The Hunter: Your first hunts

UF Timmy asked some questions in the comments of my last post, and I’ve seen similar questions on the Gamers With Jobs forums. Timmy asked

How do you know when it’s time to visually start looking for them and when to start crouching?

Very short answer: I almost always walk, until it’s time to position myself for the shot. However, I’m not in visual range when I position myself; I use the bleat caller to get them to come back to me.

Very long answer: I’ll explain bleat calling in (possibly too much) detail, but for people who might not be having success even getting to that point, the first thing I’ll talk about is the HunterMate, your PDA/GPS device that simulates how a real hunter would be tracking, using their five senses.

When I start a hunt, I pick a direction and I start walking. I have headphones on, and I’m listening for mule deer calls and keeping an eye on my HunterMate (HM). When you hear a call, your HM flashes a red circle on the meter at the top of its display screen (Sometimes it will just flash red, if the deer is quite far away. Treat it the same way, even if you didn’t hear a call). Click your left mouse button, and the HM identifies the animal you’re tracking and puts a point on the map where the call came from. Head in that direction, walking (unless it seems incredibly close…you’ll get a feel for what’s close in just a few hunts, and it’s really, really rare to get a call for the first time when you’re very close to the deer) and listening for more calls. I don’t think I’ve ever had a situation where the deer and I were walking toward each other, but I do scan with the binoculars just to make sure they’re not closer than they were when I first heard them call. If you do spook them, it’s ok. Just watch the direction they went in, pick up the trail and continue tracking. You can reel them back in.

I rarely switch from the animal I’m tracking to another animal. The more tracking clues you get for an animal, the better the information you receive. Your directional cone narrows when you find tracks, or when you find scat, the circle indicating how far the animal could have moved since the droppings were….dropped….gets smaller. It’s not unusual for deer to travel in groups, so switching from one animal to another just muddies the tracking information, in my experience. The only time I break that rule is if I’m following tracks that seem cold (not hearing any bleats, just finding tracks and old droppings…you can tell they’re old by the size of the circle on the HM, right?) and I hear a new deer bleating nearby. Audible clues are the best signal to follow.

Ok, so you have a deer bleating nearby. I spent a lot of time on my first couple hunts trying to track the deer until I could see it. Trust me, this can take a long time. Between watching for tracks, stopping to scan ahead with binoculars, and worrying that you’re going to be heard if you’re in the walking stance instead of crouching, it can be difficult to move fast enough to come within visual range of the deer. By the time you’ve had your third track encounter, and you hear the deer again and it seems a little closer, it’s time to pull a new tool out of your backpack.

It’s time for the bleat caller. I’ve had much better success following behind them at a walking pace until I find a good shooting location and then calling them in. Find a spot with good cover, a spot you can crouch in, and preferably a spot that gives you a good field of fire in front of you. If you can manage a little elevation, that helps a lot too. You can crouch down, but still see deer moving toward your call. I’ll sometimes crouch next to a tree in some cover as well, and it’s pretty rare that they see/smell me (I’m still not sure how smell works in the game).

I give three short bleats, but I think you can vary your bleats and still have success. You don’t always get an answering bleat! If you know that you’ve closed the distance on the deer you’re tracking, but you can’t seem to get in visual range, give a bleat and sit tight. Use the binoculars (which have better magnification than the scope) and watch the direction you last heard the deer, or the direction the last tracks indicated.

Watching a deer respond to a bleat call is pretty amazing. First of all, they behave realistically. They’ll come in cautiously, looking around for the deer that was calling them, moving slowly, maybe grazing on the way, but always taking a few steps toward you. The caller is a powerful lure 🙂

The benefits of this method are many. First, you’re sitting completely still, so it’s really tough for them to see you. Second, you don’t have to worry about moving fast enough during your own tracking that you get within visual range of the target. I’m always afraid they’re going to hear me and I’m going to spook them, but, if you spend too much time crouching while you follow them, they’ll always stay ahead of you. Third, you’re going to get some really close shots, which makes it much easier to kill with one shot. Finally, it’s possible that you were tracking a doe, but there was also a buck in the group. When you spot your tracked deer, look left and right to see if it has any friends. Sometimes a trophy buck is right there with her.

