Thursday, June 28, 2007


As I mentioned in a previous post, my LoTRO guild (kinship) was falling apart. We all came to LoTRO from the same guild in WoW. Some of the people, I've known for over a year now. One of our members returned to WoW, another wrote in to tell us she wasn't going to be around hardly at all. This left myself and another person in the guild as "regulars." The other person is also going through school and won't be on that much. So essentially, it was just me. After much thought, I decided to leave the guild I was in and join a more populated one. I spoke with the remaining member and they were ok with my decision and we still have each other on our friends lists so it's not like we're breaking all ties.

The whole episode got me to thinking about why we join guilds (kinships, supergroups, whatever ... they're all "guilds" to me even though the names are sometimes different). Zoso had an interesting series of posts on his blog about kinships and associations in video games. The game theory parts were actually quite interesting, especially the part about the iterative prisoner's dilemma. Over a possibly infinite course of successive runs of an activity where selfish behaviors will gain temporary advantages, cooperative behaviors were much more beneficial over the long-term. Guilds can then function as repositories of memory: people guilded a long time will, in theory, be those that work with each other for mutual support in a cooperative fashion rather than individuals only out for themselves. Hence the reason why PUGs are usually terrible and guild runs of an instance are much more enjoyable from an effort-v-reward point-of-view.

While the game theory certainly describes the material interests one may have in a guild and perhaps the motivations for many players in joining one, it doesn't quite hit the mark for me. I do enjoy the "security" in running an instance with guildmates. However, I also enjoy the sense of togetherness being in a guild holds. Even when I'm soloing, I enjoy chatting with guild mates about, well, just about anything. Sports, women, games, tv, why brand x sucks and brand y is great. I find it enjoyable when I can talk to people I know (even just on-line) about problems in my life or theirs. I like people that make me laugh and those that laugh at my jokes, even though most of my jokes are a) stupid or b) stolen from Seinfeld or The Simpsons. It's nice to have a group with whom I can just chill without the petty oneupsmanship nonsense that occurs with too many gamers where the anonymous nature of the Internet ensures they won't be getting the punch in the mouth they deserve. It's kind of like a "safe zone" where you can relax because you're among friends even if you're not doing something with them right at the moment.

So I was very sorry to see my guild go away. I have since joined a new guild and am still in the getting-to-know-you stages. They seem like ok peeps to me and I think I'll like it there. But I still miss my old friends too.

Monday, June 25, 2007

LoTRO Journal: 6.25.2007

Well, level 35 at last for my guardian! Woo! Went and got me my horse right after dinging ... sorta ... kinda. And yet not. In WoW, once you hit level 40, you bought your riding training and then your mount. There was no questline (unless you're a Warlock or a Paladin). I went through the one on my Paladin and it was a cake-walk (if not a little silly):

Newly-40 Paladin: "Hi, I'd like a horse."

Quest NPC: "Really? That's great! Talk to me again and I'll give you a horse!"

Newly-40 Paladin: "Hi, I'd like a horse."

Quest NPC: "A horse? Sure! Here you go!"

I'm not sure why you have to ask twice. :) I'm also not sure what the Warlock one is like ... probably similar to the demon-training quests, I'm guessing.

Some people on the LoTRO forums were rather upset about the horse quest. Most of the upset people didn't like the fact that you had to quest for a horse at all. "I made it to 35! I deserve it!" Other than the frustrations of the first course of segments, overall I liked the idea of the quest for the mount. The ending is rather fun even if you have to redo it and it gave me a certain sense of accomplishment to actually have a horse outside the "I leveled! Gimme!" context.

