What does Snowmane play?

  05:10:12 pm, by Damon   , 639 words  
Viewed 21918 times since 01/15/13
Categories: Games

In an attempt to start revitalizing the UESP blog, I have been graciously granted writing privileges, so I figured I might squeeze in a posting or two before I forget that I can write and that the blog exists. :p

There isn't much worth saying about myself, as my userpage does a pretty good job already in detailing who I am.

I haven't got much to say really, but I guess I'll just do a "What Am I Playing?" post like what's been done in the past.

Europa Universalis III: Chronicles is a grand strategy game set from 1399 to 1821. The premise of the game is that you can pick one of a couple hundred different nations around the world that vary in size, and you manage the nation during these years of exploration and conquest. There's a little bit of a learning curve though, as the game requires intense micromanagement of various aspects of the game, such as the economy, trade and production research, army, naval, and government research, managing inflation, diplomacy with the other nations of the world, etc. In short, it's my kind of game.

While I am a diehard TES fan, UESP being the only gaming wiki I've dedicated more than 2 hours to, strategy games will always hold that special place in my heart, since I was raised on real time strategy games like Command and Conquer and Age of Empires.

For my particular EU3 campaign, I am playing as the Kingdom of Castille, what would eventually become modern day Spain, and I am doing "The Grand Campaign", which means I am playing the game from the first playable year, 1399, until 1821.

After nearly three decades, I've conquered Granada, a one of the small nations sharing the Iberian peninsula with me, I've converted them to Catholicism, and I've established myself as a major trader, being the major trader in all the top dollar (or ducat in EU3) Centers of Trade (CoT) as well as successfully constructing my own powerful CoT near the Gibraltar Strait to compete with Portugal's Lisboa, which eventually collapsed, making my CoT the go-to for Portugal as well as the African nations across the strait, and other nations, who have to pass through to reach or leave the Mediterranean Sea.

While I have a fierce army and navy, I try to stay out of wars with other European nations, as they can sometimes get really drawn out, and it's always extremely exhausting on my economy to raise the kind of army needed to be a significant force against the largely superior French army or English Royal Navy. The only European nation on my agenda right now to attack is Aragon, as I need to own and posses a "core" on three of their provinces to do the optional mission to reform Castille into the Kingdom of Spain. Any other European nation, I will only take (as of this moment) if I get discover something that I could stand to gain from.

As far as my nation goes in terms of progression, I intend to focus more on trade and eventually colonization when I get my Government level high enough to research the "Quest for the New World" national idea, which would enable the recruitment of naval Admirals for exploration of the ocean's terra incognita and Conquistadors for the land. I won't strive to have the largest colonies in this playthrough, since I am still new to the game and want to play rather safely and out of the way of other nations for now, but maybe when I finish Castille's Grand Campaign, I'll pick another nation to play as more of a military power.

That's really all I have to say right now, but maybe if something comes up that's worth talking about, either in EU3 or elsewhere, I'll pop in to say it.

 Permalink

Elder Scrolls Online -- Initial Thoughts

  09:27:54 am, by Daveh   , 791 words  
Viewed 128494 times since 05/05/12
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

My initial thoughts on the recent Elder Scrolls Online announcement as a veteran Elder Scrolls fan is a mixture of both excitement and worry.

I'm excited to see yet another chapter in the Elder Scrolls series unfold with hopefully more adventures and lore to be discovered. I've enjoyed all seven ES games in series to some extent, even Redguard and Battlespire which weren't entirely well received by the fans.

I'm also excited to see what the ESO director and experienced MMO developer Matt Firor and his large team of 250 developers comes up with. I've long been a MMO fan with years playing MUDs and more years enjoying EverQuest after that. While I'm older now and my gaming tendencies have changed I'm still looking forward to playing another MMO. Unlike a good portion of the ES fans I've always wanted to see an ES MMO game so long as it was done "right".

However, I'm very worried that this is just an generic MMO clone with "Elder Scrolls" attached solely for increased exposure and revenue. After reading the Game Informer article everything just reeks of "generic" and almost nothing of "Elder Scrolls". I realize that some sacrifices in design must be made when moving from single player to massively multi-player but you can't just take a WoW/EverQuest/DAoC clone and put an ES logo on it and call it "Elder Scrolls Online". I'm hoping and assuming that all the smart people at Bethesda and Zenimax Online realize this but the initial release information doesn't do much to persuade me otherwise.

