Paragon Studios ‘optimizes the refocus,’ lays off some staff

7 10 2010

Ugh, that’s sad. MMORPG.com reports that City of Heroes/Villains developer Paragon Studios lost nine staffers to layoffs today. Popular developer Christopher Bruce, a.k.a. “Back Alley Brawler,” was reportedly one of the nine.

According to a corpspeak-riddled statement NCSoft sent to MMORPG.com:

“In an effort to put a greater focus on the City of Heroes franchise, Paragon Studios is shifting resources within the studio. In order to optimize the refocus, there has been a reduction in force that has impacted a small amount of people. Paragon Studios is an integral part of the NCsoft West family and will continue to prosper, delivering the world’s most popular superpowered hero MMO game, City of Heroes, to fans around the world.”

The layoffs come almost two months after the release of the latest expansion, “Going Rogue.”

In response to a forum-goer who asked “should I be scurred?” community rep theOcho said: “Paragon Studios is still profoundly committed to City of Heroes and is proud of both the game we have created and the community who plays it. We’re here for the long run, no need to be scurred.”





STO ground combat to turn into Counterstrike

15 09 2010

No, of course not. There may be, however, a new and more action-friendly targeting method coming to an aqua-colored lab near you. In Dan Stahl’s latest “State of the Game” post, he says the following:

We have a new ground combat mode in testing that allows you to switch to a target reticule and shoot your weapons where you are aiming instead of needing to click target.

An intriguing notion. This is, as far as I know, the first mention of this new system, and I’m very curious to see it in action.When I read Stahl’s line, I was intrigued. Then I imagined how people would react if STO’s ground combat turned into a twitch-fest, and I started cackling.

I’ve had a troubled relationship with STO’s ground combat, but I’m hard-pressed to describe my dissatisfaction. It simply doesn’t flow like it should. It feels forced. Clunky. Like it doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Saying the ground combat lacks polish isn’t terribly illuminating, but compared to its showier, more majestic counterpart — space combat — it feels unfinished. I’ve recently been skipping ground combat missions whenever possible. It’s partly my own bias. Ground combat scenes in the various Trek series were never quite as engaging as the space battles. Then again, comparing a bunch of guys with phasers crouched behind boulders to a Sovereign going toe-to-toe with a Borg Cube is hardly fair.

I still feel encouraged, and rather comforted, by Dan Stahl’s leadership on Cryptic’s STO team. I can appreciate a leader who’s willing and able to acknowledge shortcomings and mistakes that Cryptic has made in STO’s creation and evolution. At the risk of sounding like I’ve downed a whole jug of the Kool-Aid, I think the game is heading in a much healthier direction.

The new Featured Episodes — new weekly mission arcs that are thematically connected — are nicely done. The initial diplomatic missions were a very welcome change of pace, although the subsequent diplomatic XP grinding still needs to be addressed. Still, there’s promise.

“It also helps to show that our business is not just about putting items in the C-Store,” Stahl writes. Yes, Cryptic is still loading up the C-Store, and each time a new item appears, people set the forums on fire.





STO’s Season 2: A glimmer of hope?

30 07 2010

Like many people, my zeal for Star Trek Online dropped precipitously after I hit the level cap in a few months. There simply isn’t much to do. Kill 6 groupings of X. Scan four anomalies after eliminating the hapless baddies standing inertly near each. Be the first to discover D’arsay ruins about 20 times. Rinse, repeat. Not even the occasional new “raidisode” (ugh, that word) was enough.

The RP community atrophied, too. There’s only so much standing around Quark’s pretending to get drunk you can stomach before you realize you’ve done all this before in City of Heroes’ Pocket D, only with capes and Spandex.

But lo, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Season 2 is the sun.

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I spent a few hours with the new Season 2 content that was just released, and while I can say without qualification that it’s a great step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go. If this is a sign of things to come, however, I am cautiously optimistic.

So, let’s talk about what I like. The level cap has been raised from 45 to 51, allowing you to rise to the rank of Vice Admiral. That’s fine, provided you can do more than the same handful of dailies killing Borg and scanning anomalies in the Gamma Orionis Sector. Yes, yes, I know there’s the endlessly shifting landscape of PVP, but let’s not kid ourselves. PVPers are in the minority, bless their violent hearts.

