Lotro Log #1 – 16th June 08

16 06 2008


Current Level: 11
Epic Quest: Prologue, Chapter 3

I have long held the belief that writing a single review of an MMO beyond covering the question “Is it broken?” is largely pointless. Due to the nature of the genre, one person’s experience can and will differ vastly from any other persons. This is my second attempt to play Lotro and I am finding it remarkably different from the first time. The biggest contributor to this is the fact that I am playing a hobbit rather than a man, so consquently I am in a totally different zone. Well actually, lets go back to the beggining.

When you first start a character, you are thrown into this linear instanced single player tutorial section which gets you going and provides a bit of action straight of the bat. This sequence had Black Riders hastling hobbits looking for Baginses and such things. Once you have learnt how to both click on things, and click on other different things, you are graduate to actually being able to play with other players. You find yourself in a non-instanced newbie area which is sectioned off from the rest of the game. Actually i was most disappointed to find that it was the same place that the humans go at this point so I had already played through it. At level 5 you run out of quests here, do a story mission, and then I was sent back to the Shire to start the proper game.

While Bree-land felt a bit sparse of quests and towns, there being a mere two before you ended up wandering into Bree, the shire is a sprawling mass of hobbit villages and seemingly endless quests. I think that for the proper Lord of the Rings related experience, it is definitely best to start as a Hobbit. It just seems the right place to start. You potter around doing relatively unimportant quests of no real consequence, which is appopriate to the ramp up that I know is coming later. You also get to see ‘famous landmarks’ like Bag End. Here’s a holiday snap.

Enjoying

* The shire is beautifully constructed. It’s largely based on this marvellous piece of art which Tolkien seemingly doodled on the back of a napkin. All those villages are present. You start in Little Devling, and find Michel Delivng, Waymeet, Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, Needlehole, Tookborough, Brockborings, Scary, Frogmorton, Woodhall and Stock. Each village has a distinct look, and has a lot of content which is usually about 4-10 quests.

* Playing a Minstrel. There is something oddly badass about whipping out a lute and playing chords as a bear comes charging at you. The minstrel is basically a healer/caster, but using a lute instead of magic. The reason for this is that characters in Lotro don’t have hit points, they have ‘morale’. Apparently the only effect of being gnawed by a bear is a slight loss of morale. Anyway, the minstrels little tunes boost morale which sort of makes sense, I guess.

Hating

* There is some pretty blatant attempts to waste the players time going on. There are these postal delivery and pie delivery quests. Both have the player trying to delivery post and pies between the various villages while avoiding hungry hobbits or nosey hobbits. Most of these quests take about 5-10 minutes of boring running from one town to another, and if you can mess up at the last second and have to start all over if you get too close to one of the hobbits. It’s rather aggravating really.

* Group quests. Well I haven’t found many of these so far, but I’ve got one in my log that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. The server I am playing on seems a little dead and no-one seems to be around to do it. This is a problem I had with Wow as well. The only option really is to wait till I really outlevel it and come back later.

Desire to Continue: 9

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Lotro Log

11 06 2008

I recently had this terrifying desire to play “Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar” or Lotro as the kids on the streets are calling it. Frankly I am just glad it wasn’t a desire to play Wow again. I think I am scheduled to have one of those around whenever the Wrath of the Lich King expansion comes out. As I haven’t been finishing a lot of anime recently, and I find writing games reviews oddly hard and un-fun, I have decided to write some stuff about my experiences with Lotro until the time when I inevitably freak out and uninstall it forever. again.

What’s a Lotro?

So yeah, Lotro was the first big MMO that had the misfortune to be released after Wow. Actually that’s probably a complete falacy but I can’t be botherd to check it up. It borrows a ton of stuff from Wow, which is probably a good thing as that game did so many things totally right. It’s good that I can just press the same buttons and have pretty much the same things happen.

Lotro is of course set in everyone’s favourite Tolkien-esque fantasy world Middle Earth. Actually it’s only set in a bit of it. Middle Earth is big in the books, and while they could of compressed it bizarelly like Azeroth, they instead went the better of option of just making everything totally massive. Lotro is currently set in the part that most people remember from the time they tried to read the book and gave up at the Tom Bombadil chapter. You’ve got The Shire, Breeland, Rivendell and various other places between there and the Misty Mountains that they probably either scraped from a single mention in an appendix, or just made up.

