There are stories behind those doors

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Warframe continues to amaze me on a daily basis. There’s so much to do and see, it boggles the mind.

Up there you see me on my hoverboard, cruising the mountaintops of Orb Vallis. I’m still getting the hang of riding it, but it’s a lot of fun and also blazingly fast compared to traveling on foot. This is ‘only’ the vanilla version of it too; in time I’ll build my own one, custom stats and all.

Disclaimer: from here on out there will be spoilers if you haven’t finished The Second Dream and subsequent quests yet, as well as some other story bits, so be warned.

Still here? Ok then.

When you go down one of the ramps right behind the arsenal in your orbiter there’s a corridor leading to three doors, all of which are locked initially. By now I’ve managed to open them all.

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Ordis is right, this is disgusting!

A couple of days after I’d played some missions teamed up with strangers I noticed some kind of cyst growing on one of my warframes’ neck. Turns out there’s a virus going ’round, and someone had infected me with it. It’s fully grown one week after the infection, and then the frame in question can enter this room. As of now the only function available here seems to be to cure the frame, but Ordis says that this entity, known as Helminth, serves the warframes and the ship, so there might be more upcoming.

Instead of curing the infection one can use the ship’s incubator unit to drain the cyst (yuck!) and grow a special kind of Kubrow (= doggo) from it, so choose wisely.

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This is the last part of the Octavia’s Anthem quest, which is all about music. Naturally I loved it, although the finale is pretty heavy on the jumping-puzzles, so you better limber up before going in. Unfortunately the quest doesn’t gave me access to the finished Octavia frame as I’d hoped, I only got its blueprint. Getting all blueprints for the subcomponents will take another while.

Moving on to the big story quests and the remaining doors.

When starting out in Warframe the player doesn’t know much about what a Tenno actually is. Where did they come from, what’s the source of their powers, why do they even exist?

The Second Dream and The War Within delve into that and answer some of those questions. I won’t spoil the stories and revelations in detail, but suffice it to say at the end of The Second Dream I at least had a pretty good idea about who’s inside of my frames…because I had to actually create him (or her, if you so choose).

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That’s a first: character creation after having already played for dozens of hours

From that point on every frame has a fifth ability, which makes the operator (he still has no name) leave the frame for a couple of seconds and shoot a big fricking laser beam at his foes.

He “lives” in the second of the three eponymous orbiter-rooms, and his appearance, equipment as well as a whole new progression system of active and passive skills are managed here.

During The War Within he learns more about his past and how to control his powers, making him capable of leaving the frame indefinitely and fight with some powers of his own.

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Now that’s what I call an out-of-body-experience

In my opinion these quests as a whole are very well done. The end of TWW was also a pretty strong emotional moment, storywise as well as visually and audibly.

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One of its rewards is access to the third and final room, which is the operator’s personal quarters. As I’ve talked about before you can place decorations anywhere in the orbiter, but this room is designed specifically to make it your own and feel at home.

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What would a capatin’s quarters be without Jean-Luc Picard’s aquarium?

It’s not huge, but pretty nice. There’s a large pedestal in the middle to install another, bigger aquarium, or one of several vignettes depicting the various planets. I’m using the Plains of Eidolon, mainly because it’s accompanied by very soothing outdoor sounds.

I haven’t played around much with the room yet, but I intend to knock myself out and make it into something special over time.

The first item on the agenda was getting some fish for the aquarium of course. So I grabbed my fishing spear and off to the Plains of Eidolon I went.

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There’s always a bigger fish…

The room also provides a jukebox of sorts, the somachord. Actually using it is unlocked by completing the Octavia’s Anthem quest mentioned above.

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Seen in the bottom right. The urn on the left was rewarded by another quest

Nothing’s easy in Warframe though, so I have to find and scan some more fragments to unlock songs before I can actually use it. That’s fine by me however, because I intend to play the game for a good long while yet.

What happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin

Nah, just kidding. That wouldn’t make for an interesting blogpost, would it?

I always wanted to attend EVE Online’s fanfest in Reykjavík, preferably combined with a trip around Iceland before or after the festivities. It never came to pass for various reasons however.

Hence, when CCP announced some time last year that there wouldn’t be a regular fanfest in 2019 I was pretty disappointed because I feared that my chance to go might have come and gone. After all, nobody but CCP knows the real reasons for the cancellation – the official one is that Harpa concert hall is/was being renovated – and I was a bit sceptical if there was going to be another fanfest in Reykjavík at all.

So what has any of this to do with Berlin?

Well, to compensate for the lack of a ‘real’ fanfest CCP decided to do a bunch of smaller events all around the globe, two of which not too far from where we live. So basically the only question was if would we make the trip to Amsterdam in March, or to Berlin in September. Amsterdam would have been the shorter drive, but since I had a football game on March 24th we would have missed at least part of the event. So G-Fleet in Berlin it was going to be.

