The Secret World: my favourite game I’m not playing

It’s always been that I’ve got far too many games than I can actually play. Most of the time, I’m happy just having them; one day I’ll play them, I will. However, some I really really want to get seriously into. The Secret World is one of these.

I’ve posted about it before. It’s a modern-day based horror investigative mmo from Funcom. It came out using a subscription model but now it’s gone buy2play, you buy it and then can play for free, paying for extra content and downloads with offers and free points for subscribers.

Anyhow, with my love of horror, Lovecraft and the slipstream, getting the game was a bit of a no-brainer.

But am I playing it as much as I’d. No. I’m still fighting zombies in the first zone and experimenting with my character build.  I like the way it’s done in TSM,  you can slot different skills and become healer, dps, tank or a mix according to taste or necessity on what’s called a skill wheel.

It’s frustrating. Not only is there the game content itself, but Funcom seem to be experimenting with different sorts of metagaming. In December there was an alternate reality game ( ARG) that was set in and around the Secret World called the End of Days, focussing on the predicted end of the World on December 21st. If you opted in you could visit strange websites, receive unsettling phones calls and be sent obscure e-mails. Players got together to decipher the meanings of all these on the official forum.

Now Funcom is experimenting with Twitter, the Twitterverse Experiment. Various NPCs have their own twitter feeds which interact with players, sparking new missions and mysteries within the game in partnership with gamers themselves.  It sounds closer to actual roleplaying than any other mmorpg has managed since the likes of Ultima Online and the original Star Wars Galaxies.

It reminds me of an obscure Lovecraftian roleplaying game: De Profundis that I have but haven’t run yet run (do you see a theme here). Here, two or more people communicate purely through letter-writing or other form of communication. You can be yourself, you can be anybody, you can choose your time period. Together, you build up an atmosphere and a story and shape a game world between you all. Interesting.

But anyhow, it doesn’t get me playing TSW. I’m reading the forums, I’m looking at character builds, I’m watching fanmade videos, I’ve thought about which cabals to join. It’s totally my favourite game. When I play it.

TF2 End of Season; Final Season

There’s been a long gap since my last post. I’ve actually been pretty busy but I’ll write about that another time. In the meantime, though, we’ve finished ETF2L S15 and it’s time to catch up with FNR!

They finished 3rd in their division, only one point behind the second finishers; just outside the automatic promotions but well enough positioned to go for for Div 4 next season with appropriate screenshots from games against Div 4 teams.

In the end they dropped three maps, one they felt they should have won. The other two were against Killswitch, who also play Highlander but in Division 1. It’s generally felt that the skill level in Highlander is lower than that in 6v6, so a Div 1 HL player would be less skilled than a Div 1 6v6 player. However, even considering this, surely Div 1 HL players are not equivalent to Div 5 6v6. Certainly Killswitch didn’t loose a map in their division.

However FNR! didn’t do too badly against them. I’ve seen steamrolls and this game quite definately wasn’t one with FNR! making some nice plays including a wonderful kritz on badlands mid which I think wiped Killswitch. In fact all through the season FNR! improved and became tighter and more co-ordinated, though errors were still made with mistimings and wrong positioning. You could see the practice scrims and VOD reviews paying off, you’ve just got to do that stuff.

So it looks like FNR! will be playing in the next 6v6 season but the same can’t be said for Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty in the next Highlander.

Last season was most likely the last and with it goes the direct participation of Berath’s Brain Burps in competitive TF2, but a good time was had and I loved having the opportunity. Quite simply, there is no-one to organise KCaLtL. After successfully leading it for the last couple of seasons,  the indomitable Lefty has moved on to another team with no organising responsibilities. As I found when I organised the Raid roster in LoTRO being the organiser of something can bring headaches and take away the fun. Hive of Scum and Villainy, our (baby) 6v6 team is still in hiatus and I don’t fancy trying to get myself recruited into anything else. For 6v6 I’m just not good enough and for both, being female and older reduces the likelihood of finding compatible team mates. I’d be worrying about restructures at work, they’d be worrying about A’Level homework and considering 25 as old and past it; and probably be right too!

Handbags at Dawn remains of course. Hopefully we’ll be entering the next Reddit Round Robin and from time to time I may still be asked to merc for various teams. There may also be opportunities for the odd 6v6 game for a bit of fun (I still think it’s my favourite TF2 mode). So anyway, it’s wait and see and in the meantime focus on playing pub and in HL lobbies, working on those rollouts (I will do Badlands), enjoying casts, helping keep WDG ticking along and, of course, playing other games!

