Thursday, October 30, 2008

Moving to a new address

The Battered Shield has moved.

Please update your links to:

Blogger has served me well in the past but Wordpress has some neat features I really like and, after tinkering around with it a bit, I think it will end up being a decent home.

Thank you for visiting!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Like shifting sands in the hourglass…

… thus passes the dwarves of our lives.

Warhammer: Age of Reconing
I’m still playing around in WAR but not with the enthusiasm with which I had originally started out. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to focus on my Squig Herder on the Destruction side. Environment-wise, I love Order lands, particularly the Empire areas, but class-wise I’m liking the Squig Herder. In every game, I usually end up playing the short, funny race and a goblin SH is both. His “Ow, My Eye!” exclamation when I click on him is hilarious.

One thing Mythic must address is the issue of level differences: as the mean level of the server increases, the lower-level areas are emptying out. This phenomena happens in most games, but it’s a real problem in WAR for Open RvR and Public Quests – both of which rely on teams of people for any significant progression. Most of the PQs for my level are empty. I have to grind the mobs until the second phase where I have to abandon the PQ area until the reset. Open RvR has been rather off-putting in that most of the groups I’ve ended up in are disorganized PUGs with little to no coordination.

MMO Doom
MBP has an interesting discussion about WAR and MMOs in general. Several gamer / bloggers such as Melmoth and Tobolds are also leaving WAR. In spite of the prominence of some that are moving on, I think that WAR’s future is still bright. Its niche of gamers, PvP fans who like fantasy worlds in general or Warhammer in particular, will likely continue to flock to the game. I predict a million or so active subs shortly after the holidays – not close to WoW’s numbers but still a very successful MMO.

MBP’s discussion also touched on new development and whether a new developer creating an EQ- or WoW- like game would make their money back. I have to agree with him: I doubt it. The problem: it’s been done before. Making a plain old copy of the mechanics of EQ or WoW when added to an unknown or uninteresting IP are doomed to failure. An IP like Harry Potter, might stand a chance as a game marketed for much younger gamers but less famous ones will end up with problems.

What the industry needs is a company willing to stand up and take things in a different direction or at least figure out what of the “new” stuff in more recent games is worth having and bring it all together into a newer, more interesting conglomeration. The bad news is: the only company, that I can see anyway, with the talent, drive and resources to create such a game is Blizzard, and they’re too busy resting on their laurels with WoW. A Diablo or Starcraft MMO would be great if they built it differently from the ground up. Until then, I suspect there will be decreasing returns in investments in the MMO genre as a whole.

Lord of the Rings Online
On the LotRO front, I’ve been playing less as a result of my Warhammer escapades though I am still playing. I upgraded my LotRO account in preparation for the Mines of Moria expansion and am looking forward to seeing all the new goodies in store for my wee hobbit adventurer. My WAR adventures do come with a certain guilt about playing another game. I’m an officer in a kinship in LotRO and while I’m enjoying WAR I most definitely do not want to let my kinship mates down. The other officers were understanding about my break from LotRO, and I was happy to be back last night.

Also in regard to Moria, the NDA has lifted for those beta-testing the Moria expansion so expect to hear more news leaking out. Thus far, I have it from some beta testers in my kinship that:

- Classes like hunters and champs will have their damage adjusted upwards to fight the buffed mobs.
- Guardians will have improved defensive capabilities (though there is a problem with their aggro-generating skills in the current state of the beta).
- Rift and other raid gear will remain relevant for two or three levels into the expansion. It will not become immediately useless like WoW’s raid gear with The Burning Crusade expansion. Even then, expect gradual replacement of items – not a sudden realization that everything you’re wearing is useless.
- Early MoM content is very solo-friendly. None of the beta testers I spoke to complained about not being able to make some progress in the Mines even when alone.
- Moria is a gorgeous zone but it is also dark. Tip: Alt+F10 is the key to use your “personal torch.” It’s not really a torch but it increases the ambient lighting around your character so you can see better. There appear to be three light settings: off, dim, bright.

The info above was provided by a couple kinship mates so I don’t have personal experience with it (except for the torch thing which I knew about before *flex*). :P

For those hungering for official news, check out the LotRO forum's Dev Diaries page and see the dev diaries. Unfortunately, there isn’t a consolidated page of info but the dev diaries should give clues about the class changes, etc.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lore Kick - Stingy Jack

I’ve been on a Lore kick for a number of months now – not just about the games I’ve been playing but really anything to do with traditional stories or fairy tales. Seeing as Halloween (my favoritest Holiday evar) is coming up, I thought I’d post something I found from the History Channel Halloween section.

People have been making jack o'lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.

(Story from the Stingy Jack entry.)

Wikipedia also has a Stingy Jack article.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Much Ado About Scenarios

There’s been much ado about the lack of Open RvR participation in WAR around the blargh-o-sphere. Bildo has a post about it as does PotShot (you have to imagine the funny “o”s he uses). The issue, in a nutshell, is that no one is doing Open RvR because they’re all in Scenarios which are currently the best means of progression in the game. A losing scenario at level eighteen can still net upwards of five-thousand XP for five-to-ten minutes work. A winning scenario at level eighteen can grant upwards of ten-thousand XP. I can’t get five-thousand XP for half-an-hour’s worth of work in the PvE content and I’d probably get significantly less for Open RvR. Forget ten-thousand.

The only thing I can liken Open RvR to in my recent experience is the Ettenmoors in LotRO. It’s an open, instanced place where players are free to do what they want. There’s no particular goal, but there are rewards for taking keeps, etc. When both sides have raids put together, the battles are epic and a lot of fun. Sadly, it's usually a raid on one side hunting around the map for odd players on the other side. To make the area the most fun, you really need players, lots of players, fighting on both sides. With two Freep raids and two Creep raids marauding across the map, the place is alive and exciting. There was no place you could go where there wasn’t troop movement or a battle raging. Without a population engaged in that kind of content, it’s just a boring map.

I hope Mythic can do a better job of getting lots of people in *each* tier to want to participate in open RvR battles - whether it's making those battles easier to put together or some kind of incentive system to help players progress via open RvR (and enough of a progression scheme to compete with Scenarios). The idea of the armies of Destruction and Order hashing it out in open battle is cool and a lot of players would really enjoy themselves. However, currently, it would interfere with their progression. The Ancient Gaming Noob has a recap of a keep battle on his site today for those interested in seeing what one is like.

A lot of the discussion around the keeps is centered on the argument that the Scenario grinders aren't having fun. “Why don’t they stop grinding and have fun with some Open RvR?” I suspect that either a) they are having fun as speedy progression is fun to them or b) they aren't having fun and wouldn't have fun at anything they do below max level. I disagree with both mindsets. I can’t stand grinding anything, whether mobs or battlegrounds, for any reason; and if the “getting there” part isn’t also fun, I couldn’t care less what happens at end-game – I’m gone. People are hell-bent to get to max level so they can begin complaining about the lack of things to do there.

“Why is there no Open RvR going on?!?”

Umm … there was: It was the blur on your left when you were rocketing up the ranks in your PvP sport matches. *shrug*”

PotShot’s suggestions will certainly make battles easier to get into for Open RvR and Bildo’s would address some of the concerns of the progression-minded. I hope Mythic does something to inspire the troops on both sides to get some fun world battles going for players in each tier. It would be pretty sad to get to the level cap without having even visited the Open RvR areas because there was nothing going on there.