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Attending the first G-Fleet – in 2018, also in Berlin – didn’t cross my mind at the time, but the thought of not wanting to miss yet another chance to be at an EVE event had really took hold by now. Lakisa was all for it too, so we bought the tickets and booked a hotel within walking distance from the venue, the Game Science Center.

We decided to go by car because it’s much cheaper than a train ride for two. The journey out made us regret this somewhat because a truck accident ahead of us made the trip take almost nine hours instead of six. That’s Friday 13th for you I guess. We missed the opening ceremony due to that, according to our NC Dot comrades it was more like a little talk than a ceremony anyway though.

Speaking of whom, of course we had been looking forward to meet some of the folks we had only known by voice or even text up to then. Altogether there was a dozen of us, mostly from Germany and Great Britain, and we had a lot of fun.

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Good thing we all look the same, it made meeting up so much easier

We also talked to people from other corps and alliances, but I couldn’t tell you any names even if I wanted to. Everybody was really nice and the whole event felt pleasantly civilized despite copious amounts of alcohol being consumed. Even Goons weren’t angry that a couple of us stole…I’m sorry, captured the flag they had put up inside the venue, but that may have something to do with us giving it back to them later.

On late Friday evening a special G-Fleet issue of Spectre Fleet was being formed, and since a couple of PCs were still vacant Lakisa and I decided to tag along. It took a while to get everyone sorted with a ship and Discord access, but once we got going we were killing stuff in and around Tama in no time. Really expensive stuff too. A shame that we didn’t use our own characters.

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And just like that yet another character has turned into an outlaw by my hand…

There was also a 2vs2 PvP tournament. Each team was allowed to field one Tech I battlecruiser and one tactical destroyer. We watched most of those fights although it was quite hard to see exactly what was going on.

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In hindsight I might need a new pair of glasses after all

On Saturday we attended some of the presentations. The one I’d been looking forward to, Epic stories from the EVE universe by Andrew Groen, didn’t disappoint, but the one about Bomber’s Bar and another about a special kind of logistics division within Signal Cartel were cool too.

The show CCP themselves put on wasn’t really that great to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate them being there and stuff, but my main takeaway, especially from the AMA on Friday, was a whole lot of “we have no idea” and “we can’t talk about that”.

Still, it was a cool event and worth it for the socializing alone. Oh, and for the swag of course.

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I’m really happy that we managed to snag those Quafe cans, but the other stuff is pretty nice too. The USB stick contains Andrew Groen’s first book Empires of EVE, of which I already have the physical version, but it’s cool to also have it in PDF format now. The gift-card’s code was redeemed for a set of three ingame SKINs:

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The Triglavian ships are still the new hotness, shown here the Draugur

So yeah, would do again.

By now we know that there will in fact be a fanfest in Iceland next year after all, from April 2nd to 5th. Since G-Fleet was really fun I’d like to go more than ever now, but we’ll see.

An outsider’s view on WoW Classic

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WoW Classic has been live for just shy of two weeks now and a couple of our friends, this corner of the blogosphere and pretty much the MMORPG community as a whole are all abuzz with excitement and joy.

About a year ago I talked about my reasons for never having played the game. I still haven’t played it, and I’m not going to. Nevertheless I’m really happy about what I’m hearing and reading right now because it gives me some hope – just a teeny, tiny bit, but that’s better than nothing – that the gaming industry might take notice and learn one or two lessons from it.

Here are some examples of what folks have to say about their experiences up to now.

SynCaine writes:

It’s obviously very early, but playing just felt right. […] there is a sense that all of this content was created with a passion, and that passion shows in all of the little details that bring the zone together. […]

Classic being enjoyable, for me at least, isn’t just about the nostalgia, its mostly about the fact that Vanilla WoW was a really fun MMO to play.

Bhagpuss notes:

I’m not claiming it’s intrinsically “better” than either WoW Retail or any other game in the genre. I am saying that it has a coherency and throughline of design that later development, both for WoW and most of its progeny, has lost. And that’s a big part of why I’m playing it and enjoying it when I wasn’t expecting to find all that much to hold my attention.

Syp has an example of good design that has been scrapped from the game later on, namely talent trees (I wholeheartedly second his stance on this, by the way):

Mapping out your character’s growth is one of the most fulfilling parts of RPGs (at least for me), and this system provides a visible means for those plans. We’re given lots of choices. We’re given the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others. We can specialize or hybrid ourselves as much as we like.

Pretty much everyone agrees that playing Classic feels by orders of magnitude more like being part of a living, breathing world than any later version of the game or any of the countless wannabe-WoW-killers that came after it. Some even say it’s actually not a full-on themepark, but rather a sandpark (i.e. a themepark with a lot of sandbox elements, or vice versa). This really surprised me, and I find it extremely ironic considering that a great many people, myself included, were under the impression that WoW always was the mother of all themeparks and the main culprit for the major shift in game design we saw following its huge success.

Which makes me wonder if game designers at that time, including the development-staff of WoW themselves, had a hard look at that success and drew the completely wrong conclusions about why people actually liked this game so much.

