Friday, December 21, 2007

What’s happening - Some recent developments in my gaming

Video Problems
My Dell XPS system uses dual video cards for improved performance. It works great … as long as you have two working video cards. For a couple of months now, I’ve been getting a lot of distortion in my games along with red and green colored dots all over my screen. To experiment, I shut down my SLI and ran on one card at a time. Sure enough, one card is trash and the other is fine. So looks like I’ll need a new video card sometime soon. LotRO runs well enough on one card at medium graphics, but I’m looking forward to getting a replacement for my old Nvidea 7900.

I went on a Rift raid last week with my kinship. We took down Thrang, the last boss before the Balrog. It was quite the battle, but we were victorious. Three minstrels seems to be key in that particular battle along with placing yourselves in the small alcoves by the stairs to avoid getting shot at. After Thrang fell, we looted him and he dropped the opal for the reward turn-in armor. And I won! Woo! Now my burglar is sporting his Rift armor head piece (which looks like a hood with a mask).

While I like the ideas LotRO has about in-game armor, I’m also thinking that it’s somewhat silly considering the Lore. Bilbo and Frodo, with a few exceptions, were dressed in coats, vests and other normal Hobbit clothes for their adventures. Bilbo only wore armor during the Battle of Five armies and Frodo, I think, only when he was trying to sneak to Mt Doom with Sam. Long story short, I’m looking forward to the Book 12 changes in appearance – one will be able to create a look for your character independent of the items they have equipped. Yeah, I’m a dork like that.

Last time I posted about a little blow-up my kinship had over some raiders and communication issues. Well, one officer is gone and a couple more people left the kin to form their own. The rest passed quickly and we’re back to doing our thing: having absurd amount of fun together.

Niche Economics of Game Development and the WoW-Killer

Hooray! You made it past the title! You earn 2500 Battered Shields (sadly abbreviated as BS). You will soon be able to obtain such fabulous Battered Shield awards as … um … yeah. I don’t have anything like that. But gratz on making it this far.

The topic of my post today was inspired by a post made over at Mystic Worlds about the MMORPG Holy Trinity of WoW, EQ2 and EvE Online.

She writes:

“For any new game to break into the market with a splash and hold on to subscribers beyond the hype, they must confront the Holy 3. If they don’t, players will simply drift back to one of the three or where ever they came from, once the shininess is gone. If you can’t do fantasy with as much polish, excitement and broad appeal as WOW, then why they hell are people going to stick around to play your game? If you can’t provide a game with more depth for the so-called serious gamer, and do it with the visual brilliance, diversity, lore and expansive content of EQ2 or DOAC, the question is still the same. Why the heck would I pay to play? If you’re going to base a game on out-of-body combat, whether it’s in the skies or on the seas, you’d better do it at least as good as EVE or I just can’t be bothered.”

While I agree that recent gaming efforts have been lacking the initial wow-factor (no pun intended) of the games she lists, I think what we’re seeing, and will be seeing more of, is a turn to niche games.

LotRO will never, ever be as big as WoW. Ever. It had a great release. It features alright if not a little clunky game play. The raids at end-game are at least as interesting as those in WoW with regard to the technical coordination involved in the fighting -- perhaps not as difficult but definitely as fun. Yet every person I know that came from WoW to LotRO has returned to WoW.

What’s interesting to me, however, are the patterns I’m noticing in the people that stayed:
- Lord of the Rings fans (people that loved the books and probably liked the movies).
- People that couldn’t care less about shiny gear. Most of the comments I hear about people’s gear is about appearance attributes such as matching or looking silly rather than looking god-like or powerful.
- Casual Social types: people that enjoy small groups of friends that play semi-regularly and solo on occasion.
- Explorer types (Middle-earth is large and thanks to the rapid expansions by Turbine, there always seems to be new areas cropping up here and there).
- People that enjoy horizontal game play where you can get things which do not necessarily make you more powerful or advanced (eg: houses) along with the vertical, achievement type at which WoW excels (eg: leveling, “gearing up,” etc).

The people staying fit into smaller sub-categories of the gaming genre than those to which past game releases have tried to cater. As a result, I’d be willing to bet, that while LotRO’s subscriber numbers will always pale in comparison to the World of Warcraft’s numbers, as long as Turbine doesn’t drop the ball too badly there will always be a large enough player base for the game to allow it to continue. I suspect also that the subscriber base will be less fickle and less likely to jump ship at the sight of a new game - it’s interesting that while my friends returned to WoW after trying LotRO, so many of them were willing to leap for the “new shiny” in the first place.

I think where we’re seeing is similar to what happens in product development: niche markets. So company x does a great job in creating printer technology. But then company y comes along and builds a printer to create better-looking copies of photos. And another company (z) comes along to create a printer that works better for printing legal documents. Companies y and z will never be as large as x (if they just stick to their niches). But due to catering to niches and excelling within those niches y and z will have stable client bases that company x really can’t get close to since its focus is too broad. Companies y and z will be successful and solvent, just not as big as x got. And if people liked having printers that could do the whole show and didn’t mind mediocre photo or legal document print outs, many customers would also be interested in staying with x.

Getting back to the Mystic Worlds post, while much of her argument is, IHMO, right on the money (Go Big or Stay Home) I think games with lower overheads that don’t mind not being the next “WoW Killer” but just want a piece of the MMO pie will be happy and thrive as long as they work hard to cater to the niche(s) into which their customers fall. Thus, if my analysis of increasing niche games is correct, there will be no “WoW Killer” but there will be an increasing number of smaller, more focused games some of which may appeal directly to what you want in a game.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thank your Officers

I'm an officer in a kinship in LotRO. I have been an officer in a guild in WoW as well as a second-banana GM and a kinship leader in LotRO during open beta. In my current kinship, there are some people applying for officer positions and I'm not sure why. Being able to help steer the direction of a kinship is neat but the best ones don't really need much steering if the recruiting process is sound. Most of the neat stuff I do can easily be blown out of the water by days like today.

*ding* A rant is about to commence. Please fasten your seatbelts and make sure your tray tables are locked and the seats in their forward and upright positions.

It all began when a group of friends and I decided to help a couple kinshipmates through the long and painful book ten questline. This questline involves much swimming across Lake Evendim so I really wasn't looking forward to it. But I was getting to help some folks with some stuff they needed so I focused on that and just swam my little hobbit legs off.

Then the tells start.

Officer A had send a private message to officer B explaining why he didn't like "hardcore" raiders in such a casual kinship. Officer B decided that rather than talk to officer A, he'd send the contents of the message to some raiders in the kinship but only the parts that make it look like officer A hates all raiders (which would actually be really funny since officer A is the raiding coordinator). Officer B blabs to several kinship members who start sending me tells to complain about officer A's out-of-context statement fragments.

Someone in the group, one of the officers, asked me why I was still on the shore instead of swimming again and I replied in /officer that I was talking to a member about something officer B said officer A said when I realized officer B was still online. Instead of attempting to diffuse the situation he started, officer B attempts to use the 'duck-and-cover' method of leadership by spending the rest of the night incommunicado.

Through tells the other officer in my Evendim group (three of us in the group were officers) inform me that the same individual has been assailing them with tells demanding to speak with the kinship leader, who wasn't online at the time, or to be involved with the officer meeting the next time we have one.

Throughout the rest of the Evendim excursion, I kept receiving / replying to tells, watched two members quit the kinship, assured the other online members that in fact, no, two members leaving does not mean we'll be disbanding the kinship any time soon and also apparently managed to help kill a bunch of stuff and get book ten done. Though I do remember riddling the troll on the way out of the building with our guardian behind me carrying the Palantir. I love doing that.

The drama passed relatively quickly after the two members left and once things seemed stable I logged for the night.

The situation outlined above was not particularly special or unique. I've also seen worse. A lot worse. It's bad in tells but worse when people are actually screaming at each other on Vent.

So thank your officers, those of you in kinships / guilds / supergroups / whatever. We make sure people get help getting gear. We help organize raids, events and whatnot. And occasionally we have to sacrifice our playtime to deal with silliness.

