Week of August 21, 2011 – Final Fantasy XIV Edition
While I work on some updates that, sadly, are too big to sum up in bullet-point parades, but will make the game playable on a whole new level, I did something a little fun for the week. I played a really, really bad game, in order to help me figure out the general direction for Megatronica’s ‘core gameplay’. I want to have something you can play for several hours at a time in a matter of days or weeks, so it’s got kind of an MMO feel. So, I played an MMO, and saw ‘what not to do’. Here’s the notes I took!
Incidentally, I’m thinking the January release will be kind of an alpha thing, while May 25th (5/25) will be a ‘full’ release. There are very good reasons for this. Namely, I’m killing myself after the game’s finished for real, and Mass Effect 3 comes out in March, so…
This isn’t really a change of plans, or a ‘delay’, realize. I knew what got released in January wouldn’t be the finished product, but a product. Something to play, and more than just a demo. Think Minecraft, before all the updates, and how the ‘real’ thing is coming up in November, presumably. Before I was thinking the next big release would be December 5th, but, um… we’ll see.
Okay, a bit of background here. Final Fantasy XIV was an MMO released last year for the full price of $60, with a monthly fee on top. It got staggeringly bad reviews and, eventually, the development team was replaced and it became free to play. The company acknowledged that the game had major problems, and actually set out to fix it. Looking at it, it’s pretty clear why. Loads of money has gone into this game, but not in the right areas. Its graphics are amazing for an MMO, and the world is big and impressive enough to build a game on. The design is what’s fucked. And, honestly, it’s clearly salvageable! Despite all the horrible things I’m about to say about it, I’m sure a competent dev team can fix it right up.
But yeah, now it’s $20 and free to play, monthly. I decided, after the latest price drop, to go pick it up. I’m slogging through Megatronica, facing kind of a creative slump. I figured this might unstuck me because, if I’m going to be distracted, I should be distracted by something that actively reminds me of the game I’m making. I’m taking notes about all the problems, and will try to figure out ways to improve them. Megatronica is very much an open-world RPG, kind of almost the same genre, sans the multiplayer aspect. If the game is as bad as I’m led to believe, it should help me to figure out what’s needed to go ahead with Megatronica.
Okay, so first of all, the registration for this game is a bag of ass. It’s an MMO, so naturally there’s a bit more to set up, once you’ve bought the game, cracked open the box, and put in the disc. There was a huge waiting period before I could play because of ‘updating’ (2 hours or so), but WoW had the same problem, so whatever. That said, WoW let you play before it finished updating, but that’s fine, maybe their files work different. I’ll give it the benefit of a doubt. What’s unacceptable is how hard it is to make the account. First, you make a Square Enix account. Fine, they have more than one game after all. Then, you make an account for FFXIV. Then, you link them. Okay, that’s a little bit convoluted, but it wasn’t so bad. Then, when you try to play, you are told that ‘to make a character, you must have a continuous option’. What in the fuck. On the account site, there’s a page that lets you ‘Add Options’. By continuous options, turns out, they mean character slot. ‘Characters’ are optional, apparently. And no, it doesn’t automatically set up the slot for you. You get to do that yourself.
Now, I was under the impression that the game was Free to Play. I am aware this is not permanent, but it’s what I expected. Turns out, it is, but you still have to go through a payment agreement to get a character slot. Luckily, they have an online currency as an alternative to a credit card, so I didn’t have to give them credit card information. After I selected my options, it just deducted all the costs. That’s their free to play system. They show you the cost, then they cut them. It was confusing, and not just because it seemed unnecessary.
I was confused as to how much I was paying, how to pay, and how much I was going to end up paying in the future. There’s no explanation for anything. See, money makes people nervous. If you’re going to demand payment during the setup process for a game, the system should be quick, easy, and out of the way. WoW has a very basic subscription fee, and Minecraft just has a one-time payment. That’s fine. This is just… annoying.
For Megatronica, I would make one version of the game free, and the paid version available for a one-time fee. No confusion. Of course, that’s a bridge to cross later.
