Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday (okay maybe not each and every Friday, but pretty close).
Yeah, yeah, yeah i know – last week 4.3.15 was another bye week. But you’re here now, so let’s move on shall we? You’re even getting Week in Geek a day early!
Video game developer log coming soon
The Long Shot’s Take a Shot saw its first return-on-investment the other day! Don Hileman, a video game developer, contacted me about writing an article about game design, how his studio was formed and a behind-the-scenes look at what creating games.
Don’s email could not have come at a better time. Earlier that same day, i’d been feeling thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, to borrow an analogy. Already working two jobs, plus keeping up as best i can here, another opportunity came along from my editor at The News-Herald to write human interest features on area businesses. It’s a terrific chance for more experience – and bylines – but i felt stretched for sure, like something had to give. The Long Shot here was on the table as one of those things.
Then, behold! Don sends me an email to inquire about sharing an article. Enyx Studios is a game development studio located here in Ohio, which instantly gave Don that Buckeye cred i love. The game they’re currently working on is horror-themed and is designed for play on PCs as well as XBox and Playstation. More than that, however, is the game’s integration with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.
Don shared a link to the original prototype demo with me, so i had a chance to check out what they have in the works. The game world in the demo is essentially a first-person tour but without characters or triggered events.
“It is mainly environmental stuff,” Don said. “But it gives you an idea of what the final art direction will be for the episodes
The graphics in the demo are clean and crisp. Movement around the environment was smooth, and i didn’t encounter any clipping or collision issues so i’d say they’re off to a great start. As they continue to develop their game, i’m excited to see how it evolves. There is some mood music in the demo as well, which was reminiscent of The Secret World, a supernatural-themed MMO set in the modern world.
i don’t want to give too much away about this project, though, because i’m very much looking forward to Don and his team have to share with you. We exchanged a few messages, and i’m thrilled about the prospects of perhaps a series of developer logs so you can follow this project.
In addition to Don, Enyx Studios other founder is Andrew Pavlick. The pair met at a meetup for game developers and the idea of forming their own studio emerged from their conversation. Both guys had been freelancing for several years, but shared a perspective and decided to form their own studio to do things their own way.
In developing their game, they are following a model of dividing the ambitious project into smaller, episodic chunks that they can release as different “seasons.” That way, their small team can offer better quality content over time in a more manageable way. The inclusion of VR is something they feel creates a unique platform for their game, but they are also designing it so that a VR headset is not required to play, for those who don’t have access to one.
A very special thanks needs to be given to Bob Sopko as well. Bob is the director of Blackstone LaunchPad, which helps students turn their ideas into viable businesses, at Case Western Reserve University. Tales of more than one terrific entrepreneur, innovator or technology advocate has crossed my desk thanks to Bob, who Don told me passed my name along to him.
Classic Adventures in DDO
A couple of weeks ago, the DDO team shared a preview on YouTube of the game’s latest release, Update 25. On April 6, U25 went live, giving players the opportunity to partake in the latest quest content modeled after the classic D&D adventure – The Temple of Elemental Evil!
Since the release of this Update, i’ve stepped foot inside ToEE a couple of times now so i can share some first-hand experience of it.
The first thing to mention, which was a surprise for players that the DDO team kept under wraps and announced the day of the update, is the featured guest Dungeon Master for the quest – Wil Wheaton. Reactions to this news were, as expected, mixed. Game forums are chock full of complaints about aspects of games large and small, so it’s not surprising. It must be very difficult, i imagine, for developers to decipher community opinions about things since there will always be people who feel strongly about a thing to voice their feelings on the matter. In the case of Wil Wheaton’s contribution to the game, several people feel like the investment of time and money into his voice work could have been better spent elsewhere, fixing bugs or creating more content and the like.
Personally, i love it. The DM narration in DDO has long been one of my favorite parts of the game, one of the many details that speaks to the flavor of its origins as a tabletop social game – the pencil-and-paper or PnP days.
In addition to Wil’s DM narration, one of the optional objectives in ToEE is discovering the scattered audio clips sprinkled throughout the quest. Finding them all and clicking on them not only provides some bonus XP, but gives players some background information on Wil’s long connection to D&D. He speaks about his introduction to D&D, games he’s played over the years, what it means to him and so forth. Granted, in a full party with chat, i missed some of what he had to say but i’m sure i’ll get to listen to them all in time.
My first foray into the Temple was with my primarily solo main character Schir Gold, who recently TR’d into another pale master build. This time around, i’m trying something new by taking two artificer levels, instead of two rogue levels, to make a pale trapper. By skipping rogue, i’m giving up on evasion but taking advantage of what the artificer has to offer through frontloading the class. Medium armor proficiency gives me that sweet PRR, and like the rogue, the artificer uses intelligence for all those skill points including the coveted Open Lock and Disable Device. On top of that, i can squeeze out more spell points for that blue bar, get a free lever puller and have access to rune arms and repeating crossbows for backup. So far, so good.
Schir’s time in ToEE on Heroic Hard difficulty made it a level 8 quest (she’s currently level 9). Things proceeded fairly well as long as i took my time, but i will say this quest is absolutely enormous so it became apparent early on that completion was a daunting endeavor.
Nevertheless, i soldiered on. Spirits were dampened when, after close to an hour in the quest i came upon the entrance to Dungeon Level 2 and realized i was no where near finishing this beast. None of the objectives had been reached yet, which include obtaining keys from each of four elemental temples devoted to earth, air, fire and water. Even finding the entrances hadn’t even been accomplished yet!
