A Realm Reviewed – Fifteen Minutes In

Recently Final Fantasy 14 has entered its third phase of beta testing. In this phase testers will have about a week to access the game with their transferred characters to explore content and find bugs and issues with the upcoming rerelease of the previously counter intuitive, unpolished, and frustratingly user UN-friendly title.

 

The question remains…when the doors open for A Realm Reborn, will we be ushered into the next generation of MMOs or will Sqaure-Enix simply be adding another chapter to the Book of Fail that has recently becoming the once iconic and powerful franchise?

 

The first thing that I noticed was how quickly the game downloaded and updated. I was hesitant even to attempt to download the game after experiencing the horror that was their updating procedure and protocols some years ago. The first time I tried downloading FF14 it took nearly a day. With ARR, it only took about an hour. Huge improvement. Maybe it was my Internet provider…but I’ll judge this one in favor of FF14.

 

The first thing it asked me after I logged in was how I wanted to play the game…would I like to use a gamepad UI?

 

YES.

 

As a brief aside, anyone who tries to tell you that FF11 and FF14 WEREN’T designed anticipating a game pad interface is either a liar, delusional, uneducated, or so much of a damn fanboy that discussing any form of criticism with them is an exercise in futility.

 

So yes, seeing that FF14 has finally made it easy to simply plug in and play with my gamepad, with what I feel was an intuitive system (heavily borrowed from other Asian Action MMOs – I’m looking at you, Tera) was another huge plus in their favor.

 

Then…came…the cinematics.

 

My god.

 

Not a good my god. The kind of “my god” that is a silent prayer asking for deliverance.

 

Yoshi P., head of the design and self-proclaimed hardcore gamer and WoW veteran, admitted that there is a large portion of the population that wants to skip cutscenes and quest text. He explained how people are interested in gameplay and want to move ahead in the game…check the beta forums for his lengthy, but well put together post.

 

Seriously, the guy gets it.

 

So when I sit through nearly ten minutes of cutscenes, before I actually get to play the game, I question whether Square wants to be in the game business or the movie business (judging from the Spirits Within, stick to games).

 

There I was, a strong jawed human – I mean, Hume…Er, I’m sorry. Hyur. Whatever…

 

*cough*

 

There I was, a strong jawed Hyur Gladiator dressed in meagre yet highly functional attire. I was alone, in the darkness. The subtitles said…think..feel…and maybe one or two other abstract declarations that made no sense. I mean, was someone talking to me and I just couldn’t hear it? Whatever. I remember something like this from the opening of the first game.

 

All of a sudden, there was a flash! Some strangely effeminate man in a robe and a mask is looking down at me.

 

Another aside. This game has a lot of masks. Like, a lot. Really. It’s legitimately distracting. I mean, we get it. If you’re playing this game you’re probably a fan of Studio Ghibli, but seriously…it’s more distracting than the ditzy blond brandishing knuckle-dusters and wearing stripper red thigh high boots. Continuing…

 

Suddenly, my character is enveloped in light and I’m wearing impressive armor, wielding a beautiful sword and grasping a stunning shield. The man in the mask swoops down and I strike him with the sword, and then there’s a pause. Could it be a finely staged tutorial to show me how to move and how combat works?

 

Nope.

 

Another cut-scene.

 

After a few moments of horrible exposition, the caravan I was riding in is stopped by crooked guards. Apparently the Tar- er, Lalafell was smuggling some kind of illegal goods and had to pay a fine.

 

BUT WAIT!

 

Before any bribes or punishments are levied against the cute little guy, an arrow strikes the caravan! Beastmen are attacking! The guards forget their “routine” stop, and turn to face the wave of monsters that swarm down the hill, letting out a loud and horrifying challenging shout as weapons are drawn and turned on the brutes!

 

Now, for a taste of the new combat system! Finally!
Wait, what…the screen fades to another cut-scene at our destination accompanied by a strange disembodied voice that provides yet more exposition.

 

Finally, with the threat of shadow magi and beastmen (and fun) behind me, I am given control of my character.

 

The UI is better than their first iteration.

 

That doesn’t say a lot.

 

I mentioned before that the controls on the gamepad borrow a lot from another Asian MMO, Terra. Pressing and holding shoulder buttons allows the user to toggle between different sets of actions that are customizable and executed by pressing other buttons. It takes a bit to get used to, but in the end it works. The problem is that the menu for these buttons and the way that it is presented to the user is cumbersome. A large portion of the screen is taken up and it contrasts horribly with the rest of the game. Control should be easy without being obtrusive. I imagine I’ll switch to keyboard and mouse after some time…

 

Questing is the standard faire. Collect this. Kill those. Bring me x after you get it from y. So on and so forth. It seems that Square has recognized the “standard” convention of MMO progression. Why, then, do they choose to abandon other conventions?

