Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review of Star Wars: the Old Republic

I got into the stress-test beta this past weekend, and I was really excited. I've been waiting to play this game since I first heard about it a year ago. I played Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic, and I enjoyed that game for what it was. Besides, I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and was really looking forward to a Star Wars MMO. I never played Galaxies. By the time I would have had a chance to try that game, word on the street was it was a stinking pile of poo, so I didn't bother.

I had some free time from school this past weekend, so I was able to devote a lot (i.e. way too much) time to SWTOR.

First, let me say I've never been so primed to LOVE a game. I was a little worried about my objectivity going in, figuring all Bioware had to do was phone it in, and I'd be hooked.

Second, let me say that my reaction to the game, in a word, is underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, there were some good things about the game. The voice acting was a nice touch and is DEFINITELY a huge improvement over giving me paragraphs of quest text to read. I never read the damned quests in WoW. The quests in RIFT are interesting enough that I usually read them, but come on. When I want to read, I'll read a book, not play a video game. For everything there is a time and a place, you know?

I hate to say it, but overall, I'm very disappointed with this game. Maybe I was expecting too much. Bioware had me convinced that they were going to do something "different" with this game. I really thought it was going to be something more than a WoW clone with a Star Wars skin on it (and voice acting). Okay, let me back up a minute. That wasn't fair. A more fair way to say it is SWTOR is really KOTOR III, with just enough of an MMO "skin" on it that Bioware feels justified charging you $15 a month to play it. Seriously, it looks and feels and plays exactly like Knights of the Old Republic. 

Sure, the game has all the things that every OTHER Star Wars game has had since the good old X-Wing PC game back in the 90's: blaster sounds, light saber sounds, yadda yadda yadda. But after all the Star Wars games that have hit the market, it takes a bit more than that to impress me. 

For one thing, the entire game is on rails, not just the space combat. You're very limited as to where you can go in the world. Just because you can see something doesn't mean you can go there. You can't climb over rocks, hell you can't jump over or on top of rocks that don't even come up to your character's chest. Now a trooper in heavy armor, you might be able to convince me, but a Jedi? Come on! He's gettin' over those rocks!

I also found their "instances" annoying. There will be places in the world you just can't go because you're not the right class. They don't even try to make it seamless so it doesn't jar you out of the world. Stay away from the red light!

Not only does the world limit you as to where you can go (follow the dotted line sir!), but the story line does too. This story line put the LINE in linear man!  It wasn't until I'd played 10 levels that I got to a point in the story where I had any kind of a choice of where to go next. To me it seems to be betraying the very spirit of an MMORPG game to lead you by the nose like that. Even in WoW you had your noobie zones, but you could leave them if you wanted to. Not in SWTOR. If you ever wanna get off your starter planet, you have to go through all the quests first.

I also found the race selections to be lacking. The Star Wars universe is HUGE, and while I understand they can't reasonably offer all the races to play, I think they could have done better than 5 or so (and "cyborg" humans--aka humans with a few implants--don't count as a separate race in my book).

I also don't like the clunky class system. It just doesn't work for Star Wars. Being a WoW clone works for RIFT because they took everything that sucks in WoW and made it awesome. Bioware just copied from WoW and called it golden. The game would have been much better if it were more skill based, even more so that KOTOR was. Jedi (or sith) should not be limited to the type of lightsaber they used based on CLASS. Come on!

I also call fail on Bioware sticking with the tired old tank/heal/dps paradigm. I seem to remember them promising in their early promotional videos that they were going to break out of that box.... That whole paradigm is stupid to begin with. You might be able to convince me (if I happen to be REALLY drunk) that  a dumb animal can be enraged enough to attack only the most armored person in the group attacking it, but a sentient person? Come on! It was fine when EQ did it, because they were the first, and we had to start somewhere, but I think we can make our games a LITTLE smarter now.

