2013
02.02

Final Fantasy XI Still Sucks: A Review

I had been curious about how Final Fantasy XI (FFXI) had been doing when Steam put it on sale for ten bucks. I decided to pick it up and check it out. This is my tale…

Ff11_logo

FFXI still sucks. While they have made levels 1-20 a bit easier and quicker to attain, overall, the game continues to be a poorly designed, disappointing MMO and member of the Final Fantasy family of games.

I had first started playing FFXI back in its beta days. Several friends and I spent countless hours playing the game. I don’t think, during the beta, that I ever left the immediate area around San d’Oria. I could barely stay alive, something that continued to happen even after the game was launched in North America.

High orc fashion is the double fanny pack.

High orc fashion is the double fanny pack.

It took me forever to reach the mid-20′s, all solo, and moving around any map was an exercise in futility. God forbid a stronger mob should target you. Your only escape would be to pray that you reach a map exit point in time (unlikely) before they killed you (likely). It was not unusual to see some hapless adventurer running in fear of his or her life while a trail of orcs were behind them, whacking precious hit points away with their rusty, tetanus-filled axes of doom. It was a funny thing to watch until it happened to you. And then you’d toss up your hands in frustration because Square Enix, the game’s designer, failed to design mob AI with a range before they’d return to their spawn area. Running from place to place was, and still is, an exercise in futility.

Unlike Blizzard, who’s World of Warcraft is a bit younger, Squeenix has failed to do any really solid re-evaluation of the game’s design. Quests and missions (yes, they are separate entities) take a lot of time and effort to find. Essentially, you are either stuck talking to every. single. NPC you come across, or forgo participating in the game’s rich storyline and try to play the game map by map without context. Unless you go to a Web site and write down the names and locations of quest-giving NPCs, you are shit out of luck.

Some FFXI players, especially modern-day gamers, may take issue with FFXI‘s menu system. The game was designed to be played primarily on PlayStation 2′s (the initial market was JP), and was later adapted to North America and PC’s, with PS2′s hard drive with FFXI pre-installed at a later date. The menus, therefore, are exactly the look and feel you’d have with a Final Fantasy game. If you are old-school FF gamer, this will not bother you in the least.

What will bother you are the absolutely draconian travel and inventory systems, the absolute worst I have ever experienced in any game I have ever played. Travel is by foot, for the most part. If you don’t have a chocobo license (available after you do a death run through some tough maps to Jueno for a quest), you can rent one for 15 minutes at a time (chocobos with a license = 30 minutes). But if you are young, weak, solo, and broke, get ready to build some calluses and get blisters on your feet because it’s a long trek between the nearest city and wherever it is you want to go.

Travel in FFXI sucks. But these airships are really gorgeous.

Travel in FFXI sucks. But these airships are really gorgeous.

There are “home points” that you can bind yourself to scattered around cities and the countryside. If you’ve couriered supplies to an outpost, you may be able to teleport to and from these locations from your city of residence. You can also use warp spells to return to a home point. Or you can die. Death automatically returns you to the home point you last bound your avatar to. This can be a convenient way to travel, but can be extremely annoying if you’re trying to go to a home point in the middle of one map but die and wind up a map or more away from your goal. That Squeenix has failed, after all these years, to improve their travel system is an offense to gamers.

(Note: the above doesn’t mention sailing ships nor airships, but that’s because I haven’t ridden either, yet, this time around. Mind, I haven’t even rode on nor earned my chocobo license).

Inventory is just as bad, You are limited to carrying 30 items on you, and inventory slots are taken up by your equipment. Since vendors aren’t abundant in the lands of Vanadiel (outpost vendors will only sell to you if your country is in control of the area), this means you either need to keep very few items in your inventory or simply give up on accruing goods to sell on the auction house, which is how the good money is made.

Auction Houses are one of the few places you'll still run into people in FFIX.

Auction Houses are one of the few places you’ll still run into people in FFIX.

Speaking of the auction house (AH), it’s the worst I’ve ever used in any MMO. You are limited to selling only seven items at a time, have to remove sold items from a list of good you’ve sold, and then run to the nearest mog house to collect your money and unsold items. If you want to find items to purchase, you need to figure out where the item is listed in some sub-menu. There is no search feature. I simply plug an item name into Google and look up where I can find the item in the AH so that I don’t have to suffer long bouts of trial and error.

One thing I do like about FFXI‘s AH is the price history feature. This can help you figure out how much an item normally sells for, which is useful, whether you are buying or selling.