Two good things came out of the whole thing tonight:
1) I got to riddle a troll.
2) I remembered to write "beer" on my shopping list before the next officer meeting. That's going to be an interesting one I'm sure and I'm also sure I could use a drink for it.

More on LotRO Raiding

My LotRO kinship and I went through the Rift again this past Monday. Having downed a boss last week, we got together a group to push in further this week. We had trouble getting a full raid together from our own kinship and ended up getting members of an allied kinship and some other folks who were friends of kinshipmates. One person had already cleared the first and second bosses in the Rift, so those bosses were not present when we entered. Thus we went straight for boss three and four.

Not long after entering, we had a disastrous battle on the stairway after the giant room: we aggroed a group, then a group on the stairs and then got caught in a orc zerg followed by someone getting rezzed and moving too close to the patrols causing a second near-wipe. It seems that we got all ‘teh stoopid’ out of our systems with that little catastrophe because we annihilated the rest of the encounters we were in and lost very few people in doing so. No one got upset or whiny, I think everyone there factored the potential repair bills into account before they decided to go raiding.

Time investments:
We started the raid at 8:30 EST and ended it around 11:30. So that’s three hours of raiding. In WoW, we used to start around 7pm with an 11pm ending time. We raided for about an hour longer per night in WoW. On Monday’s raid, we did allow for periodic bio-breaks and a couple people afked here and there. Time-wise, I think the big difference between the kin I’m in and my WoW raiding guild is that in LotRO, we’re only raiding two maybe three days a week. WoW raiding we every night except one per week where, provided you got your farmed mats, you could do what you wanted. In LotRO, I hardly farmed anything specifically for raiding. I bought my potions and still have quite a few. I go through a lot of power and morale potions, but I also get a lot from questing. Money I tend to get just from killing mobs for quests, quest completion or vendoring trash. I imagine that people with gathering skills have no need to do much more than go gathering for an hour or two a week. I guesstimate that I’d spend about one hour in the game farming to cover the expenses for an entire three-hour raid. Pretty insignificant, IMHO.

Group play:
Just like in WoW, LotRO’s raids emphasis group play. It’s not to the point where one person’s activity / inactivity will kill a group, but people have to have a good sense of where they need to be and what they should be doing. On Monday’s raid, we had a number of fights where our Hunters had to kill adds or the Lore Masters had to mez certain mobs. Both groups did exceptionally well. In one incident, we were pulling a group of five elite master types and the Lore Master and burglars were called on to mez targets. Our group coordination at that point was downright scary. We ended up with five mezzed mobs. No duplicates. Just five mobs wobbling around stunned. We all had a good laugh while the Guardian pulled them to us. A couple came bolting at once towards the end but we dropped them all with no problems.

LotRO raids seem to be more forgiving than WoW’s raids. A reasonable amount of coordination will be fine. And there’s even some wriggle-room for occasional bonehead mistakes. Like the time I hit a mob with enrage (a Burglar ability which causes them to run around a group randomly aggroing people). It was good for getting a mob off the Minstrel, bad when the poor main tank was trying to round the mob up and worse when the silly Hobbit Burglar can’t seem to keep up with the mob to apply another trick to remove the enrage one. So the mob ran around the group with the Guardian and I in tow. We were quite a sight. No deaths resulted but I was glad when that was over.

Gear and Stats:
Being a former WoW player, I take the condition of my gear somewhat seriously. I want to make sure I have the hit points, power and other stats to ensure I am effective in a group. My hit points at the moment hover around 2600 with no buffs. I compared myself to my kinship’s main tank: he has around 5000 hit points unbuffed. Then I took a look at our second main tank for the evening. 2500 hit points with buffs*. He was out in the fray tanking elite master dragons and such with fewer hitpoints than I have with no buffs. Gear matters less in LotRO. We did have some very talented minstrels with us (both of whom have at least some teal raiding gear) which I’m sure helped a lot. Gear is not irrelevant. It’s nice to know however that a lack of gear on one person isn’t going to cause massive issues for the whole raid if it can be compensated for by gear / talents / skills in another class.

As far as stats go, I’m trying to get all my traits moved up around 6 or 7. I have had to grind a lot of mobs to make sure I get the traits completed but I only have one trait stuck at 5, the rest are up to spec.

Overall, I view LotRO’s raiding system a lot more favorably than WoW’s. There’s less time investment needed, less material investment needed and you’re still in for some challenging, fun fights. It’s worth noting that final instance bosses are still incredibly difficult (Turbine increased Thorog’s difficulty in Helegrond so he is insanely hard at this point) but most of the bosses can be dropped with good timing and coordination.

All the stuff above when combined with LotRO's practice of providing high-quality gear from crafting puts raiding in even better perspective: it's another fun thing to do. It's not the be-all end-all of the game. If you want to raid, raid. It will be fun. If you don't like raiding, no biggie. There are other things to do and other ways to get gear for your character.

* I'm not sure how he managed such a low number. Gear explains part of it. Perhaps also he needed to work on some of his traits too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Book Eleven Stuff

More on Housing:
I think I have my Hobbit home the way I like it. I have Tom Bombadil’s music playing most of the time. I have a Breakfast table I made in the middle of the main room and everything is colored and arranged the way I like it.

During the Harvest Festival, I got one neat item: a Black Mushroom pot. During the Spring Festival, I helped some lady in the Shire plant some things. I got some ok rewards (pipeweed and some recipes) but didn’t think much about it. There was some mention about coming back in the Fall to follow up with the work I had done, but no indication as to what the reward might be. I went back for the Fall Festival and got the Mushroom pot. I think it’s kind of neat. It’s just a small pot with three mushrooms in it that I can place in a small floor slot. So rare are these that I’ve heard of them selling for 6 gold on most servers in the AH if you can find one there. And I have two of them (one from my main and another from an alt that is also a farmer.) I haven’t decided what to do with the second one yet. I would like to give it to a kinship mate who would like to hang on to it (your very own pot of mushrooms would be a very Hobbity thing to treasure). The money doesn’t really appeal to me that much: making money is easy and I’d rather make someone happy to have something rare than get a bunch of virtual cash that I’d just spend on virtual crap.

New Content:
High Pass and Goblin Town were introduced in this update along with a new epic quest series: Book Eleven. I haven’t had a chance to get to the Book Eleven quests yet as I am still on Book Ten. For those who read the Hobbit, you may remember Goblin Town and the High Pass as the areas Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the other dwarves passed through in route to the Lonely Mountain. The zone is an addition to the Misty Mountains area above Rivendell. It is a very nicely done zone. It’s always snowing there. There are wargs, wolves and, of course, goblins all over the place. Goblin Town itself is in a cave complex with all kinds of twists and turns. It’s really easy to get lost in there. Of course, you can also see, and dethrone, the new Great Goblin. You can visit Gollum’s cave and retrieve Bilbo’s missing buttons for a trait reward. There are many new quests in the area as well.

Along with the new High Pass content is some new content in the Trollshaws near the Fens by the Bruinen Gorges. The zone includes a stream with several large bodies of water (not Evendim Lake big), many new quest NPCs, a new elf camp located in some beautifully rendered ruins and, by my count, three instances containing level-appropriate solo content from 40 to 50 or thereabouts. The instance areas are very well done. As an explorer type, I’ve had a lot of fun just sneaking around in them, taking down random mobs and just goofing off.

Burglar Stealth Cool down:
For those that haven’t heard the screaming from the Turbine forums, there was a change to Burglars in the most recent update. The change is the addition of a ten-second cool-down from the time you exit stealth until you reenter it. In reading the forums prior to the change, you’d think this was going to be the end of the world. Like most of the changes Turbine makes to the game, it actually had fairly little effect on my play style. At the most, I have been standing around for only a second or two after combat with an even-leveled mob. Gray mobs, I no longer bother stealthing for. I suppose the change would most effect those interested in either 1) gathering while sneaking around or 2) playing a burglar in the PvP zone. I’m not sure the channel time for gathering, but anything less than ten seconds would mean standing around for a bit and the possibility of being spotted by a mob. Burgs can still sneak to the node, however, giving them an advantage over other gatherers trying to get to hard-to-reach stuff. The PvP change would effect burgs that like to stealth and then instantly re-steath to drop from visibility once spotted. Not being a big PvPer, the change doesn’t effect me that much. It’s worth noting that a number of people on the Turbine forums are complaining about PvP imbalance (not just due to Burgs) and from their complaints I think the issues with Burglars are relatively small potatoes.