I'm really disappointed with this game. Move along, nothing to see here. Nothing new anyway. If the game cost a one-time fee of $60 to play, it MIGHT be worth it. If it only cost $15 a month to play, it MIGHT be worth it for a month or two. But shell out $60 and then pay $15 a month? No way, not for the, at most, one or two months of play I might actually get out of it.

If you didn't get into the beta, and you're considering this game, do yourself a favor. Don't listen to all the hype. Wait till you can try it for free, or find a buddy who has it and try it for yourself before you spend your hard-earned cash on it.

Maybe I'll try it again after a few expansions, but for now, I'm giving it a pass.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Save the World! Boycott Antibiotic Soaps

I try not to use this blog as a soap box, but this issue is too important to ignore. I'm currently studying microbiology, and I want to take a moment to educate you about a real problem you may not be aware of or may not understand fully. Consider this a Public Service Announcement.

More and more we're encountering antibiotic-resistant bacteria (e.g. MRSA and VRE). 

There are a lot of problems in the world today, and it can often seem that there is little that you, the conscientious individual, can do about it. Well, this is an issue that you CAN do something about. STOP USING ANTIBIOTIC SOAPS! Seriously, we should all be boycotting soaps and cleaners that contain antibiotics. If a soap or cleaner claims on the label "Kills 99.9% of bacteria" or something similar, don't buy it. I'll tell you why.

For one, it's a marketing scam. The truth is, soaps kill bacteria just fine by themselves! The detergent action of soaps break down bacterial cell membranes, killing them. This means, if you wash your hands properly, then the bacteria will be killed. There's no need to use antibiotics.

But, you may ask, what's wrong with having a little extra protection? Maybe I can't be bothered to spend 30 seconds scrubbing like I'm supposed to, or maybe I just want a little extra insurance. Antibiotics are a case where "too much of a good thing" is bad. I'll explain why.

Bacteria reproduce really quickly. To give you an idea, E. coli divide once every 20 minutes. As you may remember from your basic genetics, every time a cell divides, there's a chance for random genetic mutation. Since bacteria divide so quickly, these mutations actually crop up pretty often. Besides that, bacteria have mechanisms that cause them to mutate more often because it's advantageous for them to do so. 

Consider a population of bacteria. They're all reproducing like mad, because that's what bacteria do. Every so often, there's a random mutation. Again, these mutations are random, so most of them are either harmful or have no discernible effect. However, due to the very large numbers of bacteria, divisions, and mutations, there are some that will have a beneficial mutation, for example a resistance to an antibiotic. 

Now, you expose that population of bacteria to an antibiotic. Most of the bacteria are killed by it, but there are a few that have a mutation that makes them resistant. They aren't harmed by the antibiotic, so they keep growing and dividing. Before long you have a population of bacteria that are ALL resistant to the antibiotic, because each parent cell passes its genes (including the beneficial mutation) to all its daughter cells. Any cells that mutate to the wild form without the antibiotic resistance (called back mutation) will be killed by the antibiotic.

So, when you expose bacteria to antibiotics that aren't needed, you're doing a disservice to not only yourself, but everyone else. The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more antibiotic-resistant bacteria we'll have. 

Every dollar you spend is a vote, my friends. Right now the companies who make these antibacterial products are capitalizing on your ignorance. What they're doing is at best misguided, at worst unethical. Let's save the antibiotics for people who are sick, who really need them. If we continue this madness, before too long most bacteria will be antibiotic-resistant.

People love to blame doctors for this, saying they're too quick to prescribe antibiotics. There is some truth to that. But each and every one of us can do something about this problem: boycott antibiotic soaps. They're unnecessary and ultimately harmful. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Try Ember Isle for FREE and Other Gaming Stuff

Trion is doing it again!  You can buy RIFT for $0 all weekend, starting today. If you're already playing, look forward to a 30% bonus to xp, dungeon plaques, favor, prestige, and all that good stuff all weekend. I can't count how many times in the eight or so months of the game Trion has offered it for free or something ridiculous like $5. There have also been many times they've given xp bonuses and such just to say "thank you" to their subscribers.