I'm worried that the features that are important to the single player ES games won't make it into the MMO. The description of features so far already changes the basic skill based character development to experience points and real time combat to button clicking, both of which make me uncomfortable. The devil, of course, is in the details of how these systems are actually implemented in the end and it could easily go either way.

I'm a little worried about the quality and quantity of lore in ESO. There was only a little lore related information in the Game Information article and some it seemed "off" for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. A strong presence of good lore has always been important in the ES games and I expect nothing less from an ES MMO.

I'm already worried about the initial lack of community involvement by the developers although it only has been a few days since the initial ESO announcement. My opinion is that having an open communication between the developers and community for an MMO is critical for it to succeed in the long term. The initial announcement is almost the worst things they could have done: release rough information on an ES MMO which all but makes it appear to be a generic MMO clone. Any ES fan could tell you that an ES MMO was generally not wanted by the community and if it was it had to be done "right". I think there needs to be a very obvious presence from both Bethesda and Zenimax Online (both Matt and developer leads) to both help calm the fears of ES fans as well as begin getting as much feedback as soon as possible.

I'm a little worried about the graphics. Although I'm usually the first to say that the graphics are not as important as other things like game play and performance they still are critical to the overall look and feel of the game. From the screen shots so far I'm in general underwhelmed and a little put off by the character models specifically. I'm hoping that since the game is still 12-18 months from release there is still a good amount of graphical polishing left although the fact these screen shots were probably picked as they looked "the best" makes me cautious.

Finally, I'm worried that labelling this as an "Elder Scrolls" MMO will result in the game's failure to be much quicker. If this was just another MMO it would succeed or fail on its own merits. However, with the title of "Elder Scrolls" the game has a much higher barrier to succeed. You have a lot of dedicated ES fans used to the high quality of the existing ES games who will shun the game and quicken its demise if it doesn't live up to its name.

In summary it would appear that I'm just a little excited and very worried about Elder Scrolls Online. While it has some potential to be great there is even more potential for it to fail miserably. My final opinion, however, will wait until next year when the game is actually closer to release.

Skyrim - the first five weeks

  01:32:01 pm, by   , 1825 words  
Viewed 80263 times since 18/12/11
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

I've been meaning to write something about Skyrim for a couple of weeks, but any time I had a few spare minutes I decided they were better spent actually playing the game than writing about it. Today, I finally feel sated. I don't mean I'm done playing it, because I'm not, but I no longer feel the compulsion to spend every spare hour in Skyrim, and even loaded something else instead (X3: Albion Preview in case you're wondering - I'll probably blog about that soon). Steam tells me that in five weeks I've spent 221 hours playing Skyrim and that I've already gone past Fallout: New Vegas (206) so It's definitely time to put down a few thoughts about the game.

The sheer scope of the game is incredible. I spent some time trying to come up with a one-word description and eventually settled on "mindblowing" - and don't tell me it's really two words and should be hyphenated; I know and I don't care. One problem with modern English usage is that so many words are overused and end up as mere synonyms for "pretty good", but I'm using "mindblowing" in the sense of "Bloody hell - there's more? How the hell am I supposed to keep track of everything?" Skyrim is almost too big. At one point I found myself trying to work out how to advance the Thieves Guild quest line and it took a trawl through my huge list of outstanding quests to jog my memory that one quest without any obvious thieving connection was the one I had to do. Yes, it's my own fault for leaving quests too long and also my fault for playing while under the influence of whatever type of alcohol has taken my fancy, but it's undoubtedly a big game.

Let's start by looking at my last post about the things I wanted to see in the new game.

The World

The land of Skyrim is certainly a massive improvement over Oblivion's Cyrodiil, so much so that my first several hours were spent simply exploring the province rather than doing quests. There's so much more to find than before, and there are areas of utterly stunning beauty.

