Steam’s Awesome Holiday Sale

Just a bit of news today before I go to write a paper for one of my classes.

Steam’s offering a rather epic sale this week. As of this writing, you have 6 or so hours to pick up a ton of discounted games, including Dragon Age: Origins and Fallen Earth. When the timer reaches zero, a new set of games will be made available for people to go and buy at discounted prices. If you’re itching for an MMO or want to try your hand at shooters, or even want to pick up a pack of games, it’s all available there on Steam, right now.

I’d personally go for the DA:O sale, the Far Cry 2 Sale, and Fallen Earth, if I had the money, time, or connection speed. Check it out.

If Only: A Lament of MMO Regret

If only I did my job as a beta tester, I could be riding high like these guys.

Reading Syp’s latest post on Collectors’ Edition versions of MMOs made me think about something I hadn’t put into mind a long time ago: I may have been able to prevent my current connection issues with Fallen Earth.

Since the NDA for Fallen Earth has long since gone, I can now safely say that I was in the beta for Fallen Earth. It was a frustrating experience to say the least, because the connection issues I’m experiencing now, I experienced then. While writing a comment on Syp’s blog, it came to me that I may have been partly to blame for my own annoyance now, because I didn’t do my job as a beta tester and wheedle out the issue that was causing my connection to be crap.

There are many uses and gratifications for a beta testing phase. Some use it to really test the game. Others use it to play an MMO for free. Some use it as a means of getting a feel for a game they’re interested in. There are still numerous other reasons why people would enter a beta testing phase, but for devs, the one about testing the game is probably paramount in their minds.

I went in to Fallen Earth’s beta mostly because I was curious, and also because I was just playing the role of an MMO tourist who wandered into a strange new world. When I saw that the game was basically unplayable for me, I left, thinking “This game would have been cool, if I didn’t lag so badly.” What I probably should have been thinking was, “Okay, here’s the situation I have with the beta of this game. How do I report this issue so it can be resolved?”

Imagine if I had changed my attitude towards MMOs before I entered Fallen Earth. I might be able to play the game without a hitch now, or at least learn more how a game functions for future reference. I could have saved anyone in the Philippines from the troubles I’m having. I could have changed the direction of Fallen Earth with regard to tweaking how it used ports (unlikely, but I can dream). With a bunch of keystrokes and a click of my mouse, I could have made a difference in how a game is experienced by other people.

While I’m currently jumping through hoops in an attempt to rectify my situation before my trial runs out, I do not intend to make that same mistake a second time.  My promise to myself is that I will not underestimate the power of a beta test, and will use my any opportunity for beta testing to make sure that the game comes out in a state that’s worth enjoying!

In any event, so ends another thoughtful rant by myself. Feel free to tell me what you think of beta tests, and how you approach them in the comments. 🙂

Seven Hours with Fallen Earth (but 11 hours of playtime)

Welcome to the Apocalypse? You aren't staying long.

If you’re wondering why I have 11 hours of playtime, but only seven hours of Fallen Earth gametime, it’s quite simple: seven hours is all I’ve been able to spend actually playing. As for the other four hours, read on.

First off, let me describe those seven hours I’ve spent playing Fallen Earth. I was filled with a great respect for the people who made this game, mostly because it takes a lot of work to ensure that even trial people like me are happy, and in seven hours, I basically realized that FE is a game I could enjoy playing because everything feels like a step forward.

I crafted, scavenged, and fought my heart out in those seven hours. Saving ammunition by using a wooden plank, I slaughtered rabbits, rats, and survivalists in South Burb and managed to craft myself a belt, a headwrap, a new gun, over 130 pieces of Grilled Chicken, and a riding horse. Each step felt good, because I felt like I was eking out a living in the wasteland, even moreso than in Fallout 3. I can only assume that the game would be even give me more of this feeling as I progressed.

Now as you can guess, I’m in love with Fallen Earth. I’m only seven hours into the game, and I’ve completely grown to adore the personality this game has compared to anything else on the market, and would be more than happy to shell out my hard-earned tutoring paycheck to sustain a subscription.  There’s just one thing that looks to be keeping me from playing the game.

As I mentioned previously, I was having issues with my connection in the game. I sent a ticket to the Fallen Earth support team, and even though I was on a trial, they responded in under 24 hours. Unfortunately, my “knight in shining armor” in this case wasn’t able to do much.