In the interim, perhaps the large guilds on each server could sponsor Open RvR battle nights? Might make things more exciting on the servers and rather than waiting for Mythic to do something you’d be taking matters into your own hands. Declare, oh from 7 pm EST until whenever people lose interest on, let’s say, Friday as open battle night. Enter the RvR area of your choice and have at. I realize that with the three pairings, each having its own RvR area available, it would still be a crap-shoot as to whether there’s anyone there to fight BUT that could be part of the fun. You head off and take the Greenskin area and notice that the Empire area shows it’s under attack. So rally your troops to stop the attack in the Greenskin area.

Or you could put an end-time on it and then say that whoever controls the most areas of all the tiers when the time-limit hits is the winner. Based on the demographics (Order seems to be on earlier while Destruction on later) I’d make the limit something like 11pm EST – late enough that Destruction should be in full swing but ideally not too late for Order players either.

A big problem with the idea above: no gaming forums. Players would have to coordinate it and cross-faction cooperation in this case would be difficult. Sadly, I think it's Mythic that's going to need to solve this problem and there may not be much the players can do.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tanking in WAR Scenarios

I play a Dwarf Ironbreaker, currently Rank Twelve. I’ve been leveling mostly by doing either public quests or scenarios. The public quest part isn’t that interesting for being a tank: the mechanics are already similar in other MMOs – taunt, fight, debuff, snare, taunt again, etc. The interesting part of my WAR experience, however, has been tanking in PvP scenarios. Below are some observations I’ve made along the way.

You can’t dictate what enemy players will fight but you can get them to want to fight you. IBs have a taunt skill which, in PvP, acts more like a debuff: I will do a percentage more damage to that target until the debuff is gone or they hit me three times. If I put this on the enemy healer and start whomping away, they should probably focus on hitting me a bit. If they are hitting me, they’re not healing. My damage against a healer gets amplified if I have a lot of grudge built up as grudge amplifies my DOT hamstring attack (it’s not called a “hamstring” but the actual name escapes me).

An IB makes a great roadblock. With collision-detection in place, I can effectively pick players off my teammates. If the teammate is running towards me, I step between them and their pursuers. If the pursuer doesn’t change course, they’ll stop dead in their tracks when they run into me, thus allowing my teammate to escape. Hint for others if fighting along-side an IB: if someone is after you and an IB steps in the way, take a couple steps back – you’ll be out of range of the target (if they are melee) while they struggle to get around me and a healer can get a break at healing you (or you healing yourself). IBs can also block doorways and create bottlenecks in halls.

IBs also have an ability called Oathfriend. With Oathfriend on a teammate, my plus-to-armor and plus-to-defense skills also proc on them as well. I’m sure there’s a “best” person to put it on, but since I’ve been PUGing the scenarios thus far, I usually save it for the least clueless person I find (ie: the healer that heals or the other IB that actually tries to protect their teammates). Putting Oathfriend on a Warrior-Priest is a huge benefit for them, unfortunately, most of the WPs I’ve met fall into the nub category and I can’t be bothered helping them if they’re not going to throw an occasional heal around. Two IBs with their Oathfriends on each other is a thing of beauty. Myself and another IB defended a node and led the charge against another one. With a healer in the back keeping us up, the result was one of the most epic battles I’ve been in: two surly dwarves hammering away with axe and shield against the orcish horde (small “H”) while their teammates conquered the objective behind the lines. That was some of the most fun I’ve had in any MMO.

PvP tanking is a new concept for many people and it’s fun for those of us, like me, who are really good at getting in the way and making people angry with us. :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gaming Update

A couple things to report on the gaming front this week:

I'm still enjoying my time in LotRO but have pretty much maxed out my interest in the game until the Mines of Moria expansion this Fall. I still log in daily to run groups or go on raids or just to say hello but I've also been poking around some other titles both old and new.

I returned to City of Heroes for a little bit. It’s still the same game I remember with the added problem of now all my friends have moved on. Atlas Park, once the social hub of the whole game with anywhere between twenty-five and fifty players at a time chatting, dancing, etc is a graveyard. It was me and three other players last time I was there (and I’m pretty sure two of the others were afk). I’m still goofing off a bit with some villains (CoH and CoV merged into one game recently) but once the shininess wears off there I’ll be closing it down again.

And for the record, I am completely and totally NOT going to try WAR … except for the fact that I totally AM. Yes, thanks to Saylah’s stories and Bildo’s screenies, I felt compelled to try the whole thing out. I am currently playing a rank 11 Ironbreaker and a rank 12 Squig Herder. Thanks to collision detection and a new taunt skill which acts like an interrupt and debuff, PvP tanking is actually a possibility. I may no longer have the reflexes to do the uber, split-second dps casts but I should be able to get in people’s way which I’m pretty good at anyway.

I won’t go so far as to create a review of the whole game as that has been done better elsewhere. Overall, I am enjoying the scenarios and public quests. I find that the PvE is mediocre but I so enjoy exploring the different zones that at the moment, I don’t mind much. I’ve been to the major city for Order all of once and enjoyed the trip (except for the level twenty-something skeleton that kicked my lowbie ass near the docks).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

LotRO: Harvest Festival

The Lord of the Rings Online is having another Harvest Festival from September 26th until October 12th. I've run around a bit doing some of the festival content and am enjoying it. The dance instructors are back as is the race for the Harvestmath pony. One of the new additions this time around is a trick-or-treat type game you can play. Talk to the trickster near the festival area (the one for Men is actually in Bree and the one in Thorin's Hall is in the main entryway) and run around looking for people to talk to. The person will have a text blurb for you to read, then you do the emote the text is hinting at. It's a timed quest (20 minutes, I believe). Rewards include three festival tokens or a receipt for a special mask (pictured is the "bucket" mask from Thorin's Hall).

Edited for picture and technical detail.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Being New to MMOs

Sanya over at Eating Bees found an interesting piece written by someone new to this whole MMO thing we do.

It’s a neat (and funny) look into the mind of someone who likes games but hadn’t really gotten into MMOs. Some of the topics include PvE vs PvP and RMT.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Officer Observations

I am an officer in the kinship in the Lord of the Rings Online. Unlike some kinships where being an officer is little more than a network of friends that need fifteen other people to drag along on raids, my kinship takes officers and their responsibilities seriously. I have also been an officer in two guilds in the World of Warcraft and a Supergroup in City of Heroes.

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things which may be helpful to some folks who are contemplating creating their own social organization in the games they play. These are all based on my personal experience so mileage may vary.

1) See conflicts brewing ahead of time and end them before they start.
It is MUCH easier to see someone rolling need when they should roll greed as a lowbie than to correct the behavior when you’re raiding end game instances. The fallout is also likely to be a metric crap-ton less in a lowbie instance as well. Believe me when I tell you – you will remember when that paladin rolled need on the lousy shoulders of hooray-I-have-shoulder-armor when half of the guild is screaming in Vent about the same paladin rolling on the epic shoulders of overpoweredness. “Why didn’t I say something then?”

