninstall it, and I had to just manually delete the files. I guess they never thought anyone would ever quit playing it…

 

UPDATE: Well, after that histrionic and highly cathartic rant, it turns out that the above ProSeibenSat.1 nonsense only applies to new European customers. Players with exsting SOE accounts (like myself) can continue to use them, and will have the option to switch over to PPS1, who will apparently offer ‘better payment options’. Still somewhat miffed by the principle of it all though. We’ll see…

Source: j_smedley replying to this reddit thread. You can even email him if you like!

 

UPDATE UPDATE: So after a tentative download and install, I was able to play PlanetSide 2 on my existing SOE account without a whiff of obscure german media company signup. I can probably play EQ2 without disruption too. It all makes this entire post a massive knee-jerk rant based on a storm in a teacup founded in insufficient research on a fundamental matter which I am wrong about in the first place.

It’s good to be blogging again!

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And we’re back!

After a little snafu with our hosting we’re back on a brand new server. Normality, or at least something closely resembling normality, will resume shortly.

Sympathy for the Dalek

That’s rather rubbing it in a bit…

As alluded to in the inexplicably resurrected podcast, I’m having some difficulties adjusting to Guild Wars 2, mostly because for some reason Arenanet thought it would be a massive hoot to take the main nemesis villain race from early-stage Guild Wars: Prophecies and make them playable, and on the same team as us beleaguered humans.

Back in the olden days, 250 years prior to the events of GW2, the Charr caused The Searing, an improbably catastrophic event involving massive crystal meteors called out of space in a directed orbital bombardment which caused a wonderfully picturesque lush medieval country to be quite literally bombed into the stone age, and after a two-year nuclear winter of sorts, the early events of Prophecies see we players escorting the surviving refugees away from dead ashen Ascalon to a new life in Kryta.

Not great neighbours then, and the harrowing implied behind-the-scenes treatment of waif-like franchise mascot Gwen in Eye of the North only cements the idea that Charr are really not The Good Guys.

 

It all leaves me with a massive problem buying into the current goings on in what passes for modern-day Ascalon, an eerily familiar landscape dominated by Charr ironwork and smokestacks. Tootling about the Plains of Ashford as a human Mesmer, tagging explore points and vistas, is a lot like sending a Hobbit to go map-making in a post-Scouring-Of-The-Shire Hobbiton. “I remember when all this wasn’t overrun by our mortal enemies!”, I think to myself, and then to add insult to injury, find myself murdering dozens of Ascalon “Separatists”, bold human freedom fighters, in a massively hypocritical attempt to impress various Charr ‘heart’ NPCs to complete each zone. If not that, then putting down dozens of Ascalon humans ghosts, which is nearly as bad.

The sensation of vengeful xenophobic time traveller only increases as I travel about Ascalon. Their city, The Black Citadel, is built on top of Rin, the doomed human capital from the Nolani Academy mission of GW1. During this mission, you have to blow a big magic horn to make it rain, which puts out rampaging Charr fires. In GW2, they’ve got the damned thing on display in the Citadel, all smashed up! Much of the Great Northern Wall still exists and many parts of Ascalon resemble their GW1 counterparts, places I’ve actually been. Many of the indigenous Veteran and Champion grade ghost bosses are the very same NPCs who taught me how to use basic class skills in Pre-Searing!

Admittedly, it is all done very well, leaving me a lot more affected that I ought to be. It’s just a computer game, I think to myself, but still feel twinges of genuine anger at the state of an imaginary world I held dear. Technically, I shouldn’t even be concerned about it all anyway. My GW1 main character (who either has an identical great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, will live to be over 280 years old or is actually a Timelord – I haven’t decided yet) is Elonian anyway – created in the Nightfall campaign, which means according to their own personal canon, they never experienced the Searing personally, instead joining the Prophecies storyline after the refugees made it to Kryta and just before the whole Shining Blade/White Mantle storyline kicks off. I did have a Prophecies alt though and it does still get to me a bit!

Arenanet have made a reasonable attempt to join the dots through the intervening 250 years and to balance the books of morality somewhat; with some later human-induced retaliatory cataclysm called ‘The Foefire’, along with a retrospective pre-history rework which now suggests that the humans stole Ascalon from the Charr in the first place, but I remain dubious. I wonder whether their strained attempt to meet the needs of gameplay (we need to add a playable Charr race…somehow!) by rewriting so much game lore has been a success or not. It feels a bit forced to me. A lot of it is detailed in the supplementary reading materials and I was so perplexed by it all that I went and bought Ghosts of Ascalon, just to answer the massive rhetorical ‘WTF?’ I have about it all. I guess that means it worked on a commercial level. (It’s not a big book – small pages, big writing – expect a reviewlet on the podcast soon!)

Petty complaints, I agree, and on the whole the sense of worldwide nostalgia is a big plus for me, making me a lot more interested and invested than if Guild Wars 2 had been set in an entirely new world. I should probably just stick to the Kryta, Maguuma and Shiverpeak zones for my blood pressure’s sake!

So my weird time-travelling genocide project continues, and I’m increasingly sympathetic to the plight of the often misunderstood Dalek race. I will EX-TER-MIN-ATE the Charr race one way or another, although I am hampered by the numerous instances of a strange bug where sometimes Charr seem to end up with green or teal names and become unattackable! I repeatedly log bug reports, but have yet to hear anything back on the matter. My frustrations do have something of an outlet though, as in typical MMO backstory fashion, even the Charr have their ‘evil civil war’ counterpart faction in the form of the Flame Legion, fire worshiping Charr of whom I am allowed to kill as many as I like! And if that’s not enough, there’s always WvWvW…

More on actual gameplay soon!