* ~~ Spoilers ahead about the horse quest!! ~~ *

In LoTRO, once you get to 35, you head on over to the Bree Horsefields and talk to the horse trainer there. But you need to SHOW him that you can handle a horse. The first run is simple enough: deliver a horse to the Bree stable master. You're on a timer (channeled like the mail quests) and you need to follow a certain path to get to your destination. The problem is that the paths are not all that clear. The first quest (to the stable master in Bree) is no problem. I rode south from the horse farm and then rode in the North Gate of Bree to the stable master. Then I took a horse to Trestlebridge to get back (the stables are on the way, so I'd jump off there). And here's where it gets interesting.

The next one is to deliver a horse to Michael Delving (sp) in the Shire. I got my horse, reviewed the map, plotted a course and away I went ... to fail in the middle of a field. I tried that route a second time (heading southwest across country) and failed again. I reviewed the quest text. It said something about following my "course" but it didn't say what my course was supposed to be. So I tried again, this time staying on the road. After each failure I had to run back to the horse master to try again or head to Bree and take the fast horse again. I failed again shortly before Adso's camp and then called it a night.

The next day, I stuck to the road ... right in the middle of the road. No variation at all. I also passed through the intersection outside Bree until I got the text saying I was there BEFORE I made the right-hand turn to head down the road towards the Shire. Long story short: success! I took a fast horse back.

The last delivery quest was to Orthikar (sp) in the North Downs. Once again I passed.

The last part is to show you can ride fast. You race around the circle track around the farm. This part was actually the fun part that made the other frustrating bits not that bad to me. You need to think like a racer. It will be close regardless of how well you ride and the section of track on the far side gets confusing. Just remember: it's the gates in the correct order and under the time limit that will win, not how well you follow the path.

The good news is that the race occurs on the farm where the horses are, so redoing this piece is easy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

LOTRO Journal 6.21.2007

Last night I got my Human Guardian within spitting distance of 33. Then it’s two more levels and I’ll be able to get a mount! Money-wise I’m almost there too. Three gold and change right now and, the way I’ve been selling metals on the AH, I should be able to get there no problem. My Hobbit Hunter has been on hold and is still 26 but I’m looking forward to playing him again soon. The thing I try to do with my “main” and “alts” is keep them far enough apart in levels so I don’t do some content on my alt that I just completed on my main. That would get old fast.

Main: Warg 997 dead … warg 998 dead … warg 999 dead … 1000! Wooo!

*logs off main*

*logs on alt*

*talks to quest contact*

Alt: “Kill 1000 wargs?!?! #$%#!!!!”

*end dreamfade*

In other news, my kinship is falling apart. (Yeah, this post is kind of an emotional rollercoaster ride.) Granted, there are five of us in the guild with only three of us on regularly, so it doesn’t take a lot to derail the thing. I could open up recruiting, however, with so few people in the guild, it would be like inviting people into a ghost town. I have been looking for other guilds we may be able to merge with also. Sadly, while we’re similar enough to enjoy being in the same kinship, we can’t seem to agree on a guild to get into. Meanwhile, one of our most regular members has left LoTRO and returned to WoW. She will be missed.

I’ve been debating returning to WoW also, but haven’t yet been able to bring myself to do it. At the end of the day, WoW is still just WoW. It’s a great game and was a lot of fun. I still recommend it to friends of mine that are looking for a new game but haven’t played it yet. But 2.5 years of the same stuff over and over has prompted me to move on. 2.5 years is the longest I’ve played any game, beating the old record (1 year for Heavy Gear 2) by a whole year and a half. Like I said: it is a great game, but it’s a game I’ve played already. No game lasts forever and no game holds someone’s interests forever.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Design Standards 2: A Tale of Missing Pants

Relating to my previous post about developing design standards, is the following amusing story. I spent a lot of time playing WoW in the past and, more recently, LoTRO. So when I fired up my Oblivion game for giggles, I had to get used to the interface again. Hitting the spacebar next to a horse, will not make me jump over the horse (like WoW or LoTRO), I would steal the horse. Jump is the “r” key; the spacebar is the “use item” key. Also Oblivion’s inventory is one giant list. You are not restricted by “bag space” per se but the weight of the items you are carrying. Equipped items are in the same space as non-equipped items but they are highlighted in gray and all items appear as available items to sell when you’re talking to a merchant.

