First Look: Tribes Ascend

First Look: Tribes Ascend

I have had a long-running affair with the Tribes series since Dynamix and Sierra announced it as part of the Metaltech series back in the mid-90s.  I had gotten used to the Sierra Games’ sim, which was based on FASA’s Battletech games, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the switch to a first-person shooter.  After all, my experience with that kind of gameplay back then was limited to iD Software’s Doom, Quake, and of course, the original FPS that I played, Wolfenstein 3D.  Although I might not consider it a first-person shooter, I feel that Descent falls into the same category. The feeling of being in a mech in the original Earthsiege (1994) games was awesome.  I played them off and on, often times I would return for replay value.  Later on, after Tribes was released, they came out with the mech sim game, Starsiege, which featured the same universe/backdrop that the rest of the series does.

Loading screen for Starsiege Tribes

Ah, the good ol’ loading screen for Tribes.

My first entry in playing Tribes was when it first came out.  I played through the solo tutorials, but although you can shoot these dumb bots and get a feel for how the different armor classes work, and jet-packing all around the map.  The very basic aspects of the game are transferred, and then after that, you’re on your own.  The only way to really enjoy the game is to jump on a multi-player server and have fun.  And of course, fun is relative.  The fact is thatTribes is probably one of the most fast-paced FPS games out there, if not the fastest.

Dogfights are quick and utilize a wide array of weapons, from spinfusors (basically, glowing blue discs that impact with a nice-sized damage AoE), to plasma guns and cannons, mortars, mines, grenades, flares, and of course, my favorite… turrets!  The original Tribes came with only three sets of available armor: light, medium, and heavy.  What I always though was the best aspect of playing the game, was the mods… oh, the mods!

My clan (Clan Oni) was very much into two mod types: Rengades and Shifter 1.1/Shifter X.  I wish I had kept all the videos I shot during those days, so I could put then online.  Instead, I did a quick search on YouTube and found the following video that I think adequately shows the various classes from Renegades:

And here’s one from the Shifter mod:

Anyway, I wanted to give you a proper understanding of what Tribes is before I launch into my look at the latest incarnation.  Do we all have a better appreciation for the game, now?

Login screen for Tribes Ascend

The login screen for Tribes: Ascend.

For those of you who don’t want to waste any time, let me just say this: Tribes: Ascend is a worthy successor to the lineage.  After wasting my time with Tribes 2 and feeling better with Tribes: Vengeance, I feel like Ascend is what I had hoped would come next after playing the original for so many years.   It carries on the speed, and picks up some of the better aspects of Vengeance that I thought were great changes (skiing, for one).  Although they do add a lot of the mod changes into the base game, they’ve also integrated some of the ranking systems that we’ve come to expect from our FPS’, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and even Halo 3.

Ascend is a Free-to-Play game that really means it.  While you have the option to pay for Gold in order to unlock more classes, weapons, and add-ons, you can also unlock the same items through gameplay.  I started out a free player before I went VIP, and I did pretty well for myself with the basic weapons and earning experience points.  Gold is the quickest way to get those unlocks, as the ratio of Gold to XP is kind of skewed.  But play enough, you can rack up about 150,000 XP and spend it to unlock a few weapons or classes.

The Thumper

Since I play with my Technician armor the most, I equip this weapon every time and I ended up mastering it fairly quickly. Click on it to see the various bonuses.

Once you’ve acquired the various tools of the game, as you use them, usage allows you to master them.  More exposure to them in the field will elevate the bonuses that you have with each one.  Armor experience unlocks more health, or faster regeneration.  Some of the toys you use, like the light turrets, will have a higher armor class and gain damage bonuses when firing at the enemy.  When I play my favorite, the Technician class, my turrets will allow me to gain a lot of kills as people try to jump into my generator room to take it out in order to shut down the base guns and the radar dish.  If they destroy my prized turrets, I’ll deploy them in a new spot just to keep things interesting.

As with the originalTribes, players recognize defensive and offensive patterns, so you have to vary it or else predictability is a killer.  Just ask the Heavy Armor that insists on taking the same route into your gen room, and is surprised when you set mines down along his skiing path.  Or the light armor that boosts toward your flag and then goes SPLAT against your sudden deployment of a forcefield on the other end.  Those things are like brick walls to them, and given their speed, well… they leave a nice little splotch against the field and then I get the points for flag recovery.

Defending the Generator Room on "Crossfire."

My Technician-class armor character setting up defenses in the Diamond Sword generator room on the “Crossfire” map.