2) Lose the asshats.
No amount of skill, gear, rare keys to instances or personality can make up for being an asshat to guild mates. If a member appears self-centered and likely to create more drama in the future, try to intervene. If they don’t listen or seem to care, it may be time to show them the door. If someone seems the type to constantly badger others to do what they want while investing little time in helping other people, they’ll probably do little besides drive everyone else crazy no matter how skilled they may be or what other stuff they bring to the table. I’m all for trying to max out one’s assets, but keeping douche bags in the guild will make life miserable for you later on when: a) you have to explain to someone for the thousandth time why you’re actually keeping the schmuck around or b) you watch the people you actually have fun with leaving because they won’t stay in the same guild with idiot-boy.

3) Be sensitive to your fellow gamers.
You are all gamers playing a game. No one likes being put on the spot or called out in front of their peers. If something could reflect badly on someone, take it to tells or a private channel. Putting it in kinchat will 1) make the person with the issue feel bad and 2) lead everyone that’s listening in believe there’s drama lurking beneath the surface and 3) make everyone think you’re an insensitive clod for airing dirty laundry in public.

4) Recruit the kind of people you will like playing with.
This means getting to know them as players. It takes time to get this kind of relationship with a potential recruit but the payoff is worth it. You’ll know that everyone wearing your guild tag belongs there and people will look at your guild tag and know exactly what kind of people you are. In other words: unless you want the worst aspects of PUGs, Barrens chat and general asshattery to have to sort through on a daily basis; do not spam guild invites at anyone ever. (On a related note, unless you want the worst aspects of PUGs, Barrens chat and general asshattery to have to play beside on a daily basis; do not accept spammed guild invites from anyone ever.)

Recruitment is the key to building a successful guild. It’s the doorway that lets all the members in. If it’s wide open with no constraints, you’ll be letting in everyone. If it’s too narrow, you’ll be gaming alone. List out the things that you want in your members and then look for evidence of those things in your applicants. Having a recruit status (not a full member) and an observation period is a good idea too. Have them show you what kind of member they’ll become.

An observation period is their chance to see if they like you as well. If someone decides your kinship / guild is not for them, don’t take it as an insult. Not all guilds appeal to everyone. Be nice and try to steer them towards a guild that will make them happy based on their feedback. If you’re pleasant to deal with they’ll remember you when a friend of theirs is looking for a guild that matches the description of yours. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for steering people your way.

5) Be ready to be the bad guy.
You may have to lock or pull posts off your site, tell people to stop with certain inappropriate topics in kinchat or on vent, or put an end to something that would make the kinship look bad. The offenders will hate you for it. You will probably hate you for it. Your primary goal is the stability of the guild and the ability of the guild to do whatever it’s goal is (PvP, Raiding, etc). Don’t be afraid to pull someone aside and talk to them about what they are doing that’s causing issues. Also, focus on the behavior and not the person. Avoid things like “you’re a sexist asshole”; try “please do not post that kind of content to our forums” instead. (But keep in mind, they may well be a sexist asshole and need more help than you’re willing to give – in which case be prepared for #2 above.)

6) Rely on the other officers.
You can’t do it all in a large kinship. There’s too many people, too much stuff going on and you’ll also be trying to play the game at the same time. What I have found to work well is a division of labor amongst the officers. We currently have officers for Events (me), Raiding, Ambassador (kinship-to-kinship relations), Crafting and PvP in addition to our Recruiting officer and the Kinship Leader. We each do our own thing but also coordinate to solve common issues. An Event which led to a PvE raid would involve myself and the Raiding officer. I just have to focus on the event part, he’ll focus on the raiding part and that way we can get back to playing sooner.

7) Know when to lead and when to get out of the way.
You don’t have to be up front leading all the time. This isn’t the military. If a member shows initiative, let them run with their idea. Heck, make them an officer if their ideas are good or they show promise. I view officership in part as being an enabler: I move obstacles so members can do what they want. For example, we didn’t have a means of collecting class quest items. Our crafting officers set it up so now class quest items are part of the kinship bank (items are stored on alts – there isn’t a kinship bank system in LotRO like there is in WoW). People enjoy light RP events, so I organize them a couple of times a month. Our raid leader organizes raids and works with our allies if we’re short on people. Officers pull things together, get people in touch with others and work to get the most out of limited resources.

It’s not a glamor job. If you want fame and fortune, become a moviestar or invent something useful. If you like helping other people have fun, then you’re a good officer candidate.

And sometimes, the best thing an officer can do is get out of the way of their guildmates and let them shine in their own endeavors.

8) Be prepared to fail spectacularly, but learn from your failures.
A long time ago, I saw the movie Hidalgo. I’m a sucker for westerns and I like race movies generally so I really enjoyed it. Hidalgo gave me the idea for creating a horse race across Breeland. Riders would navigate across the map to a waypoint where an officer would be waiting to give them their next set of coordinates. After several waypoints they’d head to the finish line in Bree. There was no right or wrong way to get from one point to the next: riders would be encouraged to take the fastest route they could find. For players able to ride a horse, mobs wouldn’t be an issue – it would all be up to the player and their ability to navigate.

After a lot of prep work we were ready. Each officer in my kin had a waypoint assignment. We had the logistics worked out such that mapping somewhere wouldn’t be practical. I posted the event to our kinship forums and to the server forums. We were set! This would rock!

And no one came. Not. One. Person. The only person that came close to the starting area was a lore master who was lost. *facepalm*

At first I was ticked off, but I got over it and went on to create other, more successful events. The Breeland rally failed due to some other events going on at the time (an in-game festival), a lack of prizes and the scope of the event. Live and learn.

Just because one of your ideas tanks doesn’t mean you’re a dumbass. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t have a complete failure once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough. If you are conscientious about being an officer, you’ll likely be disappointed that you’re let people down. It’s not the end of the world – make your mistakes. I think most of your guild mates will see that you’re trying and cut you some slack.

While I can't claim to be the be-all-end-all of knowledge about being an officer in a guild, the points above have worked well for myself and the guilds that seemed to have the least drama and most fun people.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book 14, Summer Festival and other stuff

I've been really busy at work lately so I haven't had a lot of time to make up stuff to post.

Book 14:
Without giving too much away, I completed the Book Fourteen Epic quest – it does get better and more interesting as things progress than my original experience. The final battle instance has some neat features in it such as taking the camera control from the player so the NPCs take over some drama in front of you. Overall I thought the Book 14 quest line could have used some tweaking. There is an instance in the first part of it which I thought was too difficult for an Epic Book quest. The Epic Books are something I'd like to see within reach of all players not just those used to raiding like the kinship I'm in. I thought the cut scene in the last battle was too long but the story line advancement was pretty cool.

One of the things I really enjoyed seeing in the Book quest and in the game in general is the use of session play to step into characters and to experience the story from their point of view. One example of session play that’s been in the game a while is the chicken session play where you can assume the role of a chicken and do some quests related to chickens (getting worms, talking to other animals, etc). The chicken play thing was a neat distraction but I always suspected there would be more to session play. I mean, technically, you could play a Nazgul flying around looking for the One Ring or Aragorn fighting in Helm’s Deep. By involving the gamer in the story, they can identify better with the characters and the storyline. Since the game is bound by its IP, player characters cannot, for example, actually take the Ring to the mountain for Frodo or beat up the Balrog of Morgoth or be Gandalf. Through session-play, however, you could be Gandalf or a Balrog or a Ring Wraith or whatever the devs can dream up. The session play section of Book 14 didn't have the player appearing as Gandalf, but you got to fight as an elven ranger-type guy and be a bad guy cleaning house for the arrival of the Book quest's chief baddie Amarthiel.

