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Christian. (That means that I know that Jesus is Lord!) Programmer. Gamer. Weak 3D artist. Geek.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Making my return to Vana'diel and stepping into Eorzea

So, in my last blog post, as I started writing I was uncertain as to whether I would be returning to Vana'diel but by the end of the post I was pretty certain that my return to Final Fantasy XI was inevitable.

That last post was some time ago.

Final Fantasy XIV has been released twice since then, first to collector's edition pre-orders and then second to regular edition owners.

Blizzard have announced their 'Cataclysm' expansion pack is set to be released before the end of the year and pre-orders have opened for the collector's edition version of that.

So what have I done since my last post?

I sold all my collector's editions box sets of World of Warcraft on eBay - getting back the money I had spent in purchasing them (much to my wife's delight!).

I bought Final Fantasy XIV and created a character on day one - taking in the atmosphere of being there at the very beginning.

I also restarted Final Fantasy XI from scratch - not reinstating a previous account.

All in all, the MMO side of my gaming life has been completely turned upside down.

Firstly, why did I restart FFXI from scratch?
Well, I wanted the subscription discounts from running both FFXI and XIV at the same time as well as the in-game item benefits of linking the two to the same Square-Enix account. Having bought the XIV collector's edition, it came with an authenticator key ring so having the two games linked to the same account allows me to use the same authentication key for both games.

When I bought FFXI for the first time, I imported it from the US and so predominantly down the years I've been playing with a US account. Square Enix haven't been very quick to allow the transferal of accounts from one region to another - so fearing that I wouldn't be able to link my EU XIV and US XI accounts together - I opted to simply restart the game again.

(Actually, I've heard, as it turns out that S-E did allow the transferral of accounts to a different region during the launch of FFXIV - but how was I supposed to know that that would happen!)

So far, in XI I've taken my new character, 'Dhylan' up to level 18 as a White Mage, completed the sub-job quest and switched to Red Mage - of which I'm now level 14. I also levelled Black Mage and Thief for about 6 levels each just for a little diversion.

I've joined a great linkshell on Bismarck, TheVolturiTwilight, who have been very helpful as well as encouraging - when to all intents and purposes I'm a 'new' player.

(I've posted a few screenshots in my Picasa feed of Dhylan's adventures if anyone is interested..)

So, how is Final Fantasy XIV working out?
Since coming home from my holiday in France (which is where I posted that last post from), I rushed online and downloaded the FFXIV public beta as fast as I could.
Which wasn't that fast - because the patching system during beta was just a nightmare. I was forced to be downloading unofficial torrents for the patches so that I could manually inject the patch files to get into the game. This has all been sorted out since the public release of the game, I'm pleased to say, that I've had no problems at all with the patch system since starting 'officially'.

I created a Hellsguard Roegadyn (which were called Galka in XI) named Kennedy Forthwright on the Istory server when the game was released - though I played as a Hyur during beta, opting to switch to a more melee focussed character for XIV so that I can enjoy markedly different gameplay types between XI and XIV.

I was also pleased to notice that despite the warnings of the XIV benchmark, which claimed that the game would simply not run on my Macbook Pro, the beta of the game ran(!), very slowly, but it ran all the same.
With the release day version of the game receiving some big engine upgrades - it allowed the game to run relatively smoothly on my laptop. Now, I don't get anything like 30fps but the game is certainly playable with all the settings set to their lowest possible.

Where in XI the player chooses one race and then a job - switching jobs whenever they like, as long as they're in their Mog House - XIV allows the player to change their 'job' (it doesn't call it that) whenever they like, wherever they are simply by just changing their equipped weapon - as that is what determines what their 'job' is.

I've opted to play as a 'Marauder' class at the moment - in my mind a kind of cross between Monk and Warrior from XI - though I wouldn't stake my life on that definition as I'm only level 9 at the moment.