The guy who answered my email sent forwarded my concern to the network techs, and here’s the response from the tech:

“The issues start at the asianetcom (fixed for clarification – Victor)  router so it’s something to do with the ISPs uplink to the rest of the world. There aren’t any lost packets but the response times are a bit on the high side. I don’t think there’s anything we or the player can really do about it though.”

What this means, as far as I understand it, is that one of the connection routers between my country (the Philippines) and Icarus’ game servers is keeping me from getting any information in or out. If there’s a techie sort of reader who can further explain what this means, I’d quite appreciate it.

As a result of this information, I’ve decided to track down asianetcom’s office information so I could talk to them and maybe ask them to see what can be done on their end. Apparently, they have a Philippine phone number I can call, but I don’t know if it’ll do anything really. I also emailed the Fallen Earth people back to ask them for input on what I should say to the people at Asianetcom, but since it’s the weekend in the US, I can understand if they can’t get back to me ASAP.

If there’s anyone there who’s reading this who might be able to help, or might have a better diagnosis for me, I’d appreciate the information. As it happens, I lucked out on Friday night, as I was able to get in and actually play after repeatedly restarting the game. Hopefully, that wasn’t a fluke, and maybe it means I can actually do more than just look but not touch.

And yes, I’m still dreaming about Fallen Earth, but I don’t think I’ll blame Syp anymore. Icarus, I blame you for making such a fun game.

I Need a Hero (for my Fallen Earth woes)!

Yup, I really need a hero...

*Sung to the tune of Holding Out for a Hero*

Where has all my bandwidth gone?

Why’s there so much lag?

Where’s the streetwise tech support who’ll fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a trusty hog?

Late at night I crash and I burn on this lag through which I slog….


I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night!

He’s gotta be smart, and he’s gotta be fast, and He’s gotta know FE like whack!


I’m holding out for a hero till the morning light!

He’s gotta be sure, and he’s gotta be soon, and he’s gotta be larger than life!


So, what is this post all about? Well, ever since I blamed Syp for my Fallen Earth-related dream, I’ve been thinking about trying FE again on a trial basis. Luckily, The Escapist has a trial for the game that’s open for people to sign up for, and I managed to get a pass.

After downloading the client, 15 hours of patching over three days (my internet isn’t as fast as EU or US nets, unfortunately), and a bit of additional sleeplessness, I managed to get myself set up for Fallen Earth and was raring to go.

All of this would be well and good, were it not for one thing keeping me from playing: bandwidth issues.

You see, ever since beta, any time I tried to play Fallen Earth, I would suffer horrible lag, and see my bandwidth drop to 0.00 on both the IN and OUT rows of the interface. I thought they would have had it fixed or somewhat alleviated since then, but it seems I was mistaken. Now, this may not even be an issue with Icarus, and it might be with my local ISP here in the Philippines, so I called them up, and the support agent told me that they don’t throttle ports at all. Which means that ideally, my ISP isn’t keeping me from getting good bandwidth on Fallen Earth.

The good folk of the forums on FE suggested I run a traceroute, and everything seemed fine and dandy on that end, which was kind of weird. This means, I have to resort to emailing the Fallen Earth folks, and while I do find my situation important, I know they have a ton of other complaints and issues that need to be addressed, so I don’t know if they’ll even get to me promptly.

In any event, I’m holding out for a hero to come and rescue me from my Fallen Earth woes.

EA and Bioware want you to Return to Ostagar in DA:O

This just in from the Dragon Age Twitter. They’ve announced the latest bit of DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, and it’s called Return to Ostagar. As the name states, this DLC lets you go back to Ostagar after visiting Lothering, and will allow you to find what appears to be a new set of special armor, as well as the possibility of another surviving member of the ill-fated battle at Ostagar. No word yet on who this survivor is, but I doubt it’d be the king or Duncan… though I SOOOOOO wish it was. 🙂

It’s coming this holiday season and will set you back 5 bucks. More info can be found here.

I blame Syp for my Restless Sleep

Now, I’m a big fan of Syp of the Bio Break blog, because he writes frequently, has amazing entries, and has a passion for gaming. Thing is, there are times when his passion is infectious, and it’s hard for someone like myself to be constantly bombarded by Syp’s awesomeness.

