Frontier Update #10: Time To Mature

I’ve been keeping a very close eye on all the news leading up to The Taken King, and while I’ve been pleased with what has been presented, I find I can’t bring myself to buy in.

Will I continue to play Destiny at this juncture? No.

I watched the Twitch reveal. TTK looks great, and Bungie seems to be not just correcting some (not all) of the narrative-killing choices they made in the final year before launch of vanilla Destiny, but also appear to really be taking player criticism to heart. That all said, I can’t justify the price at this time. Beyond that, I simply don’t crave it in the way I feel I should.

Am I giving up on Destiny? No.

I know there are millions of people who will be playing TTK so Destiny 2 in 2016 is a pretty sure thing, given that IPs of this nature and profitability don’t exactly spring up often. TTK will prove to Bungie (and Activision) that the narrative-driven game that we all wanted will move product just as much – if not more than – the competitive-focused game we were sold last year. At the same time, having player actions be a much more determining factor for loot and progression will prove to not detract from the game’s day-to-day longevity. From there, Destiny 2 has a decent chance to become the game vanilla Destiny was intended to be.

I also expect Destiny 2 to ditch PS3/Xbox360 support. This is a good thing, as the majority of technical hurdles that we’ve had to contend with in the current iteration of Destiny can be traced back to that support. Creative programming can only take Destiny so far and by now I don’t think it’s silly to suggest that the “next-gen” consoles of Xbox One and PS4 have become “current-gen”.

In essence, I’m giving Destiny time to mature.

So, I’ll continue to keep an eye on Destiny and hope that Destiny 2 will be an offering that fully rekindles my desire for this IP.

Back to writing.

Frontier Update #4 – Trials and Tribulations

First update of 2015! Today I turn the ripe old age of 32 and I’ve gotta say we’re chugging along nicely. I figured it’s as good as time as any to connect to my readers and share.

First and foremost, THANK YOU!!!

Thank you for the reads, clicks and subscriptions. I put a few hours of my life into this blog every week and while the process is its own reward, I can’t be more thankful for your readership and dedication.

Blogs like this are kind of a bygone medium in gaming culture since everyone famous in the Destiny fanbase is on Youtube and Twitch. I’d consider doing the same but my rig died on me a few months back and I have not had the change to rebuild so video editing isn’t possible at the moment.

That all said it’s been a challenge getting the word out about this thing. I’ve found what groups I can on facebook and I’m bugging who I can over Twitter (even going so far as to use Hootsuite to schedule tweets). I’ve also been copying Frontier chapters over to FanFiction.net for those who read stuff there (dug up my old account and found a Naruto fanfic I once worked on. Nostalgic…).

Let’s talk about the fiction! We’ve got acts 03 and 04 out in the wild and the response has been generally positive.

In a fashion, these two acts are meant to play off each other and push at the boundaries of the world. Act 03 was engineered to show fireteam Warden in a win scenario while 04 has them defeated. While I’m sure Bungie wants you to believe that your personal character in the game is capable of saving the world all on his/her own, that’s just not reasonable or feasible from a storytelling perspective like mine. You’ll find that I’ll be taking great care to balance virtue with flaw, ability with limitation.

Act 03 was born out of perhaps the hundredth time I ran the Winter’s Run strike. It’s one that I enjoy more than others. As my friends and I were chatting and we came around that corner to see Winter’s ketch just sitting there it just dawned on me that after we kill this Archon Priest that Cayde-6 seems so concerned about, maybe we should swing back and take the ship! I mean, we did kill off a sizable chunk of the crew as well as their Kell in a story mission, right? The story just snowballed from there.

I wanted to expand not on the guardian powersets, but on their use and implementation. It’s beholden on me to see what limitations the story imposes versus what limitations the game mechanics do. I think that’s very important to differentiate going forward, and play a bit with concepts. My understanding of the lore, science and fantasy/superhero storytelling lets me do this easily.

There was also a Vault of Glass run where everyone in the party screamed “GUARDIANS MAKE THEIR OWN FATE!” during Time’s Vengeance, which is an in-game message you get telling you basically to hit Atheon with everything you got. That inspired chapter 08, which was purely a lead-in to the rest of the act but needed to be interesting on its own. Lastly, some creative feedback I got from some friends let me know that it may have been difficult to get a grasp on Telemica’s character, so during this act I let her sensibilities shine through as much as possible.

Act 04 was definitely the hardest act to write thus far. Writing action scenes is certainly not something I feel proficient in yet and I surprise myself when things actually come out somewhat coherent. Small scenes I can handle, but I needed this scene to feel big and chaotic. Supplying enough detail without it getting verbose was a delicate balancing act that required me to reference some other works. Chapter 14 took a lot longer than usual to draft and even longer before I felt comfortable posting. Oddly enough, I’ve gotten some feedback that it was my best chapter yet, so perhaps all that fretting counted for something.