One odd thing to note about it is that this is nothing to do with the Peter Jackson films, so it definitely doesn’t look exactly like them, but it’s still recognisibly middle earth and even seems to nudging you in the ribs trying to remind you of the films at times.

You played it before?

Yeah, I played it when it first came out back in Jun 07 I think. Me and a couple of friends played it for a couple of months.

What class?

A minstrel. Largely because I find the idea of bards and minstrels to be hilarious. I got to level 13 or so.

What are the graphics like?

What they lack in style compared to Wow they make up for in Bloom and technical fanciness. The water in this game looks most excellent. The game seems to of gained some fancy Direct X 10 features since I last played, though this might be just because I actually have a DX10 card now. There’s a slider for Bloom level in the Advanced Graphics options menu which I have slid all the way to max, because I find Bloom funny for some reason.

Why did you quit?

I eventually freaked out when i could see it becoming the same time consuming monster that Wow is. Like, everything took to long, and I was going to have to be increasingly reliant on grouping with internet jerks to get things done which is something I could really do without. Funny for someone playing an MMO to think that really.

Wait, why did you decide to start playing again?

Oddly, the only original thing about Lotro is the thing that caused me to come back. The game has this thing called an ‘Epic Quest’, which is a quest chain that goes throughout the entire game. In it you are basically following the Fellowship in their quest and helping them out as they travel around doing the events from the book.

The epic quest is structured into books which is split into about 10 chapters or quests. Some of these even have crazy cutscenes and stuff like Sauron’s eye will appear in your mini-map whenever you are near a rider. They’ve been releasing new books for free in patches which is awesome. I sort of wonder how far they’ll ever actually get through the story before the game dies for some reason. They are currently working their way through the second of the six volumes of the story.

There is a new expansion set in the Mines of Moria which sounds really great apparently contains another 6 books. Playing through this quest is the real reason why I am starting this again. It’s just a really interesting and compelling idea. It’s a shame that I know I’ll need five other people to get through a lot of the parts of it. *sigh*

So are you starting over?

I logged into my old character and discovered that I had totally forgotten how to play, or what I was doing, so I have decided to start over. I have created myself a Hobbit minstrel this time so I get a different starting area.

I am not planning on playing it for much more than an hour a day. Though I’ll have to see how I do with that. I have no desire to lose my self to a bloody MMO again.

So yeah, Lotro. I’ll do a proper log of what I’ve been doing when I have something to say.





Sam & Max 203: Night of the Raving Dead Review

6 06 2008

Title!
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC
Genre: SAM & MAX, WHAT PART OF THAT IS UNCLEAR?

Warning: I spoil all!

This game has zombies in it. Do I need to go on? I guess if you for some reason are not the zombie-obsessed type of person, more convincing is necessary. New York, and indeed the entire world is overrun by zombies. The zombies are by all accounts largely well behaved and aren’t really being too much of an inconvenience, but that doesn’t stop Sam and Max from feeling obligated to trying to stop them anyway. Unfortunately, firing bullets at them seems to have little to no effect, so they have to rely on the usual combination of puzzle-solving and wit to see them through.


Zombies!!!

Most of the regular characters have returned for 203, with the exception of Bosco who is pleasingly absent from this entry. Bosco is an okay charcter, but he sort of wore out his welcome in the first season where the writers never gave him anything to do other than put on his accent of the week and overcharge for vital item. Other returning characters are Cybil Pandemic, Stinky, the ever awesome Agent Superball and some minor characters from episode 102 show up again.

You may remember that I had beef with the puzzles in the previous episode, I am pleased to report that the puzzles in this episode are a lot better, and while some are relatively fiendish, it never delvolves into illogical nonsense. The limited number of items and locations in each episode means you should never get stuck for too long anyway, as you can always try everything with everying relatively quickly if needed.


Jurgen got back to stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk

The investigation eventually (quickly) leads you to Stuttgart which is the source of the zombies. A euro-emo-vampire named Jurgen is creating a zombie army for reasons that could probably of been explained better. Jurgen has quite a prominent role in the episode, so it’s fortunate he’s such an amusing character with great voice acting. Most episodes only have the main baddie showing up at the end, so it’s good to have him around for most of the episode.