 

Fifteen minutes into my session (of which three minutes I was in control of my character…I harp on this a lot…but c’mon, it’s a pain in the ass) I receive a tell from a friend. I go to reply, and hit “r”.

 

Nothing.

 

I hit enter, and type /r.

 

Nope.

 

/w?

 

/reply

/tell

/whisper

 

By this time, I’ve forgotten how they spelled out their characters elaborate name and I was forced to scroll up, click on the name, select “whisper” and send my message.

 

Why the hell can’t I automatically reply to the last person that messaged me? If there is another way to do it faster than clicking on the name or typing the name of the player out, please tell me. If I’m supposed to “know” because I played FF14 or FF11, I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. That tells me you don’t want new people in the franchise.

 

There is actually a quest that is designed to teach you to click on objects on the ground. A woman drops gold and says “pick it up for me”.

 

There’s another quest that teaches you how to open your inventory.

 

Where the hell is the quest that teaches me how to reply to someone?!

 

Tooltips. Popup tips. Use them.

 

Don’t even get me started with how long it took me to respond to a linkshell comment…

 

Frustrated and tired, I decided to go outside and do the first – of what might be thousands – of kill quests. Upon leaving the city, my radar is a jumbled mess of dots and circles that represent the targets. Moreso, it looked like the damn honeybees that we, as a species, are trying too hard to eradicate are doing quite fine – they just relocated to Ul’Dah. After killing a few, I decided I played enough, and logged out.

 

Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is a beautiful game. It really is. If you go on Facebook, it’s all my gamer friends are talking about. They’re sharing screenshots of how beautiful it is. They put their characters in pretty dresses and pose and everything. It’s a really good looking game.

 

But where are the posts talking about the awesome mechanics? The great combat system? The skill level required to play the game? The learning curve? Game progression – also known as gameplay?

 

They’re not there. There’s nothing really in the game to talk about. Behind all of the high level design there is a fundamental core that seems to be drastically missing.

 

Any good game should have you actually PLAYING it within seconds of “pressing start”. But that’s the thing…Final Fantasy 14 isn’t a good game. The designers know it. That’s why it looks so damn beautiful. It’s form without substance.

 

If you like FF14 – awesome! Good for you, man. I’m not judging you. People like all kinds of stuff that’s not good: smoking, eating after 7PM, Nicki Minaj…

 

I’ll wait until Phase 4 before I give ARR more gameplay, and after a few hours, I’ll review more than just my first impression. I just can’t watch the bastardization of one of my favourite franchises and genres continue. The damn prelude was played (I think) three different times during the first fifteen minutes of the game, I was told a story about the heroes of light, watched Chocobos run around – oh look, there’s Bahamut. . . Sometimes I feel that people might only play these games just so that they can subconsciously go through a check list of self-contained tropes and gimmicks reiterated throughout the franchise and instead of questioning why there isn’t anything new, or anything of substance, or anything good, we continue to watch the pretty pixels dance upon the screen, oh so lovely. They’re beautiful. They really, really, are beautiful…but I don’t think anyone has paid for a screen saver since 1998.

 

 

 

 

 

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…they all fall down.

A great juxtoposition of the two sides of Walter White, compliments of Dino Tomic from Atomic Circus Tattoo & Airbrush.

We love watching people fall down.

How many people here have ever watched America’s Funniest Home Videos? How many times do the same gags “get us”?

The noble and focused father places the hard, plastic wiffle ball on the black rubber tee-stand. He guides his young son to the plate, yellow bat in hand, and speaks words of encouragement to the child who grips the bat with grim determinism. We know what’s going to happen before it happens. The backswing. The impact. Everyone laughs. Scene.

Low brow as it is, it’s entertaining. Artistically, however, many of us still like a good “falling down” story. More specifically, a story of decension. How many people enjoy Breaking Bad?    

In the ascension plotline, we root for the underdog to rise up and conquer the challenges ahead of them. We want the character to grow, overcoming their trials that seem so familiar to us. We project onto these characters. Their struggles become our struggles, and thus their success becomes ours.

While the ascension plot goes up, the decension plot goes down. Instead of passing the trials ahead and maintaining the moral high ground, the hero of the decension plot might fail or overcome them only after sacrificing some moral footing. As this tragic hero continues their journey they continue to face choices that usually leave them with more of their humanity compromised. Their fall continues to pick up momentum as the story progresses until they finally hit the bottom.

Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Elephant Man…these stories all share the same basic element of a character experiencing a rise and fall.

 I’m in the beginning stages of drafting a story about two characters who start at opposite ends of that ladder. One starts to drop while the other starts to rise. By the middle, they are in the same position and fall in love. Their challenge comes as their respective ascension and decension starts to pull them apart.

