Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Warning: This Comic Might Induce Massive Facepalming

I'm trying to think of some witty commentary to go with this comic, but honestly speaking, this is just a sample of the random silly ideas I come up with with Dante while we're playing The Secret World. This isn't even the worst of our Agartha-themed jokes. There's the usual: "Agartha get outta here!" and "Agartha believe in magic...." And, of course, my personal favorite: "I just want to tell you how I'm feeling. Agartha make you understand.... Never gonna give you up...."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Alter Ego: Venastrean, the Templar

My main character in The Secret World, Seth "Venastrean" Brea, wasn't initially meant to be a Templar. He was supposed to be one of the Illuminati, because that faction was the one I identified with the most during the beta weekends. I even got the Illuminati unlockables from The Secret War, the Facebook app that came out earlier this year.

However, when the official game launch swept the slate clean, I opted to follow Caroline's lead and create a Templar. I figured, since I'd already tried the initial Illuminati areas, it'd be a good idea to give being a Templar a try. Even though I knew we could group up and play normally anyway even if we were of different factions, I preferred being where Caroline was.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Celina's Closet: Basic Outfit

I have a confession to make. I am obsessed with character customization. It takes me about an hour or so to settle on a look for any game that allows it. The Secret World is no exception.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TSW: Dead Air, Part 2 (a fancomic)

Here's the continuation from this strip we made as a tribute to the mission "Dead Air" from The Secret World!

Let's just say that we tried everything we could, short of actually learning Morse code. There were programs that recorded sound files, programs that translated the sound files to text.... It was a lot of experimentation with a lot of bad results. There was a moment when I tried to actually translate it using a cheat sheet I googled, but then I realized that I couldn't tell the difference between the "dits" and the "dahs."

Eventually, we got tired of trying to figure it out ourselves (and we were nearing the point of /ragequit-ing) and just looked up the answer online. I'd link the actual YouTube video where we got the solution from but as it turns out, there's over a dozen YouTube videos about it by now and I don't remember which one we followed.

"Dead Air" was a really fun mission, and certainly one of the missions I will remember the most. I actually welcome more challenges like this, but maybe they can make them a little less dependent on hearing/listening skills.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Craft: On story and MMOs

Meet Carter. She's got... issues.
Ever since Funcom announced the first monthly content update for The Secret World, I've been catching myself frequently returning to their news post. I'm drawn to the cover image they made of their first 'issue,' which prominently features Carter, a student at Innsmouth Academy: a young girl who just wants to have a quiet life, and a budding magus so powerful that she can wreak visceral havoc without even trying.

Of the NPCs I've encountered in TSW, the three surviving members of Innsmouth Academy (Carter, faculty member Annabel Usher, and headmaster Hayden Montag) are the ones that stand out the most to me. From a gamedev point of view, it's probably because they're packed in one room together and their conversations intertwine, so they have a narrative unity that supports all of them. It's not just that, though. Their individual personalities are nicely thought-out, and the way they talk demonstrates a sharp, natural wit coming from the game's writers.

This is something that Funcom and Bioware have in common: a strong desire to convey both solid storytelling and character gravitas. At heart, both Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World are classic single-player RPGs, drawing from the best traditions of the computer adventure game industry. They just also happen to be massive, online, and multiplayer. SW:TOR demonstrates what happens when you apply exemplary storytelling to established MMO formulas, and TSW showcases narrative depth while blazing a new trail into the MMO frontier. Their stories do so much more than just provide window dressing for the gear-and-numbers game: they're integral parts of the experience, driving logical and reasonable quests while drawing you further into the worlds they've created.

To illustrate just how well TSW has grafted adventure-game story solving onto an MMO system, consider this: when was the last time you were in an MMO where players adamantly insisted on 'no spoilers' in General chat?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alter Ego: On altaholism

One habit that has followed me around since my earliest MMO days is altaholism. (Yes, I know 'altahol' isn't a substance. Hooray for colloquial Internet neologisms.) Instead of focusing on just one character and following him through to the endgame content, I'd keep making new ones and dividing my time across all of them. The result would be this cascade of characters of varying levels and classes. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does keep me from realistically reaching the top tiers for any single character.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

TSW Week 2: My Story So Far

I've been so caught up in The Secret World that I haven't been able to write anything new over the past few days, so I thought I'd take some time off to introduce my characters and talk about my progression in the game.