At this point we’re fast-approaching a multi-act story arc that I have planned which will compose the core story I want to tell. I have three more acts to get out there and then you may not see anything for a while. Consider it a sabbatical of sorts. I assure you that I will be working on stuff, but for my own sanity I need to take the time to make it right. I hit the ground running when this blog launched but I feel that if I rush through this next phase of the story chapter to chapter, it’ll suffer for it. I’ll do my best to post other stuff along with updates and I hope you’ll understand.

Speaking of the other stuff, we started two new segments on the blog! Exotic Concepts and (soon to launch) Lore Breakdown (title may need some work).

Exotic Concepts is a fun little exercise where we come up with new exotic weapons and armour. I say “we” because after I posted the first one, I got great responses from readers who had their own ideas for exotics and wanted me to give those ideas a full and proper treatment. I have quite a few of them being drafted and they’ll be coming out soon.

Lore Breakdown will involve me basically decoding grimoire cards into lore that can be easily digested. Is Crota really the “son” of Oryx? What makes the Vex so much more dangerous than the other aliens? I have not quite figured out exactly how I want to present these, but while I do, please let me know what parts of the lore you’d like explained. The segment will be that much better if I’m answering questions you have, rather than questions I think you may have.

There are also the random other posts I throw up. Some are actually about the game and what’s going on with that. Others are videos of Cap and I playing in the Crucible. I try and present a variety of content if possible. If there’s anything you’d like to see, let me know and hopefully I can make it happen. I try not to do the same news as everyone else (supposed leaks, patch news and such) because I get the feeling you don’t need or want yet another source of that stuff. Still, if you’re looking for my personal take on such things, I can be easily compelled to start covering news.

There’s also Twitch gameplay. I’m curious if any of my readers would be interested in playing and engaging with me live. I can put out notifications over Twitter and maybe record and post the sessions if I can figure out how to get the voice to capture. Let me know if you’d like this to be a thing.

PAX East is coming up at the beginning of March. I don’t expect anything Destiny-related to be there but I’m hoping there will be. I may just go completely off the rails and become a general gaming blog for that weekend.

Oh yeah, I still play the game from time to time. I try and complete all the weekly content and I’m still seeking a Hawkmoon, Vex Mythoclast and a MIDA Multi-tool. I’ve mostly focused on my lv31 warlock due to time constraints and I’ve just bought a FWC bond for him.

I don’t get a lot of links from search engines and such, which means this blog’s humble popularity is mostly thanks to word of mouth. If this was Youtube I’d ask you to like and subscribe for free stuff, but that’s not really possible for me in this format. Still, I’d really appreciate it if you spread the word about this thing that I do. Hopefully someday I can figure out how to give back in a more tangible way. I may not always openly ask for feedback, but it’s always more than welcome. Each and every comment fills my heart with joy and gets my utmost attention, so please feel free to engage me.

That should be pretty much it. Fingers on triggers, keep moving.

Sparrow Racing: Options and Challenges

Sparrow racing. How Bungie didn’t think we’d want to race vehicles as cool as sparrows competitively is truly a wonder. While the concept is simple enough, proper execution requires quite a bit of work.

Let’s start with the sparrows themselves. In their most simple form, racing games require vehicles that differ in a variety of performance factors. Speed, handling, acceleration, etc. Sparrows have only one variable and beyond that, they all perform exactly alike. For a competitive race to occur, sparrows would need the ability to overtake each other based on driver style and ability. Sparrows in their current form just don’t work.

For sparrow racing to ever happen, sparrows would have to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. Different models could have different stats, but I think it would  be much better to have upgradeable and customizable models. A guardian would have a base model which would have slots to plug in stat-altering items, not unlike the guardian itself. This would have the added bonuses of introducing new items and new currency-sinks. Next, while sparrows have two (or in the case of Timebreaker, three) speeds, they’ll need to a different kind of “boost” function in racing, which I think should be a standard depleteable boost meter that charges through tricks and the like.

Let’s talk courses. I’m sure Bungie would love for racing courses to be made out of existing maps, but that’s just not possible for a variety of reasons. Courses should be modeled after existing locales like the Crucible maps are, but like the Crucible maps they’ll need to be dedicated creations.

This also adds a bonus of what I’ll call “speed limiters”. Sparrows won’t have the option of performing all that different on open maps for a variety of technical reasons, but if they’re given two sets of stats, one for open world and one for competition, modifying existing maps and really tweaking their performance for racing becomes possible. This also keeps their open-world boosting and race-boosting separate. In lore, sparrows could be outfitted with “limiters”. Simple. Bungie has already done this with friendly fire differences between PvE and PvP.

