City of Heroes: Nostalgia for a classic that I never played

One of my great regrets in life is that I never got to play City of Heroes before it tragically shut down well before its time… that is, until a few months ago. In a bizarre series of events, it came to light that a secret City of Heroes server, that you had to know someone on the inside to get an invite to, had been running since the live game shut down, and, after being forced into the light by a YouTube expose, the code was made publicly available and the Homecoming servers were born. Now the people who were running these once secret servers are reportedly in talks with NCsoft to legitimize their claim to the game.

I was trying to explain this to my Elder Scrolls Online guild the other day, and I don’t think they believed me. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. The whole thing is a little insane. It sounds like the kind of thing someone makes up to get you to install spyware or something. And yet here we are, flying around in our capes and spandex.

If you read my blog, you know that I’m just a bit of an altaholic. So when I found out that this game gives you a thousand character slots, I was in heaven. Nooby, low level, gamer ADHD heaven. I know little to nothing about this game’s META, so thus far I’ve been mostly making characters based on a concept that may or may not result in terrible gameplay. Heroes like Fire at Will, a fire/thermal rad corruptor, The Sandwitch, an earth/dark dominator, and Executive Staff, a staff fighting/willpower scrapper. Yes, the puns just kind of… happen. And they’re getting worse. I made an earth/fire dominator (with the lava rock visual set on earth) named Magma Cum Laude. I’m not even a dad. I think I need help.

The early game experience isn’t the greatest. You start out with only two powers (plus one more if you grab it off of the P2W vendor), so chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting for cooldowns for several levels. But then there comes a point where you start getting really cool powers and everything clicks into place and you get a real feel for how this character is going to play. I’ve made a lot of characters, and some work well, while others don’t. That’s the beauty of this game, though; you can play pretty much any crazy thing you can imagine.

Movement powers become available at level 4 (I’m told the requirement was much higher back in the day, so thanks to whoever made that change!). So far I’ve only tried flight and super jump. Flight is iconic and it feels good to just zoom over everything, but it’s also really slippery. Definitely something to be turned off when you get to your destination, though I do appreciate that you can actually fight while your travel power is toggled on. Super jump will get you most places that flight will, but with a lot more control. Super Speed seems like the most boring travel power to me (I’ve never been quite sure if Big Bang Theory is trying to be ironic, making all of the characters think Aquaman is lame and Flash is cool, but I can’t stand the show so I try not to think too much about it), and teleport freezes you for a strangely long period of time, so flight and super speed are the only two I’m likely to use much. I also think it’s really cool that there isn’t just one “flight” power, but different versions depending on which power pool you take it from; sorcery has mystic flight, for instance. How is it that this game from 2007, that couldn’t even give characters individual fingers, can have this kind of variety of player choice, but modern games seem to find it too difficult?

It’s weird being a noob in this ancient game that has been dead for so long. Most of my playtime has been with the Massively OP crew (check out our streams! Including us failing miserably at robbing a bank!), but I’d like to go through some of the story missions and get to know my characters without the cacophony of flying particles that groups bring. These new servers have popped up at a really bad time for me, materializing just between Guild Wars 2’s season finale and Elder Scrolls Online’s Elsweyr expansion, as well as some non-MMO games, but what I have played has been a lot of fun, and I’m definitely planning on really digging into the game soon. Until then, away I go!

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I’m becoming less bothered by mobile game shenanigans

I remember a time, when smartphones were new and novel, that I thought that the original Angry Birds, specifically the free version, was the absolute worst. It had the audacity to show ads between levels. And sometimes banners during the level. And it was a whole dollar to get rid of them. Ah, if only we knew then how bad things could become.

Fast forward to 2019, and I got eye strain from rolling my eyes at everyone being shocked and outraged that the Elder Scrolls mobile game was monetized like a mobile game, with increasingly long wait timers on chests, buildings, and crafting, and green pay-to-win gems offering to help you skip past it all. None of it surprises me, and none of it is half as bad as half of what’s on the Google Play/iOS App Store. What’s the big deal? This seems totally normal and reasonable for a high production value, free-to-play mobile game! I’m way more bothered by the unreasonably long loading screens than the business model.

I can’t decide if I’m bothered by this change of attitude. On the one hand, I feel like I should be up in arms about the trend of exploitative, bait-and-switch monetization that’s taking over games these days. I shouldn’t be playing these games, because, even if I’m not giving them money, I’m supporting them by spending time in their game.