Summer Festival:
The Summer Festival has come and gone. It was the first festival which there have now been two of since the launch of LotRO! Just like the last Summer Festival, there were quests you can do to get various goodies, recipes and such, for each race: The Elves in Dulliond, the Hobbits by the Party Tree in Hobbiton, the Men at the Breeland Festival Grounds above Bree and the Dwarves in Thorin’s Hall. In addition to the old stuff, Turbine added a bunch of new stuff too. One big one is the fishing competition. After an initial quest, I was able to fish in the lake on a timed quest. The fish I caught could be used for tokens or special items from the vendor. Most of the items were housing related. In particular, I got a banner, an herb garden and hobbit and elvish wallpapers for my house. I got the elvish doormat too. It’s kind of neat to be able to put some new stuff in your house from time to time.

There were some new dances introduced as well. They actually had a patch today which fixed them - they were broken during the festival so they appeared the same as the old dances.

I'm not in any sort of beta nor am I getting the game at this time. Just reading up on it from some fellow blogger's sites and keeping an eye on things as they progress. From my view, not having played it, it seems like a neat game but a lot like others I've played. The public quests and siege play concepts certainly seem innovative, however. Hardcore Casual, The Ramblings of Jobildo and Tobold's blog (to name but a few) are following the release so you may want to check them out (see links at the right-hand-side of his page).

And that's what's going on.

Happy gaming!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gaming News Update of Information

EQ2 – the Last Hurrah
I have stopped playing in the EQ2 Living Legacies campaign. It was cool to take a look around again and try the different options. EQ2 has a great crafting system and I really liked the housing. Other than those things, it’s pretty much a standard MMO and I’m already playing one of those (LotRO). If you’re tired of WoW and didn’t like LotRO or AoC, I would recommend taking a look at EQ2. Free trials should be available so other than download and update times, it’s cost-free just to try it out.

LotRO – Book Fourteen Released
The Lord of the Rings Online has released it’s latest free content update: Book Fourteen! I ran through some of the new Book stuff last night with my Hobbit Burglar. I LOVED the Book Fourteen Prologue: you help the Fellowship pack up and leave on their perilous journey. In the last stage, you’re there on the steps of the Last Homely House as the fellowship enacts some of the events from the Fellowship of the Ring and walks down the path towards the Misty Mountains. As a total Tolkien nerd, I enjoyed it a lot (and will probably use the reflecting pools to redo it a couple times just ‘cause that’s how I roll). :)

In contrast to the Prologue, I also ran part of Book Fourteen proper. One part has me going to Michel Delving to get honey for some rations for a guy leaving from Rivendell. I’m no expert on the Lore, but it seems the elves were pretty self-sufficient when it comes to food and could make lembas without having to go grocery-shopping in the Shire to do it. I have a real love-hate relationship with the book quests. Book Nine was mostly solo and told a great story along the way. Book Ten was a traveling nightmare as you had to cross the Lake in Evendim again and again and again. Dragging the books out with huge travel times doesn’t make them feel epic, it makes them feel tedious. I’m only part way through the Book Fourteen epic so maybe it gets better along the way. Last night’s romp through part of it though kept giving me Book Ten flashbacks. (Bringing a hunter friend along to help with ports helps a lot for the first couple in this chain.) Overall, I really like the Book quests - it's basically a special story arc for players that makes us part of the goings-on in Middle-earth without messing with the main story too much. Sometimes though ... grr.

In other Book 14 news, Turbine added tokens you can get by helping other players out with their Book quests if you've already run them. I really like this idea! It's a reward for those that stop to help other folks out. I ran a kinshipmate through Book 8.5 (the final instance) and got a token which I spent on healing potions. I've been taking those things like candy in the Rift lately. They've also added coins to collect in Urugath and Carn Dum ... two large instances that most players will have to go through for their final class quest items. Both the Book tokens and the coins help move the player-base back through the instances to help people in the process of leveling up. I think it's a great addition and nice to see that Turbine is forward-thinking enough to realize that even a year or two from now, someone will start the game and have to make it through those areas just like those of us that started a long time ago.

I’ve been looking at a game that Tipa over at West Karana has been playing in beta: Wizard 101 ( Sounds like a new take on a couple of things in the MMO genre. It also sounds a tad close the Harry Potter IP to me, but an interesting game nonetheless. Though I’m not in their target demographic, I just may sign up for the beta to poke around for a bit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book 14 on 7/22

LotRO's Book 14 free content update will go into effect tomorrow. The servers will be down from 6AM until 12PM Eastern for the updates.

You can follow the links from the LotRO forums to get the uTorrent info or other download options. I highly recommend the uTorrent - seems to work faster than the standard updater gizmo included in the game.

The full release notes are also available and include such tidbits as:
  1. A new area: Eregion where the ring-forges are located.
  2. Another epic book quest.
  3. Prelude quests to Moria!
  4. Upgrades to loot found in several dungeons.
  5. New character animations.
  6. Monster play changes.
  7. Crafting changes, class ability changes and a bunch of other stuff.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stand by your game

Tipa over at West Karana has an excellent post about fans in MMOs helping their games out. (And for the record, most of her posts are awesome - I recommend checking her blog out if you get the chance.) She makes a lot of sense. If you really, really like the ideas behind the Age of Conan (or LotRO or whatever game it is that you like) then don't just bail on it except at dire need. Try to help them out. Fill out those bug reports. Inform the devs, politely and in clear English (or whatever language they speak), about the issues.

On the subject of error reports, there are a number of things you can do to make sure they're taken seriously. As a software developer, these are the things I take into consideration when prioritizing bug reports / complaints and it may help you help your favorite MMO improve. Granted these are the things that I look for. If the game company has a format they want you to follow besides this one then use theirs.

1) Take a step back. Is it really game breaking that the maroon shield of blocking is actually burgundy? Does the thing you noticed really matter in the grand scheme of making a better game? The devs have finite amounts of time to deal with many issues. Don't sweat the small stuff. When your game has reached a level of refinement to the point where there's only small stuff left, then start in on the little things.

2) Setting. Where were you when the event happened and what were you doing? In a town? In a field? Using a mailbox? If it was a mailbox, which one was it? (Orgrimmar in WoW, for example, has at least two mailboxes; Bree in LotRO has four - one by each gate and two in the AH.) If you were out in the middle of nowhere, try to get the location coordinates of where you were. At the very least, provide the time when it happened to you. Most games log everything that goes on and when so you'll be helping the devs narrow down on the events as they happened.

3) What was the expected outcome of what you were trying to do? Errors are deviations from expected behaviors so what you were trying to do matters a great deal. I expected to open the mailbox and read my mail. I expected to ride across the open field. I thought I would hit the mob for x amount of damage.

