Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Has EVE's learning cliff crumbled?

The first time I played Eve (2006ish) I remember being flummoxed by the so called tutorial.  Back then EVE's new player experience left much to be desired and a fledgling capsuleer was thrown in to the harsh universe of New Eden with little more than a noob ship, a few meagre isk and a handful of barely adequate skills. I didn't get very far on that first attempt and I recall my career ending in a blaze of glory as I flew my newbie frigate into 0.0 and was promptly podded.

My second foray into the game in 2008 was more successful and I ended up sticking around. I still remember having a relatively slow start however. Money was tight and a lot of early training time was spent on the learning skills.

The changes made since 2008 have revolutionised the new player experience. The tutorial missions are comprehensive and helpful. The career tutorials in particular shower newbies with isk, ships and skill books. Getting rid of the learning skills has been a great success in my opinion particularly since they adjusted up attributes so learning is much faster anyway. The skill certificates are also a good idea pointing new players to useful batches of skills. Sadly the in game interface for certificates is clunky and could scare off a newbie. Nevertheless it is still a big improvement.

Eve still remains a deep and complex game and there is an awful lot left to learn once you have finished the tutorials. The new player chat channels are still filled with "What do I do now?" requests. Nevertheless the game has never been more accessible. The famous learning cliff has softened and is perhaps now more akin to a steepish incline.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My EVE re-Trial continues

My cunning plan to use a free trial to test my desire to return to EVE before wasting a subscription may be backfiring. I spent over five hours in the game yesterday playing with my fledgling Gallente pilot "Jax Custard" and I am getting fond of the guy despite his silly, designed to be thrown in the bin name.

It certainly proves my assertion from yesterday that everything I love about EVE is immediately accessible to a brand new character. The  new career tutorials are a great addition and I enjoyed working through them. I even tried mining for the first time in my EVE life and enjoyed it (for about five minutes). There is something gratifying about listening to the sound of your mining beams cutting into solid asteroid rock and automagically filling your hold with treasure (for about five minutes).

The career tutorials were fun and got me to try out stuff I would otherwise have ignored but eventually I felt a hankering to do some level 1 combat missions which is a route I have taken before. This time around I have the benefit of experience so I can hopefully avoid wasting time courting the favour of dead end agents and factions. I also find myself relative affluent in terms of ships and isk thanks to the tutorial missions. I have a Catalyst destroyer, Iteron hauler and multiple frigates already in my hangar.   The only thing I am missing is the skills to fly them but even that has gotten easier thanks to the introduction of "certificates" which suggest useful packages of skills to train.

Despite the hand holding I couldn't pass up the opportunity for for some fun time with Eve-mon (skill training) and Eve Fitting Tool (ship loadout planning). I put together a simple mission running fit for the Tristan that works with less than a days worth of skill training. Nothing fancy, it uses the time honoured PVE principle of running away from any enemies while chucking bullets and missiles back at them from long range weaponry.


The Tristan is the top Gallente tier 1 Frigate,equivalent to the Minmatar Rifter but I fond it surprisingly difficult to fill all four weapons slots within the tight CPU and Power limits.  The micro auxilliary power core gives a boost to power but costs almost as much as the ship itself. Without it I could not fit a second missile launcher.

First mission from my chosen level 1 agent was the infamous "Worlds Collide" which was a good test for my new Tristan. You are sent into the middle of a war zone with a ridiculous amount of enemies. It is possible to speed run to the pick up objective without killing anything but  with careful aggro management my Tristan was able to clear all of the enemies. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Return to New Eden and a Secret Confession

I feel a growing temptation to return to EVE but having been away from mmos for quite a while I am not quite ready to resubscribe.  Instead I started a disposable character on a free trial to test my resolve.  Knowing that this character will be thrown in the bin in a couple of weeks is actually quite liberating. Freed from the fear of gimping my character I feet no necessity to min max anything. I picked a Gallente because I think they have cool looking spaceships and went from there.

First obvious change since I last played is being able to walk around my Captain's quarters. Its a nice idea but hardly a game changer. Can you decorate your quarters I wonder and if so do these home improvements move around with you wherever you go?

The second obvious change is the much improved tutorial. I managed to make it through the first steps introduction without having to resort to on-line help or the  chat channel which is a first for me in EVE. Even better once you have finished the general introduction you are pointed to an array of possible career tutorials each of which teach you useful skills and provide money and equipment. Trying a selection of these starter careers should certainly give new players a much greater flavour for the possibilities of the game as well as putting them on a reasonable financial footing.