One burglar problem is getting locked into combat if you one-shot a mob coming out of stealth. I ran through most of Goblin Town with a group of kinship-mates stuck in combat because I didn’t want to have them standing around waiting for me to log out and back in. Hide in Plain Sight and Hobbit Silence have no effect on the bug, I’m in combat until I log out. Compared to the locked in combat bug, the stealth cool-down is a non-issue for me. One tactic I employ to keep the locked-in-combat bug from happening is to strike from stealth using a lower damage attack. Yes, this gimps my dps but I’d rather pass on the giant opener than risk having to log off and back on every other minute or two.

I went on my second Helegrond raid this past weekend. I’m raiding with a fairly mature group of people so it’s a pretty casual atmosphere. No yelling, lots of joking around and everyone taking their role seriously while they’re doing it. We farmed the spider boss and the drake bosses as usual. We also took another stab at Thorog (sp?). That guy is TOUGH. As part of our strategy this time our burglars, including myself, ran to the high platform in the instance where Thorog lands and heals himself. The idea is that we do a named conjunction to interrupt the heal. We stood there for what seemed like ten minutes while Thorog destroyed the better part of our raid group. Then he flew up to where we were. We executed our conjunction (all yellow) and interrupted his heal! Hooray! Then he turned around and fire-breathed on us, killing us all instantly.

Other Stuff:
In other news, a couple members of my kinship (3, actually) are leaving the game in spite of the content updates. The main issues for them are real life issues and not necessarily related to game play. Another friend of mine is actually coming back to the game after a long break. He played WoW for a bit and decided he didn’t care for it (I think his highest-level character was 50 or so).

Comings and goings in any game are not strange, but there do seem to be a lot more people siting RL reasons for leaving or taking long breaks from LotRO over WoW’s typical “I’m quitting and here’s why everyone else should too” given reasons. This may be indicative of the general age bracket the game appeals to (older people with families / careers / school verses a younger crowd) or it could just be the people I hang around with.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Place to Call My Own

Well, it’s finally here: LotRO’s Housing update. At first I was determined not to get swept up in the whole thing. PHAIL! A kinshipmate and I went on a tour of the Shire and bought a couple Smials right next to each other. She opted for a smaller one and I got a deluxe one. She and I are two of fairly few Hobbits in the kinship and we both decided that Hobbits should live in the Shire if at all possible. The rest of the kinship is men and elves (we have very few dwarves) so they were out getting homes near Bree or in Falathorn.

Overall I am very pleased with the way they implemented housing. Once I purchased my home, it was mine and no one else could gain access except me. The first thing I did, once I figured out how, was to allow access to my kinshipmates. (When you’re near your home, you get two additional buttons on your navigation circle: one to set permissions and one to toggle to design mode.) You can allow no access (the default) right up to total access to everything including the vault and decorations if you want. I opted to give the kin visitor access. I will probably allow public visitor access at some point. You can also add specific people if you want to.

Once I had the place and the access permissions set up, I went looking for furniture. Each instance has a furniture shop in it but not all shops sell the same stuff. Also, the places people have been getting rep with have items you can purchase for your homes as well. You can tell by the statues people have in their yards what group(s) they are affiliated with. Sometimes the effect is a bit like having a statuary rummage sale on your lawn, but it’s neat to be able to show off your hard work for getting rep.

Rep items:
- Tom Bombadill music box from the Mathom House (plays the ambient music from Tom’s house in my house).
- Dwarven yard statue from Thorin’s Hall rep instance (which is too huge so it sits in my housing storage box for now)

Shire furnishings:
- A couple of scholar bookshelves for the study
- A Hobbit bed
- A couple of birch trees
- An additional fireplace for the bedroom.

- Chairs
- A long table which a cook can turn into a very nice looking breakfast table with dishes, a lit candle and food on it. (Note – this is a “special” item which requires a special item hook).

- Shire Oak Tree (why these aren’t available in the Shire, I’m not sure – it’s an awesome tree though and it’s friggin’ huge). Most of the rest of the elf furnishings look gaudy to me.

Thorin’s Gate:
- Iron chandelier
- Tall candle holder things
- Tapestries and pictures
- A little keg in a wheelbarrow for my yard.
- A mossy well for my yard
- A bunch of rugs

I used the trees to turn my rather plain lot into a wooded lot. I added the keg wagon and mossy well for lawn ornaments. I could also shuffle around things as I saw fit. I arranged one room to be my Hobbit’s bedroom complete with rug, bed, small scholar’s desk and a little fireplace. There’s no fire in the fireplace but it adds a certain charm to the room.

The other off-room became my Hobbit’s study. I have two large bookcases and a scholar’s desk covered with books in the middle. There’s a chair beside the fireplace for sitting and reading. I added a heraldry picture to the wall as well. In time, I hope to be able to add a map of Middle-earth (if one exists in-game). As an adventurer, I imagine him planning his escapades in this room and would like to fill it with items from his adventures.

The main room was tough. It’s enormous and even when using all the hooks, it looks like a vast chasm. In the center I put a large, red rug and my specially made breakfast table. Over the table hangs my chandelier. Along the sides I added a couple more pictures and some chairs and a small table I got from a housing quest. True to my roots in web design, I set things up, took them down and reset them up in different ways until I was happy with the layout of the place.

My gripes with the system are few. Every object has a name and, if you have object names turned on, it’s like walking into a floating catalog of the contents of someone’s house. As soon as I enter a house, I’ll turn the floating names off so I can take in the visuals without having text labels all over the place.

Items have a fixed orientation within their slotted areas. At one point I tried to put a chair in front of my fireplace only to find that the chair’s fixed position faces away from the fireplace. I tried changing it by removing it and adjusting the position from which I was adding the chair to the hook. No matter what I tried, it always faces away. I ended up putting a table there instead. Having a chair in front of a fireplace but facing the opposite direction looks kind of silly to me.

The table hooks don’t allow for chairs to be placed around them. My breakfast table sits openly on the floor like a buffet table rather than a place you’d actually want to sit and eat. Along with this is the fact that other furniture hooks are too far away from each other. If I wanted a number of chairs around in a circle so my friends and I could sit and talk, I can’t do it with the hooks that are there. I’m hoping there’s a special item I can get to put a set of chairs or a table and chairs in the center of the room. Something like a living room set would be neat and make it feel more like a home than a museum.

Overall, I have been enjoying setting up my house. I’m looking forward to actually using it for stuff. Parties! Woo!

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Today was my first experience raiding in The Lord of the Rings Online. My kinship has been doing weekly raids for a month or so now with some other allied kinships. I abstained at first due to level (much lower than 50 and you'll have trouble hitting the mobs). Even after I dinged 50, I didn't jump right on the bandwagon. I had been in a couple raiding kinships in WoW and figured I'd hold off.

Then it happened: one of the kinships in the raid alliance created a drama thread on the forums of my kinship about how they felt disrespected and used because we had decided to create a separate raid with more of our own members present from the two largest kinships in the alliance. The last raid we were on with them resulted in a slew of complaints to our officers (myself included) about the behavior of some of the other kinship's members. As I understand it, I was not on the raid, there was much screaming at other raid participants on vent and some loot drama that happened. The reports reminded me about everything I hated about WoW raiding. The storm settled down quickly and the other officers and I agreed to end the old alliance in favor of a new one with just the two largest kinships.

I went to Helegrond with them last night. It was actually a lot of fun. We took down the first boss and then proceeded to take out the four bosses at the entrance (we wiped once largely because we were trying a new strategy, once we switched back to the old one people knew better we crushed them with only a couple dead). Not knowing what I was doing, I just used my main assist and hit whatever he was hitting. We ventured further in and took out the spider. As a wrap-up to the evening, we attempted the big dragon boss (Thorag?) and got owned. I actually died twice: once when I was just trying to get into position (he set fire to the bridge I was on) and once after I rezzed and rode back in on my pony.