Using this method, I made four kills last night in an hour and fourteen minute hunt (Some luck involved: I heard a bleat just outside camp as I started the hunt, which has never happened to me before. It’s not unsual to walk for 5 or 10 minutes before I hear a bleat). After the kill, I’d start walking again, listening for more bleats, or following tracks from the friends of the deer I had just killed. They’re usually a good distance away after your gunfire, but if you get on their trail, it’s possible you’ll hear them ahead of you and you can repeat the whole process of calling them in.

There have been a few times that I bleat called a deer I was tracking, but they didn’t respond. I don’t know how long is too long to wait, but I do know that I’ve thought “Man, that deer isn’t responding to my call” only to spot one in the direction I last heard them. Patience is key, but there have been times the bleat caller didn’t trick a deer into coming close. You’ll get to know how long is too long through experience…or maybe I gave up too early and spooked one off and didn’t even know it.

Finally, I found this PDF. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of everything (I think it was made during the closed beta), but it does explain the types of tracks you’ll see, and how to know if you’re getting closer. That will help you get close to a deer, where you can call them in.

Timmy, if you’re still reading, I think you’re already close enough to start bleat calling. Let me know if you have more questions!

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The Hunter: Surprise of the week

I don’t dress the part any more, but my hippie credentials are pretty good. I’m also a vegetarian (although I really don’t care what you eat; I’m vegetarian, not a preacher), and I’ve never gone hunting. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I’d ever be interested in playing a hunting game, the answer would have been “Nah, not really. Not at all.”

So, I’m more than a little shocked to find myself completely consumed by The Hunter. I listened to the Gamers With Jobs crew talking about it on their podcast, in glowing terms, for two straight weeks. Since it’s free to try, I had to see what all the buzz was about. None of them sound like real-life hunters, but they were raving about the game, so I figured there had to be something substantial about it.

They were right. So far, it’s my game of the year (which doesn’t carry any weight, since my game selection is rarely what you could call current). Still, the game is beautiful, simple to learn yet moderately difficult to master. It also has a good community system built in to the website and personal profiles, including friends lists, statistic tracking and comparison, missions/achievements, and a basic skill leveling system.

I’m not the only one completely sucked in by The Hunter. Darren over at Common Sense Gamer can’t play anything else either, logging 16 hours of play time over the weekend. I’m not much better. Here are my stats since downloading the game Friday evening.

Hunt Duration: 11 Hours 32 Minutes 32 Seconds
Distance Travelled: 19.81 miles (31.88 km)
Shots Fired 14
Shots Hit 11
Hit Accuracy 92.9%
Favoured Weapon .243 Win Bolt Action Rifle

Species Tracked Spotted Harvested
Mule Deer 24 20 11

So what can we learn by comparing Darren’s stats with mine? If we were playing Team Fortress, I think I’d be the Sniper, taking few shots and hitting most of them, and Darren would be the Heavy, spraying bullets everywhere and occasionally hitting things 🙂 I can’t disagree with his results, though! He beat me in every Mule Deer category in the Gamers With Jobs weekend tournament.

I have a lot more to say about The Hunter which I’ll add in subsequent posts. It’s astonishingly high quality for a game that came out of the blue, and the design is superb. If you’re thinking “God, I can’t imagine playing a hunting game”, that was me last week. Next week, maybe you’ll be the one raving about how great The Hunter is, and how your friends should sign up and play as well. Everything I’ve done so far is free.

I don’t have the Warden license yet, which enables hunting elk, whitetail deer and turkey, but I’m picking it up on payday, 4/30, which happens to be the last day of introductory pricing if you’re interested. Here’s what you get for $12.99, the most basic game package.

Includes standard membership benefits:
Hunt Mule deer, Whitetail deer and Turkey
3 free weapons
Free ammo for all 3 weapons
Extra clothing items
Server priority
PLUS by becoming a member in the launch phase:

Special ‘Warden’ status: receive a free 1 month licence for ALL new animals and firearms as they are released!
Free Elk licence, when Elk are released
4 months for the price of 3!

Elk are already released, but the free 1 month license for all new animals and firearms is pretty sweet.