Well, my bags were loaded up after one adventure to some eleven ruins, so I headed to town and sold stuff. When I ventured out again, I noticed I was taking a lot more damage than usual. As it turns out, I had accidentally sold the pants I was wearing. There I was, a dark elf assassin in a neat-looking helm, gnarly chest protector, fancy gloves and boots carrying a large shield and sword … with my gangly green legs sticking out of the bottom of my chest piece. And the funny thing is, as realistic-acting as the NPCs are, none of them so much as batted and eye at me as I walked on my way out of town without my pants. Then again, they may have recognized me as the hero who closed an Oblivion gate and decided I could be allowed some eccentricities.

So developing design standards for MMOs are probably a good thing if for no other reason than that you won’t accidentally sell your pants. Which reminds me: I still have to return that horse I stole.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More Shores of Evendim stuff

After playing last week and this week in the new zone and content, I have to say that I’m still pretty impressed. As I’ve mentioned before, the things that really make a zone for me are the topographical variation and lots to do. Well, Evendim has plenty of both. There are beaches, forested areas, plenty of ruins, a large variety of mobs and several quests that really advance the story and make me feel like my character is involved in the world events in Middle Earth. The other day, I ran around with a kinship mate and we stomped on salamanders and took out a bunch of thugs to get some quest items. It was pretty fun. We even survived what could have been a couple of really nasty pulls and respawns. My only gripes about the expansion are the high respawn rates (though those were explained on the LoTRO forums as necessary due to the large influx of players to the new content) and some of the wound debuffs on my Guardian.

Guardians need to be able to block or parry to activate their special skills. Guardians are also only able to tank because of their increased block and parry chances over, say, a Champion which wears the same armor type and can also carry a shield. There are a couple new wound debuffs which remove the block or parry chances and sometimes both together, thus making a Guardian basically a low-dps Champion. Many Guardian players voiced their discontent on the LoTRO forums so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

LOTRO Journal 6.13.2007: Shores of Evendim

Last night was the big patch / expansion for the Shores of Evendim in the Lord of the Rings Online. It took quite a while to download the patch which took up a big chunk of my play time. I’m thinking that my friends are correct in admonishing me to get bit torrent.

Once I was finally able to log in, I pretty much bee-lined the new zone: Evendim. Very nicely done! I didn’t have a lot of time to quest or explore but I enjoyed my little run through of the content. It appears that there should be doable quests in the zone starting around level 25 or so. I enjoyed the varied topography (it even has a beach!) and the mob variety seemed interesting (some are identical to what we’ve seen before though there are some new ones). I’m looking forward to my adventures there!

Other changes in the content patch were a lot of minor icon changes and some interface changes. All the little changes are much appreciated. Stable masters you haven’t visited will have glowing icons over their heads. The font on the names had been reduced. There is an /rp on flag which will not only lable you as a roleplayer (which it did before) but also change your name text.

In other news, my Human Guardian finally hit 30! I’m loving my new bow skills. No more body-pulling for me. I’ll probably wrap up some more North Downs quests before heading over to Evendim. Seems like everyone is in Evendim, so finding mobs in other zones should be less problematic. Tonight, I may log in as my Hobbit Hunter to take advantage of the Farming profession changes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ripoff or Developing Design Standards?

One of the charges often leveled at LoTRO is that it is a WoW clone or a ripoff. I’m not so sure. Yes, many of the icons look similar and function similarly. Bags, for example, function in a similar way and are even in the same location on WoW’s and LoTRO’s toolbars. The combat system is similar as well: clicking special attacks in between auto-attacks. Thus the charges by many WoW players (and not a few fanbois) that LoTRO is just a WoW ripoff. I think that what we may be seeing here is not necessarily a ripoff but possibly the creation of standards of interface design for MMORPGs. Something similar continues to occur in the web development marketplace.