TF2: End of Season, Start of Season

Well ETF2L Highlander S4 is now well and truly over. In the end Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty came second in their division 5C. A good result and one which meant we could stay safely in Division 5 away from teams that did stuff like practice lots. The last match was against nervousENERGY, a community HL team with a profile and history similar to ours. They said they weren’t Div 5. We weren’t sure if that meant they were brilliant or that they were rubbish; we thought we might be more rubbish.

The maps were cp_gullywash and koth_Lakeside_Final. We’d played Lakeside before and won, so we were quite confident. We hadn’t practiced on Gullywash. We were heartened when, 5 minutes before the start of the game, nE hadn’t made up their minds about their line-up. We’d decided 30 minutes before. This meant that nE were more rubbish than us at line-ups. Go us!

nE told us they hadn’t practiced. Nor of course had we. Joint rubbish.

Once on the server, we did a bit of Trash talking, psyching each other out, nE vs KCaLtL.  It was quickly established that no-one had slept with anyone’s mother. In fact, we were informed, the mother of one of the nE team was a very nice lady who had bought them ice cream at one point. She regularly shopped at car boot sales and here it was agreed by both teams, that some remarkable bargains could be had at these events if one went early enough. I think this  may have been:  at trash talking- rubbish.

After this, play commenced and we won 5 -0 on Gullywash and 3-0 on Lakeside. The games were fun. Despite the results, nE made us work and I think they had a good game as well. So they weren’t rubbish and nor were we.

So goodbye S4 Highlander and hello to S14 6v6 and For No Raisin! After their slightly wobbly performance in S13, they are now in Div 5, probably better at the moment particularly as they have a slightly tweaked line-up including a new scout Dohjan (a reg from the WDG server) who hasn’t had that much experience in 6v6. A season in Div 5 should give them the opportunity to get themselves sorted, refocused , and see what happens. They’ve already been practicing more this past couple of weeks than I’m sure they did most of last season.

It’s credit to them that they’ve stayed together. One of the main features that has stood out for me observing the competitive scene, is how unstable teams are. They form for one season (if that) and then fall apart. Referring to my previous post, I can’t help but wonder if this is one of the consequences of having teams that form just to compete and haven’t grown from a community. It could be that Community based teams are more inclined to stick together and keep on going, with changes in name, line-up etc, but keeping the community in common.

Stop press: FNR! drew in their first game against Player Haters of the Year:  Badlands 1-6; Gullywash 2-1 (winning Gullywash). At least 10 avid viewers on the Twitch stream (a record) were treated to two intense matches yesterday evening. PH seemed to be the stronger team on Badlands with a very effective scout pairing but it evened out on Gullywash which is a less scout friendly map, Power playing the Heavy card.

TF2: Is Comp killing Clans?

“Is it just me or is it harder now to find servers with good people playing?”

Someone asked me that the other night.

And yes, I’d noticed it too. Community servers seem to be disappearing; communities are getting quieter. Take  WDG.  We’ve gone from being able to fill the server almost every evening to just 2-3 hours on a Friday and our active membership has dropped. You used to be able to guarantee a game on NervousEnergy; now it lies empty.

The larger communities seem to be surviving; ones running 8, 12 or 16 servers with a variety  of maps and settings; 24/7 one-map, instaspawn or payload only and with a substantial pool of players. It’s the small clans that only run one or two servers running a standard map rotation that are suffering most.

I’ve been wondering why:

TF2 is dead

Yes, TF2 is less popular than it was but there are still plenty of people playing and starting up. Just doing a random check on players shows a good number with just a few hours of TF2 and Steam stats show tens of thousands are playing daily.

Clans have moved on

True. In WDG, many have now moved on to other games, League of Legends in particular, DOTA2 as well; other clans have experienced the same (Uberium, No Talent: both dead). Real life events also take their toll. This is natural. The few clans that are managing to keep their servers full seem to have retained a sufficiently large core of TF2 players from the early days who are still keen to spend time seeding the server (Trigger Happy Gamers, Hampshire Heavies, Grumpy Old Gits).

Players are different now.

Could this be a thing? TF2 is now f2p. Perhaps this has led to a more casual player base which is generally less interested in making a commitment to the game or investing in Clans, posting to their forums and getting involved. That’s for the oldies.

Quickplay

Is Quickplay a double-edged sword? In the past players needed to use the in-game browser to find servers. They would select using ping, server settings or name. When a player arrived on a server, they’d made a choice at some level. Finding another server was fiddly, so there they’d stay if it seemed decent.

