Posts tagged ‘star trek’

Looking Back at 2013

What a weird year 2013 has been. I started the year looking forward to several MMOs none of which lasted. City of Stream imploded, Defiance and Neverwinter both fizzled for me, and Elder Scrolls Online didn’t release. Defiance turned out to be the least social MMO I’ve ever played, and add to that the bugginess of the interface after launch, and I lost interest after the first month or two. I’m still not sure why Neverwinter didn’t click for me, I was very excited for the game and really enjoyed the demo I played, but somehow I shifted from mostly playing to mostly doing offline crafting to not doing anything. This year was also the first time I didn’t buy the Lord of the Rings Online expansion, and even now I’ve not logged in to try out the class changes that came along with Helm’s Deep. I just didn’t have that moment of nostalgia this time around like I did when Isengard was being released.

Star Trek Online was the only MMO I played regularly this year, and I think that this past year was probably STO’s best year to date. Romulans have always been one of my least favorite non-Federation factions, so when Cryptic announced their expansion plan at the beginning of the year I was ambivalent. I did get excited though after I got a change to try some of the new Romulan content on Tribble. Cryptic really hit a home run with the mission content for Romulan characters and the upgraded tutorial missions for the Klingons, so much so that updating the Federation tutorial became a priority. I was very surprised that Cryptic had decided to add a new faction but allowing them to ally with either the Federation of Empire allowed people to play as Romulans without further splintering the PvP community, as well as fitting with existing canon. Then in the second half of the year with the Season 8 update and the incredible visuals of getting to fly my ship inside a Dyson Sphere. I’ve enjoyed the space adventure zone much more than the ground zone of New Romulus, and I’ve especially enjoyed the more streamlined and far grindy Dyson reputation. I’m hoping that Season 9 includes a redesign of the other reputations along the same lines.

Besides STO my other main game this year has been modded Minecraft. I started with the Direwolf20 pack from Feed the Beast but eventually moved on to making my own mod pack in order to stay on the most current releases of Minecraft and mods as possible. I haven’t tried yet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy playing standard Minecraft again. I enjoy designing and building automated systems too much, and exploring the different magic systems, alternate dimensions, and building with a wider array of cosmetic blocks than vanilla Minecraft provides. Minecraft has always been a favorite game of mine, but generally I’d always get to a point where I was bored with a map and move on to something else. Having mods available changes that. Minecraft is always changing now as mods add new features or new mods become available, there’s always something to try, and starting over in a new world also means a chance to make big changes to which mods I’m using.

This year I’ve also added board/card gaming to my collection of hobbies. After going to GenCon and picking up Firefly, I realized that there were board games out there that would play well solo as well as in a group. Since October I’ve been spending a lot of time on BoardGameGeek and started collecting some games. Ironically, I’m playing board games now much the way I play MMOs. Solo. So far, in addition to Firefly I’ve picked up Space Hulk Death Angel, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Thunderstone, Marvel Legendary, and Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game.

My proudest achievement this year though has to be finally winning National Novel Writing Month. Not only has it motivated me to spend March doing a first revision but it’s heavily influenced my plans and resolutions for 2014.

Feature Episode series comes to the STO Foundry

Authors from Starbase UGC have teamed up to make a six part series on the level of Cryptic’s Featured Episode series. I can’t wait to check the first one out come October 1st, while I really enjoyed the Romulan expansion my favorite character will always be my first Federation one, Bryn, and I’m looking forward to have some appointment playtime like in the first years of STO when Cryptic was doing their features.

Check out their teaser trailer.

h20rat

I’ve been on an extended MMO break, but I still check in once a week or so on a few sites to keep an eye on things, which is how I found out that Cryptic’s Mark Valentine, h20rat, lost his battle with cancer. Mark did all of the marketing videos for the Cryptic games. He was very involved with the community and even had a spotlighted Foundry mission, The Rising Phoenix – Part One.

My thoughts and best wishes go out to both his Cryptic and personal family.

Fuck cancer.

2012

What a year! In the past I’ve done an annual review of what I played and how well my expectations from January matched up with reality in December, and I’ve been working on exactly that for this year but feels too long and hasn’t been very interesting to write so I can imagine how much fun it would be to read. None. Instead, I wanted to cover some of the highs and lows for the year on the blog.

Not Games

For my non-gaming life, the birth of my second son, Thing Two, was definitely the high point of the year, more specifically the fact that he’s a good sleeper was regularly sleeping three to four hours a night from the second night he came home. Thing One didn’t sleep like that until he could roll over which he didn’t do until he was nine months old. That was a long nine months for both my wife and I and I’m so grateful that we got an easier baby for the second time through the newborn experience.