But another part of me feels like this is just how it is now. Me refusing to download a game isn’t going to cause game companies to change their ways. What modern game can you go to these days that isn’t flirting with some kind of frustrating business practices? If the game is fun despite its monetization model, I’ll play it. Or, perhaps more accurately, if a game isn’t so obnoxious in its monetization that I can have fun and not give them money, I’ll play it.

There’s a certain meta-game to trying to get as much out of a free-to-play as you can for little to no money. I remember when LotRO went free-to-play, one of the first to do so, there were a bunch of players who prided themselves on scheming all kinds of ways to get things from the cash shop for free by creating a new character, doing some “easy” low level achievements for the small amount of cash shop currency they rewarded, then deleting that character and starting the whole process over. In Guild Wars 2, people have been similarly farming the free Black Lion chest keys given for completing certain story chapters for years, to the point that ArenaNet has had to come up with several different strategies to thwart key farmers. I’m sure there are tons of examples of this in a wide variety of MMOs, but you get the point.

But is this really fun? Isn’t this just making your MMO into another job? Many have pointed out that you could pick up a few hours at a minimum wage job and earn enough money to buy way more cash shop currency in a lot less time. But, for these people, it’s not about efficiency, it’s about feeling like they gamed the system. Plus, let’s be honest, even repetitive achievement farming is way more fun than flipping burgers.

While I’ve long since given up on this kind of thing in MMOs, this is kind of how I feel about mobile games like Fire Emblem Heroes or Dragalia Lost or Clash Royale. I’m a little embarrassed to even admit that I play gacha-heavy mobile games like that, but, in a way, trying to grind out enough currency to get the best characters for free is the thing that keeps me in the game. Shortcutting by buying currency would take the fun out of it. I feel a little better about Elder Scrolls Blades, because, while a lot of my best gear came from lootboxes, some of it was also crafted from materials I got from quests (and lootboxes), which feels like a decent compromise.

People get really upset over this topic, to the point that I’ve sat on this post for a while before working up the courage to post it. I’ve been told I’m an anti-mobile elitist PC gamer for claiming that competitive games like MOBAs and shooters don’t work on mobile and companies should stop trying to shoehorn them in, and I’ve been called things I don’t care to repeat for daring to suggest that the upcoming mobile Diablo might be a reasonably fun game. This reminds me of a post that Massively OP ran[LINK] recently wherein Tyler made the claim, which seemed pretty innocuous to me, that being an elitist is dumb, so stoppit. The comments immediately erupted with outcries along the lines of “How dare you tell me what to like!” He was not trying to tell us what to like and what not to like, he was pointing out that liking a thing and screaming at people who like that thing are not the only two options. I didn’t think that was an extreme viewpoint, but apparently some people did.

Anyways, enough rabbit trails. What do you think? Has The Industry just worn me down so much that I just don’t see how terrible the games I play are anymore? Or is acceptance of the way things are, and making my own fun regardless, the ideal here?

Thoughts on E3 2019


So, I know the E3 announcements were a week ago, but I wrote this and forgot to publish it. Whoops. It’s not too late, is it? Well it’s my blog so if you don’t like it you can… not read it I guess?

Ah, E3. While it’s not what it once was (PAX has stolen a lot of its thunder, and media-centric cons seem to be less necessary with the rise of social media), it’s still always an exciting time filled with lots of big surprise announcements. Here are a few of my highlights from this year.

Bethesda had a really strong showing last year, but this year was a bit of a letdown. There was no information about Elder Scrolls VI or Starfield, which seems like a mistake to me. Or, perhaps more accurately, the mistake was to reveal both last year if they weren’t going to be ready to say anything about either a year later (especially since they had plenty of other material to talk about last year). Maybe it would have been more impressive if I cared about doom or horror games.
Elder Scrolls Online’s DLC trailer was good (Kamira being epic! Sai Sahan! Even more dragons?), and I’m excited that TES Blades is coming to Switch (I think I’ll enjoy it a lot more there than mobile). I was really excited to see the revival of Commander Keen, even though it looks like mobile garbage. Commander Keen was one of my favorite games as a kid, so if mobile garbage is the first step to convincing Epic that there are people who want a reboot of the originals, I’ll play it. I’m really confused as to why Zenimax Online Studios is handling this, since it looks like something an indie studio could crank out in a year, but, as much as I would love for there to be another AAA MMO on the market, I’m secretly a little relieved that they won’t be pulling too much talent away from ESO for another MMO.