What amuses me most is FFXI‘s economy. It’s probably the most stable I’ve ever experienced. Back when I was playing eight or so years ago, stacks of crystals (used for crafting) would sell for 3-5k gil. They still sell for that amount, and most everything I used to buy through the AH back in the day sells the same amount they did years ago, too.

This is also true for player stores, a unique economy feature in FFXI. In Ultima Online, you can set up NPC vendors on your property to sell goods for you. In FFXI, you can sell items directly through your backpack to other players. It is not unusual to walk around a city passing by a number of afk players selling goods (there’s no idle time-out in FFXI), or to browse through some stranger’s backpack somewhere in the middle of nowhere looking for a deal. Amusingly, you rarely get a better deal from a player than you can in the AH, at least in my experience.

I also am not a fan of crafting in FFXI. While it is true that FFXI has a very deep recipe system, I find that crafting really suffers from the lack of inventory space. Out in the field, crafting goods such as sheepskins, logs and ores are not stackable, so unless you go hunting for basic materials in the buff or craft goods as you get materials, you may find yourself buying raw materials in the AH or running between your house and the material source rather frequently.

Fishing is another disappointment, especially if you are a low-level character. Due to botting, Squeenix, rather than designing a better fishing system, severely limits the number of fish you can catch in a 24-hour period to 10 if you are under level 20 or haven’t logged in over a two-week period. This restriction is brutal for cash-strapped newbs, and the limitation design shows that the designers at Squeenix are lazy.

Of course, this is already a given. After 10 years, they’ve failed to re-evaluate the game, failed to look at the current market to help inspire themselves into improving the game, and seem to be complacent with their poorly designed MMO. To be honest, I’m surprised FFXI is still around after all these years, especially since Final Fantasy XIV has been out for a while. FFXI is horrible if you want to solo and are the kind of player who enjoys ambient social environments, the inventory system sucks, exploration is hampered to the point of meaninglessness, crafting is ultimately so-so, PVE is boring… is there anything at all that I actually like about the game?

I also like goblins, the cutest mobs in the game.

I also like goblins, the cutest mobs in the game.

There is one thing: they allow you to play in windowed mode.

When FFXI was first released, the game could only be played in full-screen mode. As a multitasker, this was the bane of my existence. Alt-tabbing, if I remember correctly, would log you out of the game, and it forced me to keep notes about recipes and quests on scraps of paper and in notebooks. At one point I had to purchase the official guidebook so I could keep all my information in one place. (You know, I bet if I still had that guidebook, there’d be little changed to the basic systems of the game and I’d get along just fine!)

Full-screen was to prevent PC users from cheating. Somewhere down the road, Squeenix came up with a fix for that, and the client will automatically log you out of the game if it suspects that you’re doing something nefarious. Since you can play in windowed mode, you can multi-task as much as you want. It seems silly to point out windowed mode as a major improvement to a game because it is so common place, but full-screen mode really made me feel restricted in Vanadiel; windowed mode makes me feel a little bit better about the game.

By the way, don’t ever ask me about the horrible, torturous account creation system from hell. Whatever team designed this patchwork pathetic excuse of a system deserves to have fire ants shoved up their ass for eternity. Whomever you are: I hate you.

2012
06.07

sometimes i write poetry

WHITE IN EL BARRIO (OR: BLANCA EN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE HISPANIC PEOPLE RESIDE)

when she was alive we’d do all
that barrio shit
LaGuardia Houses with
broken rusted needles crunching
underfoot,
or the other side of Delancey
crawling over broken bricks of
lost tenements sharing spaces
with dead rats and
transvestite prostitutes nodding
at the sun.
creaky dark stairs or dirty elevators–
it didn’t matter which
cos at the end of the
journey
always the same old apartment–
different roaches–
the air vibrating with passionate
novelas on Telemundo,
the air stale with weed and
adobo rice in giant pots
mixed with the occasional pea and
dead fly and
week-old pollo
candles seeping wax through
cracked glass
betraying Mary with obvious tears
and the roaches, they
would dance around the flames
to the rhythm of the guy beating
his puta but two floors above us and
on the other side of the landing.
dying luz in corners
next to lonely beds
forgotten prayers, but still alive,
flickering a final breath
against the liquid odds.

and on every floor, through
every door and in every window
in el barrio
the same silent eyes would stare
in wonder and swallowed fright
looking for home.