The biggest non-game disappointment to me for the year has been my blog. I’ve hit dry patches before but this year was the first time that I had a lull where I actually considered quitting  I got to December and realized I hadn’t posted in two months and had stopped reading probably three quarters of the MMO blogs in my RSS. Reading some year ends posts though has motivated me to work on my own, which has re-energized me to keep up with the blog for another year.

New Games

My favorite new games for the year in no particular order were:

  • Mass Effect 3
  • Dishonored
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Knights of Pen and Paper
  • A Game of Dwarves

Mass Effect 3 was surprisingly controversial for it’s ending, even though I liked it personally I seem to be in the minority. Instead I expected the multiplayer to be the thing everyone hated, yet I’m still spending time in it. I absolutely never expected to be playing ME3 multiplayer once I’d finished the story let alone months later.

Dishonored was a fun combination of branching-linear story with sandbox stealth and combat. I’d never played any of the Thief or Hitman games, so this was really my first exposure to the stealth genre. I really enjoyed the steam-punk style world as well as the the story, characters, and voice acting. The combat and stealth mechanics were tons of fun too, and I’m hoping to see a sequel or some more weighty DLC announced this year.

Guild Wars 2 turned out to be more fun than I hoped. The original Guild Wars never enticed me to explore in the world, not because of a lack of jumping but because of all of the invisible walls in the game. GW2 enthusiastically promotes exploring with all of the hidden vistas and puzzles. I generally dislike platformers, yet I’ve spend several hours on jumping puzzles in GW2.

Knights of Pen and Paper is one of the first mobile games I’ve spent a lot of time playing on my phone. In fact this year has seen a bit of an explosion in good games. In 2011 I maybe had five or six games on my phone that I would kill some time on occasionally, wheres in 2012 I had more than twenty games installed on my phone and fix or six I was spending a few hours a week on.

A Game of Dwarves didn’t get reviewed well on the few critic sites I read, but I’ve still enjoyed it a lot. The quests and dialog are full of puns and twists on fantasy tropes. The game mechanics are a fun combination of Minecraft and Dunegon Keeper. It’s not an open sandbox like Minecraft but it does scratch some of the same itches in having your dwarves explore a level and build a base.

Old Games

I had originally figured on going back and finishing a lot of the games I’d started in 2011 but gotten distracted from, Skyrim being the chief one on the list. That was when I expected to be on an enforced MMO fast. So since I was mostly able to spend my nights how I wanted, I ended up playing whatever my current obsession was. Initially that was SWTOR, then it was STO, then GW2, then STO again. Rift, Champions, and LotRO spent all year on my to-play list but I never found the motivation to spend more than an hour or two in any of them. Of everything I’ve played this year that was released pre-2012, STO’s been my favorite.

Star Trek Online had a really rough 2011. The acquisition by Perfect World, F2P transition, lots and lots and lots of drama, and nearly no content. Really things could only get better in 2012, and happily I think they did. Dan Stahl returned as the Executive Producer, Cryptic’s STO team doubled in size, and they had two very well received Season releases. It wasn’t a perfect year of course, I’d like to have seen more than one new Featured Episode series for instance, and there was still quite a bit of drama, but it was definitely not the year of hell that 2011 was.

Star Trek Online’s September State of the Game

Despite Guild Wars 2 dominating my gaming time lately, I have been popping into STO every couple of days to check in on the fleet and setup some duty officer assignments. I’ve also been keeping track of updates and news including the recent September State of the Game.

Aside from the usual talk about the successes of Season 6 and plans moving forward, the following quote was what stuck with me the most.

We’ve been very lucky to land some great talent from 38 Studios and Paragon Studios.

I know a lot of people haven’t been happy with Perfect World and STO’s move to free-to-play, which I think can be summed up with the word lockboxes, but it does seem to be working for Cryptic. Their team has grown quite a bit this year, it’s actually doubled if I remember right from an interview I listened to, and seeing that Cryptic’s been able to pick up some developers who unfortunately lost their jobs when other studios were shutdown seems like a good thing all around.

I guess I wasn’t too far off in February after all.

Making an Enterprise display stand.

Even though I finished the A and B models in April, I only just now got around to writing it up. This was because the kit didn’t come with a stand, and while I knew what I wanted to do for a display, I couldn’t figure out how to build it. So the models ended up going back in their box and sitting on a bookself and I didn’t have the interest needed to go through all of the photos I took to write the posts.

