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.