2012
01.25

When I got laid off at CCP, I was devastated. Not just because I was leaving a company I loved, and not only because I would no longer work with some of the most talented, creative people I’ve ever known. I knew that I would have to, for an indeterminate amount of time, have to leave the video game industry. I live in New York City, and surprisingly, the video game industry here is quite small. Many people scratch their heads about this, because everyone knows that big companies like Atari are headquartered in New York City. Those big companies don’t design games here; these are their corporate and marketing offices. They usually have studios in California, Austin, London, Seattle, etc. handling the creation of games. The companies that do make games are very small studios, and most of them are making casual or social games which don’t need a community development/management expert (I disagree with this, and I strongly believe social games desperately need Community, but that’s an argument for another day).

What I really want to talk about is: while I lament that right now I can’t work directly in video games, I can still be a part of the gaming industry indirectly. And that makes me a happy sword-wielding, arrow-in-the-knee guarding, gamer geek. I can help cool, independent developers develop awesome games that will push gaming into awesome directions with microdonations through Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a site that enables creative people to network and seek funding for whatever projects they are working on. A creative can allow for a variety of different tiers of support for their project, each with their own reward. Creatives can then send updates to their project’s supporters. It’s a very useful and efficient system, and some pretty awesome projects in a variety of different media and industries have been able to take off due to the generosity of microdonators.

If you’re a regular GamaSutra reader, you may have seen a few mentions here and there about Kickstarter and independent game development. They named one of the Game Changers of 2011 in a recent article. The overall feeling is that Kickstarter is a good thing™, and I don’t think many would dispute that. That is why I’m taking my meager free bucks and pledging support to some games I think are interesting. (But also because I’ll get a copies of awesome games!)

Metagame
I learned about Metagame just as they reached their funded date, so couldn’t pledge my support through Kickstarter. That meant I kept an eye on the official Web site to see when the game would be sold to users.

Metagame: Videogame Edition

Metagame, developed by Local No. 12, is a card game for two or more players. The goal: arguing and debating with your fellow participant about culture. It’s that simple. There are currently two editions of the game: Videogame, and Culture.

What attracted me to the game was that it was ironic. I also have an interest in the design of non-video games. One of the designers is also Eric Zimmerman, who not only teaches game design at NYU Game Center, but co-authored the excellent Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals textbook.

Forge Quest
I have always loved old school-style games; they were the mainstay of my early teen years. I’m also a big fan of sandbox games. Forge Quest brings these two elements together.

Forge Quest: A Sandbox Action RPG

Forge Quest has met and exceeded its funding goals. Because it has raised over $10,000 USD, they will also create a Mac OS X version of the game.

What attracted me to the game was the opportunity for adventure. Of course, I can’t help but compare it to Minecraft, which I’ve played not to build things but to explore and find resources. You can learn more about Forge Quest by visiting their official site.

For the Win
I first learned about For the Win from an article Cory Doctorow wrote on boing boing.

For the Win!

For the Win is a tile-based game that gets its inspiration from Internet memes. Ninjas, zombies, pirates, monkeys, aliens… how can this game not be awesome!

As of this writing, For the Win is very close to meeting its fundraising goals. But you don’t have to wait for the game to be produced if you’re a backer; you can print out the tiles and rules and start playing right now.

2012
01.23
Tumblr Pinterest

Tumblr vs. Pinterest:

I’ve been a Tumblr user for a while, using it to curate my Global Thermonuclear War microblog, which, like most Tumblrs, focus on one specific topic. I’ve recently started using Pinterest, which allows me to showcase things I like on a variety of different topics of my choosing. Let’s take a look at what each microblog network brings to the table.

Tumblr

Founded in 2007, Tumblr is a microblogging and social media site. Here’s what you can do with it:

  • Sign up and create one or more microblogs. That’s right, you can create as many sites as you want under one user account.
  • You can fully customize your microblog yourself, or use one of many themes (there are both free and paid themes available for you to choose from), with a click of a button, and maybe some hand-coding if you’re up for it.
  • Posting is easy. You can either use the Tumblr dashboard (more on that below) or use the bookmarklet if you want to push something you find on the Web to your microblog.
  • You can easily queue your posts, although sometimes things get broken at Tumblr and your entire queue can be posted in one shot. This has happened to me on several occasions where 20 or more items I had queued up posted when they shouldn’t of have. Queuing is good if you are running a themed blog and want to publish content at regular intervals without having to work in spurts.
  • There are two ways you can have content from your favorite Tumblr blogs pushed to you: if you’re a Tumblr user, simply follow the blog; if you’re not a Tumblr user, or prefer not to use the Tumbr dashboard, you can subscribe to the RSS feed of the microsite. If you are a Tumblr microblogger, you’d like people to follow your microblog because then you can get some idea of how many people find what you do interesting. You loose that information if people subscribe via RSS unless you set up your feed with a third-party feed site.
  • You can ask a Tumblr user questions via his or her microblog if they have that feature enabled. The microblogger can push your question and their answer to the site easily via the dashboard.
  • You can display who follows your microblog on your microblog’s homepage, if you wish. If you don’t, that’s okay, too, but some people have egos.
  • If you like a particular post, press a button to like it. If you want to republish (called “reblog” in Tumblrspeak) the content on your own microblog, press a button to republish it. Each like and republish is listed in the comments section of the original post.
  • If you want to allow users to discuss posts, you’ll have to go to a third-party system like Disqus, create an account there, and then add their code to your microblog. Otherwise, your post commenting will be limited to likes and reblogs.
  • The Tumblr dashboard is a very powerful tool. It not only allows you to read Tumblr microblog posts in a blog format (meaning, single column ordered by time), but post to your microblog(s) by content type, arrange your queue, answer user questions (see previous bullet point) and control your Tumblr account. You can also access each of your Tumblr microblogs via the dashboard.

I prefer using RSS to the Tumblr dashboard when following a Tumblr site. This is because I’m a heavy RSS reader, but I also find the Tumblr content viewer portion of the dashboard to be bland, especially when you consider that there’s a lot of great content to be seen. Here’s what the dashboard looks like on my account. And your account. On everyone’s account. The Tumblr dashboard is not customizable.

The Tumblr Dashboard

I don’t actually mind fixed-width, even though I use a very large screen resolution (1680×1050). I’m pointing this out because Pinterest handles content display differently.

The Tumblr microblogging model is heavily interest by your standard blog model. People want to share content with others, they publish the content, others look at it (if they know how to find it… Tumblr isn’t great at giving people the ability to explore what others are publishing, I don’t think).

Pinterest

Pinterest, founded in 2010, takes microblogging in a different way, with a focus more on the visual than text-based content. Here’s what you can do with Pinterest:

  • Sign up and create your Pinterest account.
  • Unlike Tumblr, where you can create multiple sites, in Pinterest, you can create multiple boards. Each board can have its own topic or theme of your choosing. They will even give you a few boards that you can work with (e.g. design ideas or fashion) when you create your account.
  • Based on what interests you tell them you have, they will suggest users who share similar interest and suggest that you follow one or more of their boards. In other words: they are trying to encourage you to reach out to strangers based on the same things that you may like.
  • Items that you want to share with others are called “pins,” and you can create these pins either through a bookmarklet or through the Pinterest UI. When you add your pin, you have to not only decide which board to pin to (and it can only be one board), but you must give it some sort of text. It’s probably best to be somewhat descriptive so that others can find it. You can then tweet your pin on Twitter, or share your finds on Facebook.
  • You can see what you and whomever you follow has pinned and where they pinned it on your Pinterest homepage.
  • You can view whatever activity your friends have done, view who is following you, and see if anyone has liked or repinned your content. Repinning is the same thing as Tumblr’s reblogging feature.
  • It is extremely easy to see what other people have pinned, either by topic or by, well, everything.
  • As a Pinterester, you do not have any customization abilities. You are pretty much stuck with their layout and color scheme.

Unlike Tumblr, Pinterest takes a very visual approach to sharing content with users. This is what my main Pinterest page looks like:

The main Pinterest page is visually stimulating, with most of the focus on image rather than text

It’s no surprise that Pinterest would take the visual approach: the content it wants users to focus on is imagery, not text. Your eye is drawn around the page, and whatever the Pinterester wrote along with their pin barely registers.

Apps

Both Tumblr and Pinterest have iOS apps. Both are mostly focused on bringing you content from other users, and are absolutely shitty when it comes to allowing you to push content to their respective sites.

Overall

Tumblr is very good for bloggers. Pinterest is very much a visual microblogging site a la Twitter. Each have different community focuses, and if they can come up with sustainable business models, they will serve their communities well. I am very interested in seeing how they will grow their respective platforms (Tumblr hasn’t really over the years, I don’t think, but that’s okay as they’ve a really solid foundation already).

Update: According to Gizmodo, Pinterest is Tumblr for women.