Now, all a player needs to do is click on the Quickplay button. This takes them straight into a game. They know that’s all they’ll have to do next time as well. There’s no need to to favourite a server; they can leave it up to Quickplay. Easy come, easy go. Good community servers are lost amongst the noise of premium servers, one alone (saigns.de) has 136 servers.

The Competitive Game

TF2 comp seems to be more popular than ever at the moment with new people and teams moving into 6v6 and Highlander. Could this have had  an impact?

There’s always been a tendency to move from pub to comp as players got tired of the frustrations of pub games (lack of class balance and teamwork, annoying weapons, crits). However the path used to tend to be casual pub server (e.g Valve servers), clan server (higher calibre of play, main source of team recruitment), comp.  Now there far more ways in to Comp play. There are newbie mixes and many on-line resources for learning. The growth and promotion of Highlander in particular, means that it’s easier to find a way into that and of course Highlander has no class restrictions so you can carry on playing Pyro or Heavy and using crazy weapons, it has been called a form of idealised pub.

So, is that what’s happening? People who want to commit to TF2 are bypassing the Clan/community stage. They’re going straight from  mucking about on a Valve server to joining a Highlander or 6v6 team/mix group because it’s all now so much easier, and then that’s where their TF2 commitment, time and energy goes. I’ve seen it, the standard response now for someone who says they’re tired of random pubs seems to be to go straight and join a lower level HL team or try a newbie mix.

But does it matter if smaller Clans and their dedicated servers disappear? Maybe not. Personally though, I think it would be a shame.  Clan servers bring a richness and variety to the scene. I play on a number of different ones and each has it’s own ‘personality’ made up from the people that play on them. They provide a sense of ongoing community for those that enjoy that sort of thing and, often as not, also provide accessible good games of higher skill outside the context of competition.

Clans have tried solutions. WDG focusses on getting the server filled on Fridays for our Friday Fragfest. I know one has attempted to sponsor a new HL team. Some have special Server Filler Groups (Hampshire Heavies, Rocketblast for their nocrit server); this seems to work well but I’ve noticed it still doesn’t bring the keen beans onto the forums. Perhaps it would help if there was an official forum or similar where TF2 Clans could recruit/advertise but, strangely, there isn’t, though there is for teams. In the end, it’s all about building community but the challenges of that, I think, is another post.

sad0573fc2

Lurve Clans pleeeeze

Handbags in the Round Robin

Well the Round Robin is over and Handbags were flourished with style, if with not total success. In the end, five maps were featured in the tournament; cp_steel, koth_ashville, pl_retawdab, cp_croissant and cp_foundry.

The first three were played in the first round, I’ll give a spoiler here and say we didn’t get to play the last two.  We lost cp_Steel which was no great surprise. We hadn’t practiced it much and it’s a map which can be played using many different tactics, as well as being intrinsically confusing with various doors and routes opening up depending on points capped. We talked through a couple of strategies, but our opponents obviously had too, and had already set up counters, so it was hard to work round them on the fly.

We more-or-less rolled the other team on Ashville. We’d practiced this more and koth maps are pretty straightforward anyway. To be honest, the other team wasn’t very good. We’d rather have played against a stronger team since it was our best map and we would’ve liked to have tested ourselves more (though of course it was nice to win). Mid-game they actually asked us if we’d ever played against a worst team. This of course made us feel a bit bad, so we said we’d played against lots (not sure how true this was) and that they were doing fine; which they were as they did manage some time on the point. I’ve been on pubs where one team hasn’t managed any.

Pl_retawdab (mirrored pl_badwater) was a bizarre experience. We’d practiced it once before and found it totally disorientating. Playing it actually gave me a sensation very similar to motion sickness. You’d find yourself running the wrong way, placing your sentry gun in the wrong direction and just generally feeling totally back to front and upside down. In our practice session we’d played against Equipe and won, but things went less well in the official. This time they’d got a very good sniper with them who more-or-less managed to hold us off last on his own. We’d struggled a little to take the first point, but then had managed to steam through the next ones, so it was annoying.

So that was that, one game won, two lost. An improvement on the last Round Robin. Again, it was fun. We enjoyed the tournament and I certainly enjoyed the scrims we managed to set up together. More would have been good, but most of the Handbags were in other HL teams in both ETF2L and UGC,  and so various officials with those teams, took them away. However, it looks like we’ve managed to set up a nice network of HL contacts amongst us all which is useful and we’ll be staying in touch. Here’s to the next Round Robin.