4) What actually happened? Do NOT say "it just didn't work" or "can you look at it" without providing more information. Once I was told there was a problem with a database and "could I just look at it." I asked for more information and was told again to "just look at it." So that's what I did. I confirmed that it was still a database. Given the lack of information in the original request, that was all I could really do without spending months of digging. If the problem really was an error, perhaps someone more articulate than the original requester would notice and I'd be able to fix the bug (if that's actually what it was). Give the developers ALL the information about the error that occurred. Was there an error message? If so write down the text as best you can. If something happened, describe it in as much detail as you can. "I got an error that reads 'object not found'." I expected to keep riding but was suddenly dismounted. I thought I would hit the mob for x damage but instead regened the mob's health.

5) Reread before you send. Did you speak in plain, clear, descriptive language? Did you put in all the information you have? Edit as needed.

6) Say thank you! Be sure to thank the developers. They don't get paid nearly enough and they also have lots of stress and crap to deal with on a daily basis. Don't add to it by being an ass.

Game developers have a mission to provide us consumers with an enjoyable gaming experience. Through our support, not only by voice but by our actions, have it within our ability to help them make our particular favorite games better. In other words: if your game of choice is messed up and you did nothing to try to make it better then you're part of the reason it's broken. If you did your best to help out and it's still messed up, then there may be bigger issues going on which may be out of your control.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Alt Night

The more I’ve leveled him the more I’m enjoying my Hobbit Minstrel. Minstrels are an interesting class. With traits, you can equip medium armor. At level twenty, Minstrels can use shields and get a stance called “War Speech.” War Speech reduces your healing to fifty percent of normal but decreases the cool down on your main cry skill (the name of which escapes me at the moment). Around twenty-two or so I also picked up an AoE damage spell which works only in War Speech stance. Not only does the new AoE do damage, it also debuffs the target to light damage – a Minstrel’s main damage type. The end result is an exceptionally good healing class which, with the stance change, is also a nuker. While changing stances to change the way a class functions isn’t new, WoW did it for their Warrior class among other games, it’s nice to see the concept at work in the healing class – often a type people will shy away from because of the low damage and the resulting slow leveling ability.

Without War Speech, the Minstrel is a powerful healer. My kinmates and I took on the Great Barrows at level (we were all twenty-two and twenty-three level-wise) and we did very well. Only two deaths, one of them mine, and we managed to complete the whole thing. It was interesting to see the fight from the perspective of a healing class instead of my usual melee class preferences.

If you’re playing LotRO and like DPSing, leveling a Minstrel seems like a decent option. In groups and instances, you’ll probably be the healer, but with the War Speech abilities, solo content is likely to be a lot easier than when playing a strict healer.

The stance change to War Speech for LotRO’s Minstrel is a lot like the stance change for the Warrior in WoW: it changes the abilities of a class towards another area of expertise. In the case of WoW’s Warrior, they can be a dps machine (berserker), defensive juggernaut (defensive) or a decent combination of both (battle). In the case of the Minstrel, the War Speech stance makes up for the low dps of the class under normal circumstances. I wonder if more games will pick up on stances as a way to allow a greater range of flexibility for their classes and a way to help ones with notable problems get a leg up to complete their leveling process (ex: low dps tanks and healers).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

LotRO Update

I’m still enjoying my time in Middle-earth. I’ve been making the rounds of Arda with my level fifty Hobbit Burglar. Most weeks will include a trip to Forochel the newest zone in the North; a raid, either Helegrod or the Rift; some exploration of old zones; and delving into one of the rep dungeons for fun (Goblin Town, the Great Barrows or Sarnur). Being a total Hobbit fan, I still love sneaking around on my burglar, stealing from orcs and then beating them up before I slip off into the shadows again.

Raiding in LotRO has remained low-key and enjoyable. My kinship only recently took down the Balrog in the Rift (not to be confused with The Balrog that Gandalf fought in Moria). Many of the kinship members have armor sets from the Rift and even lightweight raider me has a couple of pieces. The end bosses of both Helegrod and the Rift are tough but it’s neat that the rest of it is farmable. (The first two bosses are the key for the Rift – get them down and the rest is relatively simple right up to the guy before the Balrog.).

The dungeons of Goblin Town, Sarnur and the Great Barrows are a lot of fun to sneak around in as a Burglar. The map “fog of war” refreshes on a regular basis so it really does make it interesting to try to get around in them – you actually need to get a sense of where you want to go and how to get there. I’m glad to say that I can usually get to Gollum’s Cave without much fuss and that’s pretty far back into Goblin Town. All three zones feature mobs of different skills and toughness making it so most players can solo as well as group up for some of the harder content.

My interest in Forochel as a whole is waning though I’m enjoying the dwarf mines in the West of the zone. It’s like a smaller, more densely packed version of Goblin Town making it a challenge for my to get around in undetected. Plus-to-stealth items help a lot as well as the occasional HiPS (Hide in Plain Sight – vanish for Burglars).

I haven’t done much in the way of PvP at all. I’m not really much of a carebear, it’s just that MMO PvP is rather clunky (in both WoW and LotRO) so I dabbled in it a bit and haven’t really felt compelled to revisit it. At some point, I suppose I may hop back in. The real strength or interest of PvP in WoW and LotRO is group verses group. Get a Freep raid verses a Creep raid and it’s pandemonium. Problem is those kinds of raids don’t happen that often and it’s usually a large group on one side hunting down individuals of the other. There’s a lot of waiting around and “what do we do now that the one guy we were hunting is dead” stuff and I rapidly lose interest. It's Middle-earth and I'd like some epic battles!

And last but not least, I finally maxed my fishing skill to twohundred which got me the Lord of Streams title and the ability to go after the fifty pound salmon. I haven’t caught it yet, but I’m working on it. There’s one in the kinship hall and it’s HUGE! I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I caught it, probably give it away. I don’t need my smial collapsing under the weight!

While there’s still enough content at fifty to keep me going, many people in my kinship are working on their second or third level fifty. I decided to try some of the other races / classes and see if I had much interest in them from when I tried them in open beta. Right now the contenders are my Man Lore Master, Hobbit Minstrel or my Man Captain. There are lots of neat abilities on Lore Masters. He’s squishy as all get out, but his tanking bear and stuns can keep most mobs off him and several of his abilities hit really hard. My minstrel is a lot of fun also, if not a little strange concept-wise. He goes into combat and most of what he does is play a lute. I realize the bard character is a staple in Dungeons and Dragons adventures, it’s just a little odd to see it in practice. The Captain is an interesting class, but he’s only level nine at the moment so it’s hard to tell what I’ll end up thinking of him.

Overall, LotRO has still kept my interest. It’s easy enough to stay current with friends as the leveling set-up is fairly fluid at this point (I haven’t seen the thirties in a while though, so I’ll have to see what that’s like). At the level cap, there’s enough content available to keep going also: either solo, group or in raids.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Future of MMOs

Terranova had a posting by Bruce Damer recently asking if we are entering a New Virtual World Winter. MBP has also (jokingly) predicted the ending of MMOs and Tobolds also has a post up about dealing with game burnout. While I think the MMO market is certainly “stuck” at the moment with The World of Warcraft at the top and the rest fighting for table scraps, I don’t think this is the end of MMOs.

