Blimey! I've dinged to 100 posts!
When I first started this blog back in the middle of September it was more just an exercise in giving me somewhere to vent my thoughts and store my roleplay stories. I never expected that anyone else might be interested in what I had to say, but over the months the readership has steadily grown to the point where I feel compelled to find stuff to write about each week. I hope you find more of it to be interesting than boring!
So, what has the last eight months blogging taught me? Well, mainly that writing about Star Wars: The Old Republic seems to generate more hits than any other subject for one (the phrase "swtor updates" gets me more google hits than any other)! So, it's probably a good job that's the game I am looking forwards to more than any other right now (with the possible exception of Mass Effect 3).
The other thing it has taught me is that I actually really enjoy planning what to write and composing my posts. I guess as long as it doesn't become a chore I'll keep writing, whether or not anyone else is reading.
Right, that's enough patting myself on the back. Time for one of my regular updates on miscellany that I've found interesting and a quick recap of what I've been up to.
Gamasutra had a really interesting interview with Dr Greg Zeschuk and Dr Ray Muzyka this week. These guys are the co-founders of Bioware. Whilst the interview doesn't contain any new information on their forthcoming games it does offer an insight into their procedures, policies and philosophy in games design and running a very successful games company.
What really struck me about the interview is that despite their success and almost unparalleled hit rate they remain very humble and willing to recognise and learn from their mistakes. A lot of other companies would do well to learn from the good doctors' perspectives.
Most of my game time this week has been spent reacclimatising myself with EQ2 after the recent extended downtime (I've also been running through Mass Effect 2 again). I had a nice surprise last night when I found I had received a special Legends of Norrath loot card as recompense for the downtime, and managed to get myself a rent free house in Halas as a result.
I've spoken about the housing system in EQ2 before, and still believe it is one of the most comprehensive and interesting housing systems in any MMO. Anyway, one of the upshots of the EQ2 system is that I managed to move all my goods to the new mansion in a matter of minutes. It was simply a matter of saving my house layout, clicking a button to pack all the contents, moving to the new house, then loading the layout again, and everything appeared back in the right place. A great time saver when I have almost 600 house items to move!
I also had a lot of fun with Voltaan running through the rest of the Qeynos Claymore questline. As well as being a lot of fun it was good to have him along just to make things a little easier. One of the things that many MMO quests suffer from (and EQ2 is no exception, certainly in the earlier expansions at least) is frustrating quest design. By that I mean the quest calls for you to fight your way to the end of a large and tough dungeon, kill some mobs, then return. The follow up quest then requires you to go through the same dungeon again, to the same point, and kill a different mob, even though you have already just been there and spent hours fighting your way inside. Not only that, but the system then locks you out of the dungeon for three days! Gah!
I think we are starting to see the end of that kind of frustration with more recent games and expansions (certainly Turbine went back and changed a lot of the old Lord of the Rings Online content and quest flow to streamline things and remove frustrations like the above). I hope so anyway!
Another thing I found interesting this week was the first substantial leak from the Game Testing of Star Wars: The Old Republic - a three hour long high definition gameplay video. First of all the fact that there have been no major leaks from such a prominent beta in the last six months means that Bioware must have some pretty good security! I'm also guessing that it means those testing the game must be having a good time overall - if the game sucked I think there would be a lot of leaks telling us so. The fact that the testers don't want to jeopardise their accounts by leaking information bodes well.
Anyway, I'm not going to link to the leak here as it obviously breaks the Game Testing NDA. Instead I'm just going to offer a few brief comments with my spoiler-free impressions.
First of all, despite the leak being from something called Alpha 2 the game looks incredibly polished. In the entire video I only noticed two small bugs - a couple of graphical glitches in a cutscene. It certainly looks at least as polished as the Rift beta I took part in late last year.
Secondly the game looks great. The environmental graphics looked really good, and the world seemed really fleshed out. The combat animations were smooth and exciting with the reactive combat animations we were promised. The cutscenes work really well, with the trademark Bioware conversations offering real choice in MMO quests on a scale not seen before. I actually found myself getting a little involved with the story.
The gameplay looked solid without being innovative as far as the usual MMO mechanics go, but the companions seem to add an extra dimension to your conversation choices.
Overall I was left very impressed. It is hard to get a true feel for a game just by watching a video, but if this is how the game looks in Alpha testing then I think it's going to be really strong once released.
Also on the SWTOR front, the latest Bioware Friday Update gives us a behind the scenes look at how the developers design the audio effects for the game, with a focus on combat audio. Well worth a read if you like that kind of thing.
Finally, it's back to EQ2 this week. Adurj has posted the next part of the tale of Merecraft and Udrath, the roleplay story that we are writing together. Head on over to his blog, Le Bard Connection, to read it.