The new location in this episode is Jurgen’s castle exteriors and interior. They seem to be limiting themselves to 3 new screens per episode, which is perhaps a bit too little? The new areas look very good though, and could almost be described as atmospheric. This episode also features more Flint Paper than ever before, which is totally awesome for the following reason: Flint Paper is totally awesome. If that wasn’t clear, he’s Sam and Max’s psychotic PI neighbour who solves crimes using bullets and fists.


A gun in one hand, a brain in the other. Fully awesome.

There a lot of refferences to zombie culture, like Resident Evil, George Romero and his films (and John Romero who I’m glad isn’t too obscure a referrence to make yet). The zombies themselves are they type that like brains, which might turn off zombie purists, but it’s fine here because brains play an important role in some of the puzzles. The episode has one of the best twists yet in half way through, and if you are planning on playing it at this point, I strongly advise you not to look at this image, as it will spoil the suprise totally.

One of my favourite aspects of Season 2 has been what they have done with the driving sequences. In the first season they were incidental and poorly developed. In this season they have become full blown mini-games complete with easter eggs. In the first two episodes of season 2 the sequences involved Sam and Max are driving along a neverending road, and you are challenged to run over various things. In this one, the perspective has change to a sort of Paper boy like setup, and you can chuck SOL discs at zombies which works okay even if it is a horribly dated joke).


Is this the zombie of the good lincoln or the evil lincoln?

In these sequnces, if you play them long enough you’ll see some odd things that if shot or run over will unlock a decal for your car. You get these from running over zombie parties, shooting down blimbs or swinging pianos, etc. If you collect them all you get an entirely cosmetic car upgrade like a giant engine. The best thing is that the decals and upgrades are persistent between episodes which means that I obsessively collect them all. Not that it takes very long or anything, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, this is a much better episode than 202 or even 201, but still not as good as 104 or 105. I talk in code! The next episode looks to be Bosco centric, which I’ll have to see how well works out.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Zombies





Game Huh? Part 1 – Received what now?

10 05 2008

Small Girl: Please sir, can you rescue my bird. It is trapped under the rubble of the fountain.

[Kaim discovers a bird sitting on the rubble of the fountain, not actually under the rubble mind you.]

Small Girl: Thank-you for rescuing my bird. Oh look! Something is stuck on it’s wing! Never mind, you can keep it.

[Received 6 x ANCIENT STATUE]





Sam & Max 202: Moai Better Blues Review

1 04 2008

 Title!
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC
Genre: Adven…It’s Sam & Max, dammit!

Warning: This review is positively spoiler-stuffed.

Telltale games have done an excellent job being the only developers actually able to produce the much vaunted Episodic Content that everyone was blathering on about a while back. Episode 202 is the 8th episode they’ve managed to get out, and they are still as reliable as ever. Unfortunately, this probably the weakest of the ones I’ve played so far. The worst episode in the first season was episode three or 103 – ‘The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball’, which was mainly far shorter than the other episodes, and not really that funny or interesting.

Episode 201 was a great start to the season, and had Sam & Max going to the North Pole to deal with an out of control Santa. Rather than that reasonably solid premise albeit slightly borrowed premise, Episode 202 has you going to Easter island, to do a succession of unrelated tasks that might stop a volcano, or Bermuda triangles, or become a priest, or something.

Like most Sam & Max episodes, this one starts in your office. By this point in series, the majority of the actual objects in their office have been replaced by references to the earlier episodes. I was fine with this when it was limited to the items in their closet, such as Brady Culture’s afro, and Leonard Steakcharmer, but now it’s a totally insane pile of crap that I can barely remember where half of which came from.

Triangle
I hope you like triangles, because this episode is stuffed with them.

A scream from outside shows that Cybil is being chased around the street by a floating triangle thing, and the first part of the game involves working out how to stop it. This section is fine, and by the numbers. You wander around and talk to Stinky, Bosco, the usual. There’s nothing especially wrong or difficult about this section, infact the solution to the triangle puzzle is remarkably simple (It involves triangles).