Web design is based on HTML. HTML is very flexible about how you create a web page, yet good web designers need to adhere to some common design tactics. Ever notice that most navigation links for a web site are along the top or the left-hand side of the page? A designer can technically place those navigation links anywhere on the page that HTML will allow them to go, but they are usually at the top or left. Using theories of Interaction Design, web designers create their sites to be user-friendly. The user should be able to use a site and the site’s tools without having to think about how to use the site itself (See Don’t Make Me Think for an example of intuitive design theory.

Rather than ripping off other games, what we may be seeing is a development of MMORPG standards. Perhaps someday you’ll be able to pick up a new game and know as soon as you log in how that basic parts of the game work. Opening bags, using items, equiping items, etc will all be industry standards. The changes that would occur from game to game would relate to class distinctions (like how a WoW hunter and a LoTRO hunter are different), content distinctions (such as storylines and map areas) and content improvements (LoTRO’s Hobbit FedEx quests for delivering mail, for example). Perhaps with some standards in place for basic game-play, the MMORPG industry could focus more on creating cool encounters and content.

LOTRO Journal: 6.5.2007

Last night I did MPvP for the first time in a long time. I've done it before, but not since several people on my server had gotten to 50 (the current level cap). When I arrived, all the bases had been taken for the Free People. When I left, they belonged to the bad guys again! Yay, badguys! :) It was neat to be in a raid with all those orcs, wargs and spiders attacking the bases. We had a great raid leader too and *gasp* most of the raiders listened to him!

My experience raiding in the Ettenmoors was a lot different from the zerg v zerg garbage that went on in WoW. Perhaps it's the maturity of LoTRO's target audience, but it seems like a better environment in general if you prefer not feeling like an underpaid babysitter without 'fridge privileges. There's a lot that I still like about WoW, but the average maturity of the player base ain't on the list of likables. There are kiddie morons in LoTRO as well, but they don't seem to stay long and tend to have the volume turned down when they stay.

In other news, a recent post by Tobold about grouping in MMORPGs got me to thinking about the group v solo thing with MMORPGs. Personally, I like the freedom afforded by soloing a lot. It's nice to wind down after work by getting lost in the Lone Lands or the North Downs for a couple hours. It's also nice to be able to pack up and leave when I want to. As I've discussed elsewhere, playing alone in a MMORPG isn't necessarily anti-social or silly. There are times when I leave a zone specifically because there are too many group quests and not enough solo ones. This happened to me in the Lone Lands: I have about eight group quests and can't find any soloable ones. Now I feel compelled to wait until my guildmates are on to work on the group ones.

The reason I'll be waiting for my Kinship mates is because I can pursue other avenues to get xp. The North Downs is a neat zone with a lot of solo content available, so I've been questing there. But what if there weren't solo content available? What if I HAD to group to get something done in the game? The consequences of forced-grouping systems the Tobolds points out in his article are interesting: if you're a known asshat, you won't get groups and you won't level. Blacklisting a player in a game like Everquest has serious consequences for a player. In WoW, even the biggest ass on the server can still get to 70. There's no push towards following the norms of behaviour in a game if you can have everything in the game without following the rules. Perhaps LoTRO's grouping system is a decent balance between the no-group-no-level approach of EQ and the no-pressure system of WoW. Perhaps the grouping system in LoTRO is also partly responsible for the playerbase's maturity? The last statement may be a stretch since I think the subject matter attracts more mature gamers than the grouping construct.

Cool idea I'll never be able asked about by industry insiders: build in a reputation system for players to rate other players. Each person (account) only gets one vote. You can mod someone up if there are a good player / person, or mod them down if they're an idiot. Being on people's ignore lists mods you WAY down. So when you're putting together that PUG, you could see a potential player's mod rating and decide whether you want to chance inviting them or whether you'll take a pass.