The crafting system is pretty enjoyable, certainly a lot more involved than XI's, where crafting isn't merely a side objective used to feed your main job with money or products - but is an entirely separate, playable, different job. I've been enjoying completing Armorer quests, taking the class to level 7 so far - but I do fail to see where the game is going.

I understand, I really do, that the game is still in it's early infancy and doesn't have anywhere near the amount of content that XI does - and not even what XI had available at launch in the US (There had already been an expansion pack released for it by the time it was available in the US) - but I do spend half the time wondering where I am, who I am, what I'm doing and where I'm going.

The general thread of plot through the game just isn't there yet, which I think is one of the major issues that people are having with the game, they don't see where they're going - I think players want to know what evil they're going to face and defeat and therefore be able to justify the subscription fees to themselves.

I don't think that this is a big problem for me personally as in my mind I'm playing XI as my main MMO game with a little XIV on the side. It's a very beautiful and intriguing game to be sure, but I'm happy with dipping in, levelling a little here and there and dipping out.

In eschewing the regular, and popular, systems of Final Fantasy for a completely new approach to classes, jobs, combat etc. I think that a lot of Final Fantasy players are going to be turned off. I'm enjoying a different approach - but I'm still not done with XI and am still in love with the lore, story and world of Vana'diel.

So, I've returned to Vana'diel once again - and decided to take in a little of Eorzea too on the side.

Having only been married for a little over a year, I'm a pretty busy guy. I spend two hours a day on my commute to my job in Liverpool, I need time to research modern computing in order to affect the growth of my career. I love my wife and love spending time with her - as I rightly should. The question has to be asked, 'do I really have the time for one MMO let alone two?'

I just don't know. I know that I love playing XI and it's a great diversion to just jump on during my lunch hour or for half an hour when I get home - it's XIV that really begs the question.

Every few days I step into Eorzea to look around - immediately annoyed by the game's slow user interface - to level my armorer class and step out again. I imagine when the PS3 XIV gets released that I'll be inclined to visit Eorzea more often but until then (next March) I think XIV is going to have to remain as a pleasant diversion to my real gaming love, Final Fantasy XI.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Returning to Vana'diel

(I wrote this post on holiday in France on the 31st August, so I've back dated the post accordingly.)

What to play.. what to play.. MMOs are a huge investment and the choices are hard.

I started playing Final Fantasy XI when it was released for PlayStation in the US - which was quite some time before it was made available for PC in Europe. I loved the game. I loved the music, the world, the art, the style, the fights, the graphics. I loved it.

I never progressed very far in the game. It was just frankly too hard and too big a time sink for me. As a university student it was perfect - I could spend a lot of time playing that game (and I did!) but as a married game developer, my gaming time is not only very limited in terms of time but location too.

I have some game time available at home, some at lunchtimes in the office and some on the train on the way home - though the train doesn't have a solid internet connection.

A few months ago I decided to switch over to playing World of Warcraft after a very enjoyable test period and cancelled my FFXI subscription.

A few months in and I realise that WoW suffers from some different problems to FFXI.

Initially, WoW had a great starting experience where small stories took me from location to location, unveiling multiple branches for me to explore and locations to investigate - suddenly all these branches dried up and I found myself completely clueless as to where to go and what to do next.

I decided upon the Druid class, attracted by it's many possibilities due to it's shape shifting nature, and found myself in love with the starting area. Roaming around the leafy landscapes and enjoying the mini-quests that introduce me to the local lore - it was one of the best and enthralling experiences I've had in videogames.

This is to contrast against my disappointment as I reached new areas in the game only to find that the equivalent mini-quests don't reward very much at all and that the only fathomable reason for doing these quests is to get that level of understanding I had attained from my starting area.

Don't get me wrong, I had, have, grown to love World of Warcraft immensely. I had tracked down Collector's Editions of all the expansion packs so that I could enjoy the soundtracks and art books, subscribed to the WoW magazine and starting listening to Blizzard podcasts about the game.