Interiors look much better than in Oblivion, but while there's a little more variety than before there's still a certain sense of sameness. That's especially true of taverns, which are almost all identical inside. Most of the dungeons are rather linear too: you just have to keep moving forward, knowing that when you reach the end you'll face a boss. I know I'm being a bit unfair here, because there's only so many ways in which you can design a mine or a ruin, but given the way the "hand designed" nature of the locations was hyped I'd expected a little more.

The Characters

There have definitely been improvements here. For a start, the voice acting is better. Having so many different voices is a huge improvement in itself, but the quality of delivery is much better too. Some of it's better than other bits - Joan Allen is superb as Delphine but only the fact that Karliah is an essential character saves her from my wrath at Moira Quirk's performance with her voice.

By and large, NPCs don't do stupid stuff any more, although I don't imagine there's a single player who hasn't seen at least one weirdness. Letting other NPCs move around while you're talking to someone can occasionally lead to some oddities too - for instance I eventually had to watch my own marriage from several yards away from the altar and my beloved because somebody had pushed me out of their way and I couldn't move back.

There are still a few annoyances, such as the way NPCs almost always say the same things to you when you pass them, but that's almost impossible to fix unless someone comes up with a way of auto-generating realistic dialogue.

Lockpicking
Meh. This is probably as good as it can get. I find myself wishing I didn't have to give the skeleton key back though.

Persuading
Getting rid of disposition entirely is one way around the problem, I suppose. The persuade/intimidate/bribe mechanism works well: at early levels I usually had to bribe people but as I gained levels and got more Speech skill points, the other options became an option too. Having the bribe option as a catch-all is a good solution, because it means you never get locked out of options entirely. It's possibly a little over-simplified but on balance I think it's a good solution.

Music Switching
Much, much improved. It's not quite as good as it could be - I still get one or two places where I realise I'm under attack because of the music, but it's certainly better than in earlier games.

Alchemy
Almost perfect! I'd still like the ability to learn about effects from books or teachers, but the new system is really good.

Random Encounters
Possibly a few too many wolves but about 95% perfect.

And on
In other words, my list of gripes has been almost entirely addressed and has certainly made the game more enjoyable.

I like the new Smithing mechanic. No more messing about waiting for a bandit to wear a glass helmet; just get the perk, find or buy the material and make it yourself. Combined with the improved enchanting system, replete with its own set of powerful perks, there's no longer a need to keep waiting for some particular item to appear in random loot. This makes customising your character a lot easier.

Archery has been seriously improved. My first character is a stealthy archer and was delighted to find that arrows now do rather more damage than they did in Oblivion, where you may as well have flicked chewed-up wads of paper at enemies for all the good they did. It wasn't long before he was doing double damage, with a 3x bonus for sneak attacks, with a self-crafted Daedric Bow imbued with a Fire enchantment, and even powerful enemies began to drop in a single shot.

Magic, too, is actually worth using. I tried to like magic in Oblivion, I really did, but it was so ineffective it wasn't worth bothering. In Skyrim, most of the spells work well, and some of the new additions, like the Clairvoyance spell, are fantastic. The lack of spell-crafting is interesting. On the one hand, we won't get loads of people submitting dull combinations of spells for a Useful Spells page, but I do slightly miss the time spent messing around trying to come up with a genuinely useful spell.

It almost goes without saying, but the graphics are superb. The music is superb too, although the game does everything it can to downplay it. Under the default settings, the music is turned way down, and even putting the slider up to the max leaves it... in the background a bit. I know the music shouldn't be the main point of the game, but Jeremy Soule fans - and I count myself as such - should be able to make it more prominent. I can't wait to see if Santa brings me my signed copy of the soundtrack!

Dragons: as good as I had hoped, even if it can be bloody annoying when they circle around without attacking or crash-land in one place only to glitch into another.

It's not perfect though.

The first thing that hits me is that Skyrim has developed the Fallout 3-style invisible walls. I'll often find that I need to reach some objective on a hill. Upon reaching the general area it becomes clear that there's no easy path so I can either hike around the entire hill to find the path you're supposed to take or try to go rock-climbing. There's often a fairly smooth-looking path up the side of the hill so I set off, jumping up the hill (or riding up it on my horse). Suddenly, I can't go any further: some invisible wall is blocking my way and I now have to make a dangerous trip back down the slope. Why do this? Why make me take the One True Path? Really annoying.