I switched to fullscreen. You can’t do that in-game, strangely – I had to exit and use the configuration tool. Which was in Japanese by default. Lazy. It also didn’t detect my monitor’s resolution, and instead offered all of them, including those that weren’t supported. Hm. Also, I set all my graphics settings to the highest possible.
The title screen is just… white. Pure white, with a logo, and four options. One of which is the Opening Movie. The third is Credits. It’s the laziest thing I’ve ever seen.
I really wish they wouldn’t tell me not to forget my family, school, and work every damn time I start the game. It’s really kind of condescending. It also tells me exploring Eorzea is a ‘thrilling experience’, which sounds pretty corny. Why sell a game I’m about to play?
I eventually got into the game, with a free character slot. I was told one character was all I needed, and I know that while there are three ‘opening quests’ that can be had, and only one can be accessed per character, these are short and, honestly, kind of dumb.
In selecting my character, I had to select race. Each had their own stats., of course They didn’t show up when I moused over the character, though – I had to actually select the race, at which point it slooooowly zoomed in, and once done, presented their stats. Problem with that is, I can’t compare them. I had to write down their stats individually and compare them in a Notepad window. Also, some of the stats weren’t clear. What’s ‘Piety’? They have Intelligence as one stat, so what’s ‘Mind’? Then there are some icons that I’m guessing reflect magical elements of some sort, and each had a number beside it. Which I didn’t understand. And no, there’s no tutorial yet.
Certain races, and subsets of races, are restricted by gender. This isn’t biological, like how the Asari in Mass Effect are just an all-female race. It’s a societal thing. Female catgirls are playable as they’re the only ones to go into society, for instance. Male catpeople just… don’t, I guess? It just means the best race for a warrior may well be male-only, which I’m a bit uncomfortable with.
Also, they did the whole Elf-people/Aboriginal parallel again.
Also, there are fucking Elf people. Instant loss of originality points.
In fact, yeah, let’s see. We have a Human (called the ‘Hyur’, or HURRRRR), an Elf (named the Elezen, just so there’s no mistakes), a Halfling (Lalafell), a Catgirl (something retarded), and a Giant (I just didn’t fucking care at this point).
Luckily, the English localization in-game is pretty decent. Writing’s solid, if long.
The race descriptions are a little bit vague. The humans are apparently good at moving long distances, though, which from what I hear is a pretty good thing. So, maybe they’re fast? I pick them because I am boring. I’m sure everyone is just playing a fucking catgirl anyway, so I’ll stand out with my blandness.
I have a selection of three voices, presented to me entirely in the form of giggles.
And I can’t rotate my character to get a look at them from another angle. That’s actually… surprising.
The options for character customization aren’t all that amazing. There’s only, like, 8 hairstyles, for instance. The colors for everything are also selected from a list, as opposed to just letting us make our own damn color. I really hate that. I’m sure the color is mapped automatically, so why not just let us mix what we want? There’s also a single tattoo, you can pick what side of the face it’s on, and it has four potential colors. Seriously. It’s just a squiggly line. Eyeliner and eyebrows are toggled on and off – there are no options. And as for general facial stuff, there’s like 5 noses, mouths, and faces, and you just mix and match them. I can only imagine how many people will end up looking similar. The faces look great, though. I’d just rather customize it more.
…And then picking a class kinda shits on some of the choices I made, because the class-specific clothing looks retarded on my chick. An oversized straw hat, for instance. Again, rotating my character would be nice.
Oh, there is a way! The J and K keys. Because… that makes sense!
I got stuck a lot picking the right character to play, but I have that problem with just about every game. If I had to make a complaint, I guess there’s not a whole lot of information during creation. I had to read up a fair bit online. I had to force myself to pick what I wanted to stick with it. Again, the game is fussy about letting you have more than one character. It doesn’t matter when it’s free to play, but it does lend to some anxiety, and it won’t be free forever.
Picked the world Istory, if anyone gives three shits. The character is Faye Navarita.
After a crash, and being reminded what a thrilling experience the game is, and a ‘display error’, and then another crash…
Okay, technical issues are too obvious to pick on. I can’t imagine my video card isn’t up to the task of this thing. I did crank the settings up to max, but that shouldn’t mean it can’t detect my shit.