After you’ve stopped it, you go through the triangle and wind up on Easter Island. It is populated by Ocean Chimps, Moai heads, and the baby versions of famous lost people, like Glenn Miller and Amelia Earhart. Now I’m all for having new characters in these games, infact I would say that the desperately need as many of them as possible, but seriously? 5 new characters who are all babies? It’s just disturbing.

Urgh
Oh good, babies.

Anyway, it’s in this section that the game really starts to break down. For the first time in the series, I got the feeling that I was fighting against obnoxious adventure-game logic that would make the Gabriel Knight developers choke on their biscotties. You want an example?

So….

There’s a baby version of Jimmy Hoffa guarding a cave that you wish to enter. Hoffa is thirsty, and you have to give him some water from the nearby fountain of youth in order to de-age him out of existence. The fountain of youth is full of piranhas that are preventing you from scooping up any water. There are some sentient Moai heads nearby who control the elements. There is a head that can control the wind, but is too depressed to demonstrate it’s power. There is another Moai head that is buried in the earth which controls thunder, and will produce a miniature thundercloud above it’s head when angered. There is also a series of Bermuda triangles that can be moved around the area by shooting colour coded poles.

Stupid bloody puzzle
That giant sandal shows up in your office in the next episode. Oh, the referenceness!

What do you do?

Naturally you adjust the triangles so that one is opposite the Moai head that will blow wind when happy, and the other is near the Fountain of Youth. You play a conch recording of baby Glenn Miller’s latest hit (inspired by your car horn), which will make the wind-controlling head start whistling. You then shoot the buried head so that it creates a thunder-cloud. The cloud is blown through one triangle, out the other and over the fountain of youth. The thunder cloud emits lightning that kills the piranhas. This allows you to safely collect the water, and de-age baby Jimmy Hoffa out of existence and enter the cave.

…huh.

Can’t I shoot the fish? Can’t I just shoot Hoffa? Why didn’t the fountain de-age the fish? Isn’t it awfully convenient that all these portals are all over the place? Why is any of this logical? It’s all too computer-gamey! Now I’ll be first to admit that complaining that a computer game is too computer-gamey is inherently dumb, but then SO IS THIS FUCKING PUZZLE. Yeah, I showed you!

On top of that, the writers seemed to of forgotten to write jokes, and a plot at this point. The game just sort of ends without much of a climax. Something about an evil fish? I dunno. The hint system which amounts to Max almost telling you the answers to the puzzles should get you through it, so you don’t have to keep alt-tabbing to a walkthrough, it’s just a shame that the puzzles aren’t logical enough to be worked out on their own.

Anyway, if you are playing through these episodes it’s not like you should just skip this one or anything. It’s also incredibly unlikely that you would start the series at this point, so this is a review for people who are going to play this game anyway, or not at all regardless of what I say. Oh well, at most it’ll only consume 3 hours of your time, and is still vaguelly amusing. The next episode is about zombies, and from what I have played of it is much much better. Zombies always makes thing better.

Arbitrary Rating: 6 – Babies





The Unnamed Games Podcast – 02.03.08

27 03 2008

Podcast. Blogcast. Pod carts. Pawed Carps.

*Ahem*

In the last year I have been listening to more and more podcasts. I started listening to Gamespot’s Hotspot, and from there picked up 1up’s 1upyours, and have most recently have been listening to Giantbomb.com’s Giant Bombcast. Inspired by all these fine folks and their seemingly infinte capacity to spout hilarious words about games down a microphone, I have joined forces with Josh Barton of joshbarton.co.uk to bring the world our first Podcast!

Using equipment I found lying around near my desk, and free software downloaded from the internet, I am proud to bring you our first attempt at podcastering that we recorded back in February at some point. It’s mostly about Burnout Revenge, and whatever we were playing at the time, and you can probably hear some trains going past in the background. I’m sorry but I couldn’t find the ‘Remove sound of trains’ audio filter. You also get to hear my weird voice, although I am probably the only person who considers it weird as it sounds totally different when echoing around inside my skull.

Download at your peril! (1:03 – 29.2MB)

If you wish to ask us a question, you can contact both Josh and myself by writing words in an email client, filling in podcast@joshbarton.co.uk as the recipient, and then finally clicking ‘Send’. If you successfully complete the above, then there’s a chance we will read it out on the next podcast in a vaguely mocking tone.





