Sunday, January 24, 2016

Synchronicity : City of Steam(puff)

I do like a bit of synchronicity. Not the awful Sting thing, obviously. No-one likes that. No, when similar stuff just seems to happen at the same time for no particular reason.

There's often a ton of it going on in this corner of the blogosphere, mostly because everyone is always feeding off the same news squibs, trying the same new games and generally bouncing off everyone else like toddlers sliding down a coal chute. Sometimes it seems a bit less predictable than that, though, and that's when I really start to enjoy the ride.

Wilhelm linked an excellent Extra Credits piece on Virtual Reality and started a feisty discussion. J3w3l outed herself as a grudging admirer of Eastern MMOs while Bhelgast had some positive things to say about going Pay To Win. Jeromai jumped that train and swung it back around to the never-resolved problem of difficulty, something Sonja had been looking at sidewise to considerable effect not long before.

While all this was rumbling and roiling away I had my head down grinding my way through City of Steam. After four years of laid-back pottering suddenly it's hell-for-leather to the finish line. Telwyn took note and vowed not to make the same mistake with other supposedly stable MMOs.

At least we all know how LotRO's Main Questline finishes. I'm on Chapter 3 Part 3 (I think) of City of Steam's story but I have no idea whether I'm still at the beginning, stuck in the middle or just about to turn over and see the author's picture on the inside the back cover. If it wasn't for City of Steam being all Pay To Win (for a given value of "Win" and not a big enough value either) and if Mechanist Games hadn't decided to throw money at the remaining players (of whom there seem to be one heck of a lot for a game about to go into a tunnel and not come out again) then I'd have no hope whatsoever of cracking through the levels needed to get to the climax.

As it is, it's flipping hard work! In common with many Eastern MMOs (although, of course, City of Steam is a Western MMO funded by an Eastern MMO developer, but let's not confuse matters...) there are gates on how many dungeons you can do per day and how much XP you can get. Even blowing cash shop currency like a beaching whale I still hit the buffers 1% short of Level 34, where the next quest opens up.

Luckily CoS also uses that weird Eastern MMO trope of Calisthenics. I left my Gunner tabbed out in the browser doing leg-bends and knee-stretches, while I played GW2 for a while and, magically, that one per cent ticked over on its own. Now I'm stuck at 24% into level 34, waiting for the daily refresh to let me buy my way to 35 and the next quest that matters.

It occurred to me around this point that there was a very good chance I'd run out of time before I ever found out what was really going on at the top of the Spire, so I did what anyone would do; I turned to Google. Surely someone must have wiki'd it or posted the conclusion on YouTube.

Like hell they have. Even the game's own website has removed all the original lore, although someone has handily re-posted it in the forum and I now have it safely saved away to read later, once those forums themselves vanish into the mist.

While I was googling, however, I came across this. Now that's what I call a coincidence. Well, actually, that's not what I call it. What I do call it I'm not about to say, or at least not in a public place.

Intrigued, I watched the first episode. It was pretty good. Don't take my word for it though. Have a look for yourself:

I'm going to watch the next two on my tablet later tonight, when I go to bed. Unfortunately the similarity to City of Steam doesn't seem likely to end with the name - this is another story that I'll probably never get to finish.

There was a City of Steampuff Kickstarter last July, it seems. It didn't go well. It appears to have had the exact opposite problem to the Kickstarter that Smed's new company, Pixelmage, unleashed for Hero's Song. Smed had a very easy to understand product that looks like a decent purchase at under $20 but his KS pledges added no value whatsoever and made no sense. Steampuff's pledges, on the other hand, look pretty coherent and attractive in and of themselves but they appear to have a lot more content than the project they're supporting.

That project barely seems to exist - just two more short videos to finish up a series of five, three of which are already complete and viewable for free on the KS page. Although, who knows where the whole thing was (or is) going? There's a downloadable demo for some kind of City of Steampuff VR demo linked to the Occulus Rift. Maybe it was going to be a game after all?

I downloaded that demo. I don't have an OR and I don't plan to get one. I am as curious as anyone to see how it feels, though. After the discussion with Wilhelm in which he debunked my mistaken impression that we were getting the Holodeck (I didn't really think we were but I did think we were getting Kinnect with a Helmet) it was a very useful find.

Even on a flat screen it's very easy to imagine what it would be like to explore this imaginary space just by turning your head and looking around. It certainly immersed me for the few minutes I played with it. I can imagine how powerful it would feel as a narrative platform, able to put you right in the middle of the action.

Which is a lot more than you can say of Dark Era, a new "time travel" Eastern MMO I read about on Massively yesterday. I downloaded that, too. I could do a review. I got to level 25. That's enough, isn't it?
Yes, Level 28. I literally made three more levels just logging in to take this screenshot. It took less than a minute.

Well, maybe not when twenty-five levels takes less than twenty minutes and doesn't require you to touch the keyboard once. Okay, I did have to click the mouse to collect my quest rewards and equip my upgrades so it wasn't entirely hands-free gaming. They need to work on that.

Whether Dark Era is Pay To Win or just utterly pointless I can't be sure. I don't plan on finding out either. Sometimes synchronicity just takes you somewhere you didn't want to go after all.


  1. A feisty discussion! Yes, there seemed to be some gap between opinions when it came to VR. Brian Green relinked that video over at Google+ and there as well a significant level of feistiness erupted. I put a link to that in the comment thread just in case Jenks and I didn't reach your recommended daily allowance of feist... or feisty... or however you make that word a noun. Google is telling me the word has its root in a term for "breaking wind," which seems so totally appropriate that I am going to believe that in the face of any evidence to the contrary.

    I'm sorry, were you saying something about City of Steam and VR? I seem to have gotten lost in a cloud of my own feisty.

  2. I can honestly say I've never given the derivation of "feisty" a thought before. It's one of those words I associate entirely with American writers and since I've spent my entire life reading such I do throw it in once in a while. I might think twice in future!

    You're not the first to query it, it seems.


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