It seems it was a problem with running the game in full screen. Which is a real shame, because the game’s graphics are really, really nice. I mean, just in terms of assets. The direction is nice, the animation is decent, the production values are clearly the game’s selling point… So, as usual, it’ll come down to fucking with settings. Trial and error. Now, I’m not actually going to piss on the game for this. It’s a common problem in PC gaming. It sucks a fat cock, for sure, but what can you do? Computers are retarded gremlins, by nature.
Turning off depth of field seemed to fix it.
Switching resolutions, as part of my attempt to fix the issue, shrunk the HUD, even when I set it to back to my native. Annoying, but bits of the HUD can be moved around, so it’s not too game-breaking.
There’s no option for mouse sensitivity. There are, however, options to move the camera around. It’s so subtle I can’t really call it interesting – you can just move the camera’s default position up and down, and zoom in.
I eventually caved and switched to windowed mode, just because the FPS was really, really sluggish. Not happy about it, but again, trying to blame it on PC gaming in general.
Okay, so the cutscene showed me entering my starting city in broad daylight. Switch to gameplay, it’s night. Fantastic. There seems to be a big celebration going on as part of the story, and the BGM reflects this, and yet there’s only like 10 people around.
I went, literally, down one corridor, and was hit with another cutscene. I hope this doesn’t become a thing. And yeah, of course it’s fucking daytime again. Why wouldn’t it be?
Big monster is on parade. A person says ‘hate to see what would happen if that got loose’. I fucking wonder.
So naturally, the big monster gets loose. My character seems to want to step in. I don’t know why, because I’m playing a fucking gathering class. With the intent of becoming a crafter. Not sure what I would do here.
Cut to the tutorial battle. It tells me to activate ‘Active Mode’. I don’t know what that means. I try clicking a completely random icon, and that just happens to be it. Great! All the guys that were going to help me take it down are now just walking around, because their AI hasn’t targeted onto the bad guy. I proceed to use my only combat skill on the thing. ‘Stone Throw’. Literally. My character chucks a rock at it for 1 damage. Then, another character quietly strolls up to it, and hits it for 4370 damage. The game hasn’t even begun, and it’s making me feel like an asshole.
Got a critical!
…For 1 damage.
Whatever. The monster rampaged and killed itself by running into a wall anyway. And I turned out to be totally useless. Obtained a MacGuffin of some type, though.
It’s daytime in gameplay mode now. Awesome. Also I think there are other players around, but they’re just standing there. One logged out. I did pick a somewhat sparse world to start in, but I hope there’s more than, like… two people. I think I can delete the character and just make another in that slot? Might as well, because honestly, a starting area should have a fair few people in it.
Yep. And I picked one with plenty more dudes around. It says less people will improve my gameplay experience, which… is kind of retarded, for an MMO? I went halfway and picked one with a moderate amount of people.
[Edit: Actually, the game is just dead in general. I see a few people in the world I’m in, but it’s comparable to the activity you’d see on an obscure MUD. There’s maybe, like, 10 people in the most crowded spots. And nobody talks.]
Cutscenes can, in fact, be skipped. Which is good, because there’s a lot. After getting to the spot where I restarted… Another cutscene! Thank God – I thought I was going to have to play the game for a second there. Oh, and no voice acting. Just text.
The problem I’m seeing right now is, it’s all about these cutscenes. Activate cutscenes. Enter an instance. Activate another cutscene. They’re your reward for moving through the story. There’s no boss fight, no objective, no conflict… you just walk to one place, and activate a cutscene. There’s very little gameplay, if any, beyond walking from Point A to Point B. Really hope it picks up.
The Game Proper:
Okay, finally done the cutscene parade. First thing, I’m right in front of a Chocobo stable. Can I rent one? Nope. There’s one right there, you say? Nope, guy says he’s out. Can’t rent any. Guess I gotta walk everywhere.
I’m ignoring the main quest and just playing gatherer, basically.
The job system is obviously pretty neat. The problem is that each job is very tedious. Linking them together so that you have a slew of things to do would be ideal. Botanist/Miner/Warrior? Kill trees and animals on the way to each mining spot? Great.