Recently though I got an idea from my dad. He’s been making remote controlled model airplanes from foam and was using the wires from yard stakes for wheel and wing struts. These happened to be exactly what I was missing in order to make the stand I wanted.

Clip the flag off the end, easily bendable, mall enough to work with the Original Series model, strong enough to hold their shape. I also spray painted them with silver appliance enamel to pretty them up a bit.

One of the clipped wires also made a good drill bit so that the holes I put in the bottom of each model was an exact fit.

For the actual base I found a black and white Starfleet emblem online, printed it out, and glued it to a piece of pine with rubber cement. I used a jigsaw freehand to cut out the symbol and then sanded the curves and the pattern off the top.

  

I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, especially since that’s the first time I’ve cut a pattern like that. All of the woodworking I’ve done before now has been cabinets and picture frames.

The next step was to get a wire bent and mount one of the models to see if it would work.

I drilled two more holes in the base to check out all three ships, then it was time for painting. I may have over done it a little bit, but in the end I used two coats of white primer, three coats of grey paint, and two coats of clear lacquer.

 

I made a lot of mistakes on the first model, a few less on the second, and a few less on the third. But seeing them all together like this and sitting on my desk, I don’t notice any of them.

  

Finishing the Enterprise-A

After the Excelsior, the Enterprise-A was much easier. Smaller model and less decals.

 

There were still some tricky parts, specifically the nacelles again, but having a smaller model actually made them easier to get applied and aligned without any tears.

 

The finished ship, my only regret is the mess I made of the black around the Bussard collectors (which the decals didn’t cover at all). I bought a second kit to make eventually, I think when I do that I’ll not worry about painting that part or I’ll try taping it.

 

And here’s the trio of Enterprises, I love seeing the scale differences.

Finishing the Enterprise-B

After finishing the Original Series Enterprise, I realized that I needed some proper tools before tackling the Enterprise-B. I also got an excellent tip from PoisonFox about setting solution.

 

Applying the decals to the B was quite a bit more challenging than the Original. First there were just a lot more decals. The Original had thirty-six (Clerks!) where the B had sixty-three, and I just realized that those numbers are the transposed versions of one another. Weird.

Besides just the amount, the Excelsior also had some really large decals. The saucer section’s top is three pieces that have to line up together:

  

The nacelles’ each had two, one inside and one outside, that had to match up across the top and wrapped around both ends:

   

There were also some sections where decals are applied as multiple layers. For instance the bottom of the saucer had the base decals with phaser strips and ship name layered over the top.

  

The biggest lesson learned from doing decals on this model was to pace myself more. I ended up doing all the decals over two marathon sessions of about three hours each, and I made most of my mistakes during the tail end of each one. All in all, I’m very happy with how the ship turned out, and any mistakes I notice now I consider good lessons for the next model.

One last cool thing about doing these models, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the increase in scale from one incarnation of the Enterprise to the next.

 

Two steps forward, one step back.

Oh, Cryptic…  Of course the same day I say nice things about them in reference to character names, they have to make a major gaff (regarding forum names). This especially disappointing since they were just starting to get some positive buzz for Season 6 after all of the lock box drama.

Yesterday I noticed a lot of drama on Twitter from fellow Star Trek Online players that I follow. I got especially curious when I read a few things about names (which I’m a tad sensitive about still). Apparently the website maintenance that took place the night before was not actually maintenance in the normal sense, but a cut-over from Cryptic’s old infrastructure to their parent company’s (Perfect World Entertainment). This included requiring anyone who wanted to use the website to have a PWE account, especially to use the forums.

Not long after Cryptic was sold to PWE by Atari, an option appeared on the game’s launch and website allowing you to choose whether to login using your Cryptic account or a PWE account. I know a few people went ahead and merged or created PWE account because I remember them complaining on the forums about problems they were having afterwards. I had avoided merging my accounts and dreading the day when I would be forced to, because everything was fine with my Cryptic account and I didn’t want to tempt Murphy by touching anything. I treat cellular phone and cable services the same way. In my experience, any change no matter how small likely results in multiple calls to customer service.

So the merge was now being forced. The official PR statement claimed that this was for the players’ convenience, which is laughable. I think it’s much more honest to say that merging benefits the PWE IT and CS staff since they won’t have to maintain Cryptic’s old systems. Which is fine, just don’t try to sell me something claiming I’ll benefit when it’s really a zero sum (or net loss in this case) for me and you that benefits.