Prior to his falling in love with Fallen Earth, it was basically off his radar and didn’t think too much about it. Now it pervades a good number of his posts.

As a gamer, I wanted to experience the post-apocalyptic world of Fallen Earth very badly. However, when I tried it during beta, it was connection issues that kept me from enjoying the game. I’ve given the game some time to develop, strengthen its weak points and whatnot, in the hope that I can come back to it at a later time. Thing is, my patience isn’t what it used to be, and I blame Syp for my restless sleep last night.

You see, even though I barely played the game, I DREAMT ABOUT FALLEN EARTH. And I want to put the burden squarely on my readings on Syp’s blog. He’s playing the game as a gunslinging tech, which is exactly want I wanted to be. He’s killing prairie chickens left and right. Most importantly, he’s enjoying a post-apocalyptic world, which I am unable to do because Bethesda hasn’t released Fallout 3 GOTY in the Philippines, and Fallen Earth’s price point is a little steep at the moment without some testing of the connection.

The timing of the compulsion brought about by the dream appears to be horrible as well, because they just finished a a trial key period, according to my research, and don’t have any announced plans of another trial period just yet.

So I’m a bit stuck, but I am doing my best to persevere by playing single-player games with extremely long storylines in them (*coughDragonAgeough*). Hopefully, this feeling will pass, at least until I can find a higher-paying part-time job or something else to distract me and keep me from dreaming about Fallen Earth.

As for what the dream was… I imagined I was in a dilapidated stadium’s locker room, with bodies nailed to the walls, six-shooter by my side, and ready to fire at any hiding bandit or raider. Then I’m approached by a lone gunslinger, which looked very much like the picture in Syp’s Gunslinger profile some time back. And it was Syp telling me that I had killed the bandits and saved his butt.

Then I woke up, and my first dream-induced thought was, “Must save Syp from MMO death.” Sigh…

Final Fantasy XIII NA/Euro Release Date Set

I woke up today to some really nice console gaming news that I thought to share with all of you folks. According to reports on Kotaku and Destructoid, Final Fantasy XIII, will be coming out on March 9, 2010.

This is great news for Ps3 and Xbox 360 fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting its release. At the same time, a PlayStation 3 owner like myself will have to contend with the fact that another great RPG, White Knight Chronicles, will be coming out for the PS3 sometime this February.

In any event, inside the full entry is find the latest trailer for the game, as well as the NA/EU Theme Song for FFXIII: My Hands, by Leona Lewis.

Read more

Dragon Age Storage Woes?

Source: Exhibit in Hôtel de Cluny, Paris, France; Feb 6, 2008

So Pete over at Dragonchasers was mentioning that there were a couple of things that would have made a good game like Dragon Age: Origins even better. One of the issues he has, which I agree with, is the storage space issue for the game.

In Dragon Age, items of a specific type or name take up one point of storage in your pack, regardless of its size. That means that the Silver Ring you picked up eats up the same storage point as your plate armor. Now, it’s a convenient thing to have if you’re a console gamer, as weight management in an inventory system can be a pain in the butt, but since we’re both playing on the PC, we kinda just have to suck it up, unless someone wants to retool the system.

Now, while there isn’t a full-fledged change for this issue at present at the moment, there is a temporary solution for it, which I found out thanks to Syp over at Bio Break.

There’s a game modification out now that places a storage chest back in your camp near the tents. All you have to do is go to this link here, read the instructions, and then download and install the modification. If done properly, you should be able to see an additional piece of content under the DLC listing, which is the storage chest modification itself.

Do note that this is a temporary solution, as future Bioware patches may wreck this mod. Also, note that the mod itself isn’t 100% perfect, as there have been some complaints of people losing abilities from the Warden’s Keep DLC or losing their weapons and armor. As such, download and use at your own risk.

More on Replayability: Borderlands and Dragon Age (and a Diablo II reference too)

Insert Metaphorical Headshot Here.

So I’ve had a bit more time to think about the whole Replayability thing, and as some commenters in the previous article have pointed out, replayability ideally comes out more when one looks not only at story and characterization as underlying motivations to replay a game, but also at other aspects of the game, such as the gameplay.

