Hey! I’m back. November was an interesting month. Sig strained his back earlier in the month, then later before Thanksgiving, I got a really nasty upper respiratory infection which lead to nearly two weeks of being bed-bound with acute bronchitis. All this lead to playing Minecraft on our laptops while recuperating.

I’ve resisted playing Minecraft for a while now, mostly because I knew how addictive it would be. Sig played the bejeebus out of it building a glass tower on our home server. I built a pagoda home, complete with furnishings and an automatic door. You can see what we’ve built in the video above. Its makes for great play if you want to just relax for the evening, kinda like playing with legos. And apparently, it was the new “golf” at Sig’s office — a number of his office mates have created a private Minecraft server.

Lost in Holiday Season Games: Skyrim and The Old Republic

I must be getting old because there are only two games that really peak my interest for this holiday season.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 11.11.11

There are two things that I want from this game: the familiarity and the extraordinary. In the familiar department, it’s still the world where I can wander about and not feel pressured to do the main quest. In the extraordinary, I’m looking forward to a leveling system that makes me think and care about my character. I also look forward to a fiddly crafting system. I plan to buy another video card so I can really enjoy the stunning visuals and the immersive environment. Beyond that, the character design looks vastly improved over Oblivion’s ugly brigade of races, though other folks tell me they look meaner in previous games. I’m also looking forward to a more diverse voice acting instead of the four from Oblivion. They’ve brought in some of the better elements from Fallout 3, such as the lock pick system. With all these things together in one game, I’ll could easily lose over 100 hours of free time to this game over the coming months.



Star Wars: The Old Republic – 12.20.11

Family quality time is really important to me, and how Sig and I do that is through games. This is the game we plan on duoing together. Personally, I love the Star Wars universe. I was able to preview parts of this game at PAX, and felt that the combat system and character leveling was stereotypical of an MMO; because of that, it’s probably not going to hold me in the long term. What will hold me to the game is the story. Rather than deal with all the potential negative aspects of an MMO (guild drama, PUGs, coordinating static groups, etc), I’ll probably play the game casually and with my husband. I can’t see myself dedicating more than a few hours a week, but I do see myself enjoying a story in the world I’ve come to love.


DDO Cannith Crafting: A Live BETA

Disclaimer: I'm going to brag a bit. You know, just to get it out of my system. And then I promise to move on to what I'm really trying to say. So if you don't like bragging farts, stop reading here and feel free to skip down to the next section if it pleases you. :)  So I've been playing MMOs for about 12 years now. I do not have enough fingers on my hands to count the number of closed betas I've been in. I consider myself lucky to be invited to test so many MMOs. Today, I don't do much beta testing. I sometimes miss it, at other times I'm glad I have the free time to do other things.

Cannith Crafting: A Live BETA

So when Cannith Crafting was put on the live servers in a BETA format, it was the first time I've heard of a MMO subsystem being tested in such a fashion. It's highly unorthodox to release sub-systems into the live arena, but in the case of the Cannith crafting system I can understand why, what they had to gain (and potentially lose) from doing it. There are also some interesting unexpected results from using this method of "live" beta testing.

The Reason: Not Enough Testers

In huge games like WoW (nearly 12 million Players) or even Aion (3 million players), the response to a beta-testing call-to-arms is astounding. Typically a percent of the player base are also closed beta testers and able to see content months in advance (but only after rigorous NDA agreements are signed). If we assume that only one half of a percent (0.5%) MMORPG's population are close beta testers that would be nearly 60,000 beta players for a game like WoW. (1) Last year, MMOData.net reported a total of around 110,000 active DDO players. If we make an assumption that of that population less than 1% are beta testers; that amounts to around 600 to 800 closed beta players. In my opinion, that's hardly enough hands to test a complicated sub-system such as new crafting system There is a saying in the game business: "No game survives contact with the players, but that's how you find out what kind of game you've got." Today there are Open Beta servers; even WoW had one for Cataclysm. DDO has its own, called Lamannia. Open Beta testing tries to solve the "not enough" people issue. But in most cases, I feel it's just a PR stunt to get players hyped on the new stuff. In the case of DDO and Lamannia its been proven to be more than a PR gimmick, it works and Lamannia testers have really proven their worth and even stopped a bad update from being pushed. Open Beta servers work great in practice with bug fixes, and even with testing new content like quests and adventure areas. But with new sub-systems with their own mechanics that may affect different areas of the game such as the loot system or the in-game economy, I think that it's a different ball game. And here is where releasing a beta sub-system to a live environment comes in. My best educated guess (and opinion) is that Turbine took a pretty huge risk with Cannith Crafting by putting out a Beta out on live. Why? So that they could get more players into it and to see what happens. It's not an every-day-thing to allow EVERYONE a chance to influence a game in such a risky and public manner.