MMO Predictions:
Ok, here’s where I get out the crystal ball. Just so you know: reception on this thing has been hazy lately. In the future MMOs will involve:

- More flexible business models. Micro payments, or something similar, will be allowed in some games. Others may offer what is currently the box software via bit torrent sites, saving them a ton of money by not burning disks for game software, and only have monthly or other periodic payment plans. Some plans will also be pay-by-resource so that a casual gamer with no interest in raiding can play to the max level while hardcore, raiding gamers can pay for the extra raid instance access.

- Elements which have evolved into design standards (character inventories, bag space, UI elements, etc). There’s a tendency in software development that once something is standardized, it can be packaged and made extensible. Perhaps companies will spring up that build components that work between the different software layers in MMOs so large development companies can use the components and spend the rest of their money on other game play elements.

- More interactive and immersive NPC behaviors. EQ2 has voice-acting for NPCs and Oblivion’s AI gives NPCs daily schedules and behaviors which occur whether a player witnesses them or not. Combining these ideas, I think we’ll have more realistic NPC behavior including daily schedules. There would still be shops of NPCs for things like repairs, but NPCs would come and go. The repair headmaster may not be there at noon because he’s off to lunch – you’ll have to get your repairs done by one of the apprentices. Part of a quest may be to actually track down the quest giver. It would also be neat to allow more expanded social options – like being able to bargain with shop keeps and getting discounts if they like you.

- More interactive and immersive worlds. Not just a world free of instancing, though that would be nice, but one where there’s seasons. There are natural disasters and things related to battles occurring in the world. There would be mobs that don’t just wander – some run and hide while others are actively hunting players down.

- Improvements in story telling. In books, stories unfold by telling. In movies and television, stories unfold by showing. In MMOs, stories unfold by doing. Yet most story telling elements in the current crop of MMOs fall back on cut-scenes (showing) or quest text (telling). Improving the encounters to where the player is an active participant in a story and developing artistic techniques to alleviate the need to show or tell the player what role they are playing can help advance the player acting out what their role is in the story. Along with this, will be improvements in quest construction. We need to get away from meaningless kill ten seething thugs, then ten sneering thugs, then ten disgruntled thugs when they’re all bloody thugs in one spot. Streamlining questing and the storytelling that the questing is supposed to accomplish will improve games and make them less grindy, more interesting and more interactive for the participants.

In addition to improving the story-telling in MMOs with voice-acting for the NPCs, improvements in NPC body language and facial expressions can help. The NPC could talk to you in glowing terms but you could tell from their facial expression that they really don’t like you or are hiding something (and what they’re hiding, the player will have to discover themselves – again, by DOING).

Another way to get players involved more is too add branching for stories. Kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, player decisions have ramifications. If you help the king take out the leader of a trade guild, you get in good with the king but the trade guild hates you. If you help the trade guild instead, something else happens. I realize this may require instancing to accomplish. I’d go a step further and like to see general trends on a server have effect in the world. If more players help the king than the trade guild, something happens on the server (the trade guild revolts or helps an enemy kingdom gain a foothold on the king’s territory or something). Developers would have to be careful how they implement the quest lines. Basically, each player needs to feel like they had a hand in creating their world while at the same time not forcing too much conflict between players. Adventures may have to be divided into world adventures where everyone sees the same result and has access to the same parts and player adventures where each player decides their own results.

MMOs probably aren’t going to cease, however they will cease to exist as we know them today.

EQ2 - Continuing Adventures

I’ve been creating different alts in EQ2 since the opening of their Legacy campaign to get returning players. I’ve tried all three variants of the rogue class. Each has different but similar skills to use in combat (stuns, poisons, strikes from stealth, etc). While I have liked things about each of them, they all strike me as being a tad too much like the rogue in WoW and I lost interest. I tried an illusionist and a wizard and while the skills and play style of those classes seemed neat, I lost interest in those as well.

Then I created a halfling ranger. I had fun the other night peppering baddies full of arrows or stabbing the bejesus out of them. Seems like a class with a lot of solo power and would be somewhat useful in groups (though I imagine there’s a lot of rangers floating around). And, of course, his summon pie ability is awesome. (I kid you not: his racial trait is to summon pie, lol).

Playing EQ2 again lends itself to the inevitable comparisons to the other games I have played. One thing I like is the graphics style of the game. Yes, it is cartoony, however the characters and landscapes and objects are all well-integrated. In that world, everything that’s there feels like it belongs there. The more realistic game makers try to make their graphics, the harder it is to create items in games which allow for the suspension of disbelief. In the cartoony graphics of EQ2 or WoW, it doesn’t take much to create an item which fits. In a more photo-realistic game like LotRO, the slightest imperfection in a face, clothing item, or weapon can break the immersion factor. In addition to the graphics integration, there are little things that help the immersion along. When my hobbit burglar (LotRO) is speaking to a quest-giver, he’s basically talking to the NPC’s knees. My halfling ranger, on the other hand, cranes his neck and looks the NPC right in the face and the NPC looks down at him. NPCs / PCs actually looking at each other adds a lot to the animations and makes it feel more like they are really conversing. I’m liking the voice-acted NPC dialog as well; it adds to the feel of the place when I’m actually hearing what I’m being told instead of just reading it off a screen.

The only thing I don’t care for in EQ2 at this point is the boats. I love their travel system overall with the character sprint ability and so forth - just not the boats. In fact, there aren’t really even boats – just bells on the docks that you click on and insta-port to the next dock. There’s something to be said about the game tempo in WoW when you have to wait for the boat (or Zeppelin or Tram). You stand and wait for it and then it finally comes into view. You hop on board and eventually it will take off again. You can watch the place where you were float off into the distance as your ship leaves shore. Sometimes then you’ll get a loading screen though other routes happen in real time. It actually feels like you’re embarking on a voyage. You’re off to a new place to have great adventures. Same thing with riding the wyvrns / hippogryphs in WoW. Most fantasy books and stories tend to have passages savoring the place where the heroes are heading to. The feeling of place is served in games via the travel options. In EQ2, there’s no savoring the experience of travel. It’s just *poof* you’re here *poof* you’re there. It’s kind of like the train in City of Heroes (which I also didn’t care for).

Getting there is neat but the journey is important too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Changed the link for Bildo to the Ramblings of Jobildo - also linking to his shiny new site!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Revisting EQ2

I decided to take advantage of the Living Legends campaign for players (both full subscriptions and trial accounts) who had been members but left EQ2. It turns out I had completely uninstalled the game so I needed to reinstall from my disks. Once that was taken care of, I signed in and got all the updates I had been missing (it took roughly two hours).

I have since been playing around with my different characters. Per Van Hemlock's post, I promptly logged on to my Gnome Necromancer and proceeded to fly around in the new clockwork illusion form. Gotta love it! And a neat feature is that, when sitting, the little propeller stops spinning and you actually deploy landing gear. Too much fun. After zipping around on my Gnome for a bit, I went back to character creation and found I could roll a Fae. The Fae starting zone was a new one to me, so I got a Fae swashbuckler set up. After running around on him for a bit, I noticed that the Fae zone felt a lot less boxed in than the starting zones for my Gnome or other "good" races. They expanded the map area a bit more and successfully concealed some of its edges with terrain features. Rather than questing in a tunnel, I felt more like I was free to roam a bit more.