 I would argue that although stories of a heroes rise are more popular in the commercial sense (I enjoy paying money to make myself feel good, and seeing Bruce Wayne become Batman always makes me feel good…), the stories of descension are more gripping, real, and ultimately powerful.

What do you think?

 

Oh, Happy Chaos!

Every time I come here, I am in the midst of wild and crazy life changes.

Well, this time is no different.

Those that know me well are aware of the special appreciation I hold for Chaos and Chaos Theory. We are all touched by it, although some have lives a little more obviously marked than others. For the uninitiated, Chaos Theory – or nonlinear determinism and dynamics – is both a mathematical and philosophical theory that can be both applied across various different fields as well as be observed in the natural world. Think weather patterns and how they develop and influence other patterns on the other side of the world, the flight patterns of insects, or even the way the stock market operates.

If you’ve read (or seen) Chrichton’s Jurassic Park, Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”, or even played Assasin’s Creed, then you probably know a bit of how Chaos Theory works.

To summarize (and horrify those with degrees in this kind of stuff…), everything that happens can be traced back to a moment where that which happened was determined to happen. That “thing that happened” was governed by what theorists call the initial condition. From that point, everything that stretches on can be traced back to that moment. Had anything been different in that moment, the entire system would have been different. It’s like a really long chain of cause and effect. Ever hear of the butterfly effect?

What I am trying to illustrate is that change happens. We are all subject to the entropy and chaos of the day to day. These seemingly random events continue to surprise and baffle us. So many times we find ourselves asking ourselves why things happen the way they do and so often this level of introspection seems to be reserved for times of turmoil, stress, and negativity.

Relationships end.

Economies fall upon the brink of collapse.

Nuclear war is threatened.

Bombs go off killing innocents.

How did we come to this?

And so we look back in an attempt to find that point of origin, that ground zero, that moment in time where the two paths diverged, and we wonder what could have been and how the dynamic system of life and reality could have changed, had some variable been different at that initial condition.

As I write this, I reflect on the things I’ve experienced, the positive, the negative, the things I’m still trying to figure out, and I realize I am blessed. I’m still here. For the first time in my life I know what love is – what it really is – not a disillusioned fairy tale, not some lust driven romance, not just a good cohabitant. Love is more than that, happiness is more than that. Happiness is taking the good and bad and not just accepting it, but growing from it. Moving forward. It’s looking back and retracing those steps past all of the good times – the laughter, the fun, the excitement – and all of the bad. It’s moving past the broken promises, the heart ache, and the fractured dreams until you find that point of origin, that initial condition, and realizing you wouldn’t change a thing.

Are you happy? Are there things you would change?

Game Design

So, after completing my MFA program I, the forever student, started taking classes through Full Sail University. One of my assignments required me create a blog post…

 

…I totally forgot I put this blog here! I’ll have to update this a little more regularly!

 

Well, here’s my post on how PC’s began to compete with consoles during the Console Wars of the 80’s!

Near the end of the eighties, a new challenger arrived in the competition between gaming consoles in the form of the Personal Computer. Up until this point, most gaming was done on the various consoles being released: the Nintendo, the Sega Master System, etc. However, with the implementation of the Sound Blaster sound card, PC’s received a shot in the arm and gaming on computers became a fast growing market.

            The Sound Blaster greatly increased the quality of sound that could be achieved on the PC. Shortly on the heels of the Sound Blaster came the implementation of CD-ROM drives. This new medium received great attention from the entertainment industry and the market was flooded with games that could take advantage of the storage sized afforded by the CDs.

            Three big titles were released that drew more attention to the possibilities of PC gaming. Myst could be considered the “killer application” that brought people to the PC. The puzzles, graphics, and detailed world helped the title sell millions of copies. The Seventh Guest was the next big title to come out. It boasted live-action video and a photo-realistic rendition of a haunted house that made for the setting of the title. Although not as popular as Myst, The Seventh Guest was able to successfully show what the PC was capable of. Perhaps the most renown title from the early years of PC gaming is Doom. This game redefined how “shooters” work. It spawned multiple sequels, spinoffs, and set the standard for the massively popular FPS genre.

            Doom’s success could be contributed to the graphics, sound, and gameplay, but some of the industry changing trends it started are also worth mentioning. The people at id Software successfully implemented a system of freely sharing their products known as “shareware” which built hype and spread their product out across the market. Also, the multiplayer aspect of the game was a huge hit. Instead of fighting through the story, you could fight against other human controlled opponents.

            To this day, gaming on a PC rivals gaming on a console. The debates on the “best” platform seem never ending. The ability to customize and modify a PC to get the most out of your games, the exposure to games offered through the shareware system, and the ever growing networked community established by the internet, made the PC a popular choice for gamers over the typical console.