One thing I've become a lot more familiar with in LotRO is the graphics / advanced graphics options. Most of the time, I can run it on very high. For most of the raid, I used medium. For the spider boss, which is very graphically intensive, I ran on low graphics. The changes helped quite a bit in dealing with lag issues and display problems. It's a nice touch in a game as graphically intense as LotRO to be able to switch around my settings so easily to accommodate for game conditions.

And another tip if anyone else experiences element deformities such as horizontal slices (pixels or sets of pixels which extend from the edges of objects to infinity): turn on the "synch to refresh rate" in advanced graphics. I turned it on and haven't had many problems since. It will take up more resources on your machine but it makes things look a LOT better.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ding! 50!

My Hobbit Burglar dinged 50 (max level in Lord of the Rings Online) the other day. Now I can wear the class-set gloves I got as a drop a week or so ago. Yay! I've been spending my time at 50 going back to some of the areas I hadn't explored as thoroughly as I would have liked to on my first trip through. The Trollshaws in particular is a massive zone with a lot of variety to it and lots of ruins to check out. I need to work on my traits to get up to spec. I've also been working my way through the epic book quests and taking some time to run Carn Dum and other instances with kinship mates. In-between all of the stuff listed above, I've also been roaming around in the Ettenmoors more often. As the only PvP zone in the game, it adds a bit to the excitement of questing. The problem I have with it is the PvP: like most MMOs I think the PvP in LotRO isn't all that great.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Current and Near-future state of MMOs

Tobolds had an article on his blog about the doom-casting around MMOs and how many bloggers are all pointing to the same dark morass 2008 will be for MMOs and saying “Doom! Doooooooom!” He also thought it would be interesting for some kind of counter-point discussion. Not being one to shy away from rambling on about poorly-researched subject matter, and also having been in a blogging slump lately, I considered it prime time to dust off the keyboard and dazzle my readers with my foresight, insight and overall mastery of the English language.

Then I came back to reality, and wrote this instead:

Player benefits of the current MMO slump:

1) Rather than play new, players can cross-pollinate. 2008 will be a good time for players to play other established games which they may not have considered. World of Warcraft, Everquest2, Guild Wars, Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes, to name a few, have been going well for a while now. Players can break away from the games they may be tiring of and try another one that has already been established for a while. Who knows? Perhaps in trying a game you dismissed at first may introduce you to a really great game.

2) An opportunity for Sleeper Hits. While most of the big-name MMOs seem to be delayed or cancelled, perhaps this is prime time for an MMO from a small name developer to leap to the front of the pack and impress people with awesome game-play / neat stories / whatever floats your boat. The industry as a whole could use some fresh blood. A company of any size could really shine if they bring something revolutionary to the table in 2008.

3) Games with room to grow. Many people love being in on the ground floor of The Next Big Thing (tm), but how about getting in on a game which is being refined. Lord of the Rings Online needs some more work with regard to combat fluidity, quests for certain levels and some other tweaks but it’s getting there. Tabula Rasa sounds like it needs more content. I imagine they’ll probably build it sometime. You could be one of the folks that got in at the ground level and, by playing and offering constructive feedback, you could help to make a good game great. People love the current polish of WoW, but seldom seem to remember the MONTHS of server problems, log in queues, inventory problems and crashes that came immediately after the launch. Tomorrow’s refined game started today as a passable, not-that-bad-but-not-that-great game.

4) Go the ^$%# outside. Another benefit of not having a lot of new gaming options: no excuse to stay cooped up inside.

All that, of course, is from the player perspective.

From the perspective of the MMO companies, I think they are engaged in a great struggle. How does one make an MMO in a post-WoW world? Whether you like the game or not, WoW pretty much defines what a release and continued development in a great game should be. I view WAR’s delay not as a failing on the part of Mythic, but perhaps a success: they’re not going to release a game that’s crap and if it is so far from being worthy that it won’t be releasable for a good long time, then it’s best to pull the plug and get to retooling it now instead of knowing that there are problems and trying to release it anyway.

I don’t remember where I read it, but one gaming insider said that no one remembers when you release something late if it’s good, but everyone remembers when you release crap too soon. I’m sure I paraphrased that badly, but the attitude of releasing worthy games is a good one. In the end, it will strengthen the genre and provide us the users with ever-widening sources of viable game play whatever our personal preferences may be.

If we have to wait for the Next Big Thing(tm) in gaming until late 2008 or 2009, that's cool by me. If the game companies are worth their salt, there should actually be a number of releases that should be quite good whenever it is that they can be released.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

LotRO Housing

Some exciting news for those of us looking forward to the housing update for the Lord of the Rings Online:

There is an interview with Jeff Anderson, President & CEO of Turbine, on Warcry about the housing update (including some screen shots of Gollum).

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Last night I participated in my first raid in LotRO. It wasn’t an instance, it was against a spider boss named Bogbereth (or “Bog breath,” as my Kinship leader calls her). Having tackled the world dragons in WoW, I was expecting a lot of carnage on our side for not so much reward. Actually, we did exceptionally well. This being our first raid as a kinship, everyone level 45 and up wanted in. In short order, we had all the people that wanted to come ready and in Gath Forthnir for the raid. We went from GF into the spider lair, crushing everything in our path. We wound up in a dead end filled with small swarm spiders which we quickly demolished. Then a couple of elite spiders appeared and we took them out too. Then it was her: the giant spider queen herself.

Anticipated raid time: half-an-hour. Actual elapsed time including travel: 18 minutes. We were done so fast some of us, such as myself, had to stand around a minute to think of other stuff to do. I ended up on a kinship run to get some folks caught up with their book 7 and 8 quests. My groupmates were also nice enough to help my sneaksy hobbit butt get back to the place where I needed to complete book 9.1.

I thought back to the Bogbereth raid experience when I was reading an insightful post on Hardcore Casual about WoW Raiding. Most of the LotRO raiding I've hear of has involved less time and effort than raiding in WoW. I'm rather heartened by it - not that I'll get "easy epics," I could seriously care less about cartoon armor for my cartoon guy, but that I'll be able to see raids as just another fun thing I can do rather than a crappy-paying second job.

Ten Years of Ultima Online

Gratz to the folks over at EA for the ten year anniversary of Ultima Online.

One interesting comment included the following quote from Pimps and Dragons.

Playing a virtual-world game takes some getting used to," Garriott told me. "You have to realize that the world is what you make of it. Unfortunately, that means most likely you're going to have a relatively mediocre life.

An interesting observation and something I’ve been telling the folks trapped on the raiding and PvP reward hamster wheels for a while. Just because a game company gives you something to do in an online game doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it. Just because a game company doesn’t give you something to do doesn’t mean you can’t do it your own damned self.

Role play, create fun events, go exploring and have fun!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

LotRO Fun?

The Ancient Gaming Noob and Potshot have had a couple on interesting posts about LotRO and Why isn’t LotRO More Fun? (Or Why is WoW fun?). Based on my past experiences of having everyone I know that came from WoW head back to WoW except me, it got me to thinking. Why am I staying? Why do I enjoy Turbine’s take on Middle-earth so much?

Chief among my reasons for sticking with LotRO is the fact that it is set in Middle-earth. I first read The Hobbit at age 14. I was blown away. I loved the story of the plucky little Hobbit that had adventures and basically went where only the Big Folk were supposed to go. Lord of the Rings also held my imagination for a long while. In the DnD groups with my friends, we were essentially recreating the adventures of Bilbo and company but in our own stories.

Another reason I’m still around coincides with the first: I get to play a Hobbit - not some stunted elf wanna-be “halfling” or gnome, but a Hobbit. Some folks have suggested that the Hobbits Turbine created are not true to what Tolkien wrote about. I’m not sure what the detractors mean. They may not be true to what -I- imagined them looking like back when I was 14, but Turbine’s version is close enough to the description in the books for me.