A question I’ve seen a few times is whether racing would have a combat aspect. For a game like Destiny it’s a fair question. Players sometimes envision their guardian handling their sparrow with one hand and firing a Gjallarhorn with the other. Epic, but no. If combat were to ever be an element, it would most-likely be modeled after the pickup system one would find in Mario Kart.

In the end, I don’t think combat should be involved. Have ramps, tricks, and boost pads and maybe an option to kick to the side, but no pew-pew. My biggest problem with it is that is would detract from the racing, which should be focused on alternative routes and tricks. That doesn’t mean taking out rival vehicles isn’t possible.

Finally, pacing. Different driving games have pacing. Simulators like Gran Turismo is long and slow while arcade-y games like Bunrout Revenge are manic and explosive. I see sparrow racing as a fast, furious and violent affair not unlike a Burnout.

Will we get any of this? Probably not. Destiny has a lot of problems to solve and a lot of avenues to grow into. I don’t see this being a priority unless some major headway is made. If at all, it won’t be until the third incarnation of Destiny. In my opinion, it will take that long for Bungie to catch up with themselves and their dreams… if ever.

Exotic Concepts #2: Whisper

People seem to want more uniqueness in their exotics. A signature. Something that makes it stand out in the crowd. It’s with great pleasure that I present the first reader-submitted exotic concept. Whisper.

Here’s exactly what was sent to me:

Whisper.
But no one else is there..
Sniper rifle.

Softly: range and impact greatly increased, weapon is silenced. (you don’t appear on radar and enemies have a delayed response. Shots fired have a silencer effect.)

Inside voices: precision kills with this weapon increases reload speed,and greatly increases precision damage for a short time.

Thanks, Mike! Firstly, love the flavour text.

The thing about sniper rifles is that if used properly, they are one-hit killers and effective at the longest ranges. That said, there’s no real need for buffs to damage or range. Reload speed also shouldn’t be an issue unless you have a half dozen enemies lined up. So, what do we do with this concept?

The idea of a silenced sniper rifle is awesome but in Destiny there is one element that is far more telling to the presence of an impending long-range death: that little red light. If you’re lucky enough to see the barrel pointed at you before the trigger is pulled, that telling light is your only indication. I think a wonderful and unique perk would both muffle the sound of the rifle and eliminate that red light. There’s your “Softly” perk.

I’ll admit that kind of left me at a loss for what else to add. Precision and other stuff would be on a vertical perk tree (agility, over-penetration, blah blah blah), so I was drawing a blank. Then I killed a Praetorian point-blank with Icebreaker and it clicked.

Inside Voices: Whisper is effective at all ranges.

This eliminates not only any damage falloff at extreme long ranges, but also makes it useful closer up at ranges where you are using a hip-fired primary weapon. To balance this out, Whisper will need a relatively low firing rate, long reload and a small clip of no more than three rounds. Also, to make the perk useful at all, I’d want vertical perk trees of ballistic and scope options. Two separate trees of three options (one for ballistics and one for scopes) would work well. Having these options allows for customization, but at the same time doesn’t allow for the rifle to be too responsive to changing needs. It’ll test the operator’s ability to handle the weapon, change selections on the fly and respond to fluctuating dynamics. I’m not sure any other weapon in the game would demand such talent, but it would be rewarding. A player that can make this weapon dance in Crucible will be a rare force.

I’d love to have much more customization available, but as sniper rifles are weapons for specific purposes, there’s very little wiggle room. There’s not a lot of success when they expand a weapon type too far outside its intended role. I’m looking at you, Universal Remote.

What do you think? Does it balance? Would you use it?

Again, thanks to Mike for dropping the concept for me to toy with. I realize I went completely off the rails with it but I hope it’s pleasing in the end. At present I’ve got four more concepts in the pipe, two of which are reader-submitted. I’ve also added a page on the sidebar so that readers can keep track of them. Oh, and I’ve got someone working on volunteer artwork for Rose, so look forward to that.

Exotic Concepts #1: The Rose

Time for something new. I’m going to come up with my own exotics, both weapons and armours. The idea is for me to put out an idea and to discuss what the specifics of such an item might and should be, taking into account game balance and such. It would be awesome to also find someone to sketch these out. Also, if you have ideas for new exotics, let me know and I’ll feature them.

I’ve been eyeballing hand cannons this week with a renewed desire to own Thorn and Hawkmoon. I reread the Thorn grimoire fragments and something jumped out at me. The entry starts:

The noble man stood. And the people looked to him. For he was a beacon – hope given form, yet still only a man. And within that truth there was great promise. If one man could stand against the night, then so too could anyone – everyone.

In his strong hand the man held a Rose. And his aura burned bright.

Basically there was once a very powerful Guardian and he had a weapon named Rose.

At the end of the entry is this:

In his first moments as a new being, he looked down at his Rose and realized for the first time that it held no petals: only the jagged purpose of angry thorns.