Another thing about the Fae is their free-fall ability. Falling safely from any height combined with my swashbuckler stealth had me leaping from every tree fort and outpost I could climb into without caring a whole lot about the level of the mobs below me. As long as I didn't land directly on anything that could kill me, I'd be safe.

Note to developers: Anytime you can put in an ability to cater to the easily-amused crowd (turning into a clock-work helicopter, enabling characters to leap from heights without damage, etc.) you should do so. The abilities add almost nothing to the character or the game but provide countless hours of play as we, the easily amused, activate those abilities to the fullest extend of silliness possible.

One of my gripes the first go-around with EQ2 is that I couldn't sample the housing areas with a trial account. Well, they modified that a bit and as a returning player, I can now get a cheap house. I got all set up with a one-room apartment on a couple of my alts and got the housing quest items (a chandelier, a table and a mirror) along with some other housing-related goodies (a couple of books and a /claim item of a bonsai tree). Compared to LotRO's housing system of furniture placement hooks, I like EQ2's system of furniture placement a lot better. I could place items anywhere they would reasonably go. I couldn't stick my chandelier on a wall or the floor, but it would go anywhere I wanted it on the ceiling. Another neat feature is the ability to put items on other items. My halfling wizard has a little apartment and I put my table in a corner and put two books and a little vase on top of it.

I would love to see LotRO adopt such a system. I'd like to be able to put chairs next to my tables and actually place items on top of them (plates, mugs, etc.). I would also like to see books in the game. It would be awesome to have, say, a readable in-game book of all the riddles from the Hobbit or books of elvish lore to keep in my smial. Oblivion also had books you could pick up, read and keep in your residence. In Oblivion you could steal books too ... not that I would ever do such a thing. *shifty eyes*

Anyway, that's what's going on in my Everquest two adventures thus far.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Warhammer PvP

Slashdot has an article covering an interview with Jeff Hickman, Senior Producer for Warhammer Online (LINK). The post references the interview at

A promising quote from the article:
We generally start everything in our game with a thought toward PvP. PvP isn't the first thing we think of, but it's one of the first things. We think of Warhammer Online as a PvP game that also has monster and PvE content. So, when we balance our careers, we balance the content around player verses player, not fighting monsters. We balance the classes against each other. Then, instead of balancing those classes against the monsters, we balance the monsters against the classes. Our philosophy is to make the best PvP game in the world and build the PvE content around it. We know how much damage each class can do and take, plus all the utility each class can provide. So, instead of balancing each ability, we just need to modify the overall damage output and absorption of each career.
One of the big gripes of many PvP players is that there’s too much balancing classes between PvE and PvP which sacrifices one or the other. From his PvP first mentality, Jeff sounds like a man who gets it. I don’t mind the balancing act, but in a PvP game, balancing the classes for PvP should always precede PvE considerations.

PvE in service of PvP aims (like troop movements in the World of Warcraft's Alterac Valley) suit me fine. Some PvE elements enhance the appearance of epic battles. Other PvE aspects though (like Korrak the Bloodrager, also in WoW's Alterac Valley) detract from the experience by being nuisances at best and a raid-squashing distraction at worst.

The interview is an interesting read for those contemplating a jump to Warhammer.

In other news, some kinship mates and I in LotRO that had also played EQ2 have been thinking of taking them up on their recent offer of checking them out again. We're not thinking of a game switch, just to poke our heads in and see what's going on. Our discussions turned to why EQ2 didn't do as well as WoW did and what happened to Vanguard (another Sony Online Entertainment endeavor). Genda over at the Grouchy Gamer has a series of posts about what happened to Vanguard. It was interesting to read and rather poignant too. I also had high hopes for the game and wondered just what had happened over there to release such a dud.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Niche Games and the Economics of blah blah blah 2 – System Requirements

When last we left my “Niche Economics” ramblings, I was yammering about how games were getting smaller and more focused on a specific target audience. There will be a WoW-killer … when Blizzard decides they’ve made enough dump trucks of money off of it and says “that’s a wrap, folks” or makes the next big game everyone wants to play and culls their own customers from one to the other.

Related to my observations about the market are recent comments by Syncaine and Bildo about the state of Age of Conan’s system requirements. AoC requires higher-end systems to run on. Unlike WoW, you can’t just get by with a cheap computer, you’ll need high end graphics with lots of memory.

Is this a problem?

No and yes. If the niche of gamers AoC is shooting for are the high-end PC gamer group, then no, it’s not a problem. Bildo actually bought a new PC for it (work-related for him as well). Sounds like Syncaine’s system is already set up to support it. I think my system would probably run it fine. Gamers that tend to like higher-end games also tend to support their hobbies by upgrading their machines regularly. I know I spend way more than a sane person should to keep my system running smoothly including new video cards and whole new PCs if I need them. I haven’t worn shoes in three years, but the trade-off it worth it.

Just kidding about the shoes … flip flops are shoes, aren’t they? :)

The system requirements are a problem, however, if Funcom is trying to get an audience the size of the World of Warcraft’s. Video game development is software development: a company builds a program for a set of users and hopes the money made in supporting those users and providing them with the stuff they built will far exceed the expenses the company incurred in creating it.

A long time ago, I was in the market for a new PC. Pentium IIs were in their heyday and Pentium IIIs were a newfangled technology. As a new PC buyer, I went with the Pentium III. It had an AGP video card in a special slot and all these high-performance widgets to make it run really well. Around the same time, a game came out called Heavy Gear II. It was brilliant. It had an engaging storyline, some really neat single-player missions and an online component where you could meet and fight other players in various combat maps. It remains the best PvP experience I have had to date and some of the most fun game play I’ve seen. And yet no one has heard of Heavy Gear II. That’s because Activision created the game which required PCs with the AGP cards, not the Pentium IIs which were still in full swing. Activision inadvertently doomed the game to a small audience by requiring the more advanced systems to play it. The lesson: most computer gamers will not upgrade their systems to play a video game. There were many titles to choose from and if a game wouldn’t run on the PC the gamer had, they wouldn’t buy that game. Activision took it that Heavy Gear II was a failure and thus never bothered with Heavy Gear III.

Long story short (too late!): if AoC caters its game to high-end users and there are enough of them interested in playing the game, it will do fine. It won’t come close to denting WoW’s numbers but it will be a financial success and keep running for a good long time. Not every game should feel compelled to try to beat WoW’s numbers. Given the history of MMOs, someone will but I don’t think that’s going to be any time soon or with any titles I’ve yet to see.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Terrain as the Enemy

I’ve been playing around in Forochel, the new zone for LotRO’s Book 13 Update. I’m still enjoying it. Last night I adventured around the area a bit. Most days it’s pretty clear there but last night there was a giant snowstorm across most of the region. It was so thick, you couldn’t really see except about ten yards around you. It turned a relatively simple task (locate bad guy camps to set fire to) into a challenging time. I didn’t find the last two tents because I couldn’t find the off-ramp to the second camp in the raging white-out. It was brilliant! It’s like trying to survive in inhospitable terrain and the zone itself has a way of sucking you into believing it at every turn.