Quite honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to the Square Enix presentation. I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t care about Final Fantasy. I’m even apathetic toward the Final Fantasy MMOs, which I probably should be excited about. I keep buying Final Fantasy games and then not playing them more than a few hours. I don’t know why, and even stranger is that I enjoy many of the spinoffs like Chrono Trigger and Bravely Default, but actual Final Fantasy games, not so much. And that’s ok; I can’t be into every franchise. So, while I’m happy that other people are hyped for all of the Final Fantasy goodness that Square released, I’m just… not.
I’m not sure how to feel about this Avengers game. Mainly because, like so many trailers and reveals, they told us absolutely nothing about the gameplay. Yes, the story is an important piece, but if the game is just a bland button masher that’s no fun to play, it doesn’t matter. Also, you know there are a lot more than just five avengers, right? It just feels kind of lame when it’s next to Ultimate Alliance 3. I guess they’ll come in DLC.
A lot of people seem to be hating on the Avengers’ character design. I guess people expected them to look like their MCU actors? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen enough non-MCU Marvel media to not feel too tied down to one specific look, but I thought it was fine. If anything, I thought it was too influenced by the movies.
Also, it’s sad that companies have to specify “no lootboxes or pay-to-win” now, to thunderous applause. Good job, you’re doing what used to just be expected?

Finally, the day arrived for Nintendo’s presentation. As a big Nintendo fan, this was my most anticipated presentation, and they did not disappoint. And, as a Super Smash Bros. fan, the new DLC fighter announcement was the part I was most excited for. The Hero(es) from Dragon Quest didn’t get me that excited. I haven’t played the Dragon Quest games, and “anime guy with a sword” is approaching a quarter of the roster now. Granted, my two main characters are among them, but it would be nice to have something with a new and different style. But hey, I’m sure a lot of fans, especially Japanese fans, were excited, and the more characters the merrier. Then, at the end, they surprised us with a second DLC fighter announcement: Banjo-Kazooie! Smash Bros. fans, including this one, have been asking for these guys to be added since the Nintendo 64, but it looked like it was never going to happen since Nintendo sold Rareware to Microsoft a while back. Somehow they worked out a deal, and they look perfect! I’m so excited to play them this Fall!
They crammed a surprising number of ports into this presentation, both from older consoles and contemporary ones. There wasn’t a whole lot that jumped out at me, but the sheer number of titles coming to Switch is impressive.
They brought the stream to a close with a teaser for an unnamed sequel to Breath of the Wild. This was surprising, because Nintendo doesn’t usually move that fast on sequels, especially given that there’s another Zelda game (the Link’s Awakening remake) releasing this year, but BotW is one of their most successful games ever and it’s a lot of what made the system so popular, so I guess they’re hoping to capitalize on it. I’m certainly not going to complain!

What was the biggest surprise? I thought it was more likely that one of these days we’d hear that Phantasy Star Online 2 was shutting down than to hear it was coming to America, but I’m happy to be wrong. I never played the original, but I like the original Phantasy Star games well enough (aside from the weird spelling), and it’s not every day that we get a sci-fi MMO, let alone one attached to a long standing IP.

What am I disappointed that we didn’t see? I already touched on TES6 and Starfield, so there’s that. We also didn’t get any Metroid info. I guess I was expecting that, since Nintendo recently announced that they had scrapped Prime 4 and started over with Metroid Prime’s original studio (which was the right move), but I was hoping for at least a little something. Also there were rumors that the original Prime trilogy was going to be remastered for Switch, but that hasn’t materialized either. We also know that there are some new Mega Man games in the works, but that was also absent. The rumor is that it’s for mobile only, so I’m prepared for disappointment there, but I’m still interested.

ESO: The Day I Became a Kaiju

This is the story of how I became a kaiju. I was playing Elder Scrolls Online the other day, doing the Orcrest instance on my new necro tank along with my wife’s healer. Everything was fine, until, at one point, I noticed that I wasn’t getting buffs correctly. Then I tried to use the Bone Goliath ultimate, which normally makes you turn into a giant armored skeleton. Except, because I wasn’t receiving buffs, I didn’t get the skeleton armor. I just got bigger.

At first it was one of those “Haha, I’m taller than this high elf” things. Surely I’ll go back to normal size after the normal time the buff lasts, right? But then I didn’t. And then, I used Bone Goliath again. And I grew even larger.

…and larger…

I was now approaching Godzilla-level proportions. At this point it was becoming hard to do combat.

So I switched to first person, where I rained down spells on the ants below me.

I became so big that, even zoomed all the way out, my head took up the whole screen.

I used it one last time. At this point it was impossible to do much of anything.

Again, this is zoomed all the way out.

Then I remembered that the inventory screen gives you a zoomed out view of your character (even with the UI turned off).

It turns out it zooms in slowly when you close the inventory screen, which gave me some of the best shots. Here’s the whole instance!