Celina "Xunre" Cross
My main character is Celina "Xunre" Cross, a Templar on the Cerberus dimension. I have two other alts: Kitten "Xinri" Kwan, a Dragon on the Grim Dimension; and Allison "Xekri" Anders, an Illuminati on the Leviathan dimension. I haven't been playing with Xinri and Xekri, though, so if anybody wants to add me and group up sometime, add Xunre to your lists. :)

I don't really have much of a back story for Xunre, since the game is set more or less in the "real world." I guess her personality is mostly just a reflection of my own. I play a Templar (who, I guess, are mostly British), for several reasons. First, if I have not already mentioned elsewhere (or if it is not obvious from my picture in our "about us" page), in reality, I am very much Asian. Since TSW is essentially a roleplaying game, I figure it would be fun to play a 'race' that I don't belong to IRL. Second, from the locations presented in the game, I feel like London is the nicest to look at, and I would like to go there in real life when I have the means to do so (don't get me wrong, I'd like to visit New York and Seoul, too, but London is on the top of my list). Third: I like the color red.

As far as the story progression goes, I've managed to finish all the missions in Kingsmouth apart from "Dead in the Water," and I'm currently exploring the earlier stages of the Savage Coast. I'm playing the game quite slowly, or at least, I feel like I'm going very slowly, because people on the TSW forums can't seem to stop complaining about how there is "not enough content" in the game.

Not that I haven't really been playing a lot, but I got stuck in Kingsmouth for a while trying to work out my build, and I was waiting for Dante to finish all the missions so we could go to the Savage Coast together.

I'm the type of player who gets lost doing side quests, so much so that I often miss the "big picture." So, if you ask me about how I feel about the main storyline, I would not be able to say much. On the other hand, I really enjoy talking to the various characters around Kingsmouth, and finding out more about them through conversations and quests. I am particularly fond of Danny Dufrense, not because he's a raving fanboy of my "super powers," but  because he's genuinely an interesting kid. Not to mention more useful in a zombie apocalypse, than, say, Carl from The Walking Dead (the series, not the comic). Some of my other favorite personalities in Kingsmouth are Ann Radcliffe and Harrison Blake, and Edgar along with Tango and Cash (okay, mostly just Tango and Cash).

In the Savage Coast, I've met Daniel Bach, John Wolf, Nicholas Winters, and the people from Innsmouth Academy. Daniel Bach didn't really strike me as a very interesting character, but then again, I also haven't finished his dungeon mission, so maybe I'm just missing the appeal. John Wolf, on the other hand, reminds me of a certain other "John" with a certain other "wolf," not to mention that one of his sabotage missions is titled "Taking the Purple."

So, that's my story so far. I'm still taking my time looking around the Savage Coast and occasionally going back to Kingsmouth to redo some easier quests for SP and AP. I'll talk about my character's build progression and some of the missions in detail in future posts.

See you in The Secret World!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Something Wicked and Something Good (Hooray for TSW Community)

I find it a little funny how much I like playing MMOs when I hate playing with people I don't know in real life. It's not that I'm a loner or I don't like making friends online, it's just that people in the few MMO's I've tried in the past (WOW and SWTOR) have a tendency to be really mean.

Just try asking a question in general chat: they will either call you a noob, ignore you completely, or tell you to fuck off and use Google. Of course, there are, on occasion, genuinely helpful players who will answer your question as best as they can. 

The Secret World community, however, looks to be very promising. On the few occasions that I would ask for help, I find at least one player answering my call. I don't know if it's because the general population of players are really just very helpful, or if it's the nature of the game that brings players together, but I'm glad for the people who really try to help out. Sometimes they even help you out without you needing to ask. I see this especially in combat.


The buggy nature of some of the missions is also another thing that seems to be drawing players to help each other out. A great example for this is in the later tier during the Something Wicked mission wherein you have to follow a white raven, find the rest, and click on them in a sequence. The bug in there being unable to follow the first white raven simply because it won't fly off towards the next one. One way of fixing it, it seems, is to get a player from a different dimension to pull you into their dimension where the mission objectives are working as they should. 

I was able to finish the mission thanks to some friendly players who answered my request for a dimension pull on Templar chat. When my mission objectives cleared up, I messaged players on General chat that I'm thankful to the community and I've finally cleared the mission. In reply, some players offered congratulations, some mentioned how Funcom should really get onto fixing the bug, and some asked for help with the same quest. 

I guess that is what continues to inspire me to write about The Secret World. I feel like it's a way I can help other players, too. I also try to help in-game as much as possible, and for once I actually read General chat in case there's something I can help people out with. 