Before, I mentioned how fast the game can be.  Ascend injects nitrous into the speed of gameplay, and seeing some of these guys float in and zoom by, you have to adapt and keep up as much as possible in order to successfully play and give as good as you get.  Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time respawning, and that’s no fun for anyone.  The greatest thing about the game though, is that if you don’t think you can keep up with the speedsters, you can opt to defend the base or the flag through various means.  The game gives points for defense and repairs just as much as kills and captures.  And while everyone else on the game is more interested in taking flags and flying across the map, they’ll need someone to defend against the raiders who’ll baserape like crazy.

Skiing!

One of the best parts of playing is being able to ski!

And they will not hesitate to rack of generator and turret kills, people, trust me!  On certain maps, there are numbers of choke-points for entry, and if you know the maps well enough, you can set up your defenses in the proper areas.  Drop a turret in a spot they won’t see until it’s too late, but then get ready to have it destroyed the next time they come through.  Make sure to set down some motion sensors/detectors to combat those pesky stealth guys, because you won’t see them until it’s too late.  Or even at all… man, they’re sneaky bastards!

Dogfighting out in the field takes on a new dimension with the ability to ski.  Skiing is essentially letting your momentum carry you along the slopes/angles of the map.  If you fire your jetpack at the right time, when you land, should you do so on the downward slope of a hill or a mountain, you will pick up speed with you engage your ski thrusters.

All in all, though, I love this game.  It has mixed everything I loved about the original with spectacular graphics and excellent features.  I found this great video on YouTube that does a great job of portraying what I do on a nightly basis, now (courtesy of Gamespot):

If you’re interested in playing Tribes: Ascend, then feel free to use my referral link to download the game.  I appreciate it!  I’ll leave you with the full set of screenshots from my gameplay, below.

WTF: Feedback

With the show having returned since last September, I was wondering if any of my listeners cared to give me some feedback. When I return, I’m intending on making some possible changes to the format of the show, but I wanted to solicit some advice from the people who basically help make WTF possible: the listeners.

STO: Impressions of Odyssey

STO: Impressions of Odyssey

Last week, Star Trek Online held their second anniversary event.  As I did with the previous year’s anniversary event, I was there waiting in line for the events to begin along with what seemed like everyone else on the game.  This year, however, with the release of the new Free2Play portion of the game, the crowds to even get onto the server were so large that it took more than a few minutes to actually get to the character select screen.  Once you were in, though, you could earn the new class of ship, the Odyssey-class, through a mission pickup right outside of Admiral Quinn’s office, from an NPC.  As soon as the NPC popped for the event, the crowd swarmed this guy and suddenly everyone was off running that mission to test out the newest class to hit the game.

… this is not a recommended class for Tactical or Science officers.

Odyssey with Borg gear

My Odyssey-class USS Bonhomme Richard, with full Borg gear (in-game screenshot).

I want to make one thing clear; there are several different “original” classes of ship within Star Trek Online.  Most of them are variations on the canonical classes, such as the Thunderchild-class (redress of the Akira-class), the Bellerophon-class (redress of the Intrepid-class), and then there are several truly original classes that have no basis whatsoever, such as the Avenger-class and the Dervish-class.  My reactions to the 100% original classes has not been positive.  In fact, although I did use the Dervish for my Tactical Admiral for many months, I only used it because of the benefits rather than the design.  I personally think the Dervish (and the variants) design is lacking in many ways, and honestly believe that Cryptic needs to hire someone who knows Trek a little better before trying to strike out on their own.

The new Odyssey-class is not a Cryptic design.  They opened up a contest a little under a year ago where players like you and me could submit designs for this new class.  The winner was Adam Ihle, which was, quite frankly, the best-looking design out of the others that were submitted to Cryptic.  If you take a look at the link, you’ll see the ones that came in second, third, and fourth… and all I can say is, if they had gone with any of the others… blech.  I think they made the right choice, but Odyssey isn’t without its problems.

I’m going to quote from the website regarding the design and the canonical information they’ve disclosed, so far:

The Odyssey class is the largest vessel ever created by Starfleet. Its massive size makes it very resilient, but its turn rate is reduced by the bulk of the vessel. The Odyssey’s unique split saucer pylon reduces subspace turbulence which allows higher warp speeds and increases the duration the ship can maintain Slipstream Drive. The Odyssey is designed as an extreme long-range vessel, and can operate for long periods of time away from support. Because of this, it is the most versatile cruiser ever developed by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and features a Universal Lieutenant Commander Bridge Offer Station that can by operated by any Bridge Officer class. 