There are some new missions to do. Yes, indeed. The Undine are making a show of it again. I played through two of the new missions last night, and I must say, this is the kind of content the game needs. It’s not on the same level as “City on the Edge of Never,” but they’re enjoyable. Though Mein Gott, “Assimilation” is brutal. Wandering through a down-but-not-out Borg Cube, praying your trigger-happy bridge officers don’t blow their gaskets and start blasting every inert drone they see in spite being set to passive mode would you people stop shooting there are now 20 drones touching me in ways that feel uncomfortable!

Sorry. “Assimilation” requires a light touch if you want to get through it with minimal fuss. Which is another thing — it’s actually challenging. After so many missions where the worst that could happen is watching one of your bridge officers falling through a hole in the earth, encountering true difficulty is still new and strange to me.

And hey, am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? These missions have branching conversation options. You mean, if I choose to say or do this instead of that, it affects the outcome? It’s not a straight line from start to finish? Now that’s something. I haven’t explored all the options to see whether things truly happen differently, though I know when it comes to a whole new category of missions, the wrong choice will make you fail miserably.

That category would be the highly anticipated diplomatic missions. These are strictly non-combat missions (as far as I know, this is Picard diplomacy, not Kirk “I punch you in the face then sleep with your wife” diplomacy), and they’re talky. Of course. There are layered conversations, investigations, and lots of running between contacts. What, you want me to run up that mountain to get to the temple? I have a Sovereign-class assault cruiser in orbit. Where’s my transporter chief with that site-to-site transport? That useless drunk.

It’s nice being able to resolve missions peacefully, and it’s a nice change of pace. Diplomatic XP is different from regular XP, and while I don’t fully understand the system yet, I’m intrigued. You gain diplomatic ranks that are separate from your military rank. And I see the much maligned “Aid the Planet” missions give you diplomatic XP now. Cryptic really, really wants us to do those missions. At least now, you can buy the provisions you need from your ship’s replicator instead of lumbering around with cargo holds full of self-sealing stem bolts. I may actually do those missions now instead of warping out of the system the moment someone starts saying they need supplies for their malfunctioning pornographic holoemitters.

Speaking of holoemitters, there’s a holo Leeta in Quark’s now, running the dabo wheel. Yes, you can actually play dabo and win gold-pressed latinum. Cryptic got Leeta’s actress, Chase Masterson to give voice to her character, and it’s very cute hearing her explaining the rules, offering encouragement and advising you to keep your eyes on the wheel, not the girl. She purrs quite a bit.

You’ll now have a mattress under which to stash your latinum, too. Your city-sized starship is now more than a bridge the size of a hockey arena, because ship interiors are here. You have a ready room connected to your bridge with an actual human-sized door, proving once and for all that not every door and passageway needs to be large enough to accommodate a school bus. From the crew deck, you can visit your lounge and sick bay. You can finally invite to your captain’s quarters that nice Caitian ensign you met on Spacedock who is played by an unemployed dockworker from Newark. You can gaze longingly at your warp core in engineering and pretend to experiment on universe-destroying chemicals in the research lab.

The operative word there is “pretend,” as these areas are purely social. There’s no functionality in them. I hear you can place trophies you’ve earned in various parts of the ship, and the potential for future expansion is palpable.

Let’s see. Oh yes, once you hit vice admiral, you get the option to fly around in a non-gimped Galaxy, Defiant or Intrepid. That’s a nice touch. The Tier 5 Galaxy even separates into the saucer and stardrive sections. I saw it for myself last night. Not sure how useful it is but it looks cool —

Hang on. I saw it last night. Which means I was watching a vice admiral flying around. Which means, within days of Season 2’s release, people have already hit the new level cap.

*muffled screaming*

OK, so, some things haven’t changed.

Note: I didn’t touch on a number of other features, including the Klingon PvE content from which Season 2’s tagline, “Ancient Enemies,” is derived.





The permanent EVE noob

26 07 2010

I think I will always be a n00b in EVE Online. It doesn’t matter how long I play, or how much I learn. I will always behave like a n00b.

It’s not so bad when I’m off on my own, doing my own possibly idiotic thing. But when I join with other members of my corporation for some good old-fashioned violence, it becomes something else.

I haven’t been playing many MMOs of late. BioWare has owned my soul for a while now, between Dragon Age and the Mass Effect games. Because I’ve been re-reading Peter Hamilton’s “Night’s Dawn” trilogy, however, I got into an EVE state of mind and have been bipping between star systems over the past few days.

The problem with leaving a game like EVE for several months is, you forget how a lot of things work, which is a problem with a game that’s as complicated and unforgiving as EVE. I barely knew what I was doing during my last play period. Now, I’m having to try using half-remembered commands and wonder what that thing is that’s flashing, and whether it’s time to start mashing buttons (which never works in EVE, by the way).