Innovative gameplay is also present in LotRO. I like the fact that Turbine is working on finding fun ways to do the same old things. In WoW, I loathed the “Fed Ex” type quests (delivering something for someone – basically a thinly-veiled excuse to take up time and resources). In LotRO there are also “Fed Ex” quests but many became mini-games by themselves. Delivering mail from one post office in the Shire to another was a great deal of fun: grab the mail, plot your course, avoid nosey Hobbits, get the mail to the next post office under the time-limit. Good times. And it’s always neat to watch other Hobbits leaping fences, avoiding nosey Hobbits and running across rooftops to get their mail delivered. The Shire itself is pretty amazing.

I haven’t played every class available, but the Burglar class is exceptionally well done. The way the class functions feels very much like a Burglar in The Hobbit: not a warrior-type but able to win victories through cunning rather than brute force. As a stealth class, I like having options about how to complete quests. I have managed several times to sneak my way into areas and steal the quest objective out from under the mobs surrounding it. Just like any other class, I can choose to simply fight my way in as well if I have to. I abandoned my Champion at level 14 - too much button mashing for me. My guardian sits idle at 37 - well implemented class, but the need to fight everything all the time gets old. My hunter is also sitting at 32 - interesting class and I may pick it back up again.

I appreciate the subtlety of the game. George RR Martin and Tolkien have that in common. No Drizzits roaming around destroying everything with ease. The world is a bitch, you’re not the center of the universe and evil things can kick your ass if you’re not careful. Evil is not a cardboard cutout. Evil is not always the monster in the corner with the horns and pitchfork. Evil doesn’t walk around kicking puppies; it knows that puppies aren’t worth destroying. Games where there is cartoon evil are fine; it’s neat to blast the crap out of the slobbering zombie that keeps saying “braaaaainsss” over and over again; but Tolkien shied away from overt forms of magic to make it subdued, requiring great skill to learn and uncommon. Yes, it means you cannot appear god-like in LotRO but you can still create a viable Tolkienesque character without the uber-leet stuff that comes along with it.

With all the stuff above that I really like comes some stuff that could still use some work.

The combat system can be a bit unwieldy. I’m not suggesting that characters get radical new powers or anything, but combat in LotRO does seem to suffer a lot from lag times or unresponsiveness. If I hit an ability, it could fire off immediately (which is a surprise), after a slight delay (the norm) or after a long delay (which I dread). That changing wait-state until an ability goes off is rattling. Those precious seconds between action and execution could very well change my anticipated strategy for dealing with a mob’s behaviors. For example, if the mob is a healer, I will keep Addle (an interrupt for burglars) in reserve. Once the hands glow green, I’ll fire it off. If the ability doesn’t hit, I will need to know right away so I can use one of my stuns. A long lag time on my Addle means the mob could get their heal off. Or I could miss Addle (or the mob could resist the interrupt) in which case I would also have to wait for my stun to fire. Much of the time Addle works fine but there have been a few cases where Addle got resisted, I hit the stun but missed my chance to stop the heal due to the wait time between abilities.

The content is not lacking. The problem is the abilty to play the system. Whether you’re a die-hard roleplayer or not, you will have to engage in combat countless numbers of times as you move your character from 1 – 50 (the current level cap). That means I will use Addle and all my other abilities thousands of times in many different combinations as I move up. If the process of using my abilities is cumbersome, the game will have a lot of problems retaining people. A game system needs to provide good content, but a good system contributes enormously to a game’s longevity. It is safe to say that no matter how long the game lasts, if I lose interest in the combat moves I need to make time after time after time, I will probably reroll or stop playing.

So overall, LotRO is fun to me. The world alone makes it worth it to spend time there. It is my hope that Turbine will keep up with their innovative approach to game play, keep expanding the world available to players, keep coming up with better ideas with things for players to do and fix some of the issues with combat. LotRO hasn’t been around as long as WoW, so of course it’s less refined. Hundreds of thousands of users playing a game is better to weed out bugs than a couple hundred beta testers. When WoW first came out they had problem after problem with their servers, inventories not getting updated correctly and innumerable bugs to get fixed. WoW is the game it is today because of Blizzard’s diligence in fixing all those problems. The result is the excellent, polished game you see today. LotRO will get there in time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Embracing Subtlety

Last night I completed two of my three legendary trait books for my burglar. And in the process of grinding for those traits, I dinged 46. As I mentioned previously, the trait books are class-specific books you can get around level 39. Getting all the pages for your book will get you some nice abilities. By completing my Expert’s Guide to Dirty Fighting, for example, I was able to equip a new skill called Expose the Throat which is another conjunction starter (see Fellowship Maneuvers). It’s a handy little skill and, though the miss rate is high, there is only a small cool-down and the comedy value of my little Hobbit leaping up to jab an orc in the neck makes it a keeper.

As I was grinding for pages with my new skill, I got to thinking about when the last time I had trained my Hobbit in any non-trade related skills. I couldn’t remember when the last time I had to train was. It seems like since level 40 (or 42?) I have visited the trainer a number of times but they haven’t had any skills for me to learn, making my new Expose the Throat skill the only new skill in however many levels. Compare this to WoW, where, even when you ding the max level, you have to go train to get your new skills.

I’m not sure which approach I like better. The LotRO way means that I get to work with the same skill set for the remainder of my gaming experience (and it’s not like a burglar is lacking for skills, I have a ton of them). The down side is that another level, is just another level. I get a new number over my head and get a teeny bit more powerful. The change is subtle in a game that seems to embrace subtlety. The WoW way results in a drive to the end so you can complete your skill list and become more able to deal damage / take damage / heal damage / whatever it is your class does. It is important to note, however, that most of the skills one gets at the end of training in WoW are just more powerful versions of skills one already has, a new rank of mortal strike for example, not brand new abilities.

Both games find ways to try to keep people playing: LotRO by extending the leveling process and in providing a large number of time-consuming means for improvements (book pages, other traits) and WoW by getting you to the cap quickly and then providing time-consuming means to improve your character via gear.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


This week, I have been working to promote my kinship’s event for a festival we are having on our server in LotRO. Many players enjoyed the Summer Festival Turbine did for us, so a couple of months ago, us players put together our own festival. It was a blast. We have tournaments (dueling), Monsterplay raids, parties, several RP events, a talent show (which I was part of) and other fun stuff. This time around, people seem to have lost interest. My race across Breeland (which I and others thought would be a fun idea) has gotten no takers. Moreover, the official thread for the event keeps getting buried on page two or three underneath the latest drama threads or other mindless crap.

Tobold’s had an interesting article about community in an MMO. He speculates that forums for the community aren’t really relevant to playing an MMO. I’m not sure. In spite of the troubles getting our festival started (which is more due to apathy than a bad community) I think the community sites help more than they hurt. Just like most forms of research on the Internet, you have to sift through a mountain of crap to find something valuable, but there are good peeps playing the game and posting on the forums. Good people read the forums whether they post or not. So the forums can serve as a tool outside of the game for like-minded people to at least get to know about each other.

Forums often seem like a magnet for the whiney or attention-starved morons that afflict video games with their presence, however, lost in the landslide of crap, there are smart people raising genuine concerns which could help improve a game. As Sanya brings up often in her blog, part of what good community managers do is sift through the junk to find the important or at least noteworthy stuff which they can then answer / take to other folks. The only way I see this happening easily and in mass is on a forum.

I have enjoyed the community team interaction with players from LotRO. They seem to have a genuine interest in the players and how to make the game fun. I am worried that they will place too much stock in the opinions of whiney little kids, but for the most part, they seem pretty well balanced.

So I'll tolerate the forum trolls and morons as long as I can get the occasional bit of useful info from the forums and as long as they provide a useful link between those outside the company building an MMO and those within. I just wish a couple of 'em would sign up for my bloody event. >_<

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hrm ... so not I'm part of this whole Internet Meme thing.