— Stephen D’Angelo, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online.

Odyssey-class orthographically displayed (Adam Ihle/Cryptic Studios)

Click for a closer look at the Odyssey-class design...

Again, I want to stress that this is not a Cryptic design.  But the explanation for the various design choices are nothing short of bullshit.  Okay, granted, Star Trek itself is fictional, but there’s a certain standard of keeping to the established explanations for How Things Work within the universe.  Over time, you have a large number of references to pull from, and I often think that Cryptic is either too lazy to use them or just phones in some of the explanations for why a ship looks like that.

The split-saucer pylon, which is more commonly referred to as the “neck,” is a design element borrowed from an earlier design of the Oberth-class frigate.  The Oberth-class was shown in the form of the USS Grissom from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  This class also uses the same concept, which is kind of cool since its a stylish departure from the normal solid neck look of the Galaxy, Excelsior, Sovereign, and of course, the original Constitution-class starships.

My problem is with the explanation for why this element is used.  I quote from the blog excerpt above, “The Odyssey’s unique[sic] split saucer pylon reduces subspace turbulence which allows higher warp speeds and increases the duration the ship can maintain Slipstream Drive.”

Okay, first of all, what a crock of shit.  That’s like saying that the Space Shuttle’s wings make it easier for it to fly in space.  It doesn’t.  You don’t determine higher warp speeds based on the design of the ship, you base it on the ability of the warp coil to sustain a higher energy output to allow a ship to enter the subspace interfold layer at a higher rate.  You could form a subspace field around a brick and as long as the coils generating the field are solid, you can hit higher warp speeds, no problem.  I think Cryptic needs a lesson in Trek’s mechanics before they approve drivel like this.

… as my engineering admiral… the ship is a match made in heaven.

Bonhomme Richard destroying a Negh'var

Bonhomme Richard packs a punch in combat.

My Trekkie (or Trekker) rant notwithstanding, within the game itself, there are a few hazards I’ve run into with the class during combat.  First of all, this is not a recommended class for Tactical or Science officers.  Tactical officers need maneuverability and DPS.  Science officers get maneuverability from the smaller classes like the Nebula and Intrepid-classes.  The Odyssey is the aforementioned brick: it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it has a really tough hull and can tank like no other class on STO right now.  It does come with a Universal Lieutenant Commander bridge officer station, which makes it usable by Tactical or Science, but the fact that the only Commander-level station is for Engineering seals the deal for me.  I’m only going to use this with my Engineering officer.  I can’t justify switching off my other characters to use this class because there’s just too much of a sacrifice to required abilities within combat and flight.

Playing as my engineering admiral, however, the ship is a match made in heaven. Even though the cruiser lacks the swift handling of the Sovereign-class, this is easily corrected with a Rare (blue) or Very Rare (purple) RCS Accelerator console.  Double them up, if you need to.  Once I installed that console, I found that I could turn as quickly as I could while helming my Sovereign or Galaxy-X vessels.  The only drawback to the Odyssey as an engineer is the loss of the extra tactical slot from my Sovereign-class ship.  Otherwise, it’s still a four-fore and four-aft weapon ship, four ship devices, and a four/three/two on consoles.  It carries +10 to both Shield Power and Aux Power, with a maximum warp of 9.996 (faster than any other ship on the game), and the new Advanced Slipstream Drive will blow past the normal Vice Admiral Slipstream by nearly 30% (Warp 28.00).  The duration of the ASD is also increased; you can fly the entire length of a sector without having to cool down, but once you hit the edge, there’s a two minute cooldown period before you can use it again.  With the addition of the Borg warp drive, the max warp still hits 14.00, so there’s no advantage there.  But for Aegis, MACO, and Omega users, you will see a big increase in warp speed.

Additionally, what makes this class even more of a tank is the additional hull points on top of the standard.  A stock Odyssey comes with around forty-five thousand hull points, but when you add on all your bonuses?  Well, I’m rolling around in STFs with fifty-six thousand-plus hull points.  I’m going toe-to-toe with Tactical Cubes and can hang in a firefight for much longer, especially with all my health buffs and abilities.

I’ve pretty much decided to switch to this class permanently for my engineer.  What I’m looking forward to the most is Cryptic’s class variants for Odyssey, because right now, there’s only one skin available.  But the size of the class provides a big opportunity for Cryptic to make a little money by selling off more ship costumes for it.  I’m very curious to see where they go from here.