I hope the community of The Secret World continues to be nice and helpful, as that's one thing that will really make me love the game even more.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A sense of wonder

I very belatedly realize exactly why The Secret World is so fascinating to me.

It's the world of Harry Dresden.

Well, okay, it's not the specific world that Jim Butcher created for The Dresden Files, but it's got the same urban fantasy framework. Online reviewers have drawn comparisons between TSW and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and the more I play the game, the more I appreciate how contemporary it is. Kate Cox of Kotaku talks about the merit of low fantasy, and how it's something that the gaming landscape could use more of in light of high-fantasy fatigue.

I've always been fascinated with the idea that there's more to the mundane world that we live in. That there's a pattern behind everything; that there's a secret math, as it were, to how and why life works the way it does. I come from a post-religious background, so I operate with a blend of empiricism and faith. I believe in the power of wonder, and in the willingness to subscribe to a design greater than what I can comprehend.

Big words. Point is, I like my sense of wonder. I feed it as much as I can, when I can, especially now that I'm most assuredly an adult. Any experience that blends my childhood fascination for magic and stories with the trappings of the world I actually live in is one that I would very much like to be a part of.

[SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING] TSW: Dead Air (a fancomic)

Out of all the types of missions in The Secret World, investigation missions are the most fun, intelligent, and at times, the most punishing to do. Dante and I were playing together one night and came across the mission titled "Dead Air." We agreed to do the first few tiers of the mission separately, doing our own research before proceeding to the next tier. The first tiers of the mission were easy: find out how to fix the radio; gather the materials; fix the radio using the materials; listen to the transmission... then came the Morse code.

I guess you can say we were dumbfounded. Neither of us knew Morse code. But we were not scared. We were sure there was a way for us to decode it without actually learning Morse code....

[To be continued....]

Friday, July 6, 2012

On the Perils of Pre-Orders

Earlier this evening, I tried logging into The Secret World, happy to spend a quiet Friday night with my current favorite game of choice.

"Authentication failure. Please note that passwords are case sensitive."

I retyped my password. Same message. My immediate thought was: "did I just get hacked?"

So I tried logging into the TSW website to reset my password. Almost immediately after I hit the "Lost password" link, I get an email from Funcom saying that "your pre-order account is no longer available for play." I was thinking: "but the game comes with free 30 days." So I SHOULD still be able to play seeing as how it's just been a few days since launch and that I'm sure I registered my key.

After several frustrating minutes fumbling around with the Funcom website trying to log into my account (for some reason, it kept logging me out like I was a virus), I contacted their support through Live Chat. After waiting for a reply, support finally came through and said that I should have received an email with my registration key. I replied that I had already registered my key. The guy checked if this was true, and replied afterward that he sees a pre-order key and not a retail key.

Flashback to a few days before Early Access: I received an email from Funcom confirming my order again. I thought that this was just a duplicate of the email they sent when I first ordered the game. APPARENTLY, it was an email with the RETAIL KEY which is different from the PRE-ORDER KEY.

Fumbling around again with the buggy website, I re-registered with my retail key on the advice of the guy I was chatting with on Live Chat. I was still unable to log in on account of the password reset I did earlier, but my account works fine now, and my character is still there (thank god).

What irks me about this whole 30 minutes or so of stressing out about my account is that in no way did Funcom make clear that we had to re-register with the retail key in order to continue playing. A nice big banner in the email with a "Please register with your retail key" in big bold letters would've been nice.

I don't really know if this is common in pre-orders since this is the first time I ever pre-ordered a game, and it's certainly not too big of a deal to me to stop pre-ordering games completely. But perhaps this is a lesson for the future: with Early Access comes great responsibility (to read your damn emails carefully).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

From Hate to Love with The Secret World

When I first heard about The Secret World, I was still very much in love with another MMO that was almost exactly like WOW except it had the unfair advantage of letting you play as a Jedi (or in my case, a Sith). Looking at the previews, videos and screenshots of TSW, I wasn't really very impressed. I initially thought that it was a game that was going to be so different that nobody was ever going to be able to play it. I criticized the UI for being too simple and ugly. I thought the character models all looked unpolished and uninteresting. I knew from the start that I was going to hate this game. 

The only reason why I even pre-ordered was because I knew that Dante really wanted to play it, and I didn't want him to play alone (well, getting an in-game kitty didn't hurt either, as well as getting Mass Effect for $2.50 during the Origin pre-order promo.)