Handbags to the Breach once more!

Well it’s time for another Reddit Round Robin Highlander Tournament and once more Handbags will be flourished. We’ve a couple of changes in the line-up, but otherwise everything is much the same.

http://steamcommunity.com/groups/eutf2x/members

The maps we’re going to play are cp_steel, cp_foundry and koth_ashville. The last two are fine, though ashville isn’t a map I’ve played much. Cp_steel, as ever, is a bit of a concern. We played it in our last Highlander Season with WDG and though we won the match, I was never quite sure where I should be going. Handbags have scrimmed Steel, and once again, I found myself getting lost spontaneously taking advantage of flanking routes on a number of occasions.

We also scrimmed on ashville and though we lost overall, it was pretty close. We did better than we did at a similar time last season.

Away from Handbags, Swarthy Sean Connery has still only won one match and still my involvement remains light to non-existent. Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty is battling away to schedule matches. So far we’ve had one default win, our opponents had obviously fallen apart beforehand looking at their roster though probably not because of the thought of playing us, and our Gravelpit Victory. Unfortunately, it looks like our opponents for that game didn’t turn up for their following two games, so most likely they’ll drop too. That’ll mean bye bye to those hard won points for us. We’ve been trying to make contact with a third team but have heard nothing. Since they have played no matches so far, I’m not optimistic.

Our best hopes for more actual games probably lie with Facepunch UK (Div favourites) and nervousENERGY Highlander! ne had to reschedule the game we had arranged for last Sunday due to another game they had, but at least both teams are European so won’t have ping and time differences against them.

The most outrageous behaviour EVER seen; a Highlander disgrace

Since my last post I’ve been playing in the UGC league team, Swarthy Spanish Sean Connery, though playing is probably a relative term in this case as I haven’t participated in a single match. Currently we’ve won 1 match and lost 5 so things are not going as well as they might.

However, I did merc as an engie in a practice match with [équipe]  a few weeks ago, asked by one of my fellow Handbags. This was on one of the newer maps, cft_haunt. I’d played on it before with Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty and we’d been completely rolled. We were rolled again this time but during the actual match,  [équipe] lost but still managed a score of 3 – 5 so hopefully the practice was of benefit.

However, during warm-up time; it was here that the outrage happened.

On cft_haunt there is a frog. I informed both teams of this. It was news to [équipe]. They all went to have a look. And it was then, at this moment of vulnerability and trust, that RED spy took the opportunity to backstab every member of the team. While they were looking at the frog. He claimed that it was not his fault, he wanted to look at the frog too, there were too many people in the way. No-one bought it.

It’s fair to say that perhaps I should bear some responsibility. If I had not pointed out the frog, the team would not have rushed over to see, but whatever, it does not subtract from RED spy’s behaviour.

Frog. ctf_haunt. Outrage

Aside from this FNR! have not been doing too well in Season 13 6v6. They have now played all their games and have won 1, lost 9. They’ve escaped automatic relegation to Div 5 because two teams have dropped. Every match seemed to be a replay of insomnia 46; EU vs NA (or to be more precise epsilon vs LG) but never mind. To be honest, bearing in mind how many teams don’t last the season, credit to FNR! for seeing it through.

Finally Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty are ready for Season 4 of Highlander with 3 new members recruited from the community. The line up is now

http://etf2l.org/teams/14648/

This season, it looks like we will be putting in some practice sessions which is good. Last season for most of the games we’d just turn up about half an hour before the match began for a quick run through, and that would be that. I felt this put us at an immediate disadvantage against some of the teams. However, looking at the sub-Division we’ve been placed in, 5C;

http://etf2l.org/leagues/hl-season-4-tables/

and it looks like 3 of the teams are US teams. That could make things complicated as ping issues and time zones may become a problem.

A Return to Lord of the Rings Online; cobwebs are swept

I’ve recently made more of a return to Lord of the Rings Online and have been slowly but surely making my way up through the levels with Lhach, my elven guardian. He is now level 73.

It’s been strange coming back. Since I last played properly there have been a couple of expansions, Rise of Isengard (yes it has been that long) and Riders of Rohan which introduced mounted combat (you get your war steed at level 75; 2 more levels to go for Lhach) and raised the level cap to 85.