Here are a few screenshots from my wife’s perspective as well:

Here she is inside my foot.

My running animation was messed up too; it was like I was running in place.

So that’s the day I became a kaiju. This is, without a doubt, the best bug I have ever experienced in a video game. Has anyone else ever seen anything like this?

ESO: Necromancers are healers who refuse to give up


What is it about necromancy in games? Thematically, it’s pretty dark; reanimating recently dead bodies and skeletons to fight your enemies is not the kind of thing the guys in the white hats are supposed to do. But mechanically, it’s pretty much always my favorite class in any RPG that has it. It turns out The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Not even a week after launch, and I already have three Necros. I had planned for a stam DPS and a healer, but when I got into it I really wanted to make a tank as well (even though I’ve decided that I don’t really like tanking in ESO, but maybe this time will be different?).

I’m no min/maxer, but it seems like this class is legitimately built to be viable for any of the four main build types (stamina DPS, magicka DPS, healer, and tank). Sure, it’s always been possible to build any class any of those ways, but let’s be honest, templars make better healers than dragonknights, dragonknights make better tanks than nightblades, etc. I also like that the META builds I’m seeing for tanks actually use a fairly even split of magicka, health, and stamina, rather than “just dump everything into stam, maybe a little into health if you don’t have at least X” like many of them. The hybrid build idea is what initially attracted me to the Warden tank, and, while the Warden didn’t ultimately hold my interest, I’m hoping this will be more like what I thought Warden was going to be.

I’m liking the Necro’s healing style, which is even more positional/directional than the Warden before it. For instance, one of the heals is a line between the healer and a corpse. As long as this extra complexity is rewarded, this could be a really fun healing class. If there’s a lot more complexity involved and about the same healing as a templar, who basically can’t miss with a heal unless the target is just out of range, then it’ll be hard to justify. It’s hard to know intuitively at this point, and I haven’t sought out anyone who’s doing parses or anything, so we’ll see.

The stam DPS Necro feels really good. I love the scythe slash that hits everything in a melee-ranged arc in front of you and heals you based on the number of targets you hit. Also, while I know some people find it annoying, I enjoy managing summons and DoTs, which is exactly what this playstyle is built around. It’s just about everything I wanted from this class.

As fun as the new class is, it’s also the new story that keeps me coming back. Khajiit have always made for some of the most unique and entertaining NPCs, so a whole zone filled with them, including the various less humanoid breeds we’ve never seen before, is pretty great. Dragons neither excite nor repulse me — they’ve overdone, but what fantasy creature or plot device isn’t? — but at least this game has a unique twist on them. They certainly make for interesting world bosses that amount to something more than just a pure zergfest. And it’s not just the main story that’s great; I’ve been enjoying many of the side quests just as much. For instance, I loved the Mizzik Thunderpaws sidequest line, which plays like a corny private eye novel, but with cat people.

Overall, this expansion feels a lot more whimsical than the previous ones, with less focus on backstabbing politics or apocalyptic daedric plots, which is a welcome change. It’s been a while since a game had me thinking all day about how I can’t wait to get home and play it, let alone one that’s been around for five years, but ESO’s Elsweyr expansion has done it.

Detective Pikachu vs. Sonic the Hedgehog

This year, two video game franchises that defined my childhood will be hitting the big screen as live action movies. My reaction to the two trailers is about the same as much of the Internet: Detective Pikachu looks surprisingly, strangely good, Sonic the Hedgehog… not so much. Just so we’re all on the same page, here are the most recent trailers for each:


Hollywood loves to milk us for nostalgia. A lot of people roll their eyes at that, but I’m really not bothered by that in and of itself. I’m happy to get more Star Wars and comic book movies… as long as they’re done well. That really is the key, isn’t it? It has to be done well or it just feels like a cheap cash-in.

A large part of the difference between these movies is that Detective Pikachu takes place in a different part of a much larger world than the games. It gives the writers the creative license to build a world that makes sense within the rest of the universe, but also works for a movie. It doesn’t have to connect itself too much to the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t feel like it needs a big “this isn’t canon” disclaimer on it. It’s also adapting a game of the same name that was a lot more story driven to begin with, so there’s more material to adapt. Honestly, I haven’t played the game, so I’m not entirely sure how far the movie departs from it, but that doesn’t really matter much to me, as long as it’s a good movie with at least the same premise.