I did the Exploration career tutorial for no better reason than never having done exploration before. It turns out to be a kind of scanning mini game where you use sensor probes scattered about the galaxy to try and triangulate the position of "anomalies". Even with the tutorial advice I found it quite tricky to narrow things down to the point where I could actually warp to them. However by the time I had completed the four different types of site in the tutorial I was comfortable enough for it to be a mildly interesting mini game. I could see it getting old quite quickly however and I couldn't imagine it becoming my actual EVE career. Indeed the rewards for scanning an anomaly often require you to do something else anyway like mining an asteroid belt or fighting a combat encounter.

Thinking about this brings me the the crux of whether or not I actually want to return to EVE. EVE is full of an extraordinary amount of activities that are fun to do the first few times. It also allows you enormous freedom to set your own goals and challenges. Unfortunately achieving almost any goal requires a huge amount of time and a huge amount of repetition of activities that become very boring after the nth time. I generally don't have the patience to hang around long enough to achieve substantial in game goals.

Sitting there in space in my disposable newbie character I had a strange realisation. Almost all the things that I personally love about EVE can be enjoyed right there by a brand new character in a starter Frigate: The incredible feeling of flying through beautifully depicted space full of unknown possibilities and unknown dangers, the experience of being in a universe full of teeming humanity all working towards their own goals and all helping to create an incredible diverse organic environment, even the nerd porn of having a staggering number of options to analyse and play around with are all there right from day one sitting in a newbie frigate.

When last I played EVE I had a goal of getting to level 4 missions but I got bored half way through grinding rep from level 3's and got sidetracked with my trading experiment and then sidetracked again with my noob in 0.0 experiment. If I return to the game I will need a goal. Earning isk is not a goal in itself because isk is worthless unless you have something to spend it on.

One thought I am experimenting with is to become a Space Tourist. My newb in 0.0 experiment has already given me a taste for sneaking around supposedly dangerous regions. A newbie frigate can get surprisingly far in 0.0 but once you hit a warp bubble you are dead. I am thinking of training up a stealthy ship like a Cheetah (frigate size ship with a cloak). I believed these can escape warp bubbles while cloaked. If this is true then I should be able to roam a lot further. EVE Gate is an obvious target but I wonder if it might also be possible to stealthily observe some of these epic fleet battles I read about. A stealthed loner in 0.0 has a hard time earning money so I would need some way to cover my expenses. Probably a high sec character making trades or running missions. Its a thought.

Guilty Confession Time: My rekindled interest in EVE was sparked off from reading Greedy Goblin's posts on his forays into New Eden. I feel kind of bad about reading his blog because he is routinely rude and arrogant and he insultingly dismisses other players (and most of humanity it appears) as "Moron's and Slackers". Nevertheless I do think Gevlon is a smart guy and I also think he has a particular type of single minded personality that allows him to achieve what he sets out to achieve. Gevlon's adventures in New Eden are too good to miss including such gems as his week old character writing an insulting in game mail to an older player pointing out their mistakes. Almost as interesting is the line up of EVE veterans, insulted no doubt by Gevlon's arrogance,  who are falling over them selves to predict his impending failure in their treasured game.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Arkham overcome x 2

I managed to complete the campaign of Batman Arkham City without too much difficulty despite fears about my lack of controller prowess. By the way I loved the Catwoman sequences. Catwoman is every bit as good as Batman in a fight but feels far stealthier to play.

I cannot claim to have mastered combo fighting but I do seem to have developed an adequate grasp of the basics. Switching from keyboard to game pad helped a lot but perhaps the biggest lesson learned was to just slow everything down. The bad guys telegraph their moves well in advance and the game gives you a surprising amount of time to make the appropriate response. My previous button making was doing more harm than good.

Embarrassing admission: It wasn't until the final chapters of the game that I realised "Press B+Y" means press the two buttons at the same time rather than sequentially. No wonder I had difficulty pulling off special combos up to that point.

After completing the campaign I finished off a few side missions (Freeze and Bane). I even made a start at rescuing hostages from Riddler but then I realised I would have to uncover some 400 secrets to complete Riddler's quest line. No thanks, if I wanted to grind I would go play an mmo.