But it doesn’t want you to do that. You can’t seek out trees while in miner mode. In order to switch jobs, you have to equip the tools, and the menu is clunky as all hell. You end up just working on one job at a time, and it’s dull as shit.
I’m just saying, if I’m carrying a giant axe, and I come across a herd of marmots, I should be able to take some time and murder them marmots. It breaks the monotony and makes me feel like I’ve got the illusion of choice in what I do. But nope.
And the minigames are pure luck. It wouldn’t be so bad, were it not the exact same each and every time. There’s no thinking involved. Click. Get something or don’t. Click somewhere else. Rinse, repeat.
This does make me think of what I want in Megatronica. Bug catching, fishing and mining are now pretty obvious. Bug catching, in particular, is great. Just be walking somewhere, see a bug. Chase it. Net it. The point of this is to have something to do in-between objectives. Honestly, if Final Fantasy XIV just had something to DO while I went from place to place, it would be a lot less mind-numbing. The main issue is that my mind never leaves what it’s on. There’s no excitement. No surprise. The highlight of my entire day was finding a random chest. It had 61 gil in it. But for a moment it was like… hey, holy shit, it’s a thing! And I remembered, this is a game. Stuff happens in games.
Here’s something for Megatronica – floating orbs that randomly appear to teleport you to a small arena, filled with enemies, with a reward for doing it. Optional, of course. Rare enough that you want to do it when they show up.
After chopping trees and mining out random sparklies all over the damn map (only particular trees or parts of walls can be cut or mined) for four hours in some kind of fucking daze, I decided today I was going to start doing shit. My character is at Level 8 and has two gathering skills, also at level 8. I gotta be beefed up a little bit. Sure enough, there’s 38 attribute points waiting to be allotted. I was never, ever told about this. I just thought, ‘okay, there has to be some reason why I spent all that time leveling up’, and clicked through random menus.
I hold onto those for now, because I’m not sure which of the combat classes I’m playing. From the looks of it, attribute points can be assigned and taken away and then reassigned at will. Earns it some points, in my book. It’s also good because it doesn’t want you playing more than one character.
Okay, but right off the bat, choosing my ‘levequest’ is pissing me off. This is basically the generic ‘go here, do X’ quest. I picked it, and it said I needed to exchange one I already had. I had completed all mine, so this was pretty damn confusing. I just exchanged two I had completed, after which it warned me to be ‘very careful’. All I know is that it boosted the reward by a useless amount, and I’m not sure if I lost anything important.
Doing a bit more mining. The real issue with the minigames themselves is that they’re totally based on luck. I blame the game whenever I fail, which you’re not supposed to be able to do. Even when skill comes into it a bit, the controls aren’t good enough to match. Basically, a meter runs up and down. You stop it at a point. Usually it’ll tell you there’s nothing there. You have to stop the meter at the right position in order to mine a mineral. There is no indication of which spot, so it is pure guessing. It’ll tell you if you’re getting closer or further from what you want, but you only have 3 tries. And sometimes, if you hit the right point, it’ll tell you you have to hit that spot again, which is where skill kind of comes in, because you have to hit that spot again, which is a matter of timing and not guessing. But there’s a delay in stopping the meter. So if your reflexes are perfect, you have to account for the pointless delay. It’s just a game of ‘spin the wheel’, essentially. And you have 3 tries, so if you try once, miss, try again, get told ‘closer’ or ‘further’, and hit the mineral on the third try… you might not get it because it wants you to hit it twice. Oh yeah, and every time you fail, the rock you’re mining fucking hisses at you. Fuck you, rock. You’re the one that sucks.
It does seem, however, that certain types of ore will be around one spot of the meter almost every time. This would actually be an acceptable way to bring skill into the equation, but oftentimes I don’t actually know what the fuck I’m mining. It doesn’t tell you. Furthermore, this is just how it seems. Gamblers will insist they’ve found ‘tricks’ that take away some of the pure ‘luck’. People always try and find structure and meaning in anything random. And, I dunno, this being the core gameplay, it seems a lot like gambling.