The Spiderwick Chronicles – Demo Impressions

21 03 2008

 Spiderwick
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Movie Tie-In

I sit here waiting for the demo of ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ to download, it’s 630.21MB, so isn’t taking that long really. I have decided to ‘live blog’ my experiences of this demo. Well I guess it’s technically not ‘live’ per say, more just sort of written on the fly.

I know absolutely nothing about The Spiderwick Chronicles. I am vaguely aware that it’s a movie, probably a fantasy movie judging by the little logo I am staring at. Looks like a Harry Potter rip-off or something. The little synopsis of the demo promises a mysterious book, fantastical creatures, an ogre, and an unseen world which I guess I am down with. There had better be no bloody whimsy though, that can fuck right off. This is the first new demo that’s shown up on XBL for weeks and weeks. I really have no idea what’s going on with that.

Okay 55%…. guess I’ll read a bit of my book till it’s done…

Okay, done. Let’s fire this up now. The Nickelodeon, Paramount, Sierra and Stormfront Studios logos burst onto the screen in stunning HD. I’ve never noticed how Paramount and Sierra sort of have the same mountain in their logo.

Title screen has a spooky house, and Potterish music playing. I’ll just hit start. I have the option to play as Jared or Thimblejack, I’ll chose Jared as it’s the first option. Ooh, dumped into the world with no fanfare.

“Your brother Simon has been captured by Goblins! Catch the Health Sprite at the end of the driveway and then head into the woods to search for Simon.”

Right, it makes an bad first impression due to ugly graphics. It’s in third-person and controls a bit like a 3d Zelda game or something. I’m playing as a Harry Potter look-alike with a monocle thing. Hitting A swings a baseball bat, X makes him do a weird slide move. If I get too close to scenery it switches for first person view, but this transition is sort of broken and the view just jumps around crazily.

“Play the full game to explore this area.” the game says, ‘this area’ referring to a garage. I’m sure the inside of a garage is very neat and all, but I think it’ll have to do better than that to convince me. Okay, time to hunt down the Health Sprite. He’s a sort of green dude, who I have to hit with a dream-catcher thing. Doing this prompts me to paint it, which means moving the analogue stick around to uncover a picture of it within a certain time. Right, did it after 3 goes, so can now heal myself yay. It’s now telling me to go save my brother.

Argh, tiny frogs are attacking me! Frogs, meet baseball bat! Well that was underwhelming. ‘Collected Goblins tooth’. They were goblins? How the fuck do frogs kidnap my brother, especially when they can be beaten by a baseball bat swung by a 9 year old boy? Okay, next area!

Yes, it does look this bad.

I am now in a large woody area with a million bloody sprites wheeling about the screen. Trying to capture any of them pops up the tedious painting mini-game. This doesn’t pause the action either, so stuff comes up to you and wails on you while you are painting. Just like in real life. There are more frogs, and oddly placed puddles of lava preventing me from going down some paths. The main character says things like ‘All right, another goblins tooth!’ in a very grating fashion.

“The old quarry is this way. I bet that’s where the goblins are!” says Jared. No shit!

Ooh, a jumping puzzle, but there’s no jump key, it’s 3d Zelda style jumping where he leaps of cliffs, often to his doom . About 50 frogs later (The frogs have started wearing hats), I have finally found the path to the old quarry.

“MISSION ACCOMPLISHED To find out what happens next, play The Spiderwick Chronicles game.”

That’s pefect, I was just starting to get sick of it. My brother will just have to fend for himself.

I guess I should give Thimblejack a go.

Do not play.

Oh bloody Hell! I am now controlling a miniature Rat man, who only talks in rhyme. I am running around on a giant desk, or maybe I’m tiny? Whatever, it’s got some of the worst visuals I’ve seen on the 360. The background of the room is a very blurry texture wrapped around just away from the desk. Did anyone really think this looked good?

Okay, I can’t take this. I’m done. I must not be the target market for this game. I assume that the target market is ‘people who like bad games’.

Conclusion: If you want to play Zelda for idiots, or some horrendous shite movie-tie in, then this is the game for you.