It seems like a fair assumption, because whenever people aren’t talking about the experience as a whole and instead describe what they’re actually doing in the game, they tell stories about how they need to be on their toes to not pull unwanted adds, how they are scrapping together the few silver they have for their new skills, how satisfactory it is to make their own 6-slot bags or find a grey yet good piece of gear, how they embark on long and dangerous journeys, or how they just watch some NPCs doing their thing for a while.

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Nabbed this from Bhagpuss. I hope you don’t mind, mate

You know what nobody is talking about? How they need to get to revered with faction x. How they need to do their dailies. How they got a new piece of gear that they need to equip because of its gearscore, but that actually makes their character worse to play because it rolled the wrong titanforge stats (or whatever).

These are things I’ve read all the time when folks talked about BfA. Incidentally these are also things that almost every MMORPG that came after WoW has in one form or another.

Now, I’m not saying these are inherently bad. Some people really like doing their dailies, others can’t have enough factions to raise their standing with. But I think that even those players wouldn’t argue that any of that feels like having an adventure or like living in a virtual world. MMORPGs can have these features, maybe they even need them to an extent, but they are not what makes these games great.

Don’t give us chores, give us what it says on the box: Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games!

Of course it’s a bit early to call WoW Classic a huge success, but should it in fact become one this is the lesson that I really hope some people in the industry will learn from it.

More musings about gaming goals

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Whether I play MMORPGs, ARPGs or Looter Shooters, I like having goals to work towards. A mix of both short-term and long-term ones works best for me.

Especially the latter two genres need such goals to keep me engaged because, let’s face it, the gameplay loop these games provide stays pretty much the same no matter how long you play them. Not that I mind, if I didn’t like those kinds of gameplay I wouldn’t play them to begin with. Still, having no carrot dangling in front of me makes me less inclined to log in sooner rather than later.

There seem to be two kinds of design philosophy regarding how players can work towards such goals.

The first one is a system of total randomness. All we can do here is play the game to the best of our abilities, because doing any specific thing doesn’t increase – or decrease – the chances of achieving our respective goal. Path of Exile is a good example of this. Any mob can drop every existing item up to its level, so it doesn’t matter in the slightest which mobs you kill as long as they’re strong enough. The only way to increase your chances of getting a certain unique item, for example, is killing more mobs in less time.

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Another unique I didn’t want (Wrapped Mitts, in the center)

The upside of this is that you can opt out of doing stuff you don’t like to do. Hate a particular map? Run it only once, then never again. There is not a single item in the game that drops only there. In theory this also provides for more gameplay variety since you don’t feel compelled to kill the same boss over and over to maximize your chances of getting what you want.

In my opinion this is a pretty big downside at the same time though because, whatever you do, the chances of getting the exact item you want are abysmally low. Hence, if you’d like to play a build that needs a couple specific uniques to make it work you pretty much have to trade with other players, which of course feels much less rewarding than finding the stuff yourself. Also, playing the game only rarely feels like working towards a specific goal, because, well, you just can’t. I love PoE, but if I could change one thing it’d probably be this.

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Rhino on guard duty, protected by a coat of Iron Skin

Warframe marks the exact opposite of the spectrum: to accomplish specific goals you have to do very specific things.

Frames are the best example. For each frame you need its blueprint, which you can just buy for credits at any time, and three manufactured components. Those require various crafting resources and also the corresponding blueprints. A quick research revealed that, for most frames, the latter are all dropped by planet-bosses. What surprised me a bit is the fact that every boss has its own associated frame which it drops all three blueprints for. For example, all component-blueprints for the Rhino frame, which I wanted to unlock first, are exclusively dropped by – wait for it – Jackal. Oh my…

I’d already gotten one of the three blueprints when I beat him the first time though, so all I needed were the other two. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Well, randomness is random, and I needed to run the mission another 18 times until the third and last blueprint finally decided to drop.

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About to unleash Rhino Stomp (Hulk Smash was copyrighted I guess)

Fortunately I knew by then how to beat the guy quickly, so the bossfight itself wasn’t too big of a nuisance anymore, and you know what? I didn’t mind running the same mission over and over, because, as I said in the beginning, the gameplay loop is always the same anyway. I kill stuff and loot all the things while running towards the objective, then I fulfill that and move to extraction. Rinse and repeat.

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Best to look at these like a flip-book

Would the gameplay be more varied if those blueprints could drop anywhere? Possibly. But I’d definitely feel much less purposeful while playing, and chances are I still wouldn’t have completed my Rhino yet – which I love, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed.

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I’m pretty sure you have though

Lakisa is also playing Warframe now, so naturally we did it all again to unlock Rhino for her too. Once more it took quite a lot of runs, and I still didn’t mind at all.

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My work here is done

So yeah, if given the choice I’d always favour a system that lets me work towards my goals in a target-oriented way. It might result in a somewhat monotonous, maybe even tedious playstyle for a while, but I’m much more motivated when I have a specific purpose, and I also just love achieving those goals myself instead of tradig for the stuff I want.

What about you?