While I can’t really wrap my head around all the angles just yet to make a definitive stand on my own, I can at least illustrate the point of replayability by talking about two games that have been mentioned here a fair number of times already: Borderlands and Dragon Age. Bear in mind that they are two different beasts altogether, but they are both games that I play, which is perhaps the most important common denominator in my mind (they both are enjoyable games worth playing).

Borderlands has the gameplay mechanics down pat. It is a first-person shooter with role-playing elements (such as randomized loot) which is very satisfying to pick up and play. For a solo gamer though, there’s not as much incentive to play through the game a second time because the story in itself is flimsy, and to some extent predictable, and nothing changes from playthrough 1 to playthrough 2 (as far as I know). Furthermore, you don’t really get to connect with any of the quirky characters of Pandora. You can’t even really connect with your own self, because you’re led through the story, forced to do most of the quests to get stronger to tackle on stronger baddies, and eventually make your way to the endgame with little deviation from that path.

Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, carries a story that allows characters to take subtle meanderings to learn more about yourself, other people, and the world you live in,  even whilst being slowly pushed along a specific path. Unlike Borderlands, Dragon Age isn’t a casual game in the sense that you need more than thirty minutes to get any sort of real tangible progression through the story. The story itself probably has a happy enough ending in the sense that you’ll either defeat the darkspawn or learn what brought it about, though I’m not entirely sure as I haven’t finished it yet.

Of the two, you can probably already guess which one I’m more partial to replaying. Dragon Age lends itself to my sensibilities more because of its solid story. Borderlands tries to appeal to the lootwhore in me. Between the loot lover and the story seeker, I’m definitely more of a story seeker to begin with.

Perhaps that’s the point of all this reflection. It goes back to what I said a few months ago about game mechanics and preferences: a game has to appeal to one’s personal set of preferences for enjoyment. Hack-and-slash (or shoot-and-loot) games are definitely things I enjoyed replaying a long time ago back when Diablo II was still the awesomest thing on Earth, but it seems my preferences have changed. Other people will obviously have their own ideas of what is worth replaying based on what they value most in a game, whether it be min-maxing, looting, story-seeking, or team play.

One thing I will say though about both games: just having decapitation attacks makes both games oddly satisfying, and worth coming back to after finishing them, at least for a little while.

Is Story the Death of Replayability?

Stillwater during the City Elf Origin storyline

Over on Tobold’s Blog is a thoughtful question for folks to ponder. Seeing as everyone is talking about Dragon Age these days, his concern is that because the story essentially has specific points crafted to end up in one specific way no matter what you do (for instance, Ostagar), the game (or perhaps any game) would lose its replayability.

I find myself disagreeing with sentiment that a story can diminish replayability. A good number of the commenters on Tobold’s blog cited books as having stories that you’d want to reread, but I find that while it is true to a certain extent, it’s an analogy that is lacking, because video games aren’t simply read, but rather are experienced.

I think that the replayability of Dragon Age comes with creating different personalities. Whether honorable knight or dastardly scoundrel, the thing about DA: O is that the game becomes replayable because different characters are progressing through the story, and having different sets of experiences.

In one of my first communication classes back in college, we learned about semiotics, and one of the basic ideas behind it was that meanings behind a particular structure (such as language) change if we change one aspect of the structure. In language, changing one word in a sentence, or even the stress in one word in that sentence, can create a different meaning than the previous iteration before it.

In the case of DA: O, changing the character who goes through the story may not change the overall story, but it refines one’s appreciation for the story as it plays out. A knave would be more willing to take on contract killings, whereas a noble man might choose to stop the contract killers in their tracks. Sure, the act doesn’t help with stopping Darkspawn, but it shows the strength of one’s chosen character, and also makes certain events more memorable for certain characters played.

The different origin stories also provide the gamer with new ways of looking at the world and at events that occurred within Ferelden. If you’re a city elf, like I am, then you’ll know why a certain Tim Curry-voiced character got a certain position close to the regent. If you’re a human noble, then the path to that Tim Curry-voiced character’s rising through the ranks becomes even more pronounced.

In any event, let me conclude by saying this: story is only the death of replayability if the story is roughshod and ill-conceived. A good story, made up with strong characters, can increase the replayability of a game beyond its original single-play confines, and I think Dragon Age, as far as I can tell, has the characters and stories that can make for many good replays ahead.