The main quest is very good, and I thought the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quest lines were really excellent, but the Companions and College don't stand up so well. Both lines are too short and the latter asks more questions than it answers. The daedric quests vary quite a bit too: I liked Boethiah's and Sheogorath's quests in particular, but Malacath's and Mephala's were a disappointment. Too many of the other quests are either "take this to X", "Fetch something from Y", or "Kill Z", and these can get a little boring after a while. In general, I suppose I have to give the quests a thumbs up, but I think some could definitely have been better.

Pace my earlier praise for the voice acting, some of the actors are a bit distinctive to re-use as non-prominent NPCs. Christopher Plummer is great as Arngeir, but hearing him crop up as other NPCs can be a bit odd. Ditto Claudia Christian - my Babylon 5 spider sense tingles every time I hear her voice.

And of course, there are the bugs.

Now I know that an open world game like Skyrim is going to be pretty much impossible to get right from day one, but sometimes I found myself wondering if the Quality Assurance team really did any work or just sat around on bean bags texting each other all day. Some of the bugs are bloody obvious too. For instance, I found myself wondering whether picking up two items from The Litany of Larceny quest would break it, and rapidly found the answer to be "yes". At one point during development, UESP offered to test Skyrim and we were rebuffed. If we'd been involved, I'm absolutely certain that many of these bugs would have been caught and fixed before release.

In Conclusion

This isn't everything I could mention, but it's the points that immediately come to mind. I imagine there'll be a "And another thing..." post at one point, but for now let me say that on balance: I absolutely love this game. It's worth every damn minute of the 5+ year wait. Those 221 hours are only the start of what I'm certain will be a couple of thousand. The only question is: where next? Obviously there's a lot to decide about the Thalmor, and it'll be very interesting to see how the next game handles the civil way: will Skyrim be independent or a part of the Empire? Will there even be an Empire?

When TES VI rolls around, of course, we'll be on a new generation of consoles, which will open up whole new worlds. That's all a long way away, which is just as well because it'll take until then to fully explore Skyrim.

Improving on Perfection

  02:44:00 pm, by   , 1690 words  
Viewed 481953 times since 31/10/11
Categories: Elder Scrolls

Ten days to go now, and the anticipation makes me remember what it was like to be ten years old on the evening before Christmas, although the knowledge that the first eight hours or so after I get the game will be spent doing stuff for the wiki tempers things a bit. Anyway, it's nine years since Morrowind came out and five since Oblivion's release, and I thought I'd take a few minutes to look back at those games to see what worked, what didn't, and how the things we know about Skyrim might fit with that.

The World

I remarked in an earlier post that one of the big disappointments in Oblivion was that, after you got over how beautiful things were outside your prison cell, you began to realise how similar one place looked to another. You had the marshy bits, the snowy bits, the forest bits and the plain bits, but there was so little variation that should you be plonked down at random you'd have a great deal of difficulty saying exactly where you were without looking at the map. Inside the dungeons it's even worse: there are perhaps a dozen locations where you can say "Oh yes, I'm in X" instead of "Well... it's an Ayleid ruin of some kind". In Morrowind, Fallout 3 and Fallout:New Vegas, this isn't the case. It usually takes only a quick glance around before you can work out your location pretty accurately. One of the big bits of news is that Skyrim's terrain is all produced by designers rather than random number generators, so it looks like this won't be a problem. That's going to make a huge difference when it comes to replaying the game for the fifth time.

The Characters

I covered NPCs here and there's not much to add. It looks as if voice acting is much better, although the "A dragon! I saw a dragon!"/"What? What is it now mother?" from the first of the three walkthrough videos shows that weird NPC conversations still exist. Certainly the number of voice actors has increased, and I hope this will lead to far fewer situations when you overhear NPCs with identical voices talking to each other, which really put a metal bar through the spokes of immersion. Allowing NPCs to continue with whatever they're doing while you talk to them is a huge step forward and makes things a lot more natural. The level of detail in the NPCs has gone up massively, and with Howard saying there are "thousands" of items, it's possible that there will be a far greater variety of clothing on offer too. One thing I haven't been able to judge from the videos so far is whether basic common sense has been added. We've all seen NPCs walking into walls, saying "Goodbye" to someone only to start another conversation with them immediately, and generally being idiots. I'm really hoping Skyrim does these basic things right so the clever things stand out even more.