Classic Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is a game that barely had a story, because it didn’t really need one: Evil scientist shows up with bad robots. Jump on them. Then jump on the evil scientist. It’s an action platformer and that’s about all the setup you need. We’ve had a wide variety of Sonic media adaptations over the years — no less than three American cartoons in the 90s, an anime movie, an anime TV series, and recently a CGI TV series, not to mention the longest running video game-based comic book series ever, as well as its recent reboot — and they’ve all had to make up an awful lot in terms of Sonic’s world and backstory. As such, we’ve had a lot of different takes on the character, and, quite frankly, it’s starting to get old. It’s exhausting keeping up with which version of the same characters we’re dealing with here. The cognitive dissonance that it creates is exactly why you see so much in fighting among Sonic fans; everyone has a different idea of what Sonic “should be” because there has never really been a single, unified depiction of him. It’s like all the times they’ve rebooted Spider-Man, except that everyone knows Spider-Man’s backstory, so much so that they finally decided to just fast forward over it in the last couple of incarnations. With Sonic, they have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Detective Pikachu also takes place in a world where the weird looking CGI characters are just as prevalent as humans, if not more so. This makes the integration of the CGI protagonist with the live action protagonist feel a lot more natural than the human and hedgehog duo. It’s not even about CGI quality or budget, it’s about whether or not your CGI character feels out of place in the world. And Sonic feels out of place because he is literally out of place; Pokemon are just a part of life in City, but Sonic is an oddity that startles everyone. Those Sega Genesis sound effects are jarringly out of place as well. I really hope those are used sparingly… or just not at all.

Obviously I haven’t seen either of these movies, given that neither one is out yet, so I can’t really say how good or bad either one is. But if trailers are any indication (and they aren’t always), Detective Pikachu does a lot better job adapting its nostalgic IP to live action than Sonic the Hedgehog. The two will inevitably be compared a lot to each other, and to the recent rash of live action Disney remakes. I’ve already seen it all over social media. I’m not sure either will be a cult classic or anything, or rake in Marvel-sized piles of cash, but Detective Pikachu looks like a movie that I will genuinely enjoy, whereas Sonic just looks like another movie to throw on the trash heap of terrible video game movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally going to go see Sonic in the theater at least once because I’m a Sega fan and I have to, but I don’t expect to enjoy it as a movie.

Hey, at least it gives us new ammunition for the age old Mario vs. Sonic debate: Whose live action movie was worse?

Holiday Events: Diversions or Disruptions?

Holiday events in MMOs are fun little diversions. They give us an excuse to revisit older, usually low level zones, do something light and silly, and get some cool cosmetics. A lot of games use these as a way to get people back into their game, and it often works. For instance, every May the Fourth, I log back into SWTOR to pick up that year’s recolored astromech droid. If not for that event, I probably would have gone years at a time without logging in, and, of course, once I’ve gone to all of the trouble of patching, I usually poke around in the game to see what’s new.

But lately I’ve noticed a pattern of holiday events having the opposite effect on me. They disrupt the gameplay routine by taking me out of the zone I was working on, taking up a good chunk of my playtime, and making it urgent that I do my daily holiday quests, because if I don’t, they’ll be gone before I get all of the stuff I want. I think every time I’ve wandered away from LotRO has been right after a holiday event. I know I haven’t been back to SWTOR since I binged all of the content to get that XP boosting armor from the Dark vs Light event. And I’m sure I could think of many other examples.

I’m not alone, either. Just as I was thinking about this, Ben (aka Braxwolf) over at Massively OP wrote about ESO’s recent rash of events and its “more is better” attitudes toward festivals. Go read it now, because he describes the problem in that game really well. I especially like this part:

Many MMO players pride themselves on being completionists… They can’t pass up an opportunity to log in and try to accumulate whatever is available at the moment. This mentality is partially what attracts people to MMOs in the first place, but it’s not always compatible with ‘more is better.’ The accumulation has to be reasonably obtainable, else a feeling of hopelessness and burnout can soon follow. I’ve heard some of the biggest cheerleaders within the community complain about the sheer number of events we’ve seen recently. The ‘I can’t even’ is real.

It’s hard to complain about more things to do in your favorite MMO, but time limited events, combined with rewards dangled in front of players, make us feel not only forced into a certain activity, but also rushed through it. And, even if your main MMO isn’t overloading you with events as ESO is, if you bounce around to multiple MMOs like I do, it can be somewhat anxiety-inducing to try to get around to the festivities in all of the games you play, let alone grab all the cosmetics you want, before the season is over.

Games shouldn’t be an obligation. I have a job. They pay me. I shouldn’t feel like I’m paying a game company for the privilege of working a second job in the digital world. I am by no means advocating that games get rid of holiday events, but games like ESO need to be aware of the fact that, while they may bring some players back, they create an exit point for others.