And I’m still waiting for my damn Ambassador-class!

Link: Star Trek Online

WTF Show: Short Break

This week I went to the dentist to get my first check-up in quite some time.  My family dentist, who was in his seventies, decided to hang up his shingle a few years ago.  Between that and trying to work out a way to visit the dentist on my busy schedule and somehow overcoming my tendency to procrastinate, I finally got around to making an appointment and heading in.  Unfortunately, the news from my new dentist was not pleasing.  Thus, I will be out of commission for a few weeks as I undergo a series of appointments over the course of the next two to two and half weeks where I will lose my wisdom teeth among other corrective procedures to bring things into a healthy state.

What this means is that the WTF Show will be on a short break until after my last procedure.  I apologize to my listeners, but this is necessary.  Better I be out for a short time than offline forever, which is where things were headed had I not gone in.  But feel free to use this post as the weekly WTF Show post, at the very least… I can respond in text, if not on the air.

Also, don’t forget to head to Japan-A-Radio’s subscribe link and become a subscriber today!  JAR needs your support, now more than ever!

 

What Should I Watch? (Winter 2012 Edition)

What Should I Watch? (Winter 2012 Edition)

I was taking a look at the anime line-up in 2012, and I realized that I don’t really have much of a clue as to what I should be watching.   I mean, the last newest series I watched was Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai, the first part of it.  I really loved it, too.  But that was over a year ago, and I feel like I’ve lost touch in the anime world and I don’t know a whole lot about the series that are coming out this season.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I actually know of only one series I know I’ll be excited for, and that Zero no Tsukaima F.  My buddy, Todd, is a huge fan of Zero and always had been, so I know he’s looking forward to it (if he’s not watching it already).  My former Unwound co-host, Jesse Barredo, recently suggested Ano Natsu de Matteru to me, so I went ahead and placed that on my Crunchyroll queue.  So, I started taking a look at some of the other shows coming out for Winter 2012, and I wanted to get an idea of what suggestions there might be for me out there in blog-land.

Zero no Tsukaima F

I should be watching Zero no Tsukaima from the beginning...

I read through the list and a few titles kind of leapt out at me.  There’s Nisemonogatari, which is the sequel to Bakemonogatari.  I’ve never seen the latter, because I kept waiting around for my pal Dave to spend some time with me to actually watch it.  I have it, I want to see it, but when a friend says, “Hey, don’t watch that without me,” I try to accommodate.  It’s been months, but whatever.  The sequel looks pretty cool, but without having seen the first part of it, I’m not sure if I’ll actually get it.

Another title that caught my eye was Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku.  I know nothing about it, but the images I’ve seen from the series lead me to believe that it’s right up my alley.  All I see is a cute starship captain with an even hotter executive officer/sidekick.  I know that sounds superficial, but look… my eyes are connected to my brain and my brain enjoys looking at women, animated or otherwise.  Half the appeal of anime sometimes is the sexy quality of a character or two that acts like a hook.  This is how the industry makes most of their money.  I’m not immune to it!  Anyone have any information on this, and whether I should be watching or passing?

Another looks a little too creepy for me.

Inu x Boku SS I want to watch, but again, I’m not sure if it’s for me.

Eiga K-ON Movie

After the second season, I don't know if I should be excited to see this or not... (Eiga K-ON!)

And then, I stumbled upon the announcement of the new Eiga K-ON! movie, and after sitting through a few of the episodes that was the second season of that show, I’m not really sure if I’m going to be disappointed or pleased by what I see.  Knowing myself like I do and how much I may bitch and moan, I will most likely end up watching this in spite of my reservations, because I love all-girl rock bands since The Runaways and I think I always will.  K-ON! the first season was nothing short of amazing, and I still watch episodes of it from time to time.  Perhaps they’ll go back to that formula for the film?  Who knows.

In any case, I look forward to hearing from my readers.  What are you watching this season?

Boku no anime no omoide: Den’ei Shoujo

Boku no anime no omoide: Den’ei Shoujo

Around the same time that I was running through Maison Ikkoku, the previously-mentioned Ken Lau introduced me to another series that had piqued my interest.  Maison Ikkoku was a rather bittersweet story and so I guess he felt that since I was really liking it, he should try to pour on another, but much much shorter series with equal parts bitter and sweet, romance and comedy.  What resulted for me was this experience that I’ll always look back at and remember how awesome this show was.  I invite you to come back with me as we take a look at Video Girl Ai (Den’ei Shoujo). (more…)

SOPA, PIPA, and Me

SOPA, PIPA, and Me

“You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: ‘With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.’ Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Drumhead.” Written by Jeri Taylor.