Lockpicking

Morrowind was awful at this. If you stood no chance at all of opening a door with your current security skill and quality of lockpick you got a message about the lock being too complex, and otherwise you just had to keep clicking on the door until it either opened or your pick broke. Oblivion was a bit better, but the experience of trying to pick Very Hard locks at low levels used to have my blood pressure heading towards extremely dangerous levels. Skyrim seems to use essentially the same system as Fallout 3 and F:NV, which means the minigame isn't difficult but you need to have a certain level of skill before you can attempt different levels of lock. That works well in most cases and I dare say it'll make Fortify Skill a more useful spell. UPDATE In a Tweet, Pete Hines said "Yes, you can attempt adept locks when you're a novice." Good and bad, I guess. Certainly one less use for Fortify Skill!

Persuading

Oh dear. So far, no TES game has done this well, and Fallout 3 and NV don't really improve things either. In Morrowind, you had three conversation options to increase an NPC's disposition: Admire, Intimidate and Bribe. The first only becomes an option when your Speechcraft skill gets to about 50, the second when you reach at least level 25, and the third when you have loads of cash. This means that to all intents and purposes, a low level character can't increase an NPC's disposition. Even with high levels of Speechcraft you have to keep clicking the Admire option because there's a hefty element of randomness in there that means getting the disposition to 100 can sometimes be a really frustrating task.
In Oblivion, the randomness was mainly gone, but you had the ludicrous minigame where you had to threaten someone, tell them a joke, boast and try coercion one after another, several times. Imagine that in real life: I'm going to reach down your throat and pull out your heart. Did you hear the one about the Argonian fishmonger? Well I'm the best swordsman in Cyrodiil! Now give me all your money or there'll be trouble. Right.
In Fallout 3, you had a Speech skill, and there was a percentage chance of getting NPCs to tell you things that was affected by it. So, say, if your Speech skill was 25, there might be a 30% chance that an NPC would tell you what you needed to know, but if your Speech increased to 50, that chance might reach 60%. The problem here is that these topics were all one-shot chances. Fail and your chance was gone for good. This could be really annoying, because (obviously) even a 90% chance of success means you fail one time in ten. I must confess that the quick save/load feature was used quite a lot in my case...
Fallout: New Vegas did something similar, except here you had to get a Speech skill of X to unlock certain topics. No randomness, no messing, you had to have the required skill.
I *hate* the one-shot bits of F3 and NV. I often found myself delaying a quest until I'd increased my Speech skill so I'd be able to pass a check I knew was coming up, and that's just silly. I also hate the silly mechanisms from earlier games, so how would I work it? Well think about real life for a minute. You're only likely to tell someone a secret if you've known them for a while and get on well with them, so how about doing something like that? I wouldn't want to try to create The Sims in Tamriel, but some simple mechanism for keeping track of how long you've known an NPC shouldn't be hard to implement.

Music Switching

You know the scene. You're running along the Gold Road on your way to Anvil when suddenly the music changes to a "battle" theme. You therefore know someone or something is about to attack you even if you hadn't seen your attacker. While it would be great to have a small orchestra following you around in real life, playing music to suit your activities and location, in an RPG it's a real immersion-breaker. More than once I've found myself thinking "I know I'm being attacked, but I can't *see* anything!" Morrowind and Oblivion are equally bad at this, but in Fallout there's usually a bit of a delay before the music switches, which means by the time you realise you're being attacked, three deathclaws are already feasting on your intestines. Much more realistic, even if it can be really annoying when you find your last save was an hour ago. The videos we've seen *seem* to indicate that Skyrim does something similar - the music changes when the player realises they're under attack, which is the most sensible way to do it. I really hope this is done right, even if it means I have to remember to look behind me every so often.