And then came the beta weekend. Boy, was I so wrong. The game was so good exactly because it was so different. The class-less system enabled you to become anything you want to be, and not tie you down to just wielding one type of weapon or one type of skill or specialization. For once, a game that didn't promote altaholism, because you will never need to re-roll a character if you suddenly want to switch from being DPS to a tank/healer (to illustrate how much of an altaholic I am, I had one main avatar in SWTOR and six alts).

I also found the quest system very refreshing. The quests are not your simple "Kill n/n monsters" or "Gather n/n material". The quests/missions require you to be smart and think outside the box. Often, you will need to interact with the world to progress on your mission. An example of this in the early game is igniting a gas can and luring zombies into the fire by jumping on a nearby vehicle to trigger the alarm (to be perfectly honest, the first few times I did this, I ignited the gas can, ran to the zombies, then ran into the flames, setting myself on fire in the process. Not smart.)

I didn't play much for the rest of the beta weekends. I was already convinced that I will love the game so much that I didn't want to spend any more time building a character that I wasn't going to be able to play with at launch.

Now, I am almost a week into the game. I'm still discovering more and more things to love about The Secret World, so much so that it inspired me to start a blog just so I can write about it.

Willingly lost in The Secret World

Right now, I'm listening to "This Bitter Earth," a song by Dinah Washington. Specifically, the version blended with "On the Nature of Daylight," by Max Richter. It was featured in the film Shutter Island, and then used just recently in The Secret World's new launch trailer.

It was the perfect choice. It captures the overarching mood of the game well, and it emphasizes how unique the premise of TSW really is. Sure, it's an MMO, and it'll always share a few of the familiar mechanics of other MMOs (in the same way that every board game is similar to other board games in some ways). But it reinvents several things, and brings a deeper set of systems to the table.

I'm reminded of solid adventure gaming, and how an RPG can mean so much more than just accumulating crazy gear stats, high body counts and flashy outfits. I'm a lover of story, and exemplary narrative development is what will truly anchor me to a game long after the glamor of the pretty lights and sounds has faded.

I also thoroughly enjoy the game's management of powers and stats. It abandons notions of classes and levels, and instead uses a point-based ability-buying system that's reminiscent of White Wolf's tabletop RPGs. XP gain never downscales no matter how powerful you get; the better abilities just have fixed higher costs than basic powers. Plus, you can rearrange abilities and gear on the fly. It's daunting at first, what with literally hundreds of powers, but a sheer joy once you get the hang of it.

I've never pre-ordered a game in my life. Until TSW came along, that is. I had heard of it before, and I thought it would be just another typical MMO with a few new gimmicks tacked on here and there. Its brutally intelligent and unforgiving pre-launch alternate reality game swept me off my feet, though, and I fell in love with how much care and involvement went into the game's story foundations. So I took a risk, and bought the game ahead.

Two beta weekends and four days of early access later, I feel validated. I'm experiencing a game that feels remarkably new and unlike any other MMO I've seen. The last time I saw an MMO that made me sit up and take notice like this was EVE Online, and I'd probably have stayed with that if only it had a more driven and established story.

This honeymoon period may pass someday, but I think I will always recognize this game as one of the landmarks of my gaming history. I'm glad I didn't pass it up.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to Install The Secret World on Several PCs

If you want to play The Secret World on another PC but don't want to go through the whole process of re-downloading the entire client again (31GB!!!), there's a quick and easy way to copy it from one PC to another, and all you need is an external drive that can fit the entire TSW folder.

Note: I bought The Secret World through Origin (which basically downloads the client patcher -which downloads the actual game files) so this might not work for people who don't have their TSW accounts linked to Origin.

Step 1: Locate your Funcom folder on the computer you already have TSW installed in. This is typically under C:/ drive under the Program Files (x86). Under this folder is The Secret World folder. If you have other games from Funcom, I am guessing they will be in the same folder, but you only need to copy the game you actually want. In my case, the only folder I had in there was The Secret World, so I just copied the entire Funcom folder.

Step 2: Paste the folder into your external hard drive.

Step 3: Copy and paste the Funcom folder from your external hard drive into your other PC's Program Files (x86) folder.

Step 4: Open Origin client. If you bought the game through Origin, you should see The Secret World in your My Games list. Click on Ready to Download. This will install the client patcher on your computer. After installing, the client patcher will run as normal, and check your PC for TSW files which you already have copied from the external hard drive. This step basically makes your computer recognize that the game does indeed exist on your computer.

Step 5: Play, enjoy, and share the game with your friends!