Reward and Risk

Live Beta's can turn out to be a wonderful thing, and I've seen this type of mechanics testing done in not in MMORPGs, but in regular table-top RPGs (namely Pathfinder) where new character classes, spells, and feats are given in an open beta format for players to test. Paizo was able to produce an awesome supplement to their game because they had awesome constructive feedback from their fans. The reward was an award-winning game both beneficial for players and designers. There are also more people buying the game and new players being introduced to Pathfinder. I can also see how Live Betas can burn a game to the ground. DDO players invest a lot of time into a game by questing, killing monsters, exploring, and now crafting. By putting a beta crafting system on a live server, you run the risk of wasting a player's time. If the system changes or is bugged in some fashion that effectively ruins their hard work, then the risk is a player not playing the game anymore. Worse than losing a player from your game, is that you run the risk of losing the player's trust for any game you run. Players expect consistency, so that they can learn, adapt, and master the game. What do you think would happen if a Dungeon Master kept on changing the rules of their D&D campaign game every other encounter? Players would get angry and leave the gaming table, because they can't trust the DM to be fair. Even if the DM said "Wait a minute! That was only a practice run!" Players still would be reluctant to trust the DM, and the chances of them playing in another game with that DM goes down.

Unsettling Effects: Useless Feedback

Back in the day when a closed beta invite meant something, betas also had (and still have) feedback forums. These beta forums were used for remarking on things that weren't necessarily bugs, but on things that might not be as good in practice as they seemed to be in design. At worst, you were working as a real tester by helping to squash bugs without the pay. At best, you'd have an influence on shaping the game itself. I have been observing a frightening trend with open beta testers: we now have a "testing" community that believes there's nothing more to beta-testing than downloading the client and playing for a bit. After playing on the open beta server, they then spend most of their time on the forums or in the global channels complaining about how a game in development still has bugs, and all done without filing a bug report. This kind of attitude sends shivers down my spine. In a live beta, this effect (understandably) seems to be amplified. I see a lot more useless commentary. To be fair, I can't tell how many crafting bugs were reported since it was pushed to live; my only hope that it's more than what we would see in Lamannia or in the DDO's closed beta, Mournlands. Perhaps, there needs to be more advertising on how to find bugs and how to report bugs - it's not like players are given a list of what to test for. Or perhaps there needs to be more incentive than just personal enjoyment of experiencing a live beta? I would love to see an open beta player spotlight given to the person who found the best bug.


I want to see this kind of testing system work, but I have to admit that I wouldn't want to see certain kinds of changes nor a beta version of a new kind of combat mechanic on live. The Cannith Crafting Beta on live is okay, only because people can opt out of the majority of it by not crafting (with minor intrusions found in the game economy, and the tide of available players). (2) The reasons why a beta of Cannith Crafting was put on the live servers is understandable: the more people you have testing the more bug reports, and feedback on overall game effects you get, and sooner. Turbine played a very interesting game of risk, and it's yet to be seen if the rewards sought will be got: Will turbine get more players? Or even retain the current player base? I think we'll only see after it's been a while from when Cannith Crafting is finished.  And though I don't like the trends of how beta testing and feedback is performed on the community's part, there isn't much that can be done when open betas, preview servers, and "live" betas are becoming common way of testing games. My only hope is that this method of "live" beta testing works in beneficial ways, such as getting new players, or retaining players that would have left without even a hint of crafting.
1 "Subscription and Active Accounts with a Peak between 1m and 12m." MMOData.net. http://www.mmodata.net/ 2 Regardless of it being Live Beta or not, Cannith Crafting has and still will affect non-participants in surprisingly direct ways, such as change in economy and the buying and selling of goods either from Auction House or Brokers. It's been interesting to watch both money supply and the supply of goods go down. And then watching both money supply and supply of available goes go up when crafting was shut down. Cannith Crafting has some indirect ways influencing the player base: tide of available players for questing. The tide is in when there is a pool of players ready and available to join groups for questing. The tide goes out when players are crafting; simply put they cannot quest when they are crafting. In my guild, the flow of when players are available to quest has changed, typically after 10 pm (pacific) there are less players willing to quest because they are crafting.

E3 2011 Trailers

Its been a while since I was able to get excited about a game just by watching the trailers, but these three take the cake!

Prey 2 Trailer

I played through the original Prey and it was an excellent FPS game with compelling characters and plot. I really like the look and feel of this video. I hope the new game will live up to it.

NeverDead Trailer

The voice acting is campy, but it only made me laugh! Some of the scenes make me think this will be a funny tongue-in-cheek game.