Rose becomes Thorn.

At this point we can assume with some certainty that Rose was a hand cannon and that Thorn is an evil and twisted version of it. So, what would Rose be like if it was an in-game exotic hand cannon?

Thorn’s big perk is called Mark of the Devourer, which mainly is a DoT (Damage over Time) ability. My concept for Rose is basically the opposite of a DoT, a HoT (Heal over Time) effect. Much like Suros Regime has a chance of healing you, Rose would heal you at about the same rate that Thorn would damage enemies. Given that the names Rose and Thorn have tightly-interwoven imagery, I’d like to stick to the idea of a thorn-pricked victim and call Rose’s perk “Rose’s Thorn“.

I’m a VERY big fan of non-linear upgrades on weapons so instead of this being the only unique perk, I’d like to add another that would share this healing effect among nearby allies and call it “Flowing Blood“. This perk would split healing between all allies within a certain radius. Another perk could be called “Beacon” which could reduce cooldown times at the same radius using the same “HoT” mechanic and similar numbers (not unlike the SoLock’s “Song of Flame” super, but obviously not that strong).

Having the ability to choose one and swap between these these perks makes Rose extremely fun to play around with an personalize, not just level up. It’s a trait I think all exotics should share. “Rose’s Thorn” would be great for solo work. “Flowing Blood” would work best I think in nightfalls where you’re up against burn effects. “Beacon” would be really helpful in raids.

One could also add a solar damage option but I think it should come with a small damage penalty. Giving Thorn the same but with void I think would really improve the enjoyment of that weapon as well. Arguments could certainly be made against this one.

So, this is where we debate things. Does this weapon’s perks balance out? Does the use of lore make sense? What would you change? Would you want to use this weapon?

I hope you’ll respond in the comments section below or reply to this post on social media.

Meritocracies Regarding The Melting Of Faces

As we approach the launch of Destiny‘s first expansion and the allure of a new raid draws us in, it might be prudent to examine the reward systems in place.

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about how actual performance in strikes, raids and the crucible has no effect on the kinds of rewards players are given. The simplistic argument of “it’s RNGs, stupid!” hold little water, as almost every game of a certain complexity uses RNGs. The issue isn’t the existence of RNGs in the equation, but how the equations are weighted. A random number generator is rarely purely random in an RPG, and such RNG-weighting is incredibly important when you’re trying to reward players for hard-won victories.

The only thing is hard to understand is why Bungie has failed so spectacularly in this regard. Surely the creators of Halo could understand how killstreaks and other medal-worthy accomplishments in the crucible should be rewarded more heavily than someone who simply participated. Surely the big brains in Bellvue could understand how galling it is to have the player who hides in the hall while the other two guardians kill Phogoth rewarded with a legendary weapon while the others get a shader if they’re lucky. Bungie has shined a bright light on all the stats and numbers they’ve been collecting, yet none of that brilliance is brought to bare for the benefit of those who applied boot to butt.

This is very much fixable, but at this point it’ll take a lot of determination on Bungie’s part. There is some indication that they’ll attempting new weighted RNG algorithms with Crota’s End, but time will tell.

Without being alarmist, this oversight could very well spell an early end to any interest in Destiny as it pushes forward with its 10-year plan. If players are not rewarded well and fairly, they’ll simply move on to a game that will.

Issues With The Other Vault

While much ado has been said and spent on the games only raid (for now), it is not the only vault in Destiny that is in much need of some attention. What about the one you store your loot in? Destiny is (in theory) a game about awesome loot. Collecting exotic weapons, armour and other goodies to use or just show off. We can’t carry them all on us so we store them at the Tower’s handy-dandy vault. However, if you play Destiny with any regularity, you’ll find that it’s far too small to contain all the awesome things you have collected in your travels and still wish to hang on to. I’ve played with people who have every weapon and armour slot in their vault filled with an exotic, and as we’re just days away from the game’s first expansion, what are we to do with the new exotics we’ll collect? There’s also the issue that the vault is supposed to be the only way to transfer items between your toons, and if it’s full you are more or less out of luck.

Bungie has just recently made the dismantling of exotics potentially worth it, but time will tell if it works in execution.

The solution is really quite simple, and that is to make the vault bigger. Big enough to scale to the kind of exotic-hoarding that the player that logs in every night is going to do. Expanding the storage volume for each of the three item categories to fill the interface, and have it so the player could tab between the three categories would be the most simple and elegant solution available. Currently, 20 weapon slots, 20 armor slots, and 20 item slots are available, but 100 each would be more in line with the needs of gamers. You could also have a page up/down control beside each catagory in the current configuration and have as many pages as you want.

If Destiny is about using weapons and armour to signify your accomplishments, the game’s mechanical shortcomings shouldn’t force us to trash these items when there are simple fixes that could be implemented right away.