When life conspires against gaming

It’s not been the best week for gaming here at Casa de Syp.  One night I had to go to bed far earlier than normal to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  And last night as it looked as though I’d get even more time than normal to play, my computer started locking up hard every time I’d load a game.

I was getting these checkerboard-like graphic glitches that would freeze the game and — if I didn’t alt-tab out and shut the game down quick — force a reboot.  It was happening across several games (I tested WildStar, RIFT, and TSW).  After about a half-minute in the game, freeze.

That was incredibly disturbing.  I updated my graphics drivers and ran some diagnostics, but while everything looked OK, the game crashes kept happening.  Since it only happened in-game, I deduced it probably had something to do with the graphics card, although I’m not a tech expert by any means.  That was worrying.  I’ve been aware that my computer and card have been aging (I think the computer is four years old and the graphics card three at this point?), but I was hoping to get a couple more years of use out of them.

This morning I did a little poking around, and on a GeForce forum someone mentioned that by switching Windows’ power settings from balanced to high performance would help.  I made the switch, and lo and behold, no more graphic crashes.

Dunno why this happened or why giving it more power is going to help.  I’ve been playing these games just fine for a long time before this happened, so I’m going to be a little more wary than usual.  Anyone else encounter this type of problem?

The Feel (no, not the feels)

hoverI’ve given a disturbing amount of thought into why I primarily play female characters in MMOs (allowing my daughter to dictate my outfits, while applicable, is not a compelling reason as this trend predates her birth by several years).  I don’t secretly wish that I was a girl, nor do I create avatars with shapely posteriors only to ogle them.  I used to believe it was mostly because capable girls who kick butt are cool to watch, but the more I dwelt on it, I realized that was just a side benefit.

What I think it comes down to, really, is that my character has to *feel* right for me.  The feel isn’t just the looks or the animation (although those factor in), but the combination along with the outfit, the skills, and associated movement.  In movie terms, my character has to be the right action hero that suits me — and there is a wider spectrum of action heroes than you might assume from tropes.  There are nimble invincible can-do-everything heroes, although those bore me.  There are the gritty, beat-up heroes who soldier through on sheer grit.  Those interest me more.  And there are the heroes who draw strength from intelligence and wits first, then dexterity and moxie second.  That’s right around where I’d envision myself if I was to be in an action movie.

Most MMO males don’t have the right feel for me.  I don’t relate well to tall, incredibly buff jocks.  Nor do I have a lot in common with slender flawless metrosexuals.  I’m short, and while I’m not weak, I’m not a powerhouse.  I like to think through situations and then hopefully approach them fearlessly and confidently when a conclusion is reached.

Older male characters (especially craggy, scarred ones) draw upon this feel.  Adama, Picard, Gandalf, Zed, Mr. Miyagi… these guys might not be as fresh as they once were, but what they’ve given up physically they’ve gained even more with experience and wisdom.

Younger female characters appeal to a different feel for me, that of challenging the Arnold action hero cliché and demonstrating a sleeker inner strength that belies a smaller frame.  Plus, they get better clothes than the guys, and I’m a total virtual clothes horse.

My Engineer in WildStar has a great feel for me.  With a giant gun, bot companions, and agile movement, I love to watch her blast through the world without hestitations or fears.  In contrast, my captain in Star Trek Online has a bullish, brute feel that solves problems by head-butting them straight on.  And I’m still getting the feel for my new RIFT rogue, but I already like her propensity for throwing out a heap of firepower and explosions without regard to collateral damage.

So the feel is important.  It’s hard to connect and stick with a character for a long period when it’s not clicking with me.

Are special editions and expansions getting too pricey?

ceIt’s amazing to me not only how we get used to pretty significant changes in culture but how quickly we do so.  For example, a mere five years ago free-to-play MMOs represented a fringe business model, and we were shocked when DDO made the switch.  Now it’s pretty much the opposite, with subscription-only games being on the outskirts (and new sub games struggling to maintain those models).

This is why I’m not terribly surprised that the sticker shock we experienced just a few years ago regarding the high cost of collector’s editions has receeded to dull acceptance.  Remember when $150 for Star Wars: The Old Republic’s special edition was practically scandal?  (And it still is, considering how little you actually got for it.)  But SWTOR wasn’t alone in pushing the standard CE price, which formally was around $80, up into three digits.