Here's snippet from a dev diary on the new zone:
The concept of using the Environment as an enemy has been floating around the LOTRO Dev team for a long time now - as far back as the Lonelands development period. We toyed with this notion a little bit with Tâl Bruinen (brambles and rocks in the road) and the High Pass (rare monster-driven blizzards). In Forochel, we're taking that concept a few steps further.

The other day I ended up with a chilled debuff. The debuff would make me susceptible to frost damage (which many of the mobs in this area have). Untreated the debuff would last an hour. The nice thing is the debuff could also be cured with a simple fire. Stand by a campfire for a short time and the debuff goes away. I suspect hunter campfires or the player-made kind would also work. You can also give yourself a resistance buff by standing next to a steam vent for a number of seconds (thirty or so, I’m guessing).

While zones in many games show a great deal of ingenuity in the visuals of the place (the restricted zones in City of Heroes or the tropical rains in Stranglethorn Vale in WoW) this is among the first I’ve seen where the zone itself is a dynamic adversary. It really helps immersion when you can see that storm coming and you can’t just ignore it. Where is the nearest town? Can I built my own fires if I need them? Where can I go for safety or are there precautions I can take to make life easier and still quest?

It’s important to note that the buffs / debuffs are not so overpowered that you can’t just keep trying to get things done. One of my gripes with the wound system they have is that they’re really too much like wounds. You’d be recovering for a week with a real wolf bite and some of the wounds inflicted by mobs in Evendim, for example, seemed just as lengthy and problematic. But dealing with the Forochel’s weather is part of the fun and makes being there is exciting as the climate shifts around you.

One gripe I have about many zones in LotRO are the positions of mobs along (on top of) roadways – stealthed mobs in-particular. Nothing sucks like spending a fortune at level thirty-five for a horse only to have Turbine snatch it away from you on a regular basis via one-shot dismounting stealth mobs on roads. Yeah, I know it’s not realistic to keep mobs off of roads – I don’t care. Either make it MUCH harder to dismount me or remove the bloody things: travel is already lengthy and expensive enough in LotRO without adding the insult of making me run on foot every hundred feet because of stealthed mobs. If dismounting is an issue for the Ettenmoors (the PvP zone in LotRO) then make it easier to do in there. I’d be fine with that. Fortunately, Forochel doesn’t seem to have the problem of too many mobs on roads. The mobs near roads are not stealthed and are fairly easy to avoid, making travel a ton more enjoyable for those of us inclined to ride the mounts for which we paid so much. Off-road travel is still a crap shoot, but that’s to be expected.

Forochel is not only a great zone in terms of visuals or topography (although both are great) it’s dynamic nature makes it an interesting place to be. The zone stikes a great balance between realism and game play. From he night sky in the north to the rugged forest in the south – there are interesting things to see everywhere. I’m looking forward to more exploration in Forochel and I hope Turbine keeps the great ideas coming for future zones.

Friday, April 25, 2008

LotRO: Book Thirteen and One Year Anniversary

On April twenty-fourth, the one-year anniversary of the Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine unleashed the Book Thirteen: Doom of the Last King content update. Book Thirteen is now the fifth (of six) such updates for which players didn’t pay anything beyond their monthly dues to get. The new expansion introduced players to the new region of Forochel, added the hobby of fishing to the game and added the Defiler class to players as a new healer for the monster (Creep) side in Player-verses-Monster Player content. (You can see the full release notes in the LotRO Lorebook).

The first thing I did was get my Hobbit butt out to Michel Delving to snag the new fishing skill. On the way out of the housing area I got lost as they have modified the housing area entry way. There is now a little access road and a small pond where before there was nothing. Once I got all switched around again, I got to MD, located the hobby trainer in the Bird and Baby Inn and got my hobby set up along with my first fishing pole. Turns out, fishing poles are available to crafters as well and a friend of mine in the kinship made me a really sweet one with +5 fishing skill.

After asking around, I found out there is a bait shop in Straddle so I could use bait with my fishing to increase my odds of catching something. So off to Straddle I went. Straddle is a ways outside Bree so it’s a bit out of the way. Conveniently, however, there is a small pond right next to the bait seller. I equipped my pole, which removes both on- and off-hand weapons, right-clicked the bait in my bag to get the buff and started fishing.

Fishing in LotRO is similar to WoW: you click the fishing icon and your character will cast a line into the water and wait. When you see the signs of a struggle in the water, you click the fishing skill icon again which will attempt to reel in whatever it is on the line. After ten minutes, I had little more than some junk fish, kelp and a couple rusty daggers. Later on, while exploring in Breeland, I managed to catch two large gold fish trophy taxidermy items which I handed in. One now hangs in my home.

Due to the content expansion, all of Evendim and a couple of other places such as Nen Harn (sp?) lake in Breeland appeared undiscovered to everyone. I’m not sure if it’s due to the amount of water in those zones (due to fishing) or geography changes. There are other areas in the game with large bodies of water (The Shire, Ered Luin) which were unaffected so I suspect it’s the geography changes.

The new zone of Forochel is awesome! First of all, the topography is varied and interesting. Beginning with an icy forest area, the zone rapidly gives way to some glacial crevasses to navigate with occasional paths on the sides to get up to other areas. Once out of the cavernous pathway, the road opens to tundra and hills. Then there’s the giant lake in the zone. Unlike Evendim’s lake, you cannot swim in the large lake here for long before you’ll die of the cold. While the lake’s position in the top-middle section of the zone could pose some travel problems, the roadways in Forochel were for the most part clear of mobs. Getting around on horseback won’t be half as bad as Evendim. One note of warning – swimming in the lake will kill you and you can receive damage by walking on the ice flow at the lowest point of the zone near the lake. The damage I got was about two-hundred points per tick – not significant but a pain if you’re trying to walk stealthed through the area.

I took time to visit several of the camps in the new zone and chatted with some of the quest-givers. There is a new reputation faction available – the Lossoth. I haven’t had time to check out the rep rewards yet, but there’s rumored to be a shaggy new pony and horse available. I’m still happy with my current pony so I’ll probably pass. I did complete a couple of quests, one of which resulted in some hip-waders I’ll be using while fishing!

One thing I found out today: if you stand next to one of the steam vents for a time, you will get a cold-resistance buff which lasts thirty minutes. It doesn't seem to work next to fires though, only the steam vents. I'm not sure how long you have to stand there. The last time I got the buff it felt like thirty seconds or so.

Other improvements in the update included some animation changes (when my hobbit jumps he balls his fists and moves his arms in front of him now instead of to the sides) and some added sound effects. Summoning a horse results in both - instead of silently reaching for the sky to get your horse, you’ll whistle a couple times and look around. Some players were annoyed by the whistling sound. I don’t care for it but not to the point where I’d disable my sound over it. Standing in a town where there’s a group mounting up to move out sounds like a group of NY road workers with a convention of supermodels walking by but I just ignore it.

Overall, I’m very happy. I played about three hours last night and still have a large part of the new zone undiscovered. The stuff I have been through, I went through quickly. Looking forward to more sneaking, exploring and fishing! And a new Book quest!

For the anniversary, there are tokens which drop from mobs around Middle-earth. Get a number of these tokens and you can turn them into specific vendors (I spotted one in Bree and another in Rivendell) for gift boxes in the game.