Lessee here

Four jobs I have had in my life (not including my current job):

• Lawn Mower (a person that mows lawns, not the machine)
• Busboy
• Line Cook
• Inbound Call Rep

Four films I have watched again and again:

• Ronin
• 300
• The Italian Job
• Matrix 3 (those machines with guns for arms do it for me)

Four places I have lived:
• A house
• An apartment
• Another apartment
• Yet another apartment

Four Programs I love to watch:

• Samurai Jack
• Futurama
• Family Guy
• Learning Channel Specials

Four Places I have been on vacation:

• Orlando, FL
• Washington, DC
• A Buddhist Temple in the Catskills
• The Adirondack Mountains

Four of my favourite foods:

• Pizza
• Sweet and Sour Chicken at PF Chang's
• Steak
• Sub sandwiches at a local deli

Four favourite drinks:

• Beer (I've been on a Heieken kick lately, Corona is good and Labatts in a pinch)
• Coffee
• Earl Grey Tea
• Water

Four places I would rather be right now:

• Any place where I can see mountains
• Any place where I can hike in the woods and not see anyone.
• Someplace cooler than here but not so cold it's snowing.
• A quiet place by a lake.

Four People I Command to Do This:

• George RR Martin
• Peter Jackson
• Harrison Ford
• Uma Thurman

*Snrk* Yeah, like any of those people come here. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Various Ramblings

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so here’s what’s going on for those who are interested or just morbidly curious.

WoW – closed down my account again. Most of my friends have moved on and it’s pretty much the same as I remember: meh. It’s a great game, but it’s one I’ve played already (at least as much as I care to). That will probably be my last foray into the World of Warcraft. Even with upcoming expansions, I can’t imagine wanting back in.

EQ2 – I dabbled in EQ2 a bit for the past month. It’s a neat game. Nicely done graphics, for the most part. I liked the animations. Once I had triggered a “heroic opportunity” (a special chain attack) the light-show was impressive. The seizure warnings on the box and in the game are apt. I dabbled in crafting and it seems they have some interesting ideas there.

As has been noted elsewhere, figuring out what things mean is a real challenge in the game. In the beginner island, there are many NPCs that will explain most of the abilities. However, it’s sorta like being handed a massive manual and being expected to read it cover-to-cover before it’s taken away for good. If you have problems outside beginner island, I’m not sure what players are supposed to do. Overall, EQ2 is a very well-done game but it has some gaping holes in it. I haven’t played it in a while and will let my free month expire.

LotRO – My Hobbit Burglar is now 45. I’m still enjoying LotRO. I’m happy that I didn’t race to the end and actually restarted my character when I realized I wasn’t as happy playing my other two (hunter and guardian). It seems like many of the people having problems enjoying LotRO are the power-gamer types that force themselves to pick a character and get to the end. Getting to the max level in LotRO is tough and if you’re not happy with your character at 30, the next 20 levels will be brutal.

Last night was mostly grinding. There are books in LotRO where, after your character is 39, you can begin collecting pages to get a couple of class-specific epic traits. I got all three of my books (one from a drop, one a kinshipmate gave me, and the last I bought on the auction house for a cheap 100 silver). Pages drop from different mobs. So you farm the mobs to get your pages. I didn’t mind grinding too much. I can burgle the humanoid mobs before killing them so I get some nice loot that way. The area I’m in is also somewhat challenging. Sometimes I’ll need to take out two or three baddies at a time. Or take down one and vanish before a patrol passes too close. I have three of the four pages I need from the Hillmen before moving on. I’ve also managed to get some nice items for kinshipmates and a lot of coin for the stuff I sold.

In other LotRO news: the kinship I’m in made me an officer. Obviously, they’re not readers here or the last thing they’d give me is power. :) Mu wu ha ha ha! Er … *cough* Since a lot of what I enjoy doing is coming up with unique ways to enjoy the game world, they made me the Events Coordinator. It’s been neat thus far. I made an event where we cleared out the orc fortress in the Weathered Hills just for yucks. People seemed to have a lot of fun with that even though my idea for an epic battle on the bridge leading into the fort didn’t pan out – the bloody orcs all reset before I could get them to group up on the bridge. It’s like herding cats attached to bungie cords: even if you get them where you want them, sooner or later *zoiiiing* back into the living room they go. At least my girlfriend wasn’t there to yell at me this time. Er … something. *shiftyeyes* (And for those reading with a sense of growing horror, no I don’t do that to cats.) So we took the orcs out in a rather silly, one-at-a-time manner.

Orc Captian: “We’re under attack!”

Underling: “Should we form a front at the bridge, the narrowest part of the entrance, to force the intruders away?”

Orc Captain: “Fool! That’s the first thing they’d expect! We need to keep milling about as if nothing is at all amiss! We’ll lure them in with our complacency! They’ll get cocky with their belief that they are in control. And then.…”

Underling: “We attack in a surprise move to push them from the fort?”

Orc Captain: “Umm … maybe. Ok, I haven’t worked that part out yet, but just stroll around until I do.”

My server has some server-wide events coming up soon as well. It’s been challenging coming up with an event (a race, in particular) and then figuring out all the rules and regs that need to go along with it. It would be nice to be able to assume that people of average intelligence and good hearts were playing, however one has to assume the worst. That or some jackass will map to the finish line and declare victory because “LOL U NVR SAID I CUDN;T, LAWL!!11” So most of what I have been working on is a rule set which should make it abundantly clear even to the extremely dense what it means to be in a race. Now that it’s all worked out, it should be a good time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

LoTRO: Book Ten

Book Ten – The City of Kings is here in LoTRO. I haven’t had a chance to see all the changes yet. Most appealing to me is the new reputation system. WoW has done it already, but LoTRO’s take on it seems promising. As a Hobbit, I ran out to the Shire to start getting rep quests for the Mathom House. They changed the MH itself so it’s now a building that can be entered with the right amount of rep. I remember thinking what a waste of building space it was to have a building that large in the Shire that you couldn’t enter, so I’m looking forward to getting enough rep that I can see what’s in there. Rep quests also exist for groups of rangers, Men, Elves, Dwarves and a couple groups I’m sure I’m forgetting.

There was a lot of buzz on the Burglar forums about how horrible the Burglar changes would be. Turbine implemented a change to Counter Defense making it a percent debuff instead of a total nullification of the block and parry chances and also a change to decrease the power and effectiveness of different conjunctions. The Counter Defense changes didn’t make much difference that much that I could tell. The mobs usually take the debuff in such a way that they can’t block or parry anyway. With regard to the conjunctions, my kinship also ran the last chapter in Book Five last night (fighting a very tough boss) which involved alternating YYYYYY (a very large damage over time effect) and GGGBBB (massive heal, heal over time and near-total power restore for the whole group). It was a very long fight but he conjunctions made it a lot easier and we all lived. The text from the listed changes, however, states that the nerfs would apply to “high end” conjunctions. Perhaps our simple color patterns aren’t “high end” enough? That or the outcome of the changes wasn’t that pronounced.

And, sorry burglars, the swim speed bug has been fixed. No more speedy swim for you. :) It was fun while it lasted, but right is right and it was a bug. Thank GAWD I am no longer questing in Evendim. Given the travel times with normal swimming, if Turbine proposed putting in a catapult which would fire me to the other side of the lake but kill me in the process, I'd take it as long as I could rez where I landed.

Overall, I’m excited to see more of the changes, including the new zone of Annúminas, some of the legendary play changes in the Ettenmoors and, of course, chicken play.

In other news, while I am still enjoying LoTRO, I have reopened my WoW account. LoTRO leveling is slooooow and sometimes it's just nice to fire bomb stuff ala WoW rather than the more subdued combat option LoTRO has. I'm still in LoTRO, but I'll be working on my Ally hunter (and yes, he's a nelf) to see Outlands from the Ally side of things.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

LoTRO: Misc Stuffs

I’ve been having a lot of fun just goofing off on my Hobbit Burglar lately. I got him to 35 and passed his pony quest, so I’ve just been riding around and kicking the bejezus out of any mob that’s on my list of mobs for traits. I leveled so quickly as a Burglar that many of my traits are under-powered. I’ve been hunting mobs (mainly spiders, wolves, orcs and goblins) to get some better stats. How can this be fun? I make it my own little game. I’ve taken it as a chance to explore more. A couple of days ago, I killed spiders in Bindbole Woods (way north of Hobbiton). The day before yesterday, it was in Midgewater Marsh where I also decided to take down goblins. Yesterday, it was Ered Luin where it snowed much of the time. In addition to exploration, I try to come up with more creative ways to kill mobs. Trip one, trick and stun one and try to kill them both before the stuns wear off. I also PvP-dance around trying to fire off skills while moving. Problem is, in Ered Luin, most of the mobs die really quickly, so sometimes I’ll keep dancing around while I look for another target. Yes, it looks somewhat silly. Especially when I realize a lowbie has been following me asking for directions for several minutes while I’ve been going ape-s$#t beating up a level-8 spider.