Alchemy

It looks like this is essentially the same as Morrowind and Oblivion, which is a bit of a disappointment. I suggested before that it wasn't very sensible having new knowledge about plants suddenly appear in a player's head as soon as you hit another level of alchemical skill. It would be much better if you had to learn from a fellow alchemist, read the information in a book or research it yourself somehow. On p41 of The Infernal City, there's a bit where Annaïg does some tests to reveal "virtues" about a substance - learning that "the primary virtue was restorative and the secondary was... one of alteration. The tertiary and quaternary virtues didn't reveal themselves even so vaguely." Too bad Annaïg wasn't an Oblivion Player Character, or she'd have known what the ingredient was and what it did.

Random Encounters

Oblivion didn't too much wrong here. Skyrim appears to be very similar and I'm only mentioning it to bitch about the idiotic number of Cliff Racers you find in Morrowind.

The Rest

One really encouraging thing is that not one of the preview articles has had anything negative to say. Unfortunately, most game previews and reviews seem to be this way these days so it's not an absolute guarantee, but at least it sets a kind of baseline. Even the fansites seem pretty favourable. Sure, there are a few comments about the game being dumbed down but you always get those and any game that requires an official strategy guide of 656 pages can't be that dumb anyway. The one real criticism I've seen was that the bone structure of all the NPC photos was identical, and from the leaked footage that I absolutely haven't watched, it's clear that this can change too - the photos must have been the presets.

Some people are sure to say that I'm a fanboy and will like the game no matter what. In fact, I think the opposite is true, and I think my comments on Fallout 3: New Vegas and Dead Money prove that. Still. Ten days and I'll find out.

The War on Speculation

  11:28:33 pm, by Kalis Agea   , 565 words  
Viewed 34814 times since 10/25/11
Categories: UESP

This is going to be a quick blurb about something that been bothering me about UESP as of late: the popularity of taking speculation and guesswork as fact.

We're all guilty of it, in one way or another. We love to believe what we desire to believe. But, unfortunately, UESPWiki (or any wiki for that matter) is not a part of Wishful Thinking Land. That's the dominion of the forums and other sites for TES discussion. A wiki, however, is intended to serve as a catalogue/encyclopedia of factual information. I often find myself feeling in the mood for speculation and wishful thinking (lately is a good example) and I typically channel that into fanfiction and writing in general as well as music. And I would like to be able to say (don't quote me on this, because I'm most likely wrong) that I haven't added speculation or guesswork to UESP in a while now (at least a few months).

Now, as a patroller I'm slightly biased towards this and perhaps treat it a little harshly (I do apologize if I come across as rude to anyone; I mean well!); thus my ideas on how to deal with this may be slightly extreme or just plain laughable (which is why I'll refrain from posting them here on the blog for now). However, my personal opinion is beside the point -- the fact remains that speculation and guesswork is not welcome on the wiki, although it is welcome on the forum (I myself typically refrain from even entering the forum, let along making use of it; I'm just going off what I gather from other people's posts).

One of the most famous (and, for me at least aggravating) pieces of speculation currently circulating in the Elder Scrolls community is the concept that we will be playing as a relative or descendant of the Emperors. This is based off of the fact that the Emperors are once or twice referred to as the "Dragonborn". My typical refutation of this stance goes like this: the Emperors were called "Dragonborn" as a reference to the Amulet of Kings that was an heirloom to them. In TESV: Skyrim, however, "Dragonborn" refers to being literally born of the blood of dragons; the Septims were not born of Dragons. Hell, Uriel and many of his predecessors weren't even related to Tiber Septim! The contexts are completely different. Therefore, the word "dragonborn" does not necessarily tie the Emperors to the protagonist of Skyrim.

The problem with adding this type of thing to the wiki is once it's there for any amount of time, it may begin to be regarded as a likely possibility, despite the fact that it is unfounded guesswork. That is the reason that posts like these make me so petulant. It is, without a doubt, an overreaction on my part; but hey, it's just natural. So please, unless you want me to go berserk on you, please refrain from adding this to the wiki and instead discuss it on the forums.

As a side note, I do promise to work on my impatience with these types of editors. One of the reason I've been slightly inactive on the wiki as of late is that I've been taking time to cool off and relax. With Skyrim coming up, I need to be refreshed and have at least some semblance of patience.