Anyway  completing City gave me the confidence to go back to Arkham Asylum where I had been  stuck at the final mission for over a year. It took me a few tries to get used to the differences in combat but pretty soon my new found controller skills proved up to the task of laying low Joker's henchmen and putting a smack down on the titan infested comedian himself.

MB(atman)P:2  Joker:0

Comparing the two games was interesting. Arkham City is definitely the more polished game particularly in combat. Combat in Asylum feels clunky at times and you can easily get yourself into positions where you cannot avoid being hit. City has more varied combat options and also has a few subtle changes (like the ability to block multiple opponents)  which seem to make everything flow more fluidly. Arkham City's open world setting is much more ambitious than Asylum's relatively on rails approach.  Having an open world to play in does come with a cost however. After a while jumping off one tall building feels pretty much like jumping off any other and the game begins to feel more repetitive than Asylum did. All in all I think Arkham City is a worthy successor to Arkham Asylum but it doesn't replace it. Both games are still very worth playing. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Arkham City, Great Game, Crappy Player

I bought Batman Arkham City before Christmas but I waited until last week to give it the attention it deserves. I really loved its predecessor Arkham Asylum and being about half way through 'City I have to agree with the majority of critics who say that this is even better. All of the batman goodness with a much bigger more open world to explore.

I cannot forget however that I left Arkham Asylum on a bit of a downer because my lack of proficiency with combo fighting prevented me from finishing the game. I managed to get almost to the very end using a combination of stealth and mindless button mashing but my lack of proficiency at the game's combat system eventually caught up with me. This time I am better prepared. I have acquired an Xbox 360 controller which is better suited to this type of game than mouse and keyboard and I am determined to practice fighting techniques as much as I can while progressing through the game. It is still quite a struggle for me though as my middle aged muscle memory refuses to accept new routines.
 
I have encountered three basic problems:

Split minute timing:  The secret to Arkham combat is to keep landing blows and blocks without missing or being hit in order to charge up a combo meter. It is all a matter of timing. Wait too long between hits and the counter resets. Don't wait long enough and miss, again the counter resets. Make the wrong move at the wrong time and the counter resets. I really struggle with this timing even though the intervals are actually very generous. I just cannot seem to achieve fluidity and most of the time I end up mashing buttons.

What does this button do again? most of the buttons on the controller have multiple fuctions depending on the context. To be fair many of the combinations are logical enough (pushing the hit button after the cape stun button initiates a stun hit combo for example) but my fingers struggle to remember this in the heat of combat.


Rudder panic: I fully accept that twin joysticks are better fro third person action games than mouse and keyboard but I still end up fighting the game pad on many occasoins as I inadvertently back my character into a corner while the camera orients itself wildly. This most often happens in the heat of battle. I find it incredibly difficult to move quickly and accurately when my blood is up. This isn't helped by the fact that Batman's default speed is a a slow walking pace and that the key to sprint also has several other functions. Whenever I try to run I am just as likely to find myself doing a cartwheel, jumping, climbing the walls, hiding under a grate or cowering in a corner.

Despite these challenges I am persevering and I while I don't expect to win any trohies for combo play I do intend to make it to the end of this game. I even harbour a secret hope of being able to go back and finish the first game afterwards with my new found controller prowess. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The golden age of gaming is .... Now.

I have been thinking  this this for a while but Rampant Coyote sums it up beautifully in a recent blog post:

"Seriously.  It’s the new frickin’ golden age as far as I am concerned. I am overwhelmed with games to play – both indie and mainstream – and time is a far more limiting factor than money. We’re still getting plenty of high-end AAA games with incredible graphics and streamlined gameplay; retro-gaming has made a pretty nice resurgence; and the indies are on fire. Life is good."

Thursday, February 02, 2012

I wish Skyrim had Hunger and Tiredness

Title says it all really. I loved exploring Skyrim's open world and I loved the colour provided by all the assorted junk you stumble across. It did annoy me though that the game is full of tasty food and drink and there is no real reason to take any of it. Similarly with beds. You do get an temporary XP bonus for using a bed but by the time you get from your comfy bed to the nearest dungeon the bonus timer has probably run out.

I would like to have seen a hunger mechanic that afflicts your character with an increasing debuff if you don't eat something every few hours. Arx Fatalis had this and it gave a reason for scavenging food and even cooking it.

Likewise I would like to see a tiredness debuff if your character doesn't get enough regular sleep.