2012
01.23
iPad and Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire and iPad

I’ve been using a first generation iPad since Fall 2010, and am a new Kindle Fire user. I’m absolutely in love with my iPad, and the jury is still out regarding the Kindle Fire. While my tablet use is mostly limited to one product, I do have some thoughts on tablets overall.

They are wonderfully convenient.
Laptops are great for working on the go (for the most part, at CCP I had a monster of a laptop that was so huge (but very gaming powerful) I almost needed a suitcase to carry it around in when I traveled. On-the-go with this laptop was not convenient at all). My desktop? I can’t even lift that sucker.

Tablets are even better when it comes to use convenience. Why am I addicted to my iPad? Because I can sit at my desk and use it with it in my lap with my feet propped up. I can use it in bed with it propped up on my legs, are when rolled over on the side. I can use it when I’m on the shitter. I can take it anywhere in a reasonably sized bag, or even put it in my back pocket.

I don’t recommend using it on the subway, however, unless you’re the kind of person trying to see if you can become a new crime statistic. Tablets aren’t just convenient for the end user, but they can be easy to steal for the criminal, too.

They increase the possibility that I will explore or purchase new content.
I’m a big e-book reader (more convenient than reading books). I’m not too big on watching television or movies, but if I were, Netflix is there to let me watch them (if I had an account, which I no longer do… because I’m not too big on watching television or movies).

Apps can push content I want (the New York Times app is my most used app; I rarely ever went to the NYT site, but the app I use several times a day), entertain me via well-designed games, make me more proficient with productivity apps, or let me keep tabs on whatever it is I want to keep tabs on.

I am more likely to spend money on new content using my tablet than I am on my computer because my tablet is wonderfully convenient.

To me, those are the two big bonuses of tablets. Convenience and content. It’s why I use my iPad all the time, and a big reason why I dropped to C notes on the Fire (so I can access Amazon Prime content) even though I already owned a Kindle e-book reader. But the more I think about it, there is more bad than good with regards to tablets, and the convenience that I so love may not be so convenient in the long run.

They are closed systems hardware-wise.
Want to upgrade? Need to fix a component? You need to, most likely, purchase a new tablet. In my PCs and laptops (to a degree), I can upgrade a component or replace a faulty one with a new one. I can add new components, either internally (new HDD, new soundcard, new RAM modules, etc.) or externally via USB. With a tablet, you have no hardware control except to say, “I want my widgetWidget to have wifi and 69G, 16 gigs, and that sexy cover that smells industrial,” while pressing the “buy now” button on some Web site.

They are offensively closed systems software-wise.
You buy a tablet, you are married to whatever OS is installed on it.

You buy a tablet, you are limited in what software you can install (unless you root it or hack the OS), and not only are you limited in what software you can install, there are gatekeepers who determine what is and what is not appropriate for your device. In some cases, you can’t easily put your own content on your device. You may have to sideload somehow, if that’s even possible. For iOS, you might be able to upload your content to a specific app via iTunes, but you won’t have easy access to that file unless you have it sitting somewhere else, like your computer. Why? Because iTunes puts the content into the app itself!

Not all content is accessible to you. Want to look at a Web site that uses Flash? Sucks if you’re using iOS. Want to watch a video linked to on a blog? You might not be able to because your tablet can’t play that file format, and you can’t install the codecs for it because you are  limited in what software you can install.

What’s even worse? DRM. You will most likely have the majority of your content controlled under DRM. Why is this “even worse”? Because DRM limits you to certain technology. That Kindle book you just finished, that song you purchased by your favorite band, will be DRM-protected. Don’t think this is a bad thing because it protects content creators? What happens when Apple goes under? What about if Amazon gets out of the e-book industry? What happens if the content creator or content distributor decides that they no longer want you to have the content you purchased? Think I’m crazy? It’s happened before, and will happen again.

You are not in control.
Not really. You are the credit card to your new, sexy toy, and that’s about it. How’s that feel, Consumer?

At the end of the day, convenience isn’t really convenient, and tech companies have more control over your device and content than you do. Millions of people have purchased or will purchase a new tablet and, for the most part, they will be unaware about how much control they do not have. If we, as tablet consumers, are not careful, we will be giving tech companies and content creators much greater control over the content we consume and how we consume it. This could be bad in the long run, especially as we, as content consumers, kick and scream our way towards free culture.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on my Tiny Tower.

Update: 29% of Americans now own a tablet or reader device. (source)

2012
01.21

port authority

2012
01.01

tom’s

2011
12.31

new year’s eve

2011
12.30

a tree grows in queens

2011
12.29

study in freaky cat