Abnegation

Is this feeling a fresh start or the onset of radiation poisoning?

I finally had a dream about my characters.

Alright, maybe it was just a dream about my book, but the characters were part of it. It wasn’t good.

Backstory: I’ve recently begun redrafting my manuscript and a lot has changed. I wasn’t happy with what I had a few months ago, so instead of dissecting what I liked and what I didn’t like, I decided to just blow it up and reboot it.

This is where my dream, or rather my nightmare, comes into play. I’ve been holding back sending any pages in for review to Kaylie because I wanted to have a complete arch done. As I type this, my wonderful girlfriend is reviewing the last few pages of the first act of one of my PoV characters. As soon as I get it back, kill all the adverbs and commas I’ve overused, I’ll be sending it out.

In my dream I teleported maybe two weeks into the future, where I got back my review from my work and it was, frankly, horrible. The characters felt so stock they were taken off the shelf, the scenarios are unbelievable even in a fantasy, the language is trite and unmoving, dialogue feels forced, and the entire work thus far lacks the smallest amount of literary merit.

Maybe this is why I procrastinate…

Real life has definitely been interfering with the things I wanted to do this summer: namely finish this draft and get a job at a college. But I’ve gotta work through it. So, rant off. Back to the writing.

Is it OK to just frag hundreds of pages because you just don’t like them? Is it self-destructive or progress? Do you think I’m letting a fear of failure prevent me from finishing something? Or is this all part of the process?

Help me, oh wise and humble internets…

Nirvana behind a Screen

For me, it's started here...

Today was the first day of “work”.

As an aspiring writer, I decided that I needed to take a much more serious approach to my craft. Writing when I “had time” just wasn’t working. That free time seemed to continually get filled with something. Whether it was housework (epic), going out (rare), or distracting myself with movies (uncommon) or games (common…), the writing wasn’t happening. I decided that it would be best to give myself a much more stringent schedule. I’m used to working during the weekdays, so why not make writing a part of that? Especially during my time off in the summer? That’s one of the greatest boons that teaching offers: time. To not use it (wisely!) would be wasteful.

But here’s the thing… During the school year, there’s a lot I don’t have time to do, and like a child, I still look forward to the summer to free me from the full days at school and nights of homework. I look to the time I can spend how I want it.  Most of my hobbies are very time consuming. At least the ones that involve just me, and I can’t really indulge too much during the school year. I’ve been playing games (video, board, pen and paper) since I can remember, and haven’t stopped since. When I was younger, still going to school and living at home, I looked forward to the day when I would have a job, a house, be able to afford my own consoles or computers and be able to spend my free time playing! It seemed to me then as the perfect life. Nirvana behind a screen. As a kid I lacked the funds. Now, as an adult, I lack the time.

In keeping my childhood oath, I haven’t spared any expense when it comes to those hobbies: I buy all the consoles that are released, I buy the best games that come out, I upgrade my computer every other year, and I have subscriptions to online games of which I can’t even remember the passwords to. I’ve satisfied that part of me that WANTED things. Now I have them. But enjoying them, however … is difficult. It’s hard to really immerse myself like I did when I was a kid. I don’t have hours of time to spend. When other kids where wrestling, playing basketball, baseball, or football, I was marching on Narshe atop Magitek armor, or I was defending Lordaeron from the Orcs, or piecing clues together that pinned Sir Lucan D’lere as a traitor to Freeport, or spending hours delving into the catacombs beneath the cursed city Tristram…

Hours went into this hobby. I would sit down in the afternoon, rising only to sustain and relieve myself, seeing the shadow of my monitor move across the room cast by the rise and fall of the sun from outside my basement window.

These were the worst  and best  days of my childhood. I missed out on  a lot. I didn’t kiss a girl until I was more than halfway through my teens, I didn’t learn to drive until I was 18, other milestones were pushed back, as well… but I felt, and I still do, fulfilled by the time I spent in those other worlds. The friends I made in them, both artificial and organic, will never be forgotten. The experiences I have had could only ever be made in the time I took forging them.

That time is gone.

Now it’s about writing.

Creating my own worlds.

I need to leave such childish things behind, as the saying goes. A part of me will never be able to. I’ll still long to spend half a day leading an assault on the Plane of Fear with fifty other people by my side, but that will never happen again. To find fulfillment now, I need to take what I have gained from these experiences and craft them into something of my own. I need to immerse myself into a new home, one I must create.

My subscriptions are still active. They’re still calling for me. More often than I’ll admit to my mentors, I’ll dance my fingers across the keyboard and find myself in Azeroth, or Telara, or Norrath, or even Eorzea. These are worlds that I can now only ever visit.

Never again can they be my home.

Is it right that such a realization chokes me up?