In spite of my current in-game project (Stabbing Things in Exotic Locations), I have also managed to get close to level 37. I’m progressing in levels because I still do the occasional quest worth actual xp AND an in-game friend of mine is hell-bent on completing book 4 in his mid-thirties. I have a hard time saying no to friends that want to drag me off on their adventures so, of course, I went with him. It’s been a rough ride. Last night, I got to evasion-tank a level 42 elite (I’m level 36). The mob was bright red and didn’t like the gall of some silly Hobbit stabbing him in the ankles. Fortunately, we had a top-notch minstrel and a tank that saw the wee Hobbit running in circles, arms flailing, so I didn’t have to keep aggro that long. One of the frustrating things for me is getting the group to coordinate on conjunctions. Conjunctions* are new to most of the people I was grouped with so it took some effort just to pull off a GGGBBB let alone a nice named one like Chill of Bone (GYYYYB) or March of the Ents (GRRRRB) or some of the more complicated ones. Something we need to work on.

In other news, my kinship (not mine but the one I was in) imploded. The leader apparently decided that our mind-reading skills were inadequate to know that he was unhappy so he nuked the kinship and took down the website. I logged in yesterday to find myself without a kinship as did the rest of us. Fortunately, a few officers banded together, reformed the kinship and within ten minutes of logging in, I was back with my online family again. They’re really good peeps and it was amazing watching how quickly things got back to normal for us. There was a lot of encouragement from the other kinships on the server too.

During the course of things, we got to talking about how unfortunate it was that one person (the designated leader) could destroy the kinship without taking into account what the people in it wanted. It got me to thinking about the grouping (groups / fellowships as well as guilds / kinships) dynamics of most MMOs. Most will assume there is one person in charge and that they and only they get to promote / demote people. There is little room for democracy (i.e.: everyone voting on a leader) or some other dynamics. If a group of two people meets a group of three people all on the same quest, it would be nice if the two groups could merge together instead of disbanding one and waiting for and invite. The current system (absolute control of one person) probably cuts down on a lot of chatter and bickering that could otherwise ensue (“ok, folks, we’re now in hour seven of the loot rules debate, bathroom break for 15 minutes then we’ll deal with the light-hide conundrum …”), but it would be neat to see some more options possible.

* Conjunctions in LoTRO are events that can trigger deliberately (via burglar skills or a guardian skill) or they can also fire off at random. A color wheel will appear and each person can choose a color. So if you need a heal, you can click green (G). Direct damage is red (R). Damage over time is yellow (Y) and more power (think mana) is blue (B). While each person can select their own color, selecting a pattern of colors gets a more powerful result. GYYYYB (Chill of Bone), for example, will result in a heal over time for the whole group, a large damage-over-time effect on the target mob, power restoration and the target will have their movement and attack speed reduced. The blue player will also summon a ghost to fight for you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

LoTRO Journal: 8.8.2007

My Burglar hit 34 last night making him one level away from getting his pony. He’s been in Evendim for a bit now in addition to some Trollshaws and the North Downs. One interesting thing is that I’ve just about run out of non-group quests I can do. With the Evendim expansion, I had plenty to do on my Guardian and Hunter. Things are getting a little tight, however on my Burglar. I’m wondering if my approach, as a Burglar, to many quests is the issue. For most classes, one would need to fight into and out of a quest area to complete the objective. Since mobs give experience points, their xp contributes to the total xp for completing that quest. As a Burglar, I tend not to have to fight too much to get to my objective, I just sneak to it. I tend to ram through quests fairly quickly but with a low body-count and thus a low count of xp from killing mobs. Over time, I suspect the xp deficit adds up. My solution, in the short term is to dedicate some time grinding mobs to make up for the lost xp. Grinding is not a favorite activity of mine, however, combined with possible traits / titles and some burgled loot, I’m sure it will be bearable. I’m also in a new kinship so maybe completing some of those group quests is a possibility even though most of the people I know are over-leveled for them.

Though this is my third time in Evendim, I’m not tired of it (except for the travel distances – swimming across the giant lake in the middle of the map gets old fast). It’s familiar enough that I’m not lost all the time but still unfamiliar enough that I’m finding new things.

I also got invited by some upper-level kinship mates to go on one of their upper-level romps through an instance. Sadly, I’m not even sure what the place is called (for those in the know, it’s the instance with the blue lady and the giant turtle boss). Most of what I remember is how ineffective I was at level 33. I had fun running around with the crew but for all intents and purposes, they five-manned it with a short guy (me) that just kinda poked things with knives on occasion. Unlike many of the instances I’ve been in thus far, this instance didn’t seem to be that long. We were in there a couple hours tops and the people I was with seemed to know where they wanted to go.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wrath of the Whatever

Zoso has an interesting post on MMO Musings about the Wrath of the Lich King expansion coming for the World of Warcraft. While I’d love to get psyched about it, I just can’t. It’s ten more levels of ten more levels and then we’re off to the same old content bottlenecks that got me out of WoW in the first place. Zoso’s post and a similar one in Melmoth’s Inferno pretty much sum up my emotions about many of the titles around today or due out in the future: meh. Being in what is now my third MMO (LotRO), I’m having a hard time getting handed the same old leveling crack in a shiny new wrapper and trying to act excited about it. Were LotRO in something besides Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth, I think I’d probably not be playing that either.

What we need is some kind of paradigm shift in the MMO genre. Why must MMOs all be level-based? I’m tired of leveling. I’m tired of NPCs that stand stock still to spew forth quests / dispense loot like some kind of anthropomorphic vending machines. I’m tired of running through a zone where I quested before and seeing that nothing has changed at all. “You mean to tell me that I killed all those damned wargs and you still have a warg problem? Did no one follow up on my hard work?”

We need new ways of implementing what Sid Meier defined as a good game: “… a series of interesting decisions.” I’d like to see worlds that, when I pass through a zone I’ve already been in it could still be different. The worlds need to change. As PvP objectives fall, the zone control changes. Or make it similar to Oblivion, events unfold which open the way for more events. Gates for the demon army open up. Demons could turn the area into an invasion zone. Close the gates and they go away (but can pop up somewhere else). Decisions about what to fight and where would lead to consequences. Ok, save the town by the stream to preserve the water-supply but the city in the center of your supply routes to the North could fall.

Quests could be worth credits (or gold or whatever) which would then be spent on armor / weapon upgrades thus relieving the need for the same quest NPC to hand out the same quest and there-by the same items. The available quests could change but the credit amounts for the area would be the same (IE: the warg problem we had has been resolved but now there’s all these dead wargs all over the place so here’s your shovel and corpse-handling gloves … ok, maybe something more fun, but you get the idea).

A world that was changing would also be a world worth exploring. Even a zone you have been to will be different when someone else is in charge of it. And if there were “hidden” facets to the world (secret entrances, areas that become accessible / inaccessible due to natural calamities / player actions, you could go past a place you’re seen before but which has changed significantly).

And while I'm in full-out babble mode, I’d like to see a crafting system which actually felt like a crafting system rather than an exercise in watching character animations.

I think I’ve ranted enough for one day. *pauses for cheering* Long story short, I think until MMOs get over the slump they’re in, LotRO will be the last for a while. I won’t be getting the WoW expansion or heading back there any time soon. I don't think the changes the industry needs will be easy but nothing worth doing is.