Which wouldn’t be so bad, actually! Gambling can be fun! The thing is, it’s a matter of getting payoff, or no payoff. There’s very little difference. If there were a small chance of hitting a major bonus, that would be fun. Just a small chance of getting, like, 10 ore instead of 1, and the screen lights up and is all like, ‘FUCK YEAH’! Then the gambling thing would really work, because just the presence of that small chance can be really exciting, even if you rarely get it. It would also mean you waste more time mining, just being immersed in it.
Actually, another issue with all gathering jobs (they’re all the exact same, sadly) is that you can only stay at a job for like 5 – 6 tries. Then you have to get up, run for 5 minutes, and find another one. This would be like at a casino, where you can only try a slot machine 6 times, and then they make you get up and go to a random one they specified for you on the other side of the casino. Again, though, that might be fine if the movement didn’t break up the game. If the movement was a part of the game, and things happened, it might be fun. But, yeah, that never happens. Just a long walk.
Ha. One of the quests is called ‘Get to the Copper’. I see what you did there.
Anyway. Another issue is that these quests seem to have no effect on anything. I’m doing these quests for a faction, right? But does the fact that I do these quests for them affect anyone but myself? There’s no real point to this job, it feels like. The quests are also based on certain virtues, it looks like. Like piety. But I’m just doing it all for myself.
The game seems to be progressively pushing me to wear ‘hempen’ clothing.
I was given a quest, shown the location, and while going there I accidentally crossed into another area (it was on the same path). This aborted the quest, and I was unable to restart. Bullshit.
Fuck it, off to do the main story.
You know what would make this game better? Bloom. Stupid, unforgivable, Fable 1 level amounts of bloom. Everything should just glow like a bitch in heat. I’m serious, it would actually look really nice. The lighting engine is great, but the lighting itself, on an artistic level, is dull.
Starting the main quest, one of the characters says to me, ‘the prodigal daughter returns’! For one, that reference doesn’t exist in this world. For two, that’s not even the reference.
For three, you had fucking told me to leave.
Oh, more tutorial stuff, only now I’ve figured it out. Whoops. Oh well, I learned ‘Wrist Flick’, which is like my ‘Stone Throw’ only now it stuns enemies, so it’s only mostly fucking useless, instead of totally. Maybe it does 2 damage now!
Okay, so the quest boils down to turning in the MacGuffin I got for a profit. Actually, kind of a decent excuse plot, considering it’s just supposed to get me on my feet financially. Also, she says that ‘not everyone can turn up one of those things’. There is literally no way not to get it, if you’re playing this game. Every character gets it from the start.
Okay, what the fuck. I was thrown into a battle without any weapon. They made it out to be a fighting tutorial. All I have is my fucking stone throw ability which does 1 damage. All I can do is let him wail on me.
Oh, and he can hit me at a distance. With a sword. That makes perfect sense.
And suddenly the game takes pity on me and I lose by default.
Cutscene. Take literally one step. Get another cutscene. No, that was not an exaggeration, it seriously faded out the moment I depressed the ‘W’ key and took a step forward. What in the actual fuck.
Finally found a weapon in a random-ass shop, so now I can do what I was planning on doing today – combat.
…And, as I figured, combat sucks a cock. You just hammer the right mouse button to attack. Wait, no, you don’t even do that. It just does it automatically. Er, well, anyway. The enemy hits you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Health does regenerate though, but only after you put away your weapon. Then you have to pull it back out to go fighting again.
So yeah, usual MMO style combat. No strategy. Just grinding. Attack until the enemy is dead, suck your thumb until health regenerates, and then go do it again. Square Enix, you like minigames, right? Why not a dodging minigame, since it’s essentially a turn-based system, and I’d like to be able to avoid damage. At least something to click on while I wait for my chick to attack again. Anything.
The game decided it was working too well and my chick doesn’t seem to attack, even in combat mode. Fixed itself after a few minutes.
Combat quests are actually somewhat more fun. Better music, quicker to complete, naturally more intense, etc. Like gathering, though, there’s only a few of them. Four, in fact. I’m not sure if it gets better at higher levels, but for now, it really sucks to have such a limited number of quests. You can do them again and again, but you have to wait 36 hours in-between.
One of the quests taught me about emoting, which was… really, really stupid. Basically, you click an icon, and it shows you various poses and emotes you can use. Things you never use. But this bitch would not let me move the quest forward unless I used like ten different ones, individually, as she ordered them. There was no purpose to it.