My difficulties with EVE are compounded by my reticence to ask questions. I do a lot of reading, sure, but when it comes to standing up and announcing: “I have NO idea what I’m doing, and I think I am on fire. Please help me!” my pride rears its head and tells me to shut up. It seems I rarely encounter anyone who hasn’t been playing the game for years and can speak only in the arcane shorthand of a veteran. But instead of asking for clarification like a rational person (“What you just said was very interesting. Could you say it again in English?”), I keep my mouth shut and plow into the sides of things.

Like this, for example: Guess what happens when you warp to an enemy empire’s jump gate? Yeah.

I’m in a small corp, with a small handful of active members. Those few who are around act and sound like they have all played for a while and know what they’re doing. I know this because I understand only half of what they say. They seem, however, reasonably friendly. And despite my repeated presentations of rampant newbie-ism bordering on dangerous incompetence, none have ever uttered an unkind word (to my face).

I logged in to hear my corpmates talking about getting together to harass the Caldari. Being Gallente, it’s what we do. We were all to fly Thorax cruisers fitted out a certain way. For them, this was like slumming, or riding kiddie bikes as a lark. For me, it’s cutting edge — I think a Thorax is the biggest ship I can fly at the moment.

Only, I didn’t have a Thorax — my last one got blown up real good some time ago. I asked how much it would cost me to fit out a Thorax the way the others had and learned it would cost roughly all the ISK I had.

So I told them I’d love to come along but that I had to bow out, since it would beggar me (and I assumed I’d almost certainly be killed). Without a moment’s hesitation, two players sent me enough money to buy the ship and equipment two times over.

Surprised and embarrassed by the generosity, I set about buying things, only to realize I didn’t have the skills to use all of this advanced gear, so I downgraded. After streaking between systems, I finally had a fully-equipped Thorax, loaded for bear. Sort of. More on that later.

We all hopped on Teamspeak, rallied up, and proceeded to prowl through contested systems and Caldari space, looking for trouble. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going; I was just following our leader’s command. Our scout tried tracking a group, but lost it. This went on for a while with, sadly, no violence, when finally it was time for me to sign off so I could get food for the family.

“You should head back to Villore using the Abune pipe,” one person helpfully said. Well, of COURSE I’m using the Abune pipe. What, do you think I’m stupid? I’m sure not going to ask you just what the blazes the Abune pipe is, since I’ve never heard of it before in my life. In fact, until I did a search on the star map I wasn’t even sure Abune was a solar system. But I won’t say so, no, sir. So I set my autopilot to Abune, which was several jumps away, and went to warp. A few seconds after I sped off, a shocked voice on Teamspeak said: “Did that guy just warp to [system I can’t remember]?”

“Uhhh…”

So yes, I went the wrong way. Trying to save face, I lamely replied, “Yeah, I took a wrong turn.”

“I’d say so.”

I didn’t have much chance to wonder why, because I came out of warp in the midst of a squadron of suddenly hostile Caldari Navy ships. Ah.

Our fleet leader calmly told me to turn my butt around, warp to a planet — any planet — and land. Huh, we can land on planets now? OK. Then, I was to undock, warp back to the fleet, and get my crap together. This all sounded strange, but the Caldari were cheerfully tearing into my shields, so I frantically plotted a course to what I thought was a planet — and warped to a Caldari station.

Whoops, OK, that wasn’t a planet. But! I see a planet, right there in the distance. It’s a big, round, planetary-looking thing. So, I warped to it. Where I found a Caldari Navy ship waiting for me. It welcomed me into its territory in the only way it knew how. I think my shields were gone at this point, and my armor was dropping fast. I hit the context menu for the planet — and didn’t find any option for landing. I could open the planet view, sure, but I was still technically in space, since I could hear my ship being torn apart. Hrm.

My fleet leader checked in. “Uh, how’s it going?”

“Um…. one sec. … Yeah, I just died.”

By this point I was feeling incredibly silly.

The fleet leader gently pointed out that this was a good reason why you should never warp to X jump gate. The others expressed their agreement.

I acted very casual about the whole episode. No biggie. I made my goodbyes and signed off so I could go do something I can actually accomplish without falling down — which was ordering carryout from Pizza Hut.

It was only later that I realized I’d never loaded my weapons with ammo.





More Mass Effect thoughts

25 06 2010

Just random items I thought of. Pretend like it’s three years ago and these things are still fresh.