If you’ve read this far, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Mail Darren if you don’t believe me, or listen to  episode 131 and episode 132 of the GWJ podcasts and hear them praising The Hunter. It really is as good as we’re saying, even if you think hunting in real life isn’t for you.

If you do try it, and you get confused, there are plenty of tips on The Hunter forums, as well as the Gamers With Jobs Hunter thread.

Little stuff: Mission architects, what I’m playing

I’m behind on my blog reading, and on my blog writing. Spring has finally arrived, and I’m spending a ton of time outside with my kid, and then playing games late into the night, without taking time to write. Work’s crazy busy, so there’s no blog reading/writing time there.

Here’s a quick update on things knocking around my head, or being played on my computer.

I read Zubon’s post about the CoH Mission Architect system, and it made me wonder if anyone has tried it, and also tried the Ryzom Ring. Let me know if you have some experience with each system. I wonder which one is easier to use, has more depth, etc. I really liked Ryzom, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the Ring; I think their finances imploded before I got a chance to try it out, and now I’m distracted with other stuff. I remember thinking that Ryzom was totally on the right track with the mission editor, and I hope CoH has continued success.

I’ve been playing a ton of Team Fortress 2, and I’m thinking it’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Simple design, a small number of beautifully crafted maps, awesome diversity in classes while maintaining a really good rock-paper-scissors balance, and wicked awesome team play. I’m mostly playing on the Trashed Gamers servers (the Gamers With Jobs server is usually empty during the hours I’ve been playing), and I was surprised to find that I’m ranked in the low 200’s out of the 56,000 players who have happened to play on their servers. I think the rankings are based on points earned, and the major lesson learned by my stats is probably that anyone can appear successful if they play far too much TF2. Still, I’ll take it as an ego boost for a middle-aged gamer.

I renewed my Gametap subscription for another year. I’m locked into the $59.95 yearly subscription price, since I was a premium subscriber before they raised their prices, and it’s totally the best value in gaming. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of games to play over there. The switch from a client program interface to a browser-based interface has been very smooth for me; I had a small problem that required me to download a tiny executable and restart my computer, but after that, it’s been silky smooth.

The Everquest 2 announcement that players can write books in-game is an awesome addition to MMO’s. I probably made original EQ devs crazy with my constant suggestions about player diaries. I wanted there to be a journal feature, where you could write about your experiences, and other players could read it in your character bio. I love the EQ 2 ideas, but I’d still love to see a journal that would import major game events (where you leveled, who you leveled with, how much money you made, what you looted) alongside a WAR Tome of Knowledge achievement tracker model, as well as a place where the player can enter notes, fiction, etc.

It’s encouraging to see EQ2 taking the first steps toward that, and CoH enabling player mission creation. We’ve bandied about the term “second generation MMO” for a long time, without seeing anything that’s really second gen, but I think these ideas are the initial steps toward an evolution of the genre.

I’m re-subscribed to LoTRO, but playing really casually. I’m still feeling MMO burnout, at least with an achievement-based gameplay, so I’m refusing to get obsessed with levels, or money, or gear. It’s super-easy to solo in LoTRO, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m level 34, I have a house, I’m saving for a horse, and I’m having fun crafting. It’s such a drop-dead gorgeous game.

I realize now why it didn’t stick with me the first time I played, though. The classes don’t appeal to me that much; nothing stands out and makes me say “I want to play THAT class,” and the character animations seem awkward to me. I’m not a big fan of the character models, either, and I think that partially contributed to my lack of attachment my first time through the game. I’m still not a big fan, but I have a computer now that can run everything at high resolution, and damn, it’s a beautiful world.

I happen to be on the wrong server to play with Oz from KTR, or with the CoW LoTRO guild, and I’ve considered re-rolling, but I’m 34 levels in, and I just don’t think I have the motivation to start from scratch when I’m playing so casually. The last thing I want to do is make an MMO feel like work again.

Oh, and I’m in a beta. Yeah, that beta. Darren’s shame is my shame as well, but I’m man enough to deal with it, for the sake of my 9 year-old daughter . You’re a good dad, Darren, even if you are a fairy. Takes one to know one, I guess 🙂

LoTRO extends their Welcome Back Weekend

Last weekend, Turbine ran a Welcome Back offer for former subscribers. There was a 25% experience bonus, and an additional huge bonus amount of experience on your first kill (I went from level 23 to 26 on my first kill, and ended up at level 28 at the end of two days of playing). Unfortunately, either due to the number of people returning to take a look a LoTRO, or partially due to a data center move, the Turbine account management website and the LoTRO servers were highly unreliable for a couple days.