Anyway, regardless of the reasons why, the merge has happened. Despite the fact that there’s been a major loss of functionality for the forums, my major issue with the merge way PWE handled the transition. There was zero warning beforehand that I’m aware of. The only message I found about it was on the STO forums, posted on the evening of the 19th.

Now I understand that there are always difficulties when transitioning from one system to another, I’ve done that kind of work myself in my day job and there’s always unforeseen issues.  Which is why you have to over communicate and make sure that there are extra staff on-hand to help support users. Neither of which PWE did.

The biggest hitch in the transition process appears to be display/forum name conflicts. It appears from the FAQ that Cryptic/PWE went through and reserved any account and display names that weren’t already taken for existing players so that they could get them during the linking process. But this wasn’t communicated well enough beforehand and somehow many players ended up with a new PWE account and got a message that the display name they wanted (their old Cryptic forum name which supposedly was reserved) was taken.

Losing a forum name probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there are some players who are extremely active on the forums. People like Foundry authors and podcasters have spent a lot of time building a reputation on the forums which is now basically wiped out. In several cases (most?) they’ve lost their forum names and either had to tack a number on the end or go with something totally new, plus the old forum posts have all been converted to archived posts so people’s posting history is gone as well.

Now, I’m not very active on the forums, so I wasn’t much affected by this, but after my recent experiences in TOR I’m very sympathetic to the loss many of the forum-active players are feeling. Hopefully it doesn’t kill the podcast community for the game.

Ironically given how little I used the forums, I actually got to keep my forum name and I owe it to Torchlight 2.

I happend to create a PWE account a few weeks ago so I could pre-order Torchlight 2. I’d had a lot of fun during the beta weekend and decided to buy through PWE because they were offering beta access to Neverwinter Nights and I always try to buy games direct from the developers when I can (a habit that also saved my $10 on Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion). I was afraid though that signing up would cause conflicts with my Cryptic account, so I used a different email address but still picked the same display/forum name. Apparently I did this before all the reserving was done in preparation of the Cryptic merge, which saved me some of the problems others have had.

I had really hoped that when Cryptic moved from Atari to PWE that we wouldn’t see the publisher causing problems for the development team.

Naming, Roses and Earthsea

It doesn’t look like I’ll ever get around to writing up all of the notes I took on Star Wars: The Old Republic, even though it’s way late for a review anyway. I’ve cancelled my subscription and even though it doesn’t expire until August, I doubt I’ll bother logging in because my character died.

So he’s not technically dead, as in deleted or lost, but I lost both my character’s name and legacy name in the recent server merges (because let’s be honest, that’s what they are). Now, I’m sure at least half if not more of you are thinking so what, and that’s probably because you agree with Shakespeare. I don’t, at least not for proper names. I’ve always thought Ursula Le Guin and Pat Rothfuss had it right. Names matter. I realize a large number of people couldn’t care less, log into just about any MMO and spend half an hour in a major social area if you don’t believe me. But I get highly invested in a characters name in both stories and games.

Honestly, I really shouldn’t have bothered with the character transfer from Sanctum to Ebon Hawk. I should have stayed on the dwindling server and finished my class quests (which I’d left sitting for a month or two) and not worried about it. I assumed though that I would eventually want to join up with friends a be a bit more social eventually, so I might as well get it over with. Had I known that BioWare was condensing six PvE-RP servers into one I would’ve realized the chances of keeping the name Kae or legacy Bluestar were infinitesimal. Hindsight, blah blah.

The end result though is that after doing the super quick transfer, I logged in and had to change my character’s name. After seventeen attempts I found a variation on Kae that wasn’t taken, although by that point I didn’t really care. When I tried to set my legacy name back and got the message that it was taken, I decided I was done. Melodramatic? Probably, but it was a completely honest reaction and has stuck with me days later.

It’s ironic that the very process which will hopefully revitalize the game, has completely killed my interest in it. Even more so since BioWare seemed to have some really interesting stuff planned for the next release.

So rather than returning to my Jedi Guardian, Kaevn Blank, I’ve headed back to Star Trek Online for my science fiction fix. Cryptic get’s a lot of heat, sometimes deserved and sometimes not, over their business practices, but I really like the way they’ve done their server architecture. Like with CCP’s EVE, there’s only one server/world/shard for STO. Even better names only have to be unique for my account handle and account handles can hidden in chat (I don’t think they ever display on-screen).