Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gaming Goings-On: Rust, Star Trek Online, And Tree of Life

By Bixyl Shuftan

With all that's been going on in Second Life, there have been a few developments in computer gaming. Pokemon Go has been in the news a lot, but that's not so much a computer game as a mobile ap game. But yours truly has been made aware of a couple developments in games we've wrote about in the past, Rust and Star Trek Online. There's also a new one my friends and I have been playing: Tree of Life.

Star Trek Online recently got a new expansion: "Agents of Yesterday." Fans of the Original Series, which was first aired 50 years ago. will cheer as they can now play characters and missions of the story universe that started the franchise. Three new character slots have been opened, as well as a 23rd Century Federation faction, and missions and areas set in the time period of USS Enterprise's first five year mission, taking place in 2270 the year after the TV series. 23rdCF characters can be one of four races: human, Vulcan, Tellarite, and Andorian. The uniforms are from the style of the Original Series, including the infamous mini skirts for female characters and the red shirt for those specializing in Security.

The first mission for a 23rd Century Federation character starts with them at rank Lt. jg., with the ship in orbit around Taurus II (the planet in which Spock, Scott, and five other crewmen had to make an emergency landing in "The Galileo Seven"). The player is assigned as part of an away team to look for survivors of a shipwreck and investigate while dealing with the planet's hostile natives. As it turns out, the crash was no simple accident. At the end, the ship's captain is promoted to admiral and the player character promoted to Lieutenant and given command of the ship.

After a couple missions, one of the more recent crewmen comes forward saying he's a "Temporal Agent" from the Federation in the distant future, which has been involved in a "Temporal Cold War" by powers trying to manipulate the timeline for their own benefit while it seeks to preserve it. Trekkers whom have watched the "Enterprise" prequel series will recognize the conflict from the TV show.

Fans of the Original Series will enjoy the chance to interact with some of the characters there, such as Chekov whom is voiced by the actor who played him, Walter Koenig (whom at 79 is much older than the young man he was in the TV show) and Chief Engineer Scott, whom is voiced by his son Christopher Doohan (James Doohan died in 2015). Not every Trekker however is a fan of time travel, a number feeling it's been overused for plot material. Still, "Agents of Yesterday" is an expansion which fans of the classic sci-fi TV show, old and young, will enjoy.

Sources: Memory Alpha, Star Trek Online, Trek Today, Trek Core, Cosmic Book News  

The survival MMO "Rust" is back in the news. After over a year of development, it's Experience System has finally been unloaded into the game. Gone are the blueprints that players had to collect in order to learn how to make objects. Instead, players accumulate experience points, or XP, which can be used to gain the skills to make new objects. Which objects are available depends on the players level, which is raised by gaining a number of experience points. It takes just a few XP to rise to Level 2, but the number to rise increases as the levels do.Unlike games such as Ark, leveling up does not mean an increase in hitpoints or strength.

Players gain XP though various actions such as gathering wood from trees and stone and ore from mineable rocks, picking up resources from the ground, smashing drums and looting crates and boxes, making items, and more. I have read that if someone else makes items from resources you gathered, you get some of the XP, though I have yet to see this in person.

Level One characters are limited to several basic skills.They can make paper and the map and blueprint, sleeping bag, campfire, map, blueprint,tool cabinet, wooden door, wood lock, wood window bars, bandage. The only weapon they can make is a bone club. The only clothes they can make are the leather gloves, burlap shoes, baseball cap, and boonie hat. So beginning players will have to remain nearly naked unless they make a lucky find in a drum or crate. Beginning players can make structures and could reinforce them up to armored if they somehow had the materials. But they would not be able to make doors stronger than wood or a lock better than wooden. One noticeable change is players can now make the basic rock if they happen to loose theirs, made from ten stone which can be gathered up around the island.

As one levels up, skills become available to purchase, Level Two allowing the wooden spear, burlap trousers, skirt, and fish trap. The latter is a relatively new item to catch fish to help stave off hunger, which has become more challenging in more recent updates of the game. The stone hatchet and pickaxe are available at Level Three. At Level Four, you can get the ability to make basic storage boxes. At Level Five, the burlap shirt is available (and female characters need no longer be topless), as well as the furnace. At level six, one can learn how to make the much desired code lock. Level Seven allows for the repair bench, wood shutters, and bow and wood arrows. At Level Eight, the sheet metal door and metal window bars are available. T-shirts and gunpowder, once available at the start, don't appear until Level 12.

