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.