  • The Citadel, the seat of galactic power, is a gargantuan, state-of-the-art space station which is so advanced that even its most learned inhabitants don’t fully understand its mechanics. And yet, it still has slow-arse elevators with cheesy music. I understand this was tied into loading into new zones, which was a small matter on my PC, but apparently rather onerous in the original Xbox version.
  • I played a soldier. Soldiers shoot things, making them fall down, bang bang. While you can hold your own with basic decryption and electronics tasks, there comes a point late in the game when you can’t open certain things. I doubt they’re mission critical since I was able to finish the game, but it was frustrating, in an OCD-like way, to have to skip things, and be taunted with “too hard for joo, knuckle-dragger” messages. You have teammates with much greater skills in such things. I’d like to order one of these punks to open something for me.
  • When you leave your ship, you typically leave with two squad members, and no more. The rest of your team is benched. Even for the most high-octane, apocalyptic, larger scale battles, when you’d think you’d want to pull out all the stops, you are part of a three-person team. What are the others doing? Are they getting quietly drunk in the mess?
  • Once again, journalists are made out to be crass, pushy twerps — with one surprising exception. I’m so unused to seeing a journalist being portrayed in a sympathetic light that I took her quest/mission/thing without hesitation. I would’ve directed my character to do a nude photo shoot if the option had existed.
  • In Flux’s casino, did anyone bother playing Quasar or Pulsar or whatever it’s called to make actual money?
  • The National Football League apparently diversifies at some point in the future and goes into the business of designing combat armor. Sadly, I never found a purple and yellow option.




The effect of mass

25 06 2010

Meanwhile, in other news, I just finished playing through Mass Effect for the first time. I’ve been aware of Mass Effect, of course. After the release of the first game, and the sequel, I’d be peppered with tiny Mass Effect arrows while strolling through gaming sites. I remained, for whatever reason, impervious. Then Steam fired a ballista bolt at me with its one-day sale on both games, and this time the shot stuck.

And so, I lost many hours of free time, and I don’t regret it. It’s been a while since I’ve played through a true, full-fledged single-player RPG. This isn’t the RPG-lite in which you merely assign skill points and manage your inventory of gear in between firefights, it’s the real deal.

It’s a talky game. There were several moments in which I remarked “Good lord, these NPCs never shut the hell up,” but I quickly got sucked back into the story. As for the morality of my character’s decisions, I stayed true to form and took the “Paragon” route rather than “Renegade,” though there sure were moments when I wanted to say screw it, let’s just blast them all into little bits. Some of the calls you have to make are nicely ambiguous, and leave you wondering, “THAT was the right thing to do? Huh.”

There’s some great voice acting, though it’s not all top-grade. My geeky parts were tickled when I recognized some familiar voices — Marina Sirtis and Lance Henriksen, to name a couple.

Prior to getting the game, I was aware of the mini-controversy surrounding the sex scene. I viewed it as merely another entry to the long list of mainstream bottom-feeders freaking out over things about which they know nothing.

There is, indeed, a sex scene toward the end of the game. It is brief, it is suggestive rather than explicit, and you’ll see saucier stuff in your average prime time drama. You know it’s a sex scene because there’s suddenly kissing, and you see quick cuts of bare skin, and after it’s over the participants are smirking knowingly at each other. Also, it is optional. It’s up to you whether you choose to pursue intimacy. This is a real RPG, after all.

Also, it appears that in the future, most humans have Canadian accents.

I’ve always been fond of Bioware, ever since I played Baldur’s Gate. Like Blizzard, they rarely take a misstep (at least in my experience). And God help me, I bought Dragon Age: Origins and its expansion through Steam, too. I’ve been glancing at coverage of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I haven’t paid too close attention because I am, frankly, terrified of getting sucked into yet another MMO. There’s a good chance I’ll be grabbed by its gravitational pull, though.





Small Saurian spy invades Cryptic HQ

23 06 2010

Joe Blancato at Cryptic reports via Twitter on a guest appearance at their offices.

“Taking office lizard as a sign to get an auto insurance quote. Also as a sign to get a pet lizard for the office.”

“Office lizard. I shall call him Larry. http://twitpic.com/1zcd6n

“Just found a lizard in the office. He’s chillin’ out with some sunglasses on. Cool lizard.”

  1. Taking office lizard as a sign to get an auto insurance quote. Also as a sign to get a pet lizard for the office.

  2. Office lizard. I shall call him Larry. http://twitpic.com/1zcd6n

  3. Just found a lizard in the office. He’s chillin’ out with some sunglasses on. Cool lizard.