STOP SOPA

We need to put a stop to SOPA and PIPA. (image lifted from gas2.org)

Wednesday, many freedom-loving and liberty-conscious sites went black. It was a voluntary blackout in protest of Congress putting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) on their domestic legislative agendas. Sites that joined the blackout included Wikipedia, Reddit, and the entire Cheezburger network. Google posted a large, attention-grabbing banner on their front page, and urged visitors to sign a petition that would be sent to Congress on their behalf. Also, this blog went black to stand in solidarity with the other thousands of sites that did the same. Not that anyone missed much; to be honest, this blog is so low-traffic. But if even one person who visited managed to contact their congressional representatives on the issue, then going dark for those twenty-four hours was entirely worth it. Besides, it gave me a chance to use the time to perform upgrades and design changes without the need to down my site. Let’s face it, even in the face of crushing legislation, I’m still always going to be a system administrator at heart.

Should you have been avoiding all news and press yesterday and the day before, and you still don’t know what SOPA and PIPA are, allow me to educate you with this awesome video from AmericanCensorship.org:


PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

By the way, my favorite part of the above video is when they use Justin Bieber as the pawn of evil under the “Entertainment Industry” umbrella. Priceless. Also, I want to post another video, this time The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart manages to deftly present the SOPA/PIPA issue with the usual comedic flair.

I did my part by reaching out to my Congressman and both Senators on Wednesday and Thursday. I called my congressman’s office here in the city, and I emailed both senators and have been posting on their Facebook walls and tweeting in reply to their accounts. Thankfully, my congressman has been against SOPA since Day One. Unfortunately, both my Senators are being asshats and apparently ignoring the outcry of their constituents in continuing to support PIPA. What’s appalling is that in spite of the protests and calls, emails, tweets, and other methods of expressing their displeasure, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) is not only ignoring us, but fast-tracking the bill for a Senate vote. As of this writing, the tally is 41-59 in favor of passing PIPA.

The unfortunate part of this equation is that while I did nothing to lift a finger to help re-elect Senator Dianne “The RIAA/MPAA’s Puppet” Feinstein, I did vote for and contribute money to Senator Barbara Boxer’s campaign. Now, I’ve always disliked Feinstein; her politics and mine have only had a passing familiarity at best. Boxer, on the other hand, up until now, we’ve been in lockstep for the most part, which is why I wanted to do all I could to help her get reelected in 2010. I’m regretting that right now, especially since she’s gone quiet on the issue at a time when we need our legislature to sit up and listen to the people they claim to represent.

I’m not wanting to draw a line in the sand on this one, but it seems to me that this is just another chip away at the freedom of expression that’s supposed to be protected in the Bill of Rights. In fact, I was withholding my precious free time and financial support for the Obama/Biden campaign in 2012 until I read that he was finally coming down on the right side of the issue. I’ve already signed up to volunteer again for his re-elect. If Boxer votes to pass PIPA, I will actively campaign against her in 2016 and push for a primary challenger at the nominating convention in Sacramento. Not that I have any political clout whatsoever, but this is one of those issues that I feel will have lasting and possibly irreparable consequences against what it means to be an American, and more concretely, affects my ability to thrive in this industry as I have been doing so since 1997.

Both bills threaten the way business is conducted in my industry. If a startup begins to remote threaten another, more-established business’ sales, they can sue under PIPA or SOPA to shut down their website… with NO due process. This would not only hinder any new business’ chances, but the entire market will adjust to a point where investing in any startups in the tech industry become riskier than it was before the bill’s passage. This means less startups, less jobs, and should I ever need one… I could possibly be screwed. So, while I want to keep pursuing this as a high-minded issue, there’s a real hit to my bottom line, here. I’ve worked for seven different startups in the last thirteen years; some have failed, some were successful, some were bought-out. These bills could really sink a startup before it even has a chance to let the free market decide what to do with it, and that’s a real shame for everyone.

Imagine if Facebook were sued out of existence by mySpace using PIPA? I know it sounds crazy, but under that bill, it would be easy to make it happen.

This is one of those times where if you don’t care now, you will care very much later, if it becomes law. And then, all that’ll stand between the net you know now and the net the Entertainment Industry wants… is the Supreme Court.

“A man once said this, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.'”

The West Wing, “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” Written by Aaron Sorkin.