Tuesday, August 11, 2020

No Better Crosswalk : Valliance Online

Today saw the arrival of two more of the items on my list of "things to look forward to in August". By most measures the more significant would be FFXIV's Patch 5.3: Reflections in Crystal, stretching the free trial to Level 60 and giving all players, paying or not, access to the first expansion, Heavensward.

I'll set that one aside for now, though. It's here to stay so there's no rush. And anyway, I'm more interested in finding out how Valiance Online is getting along. There's a short open beta up right now but only for a few days.

Of the several super-hero MMORPGs that sprang up in the aftermath of City of Heroes' sunset, the one I've always been the most drawn to is Valiance Online. I'm pretty sure that's becasue it has the best name but the fact that it was the first to put up an open alpha didn't hurt.

It was really a tech demo, I guess, but as the guy from Crowfall said, "these terms are almost meaningless anyway and mean different things from company to company." Strictly speaking, it was MassivelyOP said that. For some reason they like to serve up interviews in reported speech rather than using proper quotes.

I've got my TV eye on you, Crowfall.

Oh, and I guess I should mention that Crowfall went into beta today. There's another thing to do in August, providing you signed up and assuming you get an invite. Or you could just pay, of course. $39.99 for the basic Starter Pack gets you immediate access to beta and the Live game, when it arrives, in what ArtCraft calls "Play Now and Forever".

Catchy. Sounds like quite a good deal, too. Especially since the game's supposed to be going with a Buy To Play model and every estimate of the "box" price I've seen is around $50.00. Something to think about.

Meanwhile, though, there's Valiance Online to be getting on with. I'd love to give some first impressions but... oh, heck, I'll just go with what I've got.

In an effort not to bury the lede, let's start with by far the most interesting thing that happened during the hour or so I "played" VO this afternoon. It was so unusual I went to the trouble of making a video.

It's kind of self-explanatory but here's the background. I'd been running around for about an hour without finding anything to do and I'd about had enough. I'd taken a bunch of screenshots already (about which more later) but just before I finished I had an idea for one more.

The beta takes place in a large city called San Cielo. It's all futuristic skyscrapers and highways. There are fast-moving vehicles and a lot of zebra crossings.

And I do I mean a lot. There are stripes across what seems like every junction and plenty more besides, all glowing neon blue. My first thought was to do an Abbey Road shot. Let's face it, it would be everyone's first thought. Hard to pull it off when there's just the one of you, though.

Stike that. Here's a better idea. I thought I might be able to work up an amusing paragraph, taking the mickey out of the game for having all those pedestrian crossings and then letting the cars run you over. I had this plan to stand on the crossing and take a shot of the car going straight through me. I hadn't yet tried it but I was willing to bet there was no collision detection. And if there was and the car just plowed into me and tossed me in the air, well, that would work even better.

Bagsy I be Paul.
So I stood in the path of a moving vehicle with my finger on the screenshot key and waited for a car to appear. I watched it come over the hill and speed straight at me and then... it stopped! I was more stunned than my character would have been if the thing had hit her. Someone had actually programmed the cars to recognize when someone was crossing. Can you believe it?

Well, the proof's up there. And it's the most action I saw in an hour. The only action.

I have to praise the set-up for beta. The download was easy to find and fast to install. The whole thing, from me deciding on a whim to try it to logging in, took maybe ten minutes. It would have been less but I wasted a little while finding my old log-in details from last time. I found them but they didn't work  - hardly surprising, it was 2016 - so I created a new account instead. That was easy.

No hoops to jump through to get in, then. Full marks for that. Character creation was okay, too, although I found quite a lot about it slightly confusing. Maybe confusing is too strong. Unintuitive.

A lot of the options are greyed-out, presumably not yet implemented, which is entirely reasonable in a beta but I found the rotating selection process awkward to navigate and some of the options that were supposedly available didn't seem to do anything. Hard to tell if that's because they're unfinished or if I was bugged in some way.

Now that's some serious bad posture.

Once I'd gotten rid of the slump-shouldered, goose-necked Billy Idol wannabe who inexplicably acts as the default option I did, eventually, manage to make a character I was reasonably happy with. Superhero games live and die by their character creators, of course, so this one clearly has a long way to go, but the basics seem to be there.

I gave her the most obvious fire-based powers and named her Flashburn, which is the kind of name I would never dream of using for a character I was planning to play. Okay, full disclosure: I called her that because I'm watching the incredibly violent Titans series on Netflix at the moment and I had the image of Kory Anders flash-burning anyone who looks at her sideways into charcoal fresh in my mind. Probably gonna post about Titans at some point but I have to watch the whole run first. Also about the fact I finally caved and subbed to a second streaming service...

That was about the limit for things going smoothly. When I went to enter the game the whole thing hung and I had to close it and start again. Lucklily my character was fine and the second login worked.  

It was night-time because of course it was. I know I complain that it's always night-time when I log into a game, especially a new game where I really want to see what I'm looking at, but that's because it always is!