It was all very entertaining stuff! But the game had started to slow down in pace for me and my original goal of making it to Northend and to defeating the Lich King was starting to seem more and more impossible not to mention undesirable.

The trouble was, there are no real benefits or balancing if higher level players want to go back and help out lower level players.

Having joined a highly social and helpful guild - it was frustrating to find that the game doesn't offer any incentives to the higher level players to come with me to a dungeon that they finished 40 levels ago.

I also found myself exceptionally disappointed when I levelled up and found that I now couldn't enter a dungeon that I still had outstanding quests in!

Final Fantasy XI doesn't have any of these problems.

Sure, there are social problems the same I imagine that all MMOs do. There are always people who are rude, unhelpful and annoying whenever people gather together under any banner or for any reason.

FFXI had level capped dungeons. Users have their abilities reduced/removed but they were still rewarded.
FFXI added Level Sync (albeit very late in the game) so that lower level players could be helped out.

Don't get me wrong, FFXI is a great game but not a perfect game.

For a start, it's starting to look old. Very old.

I love the fact that I can log in on my PS2 at home and then switch to my PC when I get to work - I hate the fact that my macros and maps still after 6 years don't sync between the two! (I also really dislike the fact there still isn't a Mac client after all these years!)

Final Fantasy XIV starts it's open beta today.
It doesn't appeal to me in the same way that XI did/does.
Graphically it looks fantastic. If I could play XI using that engine and that quality of textures and lighting - you can bet I'd buy a new PC just to play it.
But XIV looks like the kind of game you can play alongside XI just fine - and I think that Square Enix knows this and has structured it's pricing accordingly.

SE are saying that if you are a subscriber of FFXI when subscribed to FFXIV, you will receive a significant discount - which is cool - but lets me know that they're thinking that a lot of people will want to do that.

From a development perspective FFXIV is a daunting prospect. The fact that it's so beefy that it can't be played on my brand new laptop - and would require me to buy a new home desktop, limits it's userbase from the off - not to mention the locations where their userbase can play.

Delaying the PS3 version for 6 months, citing memory issues, is another concern but this does reduce the number of playable locations for me - given that I don't own a XIV capable computer and my work computer (which is used for game development) wouldn't cope either. (I'm fortunate in that my employer allows games to be played on our work computers at lunch time.)

All in all - I become more and more certain as time progresses that FFXI is still the best MMO for me to play. In terms of value for money, ability to play with advanced players in light of a waning userbase, ability to play at work, on my laptop or on my ageing PS2.

I own maps, guidebooks, soundtracks.. all manner of cool merchandise for XI. My investment has been huge and I find myself, every few years, writing a blog post just like this one explaining why I'm returning to the world of Vana'diel.

I guess It's because it's just so alluring that I keep coming back.

Monday, 1 February 2010

My 29th Birthday Message

Today, I turned 29.
I received lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of birthday greetings via various forms of modern communication - but many of those mediums don't allow me to post a long enough message in reply, so here is what I want to say to all my friends who messaged me throughout the day:

Hello all!! Thanks very much for all the birthday messages - this is the first time that I've been able to get to a computer all day (no lie! it was indeed an unusual day for me!) I've had a fabulous day today at the Capcom/Nintendo launch party for Monster Hunter Tri for Wii, popped into the Science Museum to look at the spacecraft exhibits, nipped to Foyles to oggle their programming books and browsed some old retro video game shop/haunts. (Sadly the shops are on their last legs.. :'( ) All in all - it was a day of great fun - defined by my weird geeky tastes. My wife was very patient throughout!!

Tonight, as I go to bed, I brace myself for tomorrow, spent embedded in the sofa with PS3 controller in hand. I shall be playing Dragon Age: Origins and Final Fantasy XI all day. :-) (Then dinner at the in-laws in the evening - yum!)

I am an exceptionally blessed man :-)