Tomb Raider (Square Enix)

Wow. Laura looks so gritty! I guess gritty is the new “black” in women’s ass-kicking wardrobe!

A Game I Want To Play (Again) But Can’t: Syberia and Syberia II

Syberia & Syberia II

  • Developer: Microïds
  • Publisher: Microïds, XS Games, The Adventure Company
  • Publish date: 2002, 2004
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Smartphones

Syberia and Syberia II are probably the best adventure games I’ve ever played. Its pretty classic: you play as Kate Walker and solve various puzzles and follow certain procedures in order for the linear storyline to proceed. As a pure graphical adventure game, Syberia follows the guidelines first introduced by LucasArts: it is impossible to die or to get stuck at any moment in the game. For me its like watching a rerun of a much beloved TV show or movie.

I generally love any thing that comes from Benoît Sokal (Belgian comic artist and video game developer), including Paradise and Amerizone, but I love Syberia because of the story and artwork. Its a mysteriously art nouveau and steampunk world, where most of the devices and machinery are powered by springs and wind-up gears.

Steam (bless their hearts) is finally offering this game as a download for around $7. But the game is so old the, 3D engine borks on my 42″ 1080i HD monitor. I have to dig out my old 17″ DVI monitor to run the game. *sigh*

Acording to the game news gossip Syberia III is coming out, and most likely for the PC and PS3. The story will follow Kate Walker again as she discovers more about the mammoths on the island of Syberia. Of course Microids annouced their work on Syberia III in 2009 and news interviews with Benoît Sokal say work on the game hasn’t even started yet — Frankly, I’m not going to hold my breath.

Update 5/29/2011

I’ve gotten my old monitor hooked up — dang this thing is small and kinda chunky! Its one of the first flat panel monitors to hit the market back in 2000. Anyways, after 15 min of game play, I ran into ANOTHER BUG! Ugh! My game crashed after it tried to play a cut scene.

Syberia does have a bug log and I found this in the file C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\syberia\debug.log

Starting cinematic playback 'C2_HansAnnaB.syb'
...User has task switched: activating.
Insert CD dialog box: Please insert the DVD entitled 'Syberia'
Looking for file 'Video\AN\C2_HansAnnaB.syb'

So basically, the files exist, just not in the correct folder. Here’s the fix:

  1. Go to your Syberia game folder and go into the Video folder. For me its C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\syberia\Video
  2. Create a folder called “AN” (without the quotes).
  3. Take the following files in the Video folder and copy-and-paste them into the AN folder:
    • C2_hansannab.syb
    • C5_hansannab.syb
    • C10_hansannab.syb
  4. Restart your game from a your last saved game point.

A Hero to Admire: Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia is the protagonist of The Witcher book series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. Yes I know there are video games, a TV series, and a movie, but Geralt first started out as a charaacter in a book.

Geralt, like all witchers, are monster-hunters who undergo special training and have their bodies modified with supernatural abilities so they can hunt extremely dangerous monsters without dying. These modifications leave them with super-human reflexes, dexterity and the ability to see at night.

Geralt lives in an ambiguous moral universe, yet manages to maintain his own coherent code of ethics. He’s all at once cynical and noble; kind of reminds me of hardboild crime protaganists minus the modern trappings. Geralt treats his ladies like Han Solo does. When she says “I love you,”  Geralt replies with “Yeah, I know.” He’s wisecracking, hard drinking, and tough, but also quietly contemplative — and very much the bastard you grow to love at the end of the story.

The Witcher Books by Andrzej Sapkowsk

  • Book 1: The Last Wish, 1993 – A short story collection of the Witcher
  • Book 2: Blood of Elves, 1994 – First novel in the Witcher Saga

Books not yet translated to English

  • Book 3: Times of Contempt, 1995
  • Book 4: Baptism of Fire, 1996
  • Book 5: The Swallow’s Tower, 1997
  • Book 6: Lady of the Lake, 1999

The Last Wish The Blood of Elves

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

  • Developer: CD Projekt RED STUDIO
  • Publisher: Atari
  • Publish date: May 17 2011
  • Platform: PC

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Sig  bought and tried to play The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, but it ate his system for breakfast. Its a game with heavy requirements, epseically if you want to enjoy all the beautiful eye candy. If your system can muster it, Witcher 2 rewards you with an alluring and finely crafted world that entices exploration. And like all very good RPGs, it promises a lasting, rewarding relationship — this translates to potentially up to 60 or 70 hours of gameplay for me. I could spend hours reading books, people watching, poking around towns, provoking guards, gambling in dark taverns, and getting so drunk then waking up with a godawful butt tattoo of some girl’s name that I had a one night stand with.