You can have any color shirt you like so long as it's blue. Oh, wait, those are shoes... I said the UI was confusing.
I couldn't see my character's face at all, it was that dark. I looked around and couldn't see any NPCs, either. No tutorial prompts popped. There was a chat box but it was empty and anyway I already knew there was a known issue with chat in the beta so it was never going to work.

With nothing else suggesting itself I started jogging around the streets of San Cielo looking for trouble. Usually a sound move in a super-hero game. You can call it "patrolling" if you like. (Back in the '80s I can remember sitting around several pub tables engaging in heated debate over the concept of superheroes "patrolling". People had some very polarized views on it. It was a strange time. People took stuff like that very seriously. Well, the kind of people I knew...).

Sadly, San Cielo seems to be an astonishingly law-abiding city. I didn't find a single miscreant. More accurately, I didn't find a single person. No villains, no civillians, no ambient wildlife, no other players. Nothing but the driverless hovercars cruising the wide, empty boulevards.

I tried visiting the various landmarks I could see in case something was happening anywhere. It wasn't. There were huge blinking eyes and giant gold statues all over but no-one to talk to. Or flash fry.

Excuse me. Can you direct me to the Radiohead terminal?
On one corner I came across a large machine. It had an acronym hovering above it: M.U.S.E. Promising. A mission terminal, I bet. I clicked on it. Nothing. Maybe it was bugged. Maybe it doesn't work yet. No way to tell.

After a lot of running around I found myself on the edge of town. I could see the sea in the distance. It occured to me to wonder whther the game would allow me to swim. Always an indicator of how far along things are.

It was a mighty long run but I got there in the end and yes, you can swim in Valiance Online. I took some screenshots to prove it. By the time I came out of the water the sun was coming up. Glory be! Daylight!

The lighting effects in VO are quite striking. I spent a few minutes posing in the bright sweeps of sunlight that splashed the sidewalks between the vast buildings. If I stood at a certain angle the light glowed all through my character's body, lighting her up as though she was on fire inside. Given the nature of her powers it seemed both felicitous and appropriate. I took a whole load of pictures. So where are they? You may well ask.

Last thing I remember I was running towards the sea... I'm sorry, Officer, after that's it's all just a blank...
Finally, just as I was about to give up, I saw something move. Something that wasn't a car. It ran past me over the grass and off into the distance but I managed to target it before it diappeared. Another player! The first and only one I saw.

I ran after them in the forlorn hope they might know of somewhere worth going but before I could find out I spotted four humanoid figures. I veered off to see what they were and that was the last I saw of the Running Player.

The four were NPCs. One was a vendor, selling "Enhancements". Another was an "Advancement Trainer". The third was... I have no idea. The last was a Training Dummy.

I tried to communicate with all of them. Well, not the dummy. The dummy I used to try out my powers and take some screenshots. The effects were very good. I was impressed. Took some great shots. (Sensing a theme, here?).

The vendor worked but of course I had no money to spend on whatever she was selling. The Trainer and the other guy responded with blank speech bubbles. As the bubbles faded, just for a moment I could see words. They faded too fast to read the whole thing but I caught the gist: "Not yet implemented".

Don't concern yourself, Citizen. There's a lot of that going around.

That was enough for me. I had all the pictures I needed. I thought I'd log out, write up a fairly unimpressed, mildly sarcastic First Impressions piece and leave it at that. Only, when I checked my FRAPS folder, for some inexplicable reason only the shots I'd taken at night had recorded.

More precisely, only the shots I took before I went into the sea. The swimming shots aren't there, either. I don't know if that's a co-incidence or whether something the game does when you enter the water causes FRAPS to stop working. I've never seen anything like it before. That's betas for you, I guess.

I was minded to just go with what I had but I looked at the night shots and they were a bit samey so I logged back in to take a few daylight scenes. I did that and then I ran into the whole self-driving car scenario we covered at the start, which just goes to show you should never leave on a sour note.

The whole thing, from deciding to give the beta a try to making the video to writing this post has taken most of my afternoon but it's not like I had anything much else to do.

The streets look empty, yet I get the strangest feeling someone's here...
All in all I had a fun time. It's been too long since I made a video. I ought to do more of those. And it's always good to have something different to blog about.

If I wasn't making my own content, though, I'm not sure I'd have been so happy. If you play a super-hero MMORPG you do kind of expect to get to fight some villains. Or at least see some.


  1. That really reads a lot more like what I think of as an alpha. In a beta I expect most of the game play systems to be in place, if perhaps extremely buggy, only partially finished (e.g., with some placeholders), or poorly balanced. I don't expect it to be a demo of character creation and the environments alone.

    1. Since they had a whole load of systems in place and working a year or more ago, including questing and of course enemies to fight, I am assuming the lack of mobs/NPCs was some kind of bug. If not, it's a very peculiar "beta". I did try googling to see if there were other reports of an empty world but I found nothing but one YouTube video. The guy who made that was really annoyed about it!

    2. Ahh, ok. That does sound like a bug. If they get that fixed I may stick my head in. Up and running in ten minutes sounds like a pretty painless set up.


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