Ember Isle is AMAZING. I've seen expansions for other games that you have to pay over $50 for that aren't this good. The new zone is beautiful, and huge. The quests are fun, and they're a challenge even for someone with tier 1 and tier 2 dungeon gear.

Trion has really raised the bar for subscription MMO's. I honestly can't believe people still play WoW. Hopefully the days of paying exorbitant amounts for expansions on top of your monthly subscription are over. I never bought Cataclysm because I was sick of Blizzard's money-grubbing, and I haven't regretted that decision once, especially considering that RIFT is hand-over-fist better in every conceivable way.

I've been hearing and seeing great things about Skyrim. The game looks completely amazing. The art is gorgeous. Everyone is raving about the freedom you have in the game. I can't wait to try it. I'm going to have to break down and get it soon. Maybe when I'm off between quarters.

I also got into beta testing for Star Wars the Old Republic. Took quite a while to get the 20+ gig beast downloaded, but I'm looking forward to checking it out. To be honest, my enthusiasm for the game has waned simply because I'm enjoying RIFT so much, and I'm really looking forward to playing Skyrim. Well, SWTOR isn't going anywhere, so I don't really care if I don't play it right off the bat.

I've received some comments about not talking about EVE much lately. I assure you, I will post something about EVE as soon as something in that game motivates me to do so. I've only logged in a few times in the past few months, just every now and then to re-up my skill queue.

Yes, the upcoming winter expansion SOUNDS nice, but after over a year with EVE, I'll believe it when I see it. I can't find too much enthusiasm for one new ship for each race, the only new ships to be added to EVE in my time playing other than the Noctis. I also can't generate any enthusiasm or desire to play a game that, frankly, is boring as hell. My time is too precious. I don't have a lot of time for gaming, and the time I do  have I want to spend, you know, having fun. Not sitting around waiting for that 2 minutes of fun every couple hours.

The winter expansion sounds nice, yes, but let's face it: it's a list of fixes that should've been fixed a long time ago. Still not much PVE content to speak of.  Still not much "action" for someone who wants to log in for 30 minutes or an hour and have some fun. EVE is the only game I've ever played where so many players spend much of their time "in game" tabbed out doing something else while they're "playing" (i.e. afk mining, afk missioning, hell for all I know, people do afk pvp). I also can't help wondering if CCP will bother fixing any of the numerous bugs that have existed in the game since I've been playing it. I've never played a game that annoys me so much with constant bugs that never get fixed.

All that said, it still strikes me how beautiful a game EVE is. I still use my EVE screenshots as my screensaver.  My sci-fi heart leaps at the ideas of what the game COULD be. I sincerely hope that one day the game lives up to its potential and becomes more fun to play. If or when it does, I'll be there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Going to the Next Level

Patch 1.6 in RIFT looks totally kick ass!  Check out this video to see some highlights, including the new mobile phone app, new zone and dungeon.  After only 8 months, RIFT is doing more than most games do in a year, and Trion's just going to keep it coming!  Way to go guys!

Fly smart.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Check Out Divine The Series

I'm a big fan of the show Supernatural.  One of my favorite characters on the show is Castiel, an angel played by Misha Collins.  

Divine the Series is a web-based show.  The trailer is below.  You can watch the rest of the episodes here.  This is really cool stuff.  

From the website:
“Divine: The Series” is storytelling for the smartphone generation. It’s got the DNA of graphic novels, action-adventure filmmaking, dark supernatural intrigue and cutting edge special effects all combined to create something new and exciting for the web. We want to push the frontiers of online entertainment and tell stories that you can watch in bite-sized chunks, and that you can watch in any order that you like, but at the same time when you watch more episodes, the answers to mysteries about the characters and their world will be unlocked.  

Fly smart.