To Turbine’s credit, they’ve extended the Welcome Back weekend until April 6th. Former subscribers can log on for free, enjoy the big experience bump, the 25% bonus, check out new content, and participate in the Spring Festival events.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in LoTRO over the past couple days. My computer has finally caught up to the top of the LoTRO system requirements, and it’s a beautiful game at high resolution. The quests are well-written (although still Kill Ten Rat-ish….haha, Kill Ten Radish, that’d be a hobbit-y quest, wouldn’t it?), the classes are interesting, the crafting appeals to me, and I’m saving up to buy a house.

I’ve written about free MMO’s here over the past couple months, like Perfect World and Runes of Magic. While I’m impressed with their level of quality for free games, they’re still an order of magnitude away from competing with LoTRO in terms of polish and world design.

In the two years since LoTRO was released, I’ve grown to appreciate what Turbine has created. Initially I wasn’t enamored with the game. A lot of my dissatisfaction had to do with character animations. They’re still awkward, especially the way hobbits run (goofy little fatass bastards, with legs too short for their bodies), but I think having a system that doesn’t drop a frame helps smooth the visual experience I disliked so much during the open beta.

I played a free trial last spring, and subscribed for a month or two, but I tired of the amount of running from place to place while questing. This year, I find myself less annoyed with the amount of travel, and happier with the openess of the game world.

One aspect of WAR that turned me off was the funnel points into and out of zones. I felt constrained, like I wasn’t really in a big open world, being forced to cross from zone to zone only at specific points. LoTRO is marvelously open, and I appreciate that more this year than I did last year. Both WAR and Runes of Magic have a hemmed-in feeling for me.

I think I’ll be sticking with LoTRO for a little while. I’m curious how long it’ll last; I’m starting to feel a little like a poster child for ADD MMO gaming.

LoTRO: Good news, bad news

The good news is, my account issues cleared up on Monday evening, and I was able to get a couple nights of free Welcome Back LoTRO. With the experience boost they were offering, I went from level 23 to level 28, did quite a bit of crafting, and moved myself out of the Lonelands and over to North Downs.

I had such a good time that I decided to resub for a while. This is where the “bad news” part comes in. Apparently, Turbine is doing some major data center reorganization, and their servers fell down and went boom earlier today. They’re still hosed, in various states of not-working. I can’t log into my Turbine account to re-activate my account. The game isn’t launching for people right now, or if it does, the performance suffers. And this is after Turbine had to turn off the April Fool’s Day Chicken Run quest, because it was so popular that it was straining their servers.

That’s the kind of problem you want to have, I guess, people having so much fun that an area gets really, really crowded. The login and account management problems? Yeah, those aren’t the kind of problems you want to have, especially on the first day after a Welcome Back weekend, when people might be considering re-subscribing.

I completed the April Fool’s Day quest last night, earning my title “Fool”. Perfect.

I hadn’t tried Monster Play in the past (Turbine’s version of PvP, where you can play an NPC creature and attack the players who want to play on the human/elf/dwarf/hobbit side of the fence. The April Fool’s Day quest dropped you into the Monster Play zone as a level 1 chicken, and you had to safely navigate your way all the way across the zone, avoiding both player creeps (players playing monsters) and normal NPC’s.

Your chicken was given a Sprint skill, a Dodge skill, increased Stealth detection, and something else. I was killed by player creeps a number of times trying to run in a pretty straight line, from the NW corner of the map where the chickens spawned to the SE corner where the quest finished up.

The quest gave you 15 minutes to arrive at your goal, and I realized I had a lot more time than I was using. I started going in a circuitous, counter-clockwise route around the zone walls, more or less, and after getting killed by NPC’s twice, I managed to stay alive and complete a round on my fifth attempt. It was a lot of fun, and a great April Fool’s day quest. Hopefully, Turbine will sort out their server issues soon, and I can get back to Middle Earth and have some new adventures.