Despite all that, i was still doing well, able to defeat the monstrous mobs and manage my resources okay. That was when i ran into the ballista.
Some temple guards have a room on lockdown, and the only way to reach it is across a narrow bridge over a pit of spikes. Except that the guards have a siege weapon aimed straight down the hallway that, on top of laying down some serious damage causes a slow effect. Pinned down like that, even the Mysterious Altar that granted me somewhere around 300 extra hit points only prolonged the inevitable destruction of Schir, and thus ended her adventure that day.
What is very cool about ToEE though, is that the design is a new direction for DDO that blends elements of the wilderness areas with an instanced quest. While in ToEE, players can rack up a slayer count for the mobs and earn significant amounts of XP while doing so, which offsets the quests overall length that requires a healthy investment of time.
Another aspect of ToEE that at first turned me off was that it includes a brand new crafting system that uses various types of mushrooms gathered in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the quest. i’m not going to lie – my initial reaction was not positive about this new system. But, to be fair, that was before i had much chance to explore the place, which i did throughout the week.
Recently, my secondary character – a pure fighter who followed the premade path – joined a new guild called The Unrepentant on Sarlona. This character, Experimenta, was created based on a very long forum discussion last year about how confusing DDO could be for a new player. My experiment showed me it is nothing of the sort, but that’s a topic for another day.
Experimenta has been having a heck of a great time in The Unrepentant, and we ran through ToEE on Epic Hard this week a couple of times. Through these playthroughs, i gained a much deeper appreciation for ToEE as a whole and also for the crafting system. Our party acquired several of the craftable weapons upgraded with the mushrooms on the Overgrown Workbench in the Part 1’s main chamber, and after completing Part 1 and 2, we headed back in a few times for exploration, material gathering and XP from the optionals. By the way, that end fight is amazing. Extremely difficult, yes, but for a nonraid quest it’s probably the most exciting end fight in the game right now.
Because of the unique design elements of ToEE, i think this takes DDO in a whole new direction. Because of the instanced nature of DDO quests, noncompletions are typically anathema to players. But ToEE, similar to the Shroud with it’s green steel crafting, gives players a reason to enter the quest without total completion being a make-or-break scenario. Although much of the ToEE crafting is unknown at this time, it looks fairly deep and i’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of gear we can wind up with. Since i’ve never been much into raiding (something i hope my time with The Unrepentant will change) this is one of the only opportunities i’ve had to explore a complex crafting system like this, and i’m pretty excited about that.
Although the forums are rife with threads right now about what people think is wrong about ToEE, i’m very optimistic and i hope it grows on the skeptical folks like a fungal infection. With versions of it both in the heroic levels and the high-end of epic, it should give players a lot to do.
The last thing i want to mention right now about ToEE is that it really offers something for all the different builds out there. Portions of the quest have random traps – which the monsters can trigger as well – so there’s opportunity for trapmonkeys as well as tactics. The variety of monsters could be a bit more diverse, and perhaps will evolve over time, but right now there’s a good mix of brutes, ranged enemies, and spellcasters. The types of monsters include humanoids as well as classic D&D critters like rust monsters and the undead.
And if you’re lucky (depending on how you look at it) you may even run into one of these titular beasts:
As i continue to explore this terrific new content in DDO, i’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with how it goes. If you have any tales from the Temple of Elemental Evil, drop me a line and let me know what you think. Or better, yet, write up your own analysis of this quest or any others!
DDO developers have stated that the response in general to their Classic Adventures, which includes ToEE and the well-liked Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, has been great and gave them a lot to think about going forward with content creation.
ToEE as the 4th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine, behind Queen of the Spiders, Ravenloft, and Tomb of Horrors. If the current Classic Adventures in DDO are any indication, i’m super stoked to see what they adapt next. Expedition to the Barrier peaks ranked 5th, which i would definitely love to see in DDO.
Overall, ToEE looks to be a success for DDO. Getting someone like Wil Wheaton, an avid gamer and huge D&D advocate, to lend his talents to the game will hopefully help propel it forward and get some attention that equals a broader playerbase and more recognition.
See you in game!
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Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen! One team of contributors will be going to Yuri’s Night Space Party at the Great Lakes Science Center, where they were asked to be judges for their official costume contest. So be sure to check back for coverage of that. If you are celebrating Yuri’s Night anywhere in the world (or off of it – looking at you International Space Station) please share your experiences and photos!
Stay alert for posts from a new contributor as well – Don Hileman from Enyx Studios plans to share some behind-the-scenes tales of video game development.
My Week in Geek column also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).
Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.
Thanks for reading!
If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!
If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:
- Kelly and Kornienko begin year-long space trip
- Longest continuous stay aboard the International Space Station is underway
- Solar impulse plane lands in China
- Update on fuel-free plane’s around-the-world trip
- Dark matter ‘ghosts’ through galactic smash-ups
- New data on the ‘materia incognita’
- Perhaps it should be renamed ‘clear matter’ or ‘transparent matter’
- CodeFights scores $2.4 million to turn coding practice into a game
- A novel approach to getting more people interesting in coding
- Coding becomes more invaluable every day
- This is big: a robo-car just drove across the country
- “The news here isn’t that this was possible, but that it was so easy.”