Going up to Level Eight took me about an hour, and dying twice from the patrol helicopter. So some of the old problems are still there. And this time, the small but real possibility of a beginning player to find a rocket launcher and rocket blueprints are gone. Some places such as the Airport have been overhauled, such as some parts of the place now destructable, such as boards covering some doors. And radiation, which was a factor in places in the early Rust, is back, at least at the power plant area, so the radiation pills one occasionally finds now come in handy.

Currently the XP system is still under development, so it may experience some changes soon. One unknown is how will the XP system change the Player vs Player aspect of the game. If you still get some XP if a raider swipes and uses your stuff, it's not a *complete* loss (though still damn irritating). If you gain XP if someone else eats your food, being generous to the newbies has at least that guaranteed reward. My fellow Rust player Brandi Streusel thought the update would somewhat ease the ruthless nature the game can sometimes take in more active servers ... somewhat. Old habits are hard to break, and some players just love to grief for the sole purpose of making others miserable. In the meantime, core Rust fans and those who keep going back to the land of naked men (and women) with a single rock can see for themselves how this major update affects their own play. 

Sources: Rust Devblog 

One game that me and my Second Life friends have been into lately is "Tree of Life." Designed by OddOneGames, a Korean Indie game company, Tree of Life was first released about a year ago in late May 2015. It is sold as "early access," so it may change a little over time. Like Rust, it's considered a survival game. But the graphics are a little more "cartoony" than it's more edgy counterpart. Starting off with only a simple shirt and pants, players need to gather resources in order to build tools, and then build buildings, plant and harvest crops, make clothes, build weapons, etc.

Players have a number of skills, or masteries, which can be leveled up though experience points. They also have four stats, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Intelligence. Constitution determines the number of hitpoints a player has. Strength determines how hard a player can hitwith melee weapons and what armor they can wear. Leveling a mastery increases a certain stat bya level. For example, raising your mining mastery raises your strength stat by one. Players start out with 100 Strength and 100 Constitution, but they will soon increase as the player goes about in the game.

At the very beginning, survival can be an issue as they player has to deal with hungry wolves, and at night zombies and skeletons, which will attack players on sight. Begining players are advised to stay clear of them, and run when attacked. Hunger can be an issue as when a character's stomach is completely empty, speed will slow to a crawl. Hitpoints are lost only due to hostile attacks, but are restored only when the stomach is at least two-thirds, or 400 of 600 points, full. Players can hit trees to get branches and apples, the latter of which can be eaten for food, and hit rocks on the ground for stones. Stones and rocks can be used to make logging axes to chop down trees into firewood and mining pickaxes to break down rocks into stone and coal and copper nodes into coal, copper, and rocks. When one's Carpentry level is two, one can make a bonfire and cook food. At Carpentry Level 2, one can make a workbench, which is necessary to make a number of items. At Carpentry level five, one can make survival tents and store them.

Unlike some survival games such as Rust, the character does not sleep when the player logs off, but temporarily vanishes. And should a character be killed by NPCs, all that might be lost is whatever item was active in the players hand at the time, so the personal inventory is safe. So the only things that are at risk from other players are one's builds and whatever are stored in them. So players will eventually want to build rusty locks, available at Tinkering Level Four, to secure buildings, and crude watchtowers, available at Carpentry Level Seven, armed with stone arrows, available at Carpentry Level Six, to protect anyone who tries vandalizing your builds.

Safety isn't quite guaranteed as it's possible to pick locks with lockpicks, so eventually as a player levels up in masteries, they will want to eventually build better towers, better arrows, and walls and gates to protect what's theirs. Players can also form and join guilds to both protection and help in common goals. Players have to log in every day at their base, or the builds will soon start to decay. Eventually, an abandoned build will fall apart and the land returning to it's natural state. There's also the ghostly "Mr. Bobo" who wanders around. You can trade goblin coins, which you find on monsters, with him for a few items.

My personal experience with the game is that the Player vs Player aspect is less vicious than Rust, but it does happen. My friend Jasmine/Jazmare joined a guild, but soon saw it was one that pushed around other players, and soon got the attention of other guilds whom eventually harassed it into abandoning their base and moving. But they left her alone when hearing she wanted no further part of them, and later formed another with me and Kryxia. But the base has had a few people try to vandalize and pick it's locks, and once going in and swiping things when somehow a section of wall either decayed or was completely vandalized. On the other hand, there have been a number of helpful players whom are either motivated by finding allies, especially ones with one or more skills higher than they or guildmates, or just want to be helpful to neighbors.

So if Rust is a bit too graphic and ruthless for you, or you just want a break from it and still have a survival game itch, Tree of Life might be the game for you.

More information on the game is available at Tree of Life Wiki .

That's all for now from PC games. As my friend Nydia would say, "good gaming to you."

Bixyl Shuftan

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