There was an escort mission following that. To sum it up, an annoying catgirl (thankfully sans voice acting) asked me to take her somewhere, and on the way I had to kill a grand total of 5 chinchillas. They had 1 HP each.
I’m thinking I’ll follow some players around today. See what they do. There’s, like, nobody around, and it’s starting to piss me off. I have half a mind to check out another world.
Completed a quest! Got 200 skill points! Now I only need 4300 to level up! YEAH!!!!!!!
One player confirmed to me that this was an English server. Thinking about it, there’s probably no difference between this and the ‘packed’ server. And, fair enough, because the game is free to play, they probably have some shitty servers running. I mean, I haven’t had connection issues, it’s just that they don’t have a lot of capacity. The one I’m on, which probably has a population in the hundreds (across the main landscape), was two-thirds full. I base this off one of the three main cities having 10 – 30 people in it. Compare to That Other MMO, with averages of hundreds of thousands of people. I know the beta looked much more active.
I’ll probably make a new character on the most packed server possible. I know there are communities that stick to particular servers, but I don’t know which those are. All I know is, I have only interacted with two people in any capacity. One simply said ‘lol’, and the other cheered at me as I ran through the town in a bikini. There’s no story there, by the way. I got a bikini. I then wore the bikini. I then ran through the city with the bikini, and a midget then proceeded to show his approval of this.
I’m playing an attractive female, naturally, because this is what I identify with most. I held off on being ‘supermodel’ quality and stuck to ‘fuckable’.
I’m tempted to play with a gamepad, actually. Would have to install custom PS3 drivers, which is difficult, but I know the interface was designed for the gamepad. It’s not very mouse-friendly, at the moment. Another problem is that you have to design the control scheme for the gamepad your own damn self, annoyingly.
Cutscene! Corridor! Cutscene! Corridor! Cutscene! Back to Adventurer’s Guild! Cutscene! Main quest finished!
Jewelry costs 15 – 60,000 gil at the least.
It’s my third damn day with this game and I’m getting incredibly bored. I went out just to level up and I just couldn’t take it. Switching jobs on the fly is fucking impossible – if you want to try out botany, it’s a laborious process. The only sensible way to level is to get a weapon and go killing things. Else you’re just going to be running across the map time and time again to find trees or mining spots or what-the-fuck-ever. And I haven’t even seen a fishing spot, but granted that’s because I’m in the desert… but it’s still kind of unbalanced if you’re playing a fisherman and happen to pick this starting area. I don’t know why you would, because there’s another city that’s floating on the fucking ocean, which is probably the place to be if you’re into fish. But it is something to note, because while treecutters still have something, fishermen are just fucked.
But the bottom line is, it’s boring. Grinding doesn’t feel good because there’s no variation in what you’re doing, progress is slow, the drops are negligible at best, and you just don’t get a sense of accomplishment. I leveled up to 10 naturally, but now that I’m actually trying to get levels, I can’t help but wonder what the point is. Stat upgrades seem to do fuck-all, abilities seem few and far between, and I’m just not pumped about what I could get down the line. It’s not like WoW, where you can get some badass gear and go into new and exciting dungeons. It’s just like… the same game, just the enemies have more HP probably. And I know gathering classes just have to deal with more and more frustrating minigames. They just have a slimmer margin of error and less attempts, so you end up running between points more, and getting less. Whoop-de-fucking-do.
Ran for 10 minutes to get to the next area. Was killed by an enemy which was the exact same as ones in the previous area, but rather than ‘Star Marmot’, they’re called ‘Bitch Marmot’ or something else stupid. They were marmots. They looked identical, and were it not for the adjective change, they’d be identical. By the way, you can set it not to show names… so, if that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference at all. They have the same attacks, and there’s the same strategy (none), but this one killed me whereas I can slaughter five of the others before having to heal. So these new ones, that look identical, are 5x as powerful. There’s no warning, either. The area looks the same, and it’s almost impossible to tell that you’re even crossing into it, aside from a change in music. Luckily, there’s no death penalty. I just wake up waaaaaaaay back at the starting city. Fuck that.