Favorite Meat-space game Gone Virtual: Small World

Small World (board game)

  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Publish Date: 2009
  • Genre: Strategy board game
  • Players: 2–5
  • Age range: 8 and up
  • Playing time: 40 to 80 minutes
  • Skills required: Strategy

In Small World, players set out to dominate a world that is simply too small to accommodate them all. Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth. Players much choose the best combinations and special abilities in order to take over the world.

Small World’s variety of race and ability combinations is delightful. Each race has a unique power or benefit, as does each ability. In total, there are fourteen different races and twenty different abilities, so the possible combinations keep you on your toes. The random pairing power-race create some very intriguing game play. Funny combinations include Merchant Ghouls and Flying Giants.

I like Small World because it’s easier to teach and understand, and plays faster than many other strategy games. Of course having a chorus of players sing “It’s a Small World (Battle Hymn)” while Commando Trolls roll in for the taking is quite funny:

It’s a world of slaughter
A world of tears
A world of dopes
And a world of fears
There’s too much that we share
So beware
It’s a small world after all

Small World for the iPad

  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Publish Date: 2010
  • Genre: Strategy game
  • Players: 1 or 2
  • Platform: iPad

Small World is a fantastic board game, but unfortunately the iPad adaptation isn’t all that it could be.  When it first came out, I couldn’t help but feel that it was rushed out the door. Thankfully, Days of Wonder has put out a series of patches that wrap the game up nicely. For almost $7, the price is surprisingly fair for what you get — more so than with other board game ports. And though its only a two player game or vs an AI, the fact that it is a digital board game means you can’t lose any pieces! Great easily play game in a car, on a plane, or at the DMV while waiting for your driver’s license renewal. Its a pleasant way to waste some time with a friend.

Most Surprising Game: Viva Piñata

Viva Piñata

  • Developer: Rare, Climax Group
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Publish Date: 2009
  • Platform: Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows

I got this game as a freebie with our XBox 360. Little did I know that it would steal many productive hours away from my day. Part Sims, part Animal Crossing and part resource management strategy — a combo that I didn’t expect from a kids game. You first get a junk filled patch of desert soil. You also get a shovel to help shape the land. The goal is to attract living Piñatas. All of them are very charming, cute, and sometimes pretty funny. If you cultivate your garden with care, up residency. Like real-life animals they eat and breed. They also have preferences in environments and neighbors. You use tools and strategy to convince the Piñatas that your garden is an awesome home, all the while managing your resources. Eye-catching graphics, clever use of audio event cues, easy controls and menu interface, combined with a design philosophy that doesn’t penalize you for mistakes, makes a fun game that’s simple and enchanting.

The part that tickled me silly: Occasionally evil Piñatas would come in and eat your livestock Piñatas. You can whack these evil Piñatas with your shovel. Upon bursting, they spray forth candy guts and innards. With an audible “Hooray!” cheer, other Piñatas quickly scramble about eating the candy-innards as fast as they can. A close second were the Piñata mating dances, where they display special little jig unique to their species.

A Game I Won’t Be Playing: Brink, The Sausage Fest

Yes, I went there.

Besides having no female avatars — all in the name of “art artifacts and character styles” — it was shipped with numerous bugs for the PC (my preferred gaming platform). I want to say that Brink is about three or four updates from being awesome. Despite bug reports with AMD graphics cards, it seems that NVIDIA users are in the same boat. Getting sub-20 fps framerates even on a spanking high-end Core i7 and GTX 590 SLI is rather ridiculous. An even bigger fail is that it will corrupt character data if you close the game during start-up, even if you have to because the game keeps crashing during start up! There’s also various reports of major lag such that the game is unplayable.

Why the hate? Well, if I’m going to pay $60 plus tax, I’d like a game that actually runs at start up, doesn’t crash, and if its online play, doesn’t lag me out to a stand still. The fact that Brink has no girl avatars is just an insult. When TF2 came out in 2007,despite the fact it didn’t have any lady toons, I was okay with that because it was funny and it actually ran smoothly.


  • Developer: Splash Damage
  • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
  • Publish Date: May 2011
  • Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Favorite Video Game Quotes: Mordin’s Song

Commander Shepard: I’m sorry, I know that was important, but *you* performed Gilbert and Sullivan?

Prof. Mordin Solus: I am the very model of a scientist salarian – I’ve studied species Turian, Asari and Batarian – I’m quite good at genetics as a subset of biology – because I am an expert which I know is a tautology! My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian – I am the very model of a scientist salarian!

[long pause]

Prof. Mordin Solus: Ahem.

Close second is Tali’s cry when she launches her pet, “Go for the optics! Go for the optics!” Its an homage to Minsc and Boo in Baulder’s Gate II.

Mass Effect 2

  • Developer: BioWare
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Publish Date: 2010
  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3