LoTRO Journal: 8.06.2007

Last week the friend of mine that originally got me into the Lord of the Rings Online informed me that he too was returning to the World of Warcraft. Thus it has come to pass that every single person I know that went to LoTRO from WoW has returned. His complaints about LoTRO as well as the complaints from my other friends that left all got me to thinking about what it is that WoW has the LoTRO doesn’t. It has been gnawing on me for some time as well. I have been enjoying my time in LoTRO and will not be returning to WoW since I’ve really done all I care to in the game. WoW is a great game, but the fun for me runs out quickly once I reach a level cap.

So what is it about LoTRO that is different? Most of the complaints I have heard thus far have to do with the level of refinement in LotRO verses WoW. WoW is a very polished game. At this point, most of the stuff in the game happens because that’s exactly what Blizz wants to happen. The look of things, the way a combat animation appears, what happens when character x interrupts ability y to do action z and so forth. LotRO has a number of things that, while not broken in an I’ll-quit-the-game-if-it’s-not-fixed way, are not right.

Take the number of stackable debuffs on guardians, for example. Animals can wound a guardian such that they cannot block, evade or parry blows. Blocking and parrying attacks open up reactionary attacks for a guardian. Remove those, and a guardian can only use a handful of low-damage attacks and auto-attacks. Add to that the relative expense of leveling a guardian and it has become an undesirable class for many people to play. My burglar can also get hit with all three debuffs but I really don’t care much since all my abilities would still be available, I’d just take more damage for a bit.

There are some map / image oddities. For example, last night I was swimming around in the lake in Evendim (with my burglar where there’s a bug that if you swim stealthed you actually move at running speed – yet another glitch). Near the fortress at the southern end of the lake, I noticed a giant seam down the middle of the lake. The waves on one side are moving out of synch with the waves on the other side. Some things seem out of place, like the large statue of a king on the Kingspan in Evendim. It took away from the epic feel of the place to see something I could make out of Lego blocks.

Mob placement issues abound. Using a mount is next to worthless in some areas due to the presence of stealth mobs that can unhorse you in a single hit. Too many of these mobs are actually on the roads. There’s another glitch with swarms of locusts following players out of the farm areas in Evendim and all over the map until the player kills them or the guards pick them off. Even then, there are ways into town without passing any guards, so there are random clumps of locusts in some spots or piles of dead ones lying around town.

Quests are inadequately or inconsistently labeled. I have easily soloed some quests labeled group quests and have needed a full group for others that I could supposedly do solo. The sheer number of group quests is a problem too. Many players want to create an level one character, so if they advance along with the rest of the server, they can do all the quests. New people or those that roll a lot of alts, such as myself, tend to have to abandon the group quests because there’s not enough people around to bother with them.

In summary, LotRO’s problems aren’t one huge, game-breaking thing. It’s more like a death of a thousand cuts. Each little problem or bug makes the game less fun and more frustrating to the point where people are walking away to more polished games like WoW. The good news is that LotRO is still young. WoW has been around for two-and-a-half years now. I believe it’s DAoC that has been around for ten? (Or maybe I’m thinking of Ultima Online?) There are still people playing Everquest one. LotRO is only a couple months old, post-beta. They will fix or change things for the better including the anomalies and content issues. Expansions are in the works. LotRO will improve.

The question is will Turbine manage to implement the fixes before they lose too many people? I suspect that the really trying time for LotRO will be when the Age of Conan and Warhammer Online come out. There are still a lot of WoW refugees in LotRO – people that got tired of WoW and may be willing to try anything new to find their next game to play. If the problems with LotRO persist, they may be tempted to make a permanent move to another game.

I have high hopes that LotRO will pull out of the problems and make as a great and as engaging a game as WoW or EQ or CoH. Time will tell.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

LOTRO – Switching Gears

True to my alt-rolling, flip-flopping ways, I have placed both of my primary “main” characters on the back-burner and rolled a Hobbit Burglar. My Human Guardian and my Hobbit Hunter are fun but I got a little tired of only having them as options. So I rolled a class I hadn’t tried since Open Beta … and I’m loving it!

For those who have only played WoW, a burglar has the stealth capabilities of a Rogue in WoW. However, they are not a melee dps class. Instead, they do a moderate amount of melee dps and have various debuffs they can use to play havoc with a mob. For instance, I can throw sand in their eyes which lessens a mob’s ability to hit. I have addle which is both an interrupt of an ability in its casting state and slows down the casting of other abilities. My survivability in combat isn’t based on my ability to out-dps something, but my decent dps combined with my actions which mess with a mob’s dps. I also have riddle which is a mez (stuns a mob until they take damage), sneak (which is stealth) an ability to distract a targeted mob away from me which I’m in stealth and, of course, burgle which is simply picking a mob’s pockets while I’m stealthed. I would also be remiss if I didn’t also add that Burglars are a key class for starting Fellowship Maneuvers which trigger a special wheel for each member of a group. The item each member picks benefits the member that picked it, however, if the team coordinates what they pick, you get a better and even more powerful effect.

To put my Burglar to the test, I visited some ruins in the Weathered Hills. The mobs there were the same level or slightly above my level at the time. Some of them are also elites. Were they to catch me at my sneaking, I would be dead fairly quickly. I managed to get all the way inside the fortress, picking pockets all the way. I had to take out one non-elite guard who was standing in a doorway (which was pretty tense as there is an elite patrol in the room he was guarding and another elite mob standing just inside the room). I took him out and re-stealthed without incident. It was a blast! And I was hooked.

In addition to the class itself, my new Burglar is also a Farmer and Cook (the Yeoman profession). I like being able to make pipe-weed as well as brew beers and make stat-food. Yeoman may turn into a money-sink for me, but I’m liking it thus far. And it’s a very Hobbit profession to have. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

LOTRO Journal 7.10.2007

Tired of grinding Hillmen for the Man racial heal, I switched over to my hunter and finally got him to 30 last night. I got a couple neat new abilities and my level thirty class quest.

*** Hunter Level Thirty Class Quest Spoiler and Man / Hobbit Intro Quest Spoiler From Here Till The End ***

I role-play a lot with my hunter and have even gone so far as to create an origin story for him. In my story, my Hobbit deals with a vicious warg threatening Overhill and in the process finds out that he likes adventuring and realizes the need for good people to fight against the evils in Middle Earth, hence the reason he’s an adventurer and not one of the many Hobbits sitting around in taverns while Evil is spreading. The level thirty hunter quest was a real treat for me, since defending Overhill against a warg attack is exactly what I ended up doing! I had to fight off a warg boss and his buddies and defend the quest NPC in the process. The whole Overhill area is recreated right down to the NPCs I needed to warn to get into their little Hobbit homes because the wargs are coming!

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the quest, now I’m caught in something of a bind: keep my story at the risk of being told that I stole the idea from the class quest or come up with a new one. Since I won’t be making money off the story, I doubt Turbine would care one way or the other, it’s more the appearance of impropriety I’m concerned about. *sigh* I had a really kick-ass story too. :(

One thing I think Turbine nailed in LOTRO is the process of getting the player involved in the world the have created. For example, Men and Hobbits share the same introductory area of Archet. It starts as a normal, somewhat boring town. In the instanced event which moves you from the tutorial into the game world, you will watch as Archet burns. If you’re a human, you enter the world in the destroyed town of Archet, giving the player the feeling that you were a part of a history that everyone can now witness. “I was in Archet before it became the ruin you see before you.”

The feeling of being involved with the world is the same in the level thirty Hunter quest. The same NPCs are there that you’d see in Overhill if you went there in the normal game world. In the quest instance, you get to interact with them to warn them to get into the safety of their homes. You end up standing with the quest NPC in an empty town square (all of the Hobbits are hiding thanks to your warning). After you have defended the town and completed the instance, you can still return to Overhill in the game world, but it will have a certain new sense of significance: the Hobbits there are carrying on normally thanks to you. (It would be interesting to see if Turbine added phrases to the NPCs about your aid in the defense of the town similar to the way fellow Bounders will greet you if you’re a Bounder.) It’s one of those things in LOTRO that keeps me coming back for more. I may not be Gandalf or Aragorn, but my characters are heroes and play critical parts in the world.