They’ve also re-worked the legendary weapon system, changed some of the stat mechanics and names and tweaked a few skills and traits. All of which has left me a little bewildered. It’s not unusual for such changes to be made but normally they’re announced and explained in numerous patch notes, FAQs and developer interviews. Having been away from the game to a greater extent, has meant I’ve missed all of that. I play Lhach as a bit of a min/maxer; I like to make sure that all his equipment maximises his skills. I’ve spent ages trying out different combinations to get the best values. Now I’m very aware that he’s not optimised. A couple of hours in his vault with notes to hand will have to take place at some point.

Cobwebs on patch notes

State of game in Berath’s head

It all goes to show how much you need to know to play the average MMO, much of which MMO players take for granted. We had a thread about it on my kinship forum. There were comments about the complexity of the legendary item system and working out how stats build and fit together however there was an interesting post from someone who had just managed to get her husband to play, and he is a total non-gamer, it was this post that started the discussion off. So far, in her words (thanks Jesriel):

- he can only either walk/run or steer, he always runs into walls and doesn’t get out again.
– to move, steer and fight at the same time is totally impossible
– to move, steer and fight with skills in a sensible order is outright miraculous (her words). And he has only 4 of them so far
– his camera does the weirdest things. Like showing his char directly from above or below, or zooming into 1st person view.
– he doesn’t use skills. Only the one on shortcut 1 occasionally, and the concept of skill cooldowns, focus and other dependencies is absolutely alien to him.
– when he’s lost, he has no idea how to use the map and the minimap and that they essentially show the same thing. Not with all the symbols and colourful circles and arrows and stuff.
– when he has the choice between different quest rewards, he chooses the one with the nicer name.

And he is a very bright guy with a background in physics and mathematics and is a senior program developer

It’s funny how easy it is to forget, how hard gaming can be to someone completely new to the experience.

Moar Highlander team!

Can you be a member of too many Highlander teams? Berath’s Brain Burps thinks no you cannot and to prove the point is now a member of a fourth Highlander team (or fifth if you count the mercing for Cats Don’t Eat Haggis). This team is perhaps the largest Highlander team  in the world and goes under the rather puzzling name of Swarthy Spanish Sean Connery As far as I understand it, I’m back-up back-up engineer so I’m not expecting the demands made upon me to be great.

The first match has already been played (on Lakeside) and won. I was out at the time. The next map is cp_croissant.

All this is happening in the UGC League. The UGC (United Gaming Clans) League is another TF2 League like ETF2L. It has a Highlander League and a 6v6 League and separate divisions for NA teams, EU teams, South American teams, Asian teams and Aus/NZ teams. Swarthy Spanish Sean Connery (team tag mish) is sitting in the lowest EU division, Euro Steel, which makes sense as many of the members are first-time Highlander players.

In other TF2 news, FNR! has started the new ETF2L Season 14 with a loss. FNR! has been seeded in Division 4B; that’s getting to the position where the majority of your opponents know exactly what they’re doing and have practiced. And I’m afraid it’s the not practicing that let FNR! down. For various reasons, the team had had little opportunity to play any scrims or pcws the previous week or so and it showed. The team didn’t seem to gel, particularly on Gullywash, a map that previously hadn’t been a problem (the first map was Badlands), and their opponents consistently got the better of them, mainly the scouts. Practice has taken place for the next game, so hopefully the team will be back on track. Individually skillwise, they’re already there. So anyway, it’s all eyes on tomorrow’s match.

Handbags are bashed but fun was had

Goodness me, I can’t believe how long ago the last post was written. So much has happened!

Well actually that’s not true. Not much has happened at all. Handbags at Dawn entered the Round Robin and didn’t get past the first round. In fact we didn’t win a match though I think we won a couple of rounds in the KOTH viaduct_pro match. It was as expected really. We had some good players in Handbags but as I said after the Show-match, we weren’t winnning conclusively and reliably enough against the teams we were facing. I’m not sure what we needed, certainly more practice together and it didn’t help that in the European Round Robin they changed the maps from Viaduct and Barnblitz which we’d practiced for the showmatch to Viaduct_pro and Barnblitz_pro which we hadn’t practiced at all.

However it was fun and such a strange experience playing in an all-female team with only female voices on Mumble. This was commented on by at least a couple of women, it felt so odd when you’re used to every other voice being male and you being often so much in the minority.

After it all, we didn’t disband the team. People enjoyed playing together and we’ve said that we’ll look to H@D entering similar tournaments in the future. We’ve certainly increased the number of women we each have on our Steam friends lists and I’ve a few more Highlander players that I can call upon should KCaLtL need any mercs if we enter the next ETF2L Highlander season.

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