But are all prices shooting up into the $150 range?  Or is this merely the case of selective observation?

Cost comparison

Guild Wars 2 sold its much more impressive CE for $150 as well. The best version of RIFT: Nightmare Tide will set you back $150.  There was a $150 EVE Online collector’s edition that came out in 2013.  The Imperial Edition of ESO was $100 (and slightly controversial as it included an otherwise-locked race).  STO is selling an “operations pack” of the upcoming Delta Rising expansion for $125.  Destiny had a big-box Ghost Edition for $150.  The Secret World had a Grand Master Pack for $200 that included a lifetime sub.  Then we get into pre-orders that allowed you to buy into the alpha testing program, such as Landmark’s $100 trailblazer pack and ArcheAge’s $150 founders pack.

That isn’t to say that $150 is all anyone does any more.  In comparison, the most expensive version of original RIFT’s special editions was just $80.  WildStar’s digital deluxe edition (there was no CE) was $85.  The Warlords of Draenor expansion CE, which is quite loaded, is still a reasonable $90.  The Diablo III CE is merely $50.  The FFXIV CE ranged between $50 and $80 depending on what version and platform you chose.  The DDO: Shadowfell Conspiracy CE was $50.  EQ: Call of the Forsaken CE is $90. as is the new EQII expansion CE.  The most expensive version of LOTRO: Riders of Rohan was $70.  Defiance had a $70 CE.

Of course, all of this is hard to compare because you’ve got so many factors — the base game vs. expansions, physical CEs vs. digital CEs, pre-order bonuses vs. launch editions.  But at a glance, $150 isn’t as “standard” as I thought when I began writing this post.  It’s probably more standard for a big physical box CE (i.e. “the cube”).

Is $150 too much for a collector’s edition?

This is a tricky question to answer, mostly because it boils down to your financial status, how much you have been looking forward to this game, whether it’s on top of a subscription, and what’s being offered for that price.  We also must consider inflation, which has been steadily rising whereas the average MMO sub fee has not.

While I am a complete sucker for CEs, I’ll say that the $150 trend is pushing it for me.  I’ve splurged in the past, to be sure, but thank goodness these don’t come out every other month.  $150 is a grocery store trip for our family.  It’s a really good Kindle plus a couple of ebooks.  And it’s a heap of digital goodies if I take that money directly to games’ cash shops and buy select items that I know I’ll use.

What we get with CEs is exclusivity — physical and digital items that you can’t get anywhere else.  I’m generally pleased with CEs that deliver account-wide beneficial items (such as mounts or increased inventory space) that will benefit my characters for years to come.  If I signed back up for World of Warcraft today, any new character I made would get the same mini panda or diablo pet that the original CE entailed.

I’m losing respect for the feelies of a CE, however.  Soundtracks are a huge draw, but only if you can’t get them elsewhere.  Statues?  Cloth maps?  Keyboard overlays?  Authenticator fobs?  Let’s be honest, most of these will be trash or dusty shelf items before too long.

I guess I can’t blame games like STO and ArcheAge trying to tap whales with their huge up-front pre-orders, since people can more easily justify spending that kind of cash if they’re getting the game or expansion for free anyway.  It doesn’t stop my eyes from bulging and/or rolling, but they gotta pay the bills somehow.

For me, I’d love to see more CEs in the reasonable zone of $60-$80, since it vastly increases the likelihood that I’ll drop cash for them.  $150 still triggers a strong debate in my household.

Poll: What MMOs are you currently playing?

Let’s keep it simple — no MOBAs, just MMOs that you’re currently playing (as in, within the last week or so)!

Titles ‘R Important

There are a few blog pieces going around explaining the reason behind their respective blog names, which I love.  Thinking Play pointed out a few blogs and delivered analysis of them, including yours truly:

Bio Break – It’s a common MMO term, so it clues me in that the blog is about MMOs and MMO culture. Also given what the term means it sounds like the blog doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is friendly and approachable.”

I’d say that this is fairly spot-on.  I love alliteration and short titles, and Bio Break fits those criteria.  I liked the idea that reading a blog article was a “break” between gaming, since I often read others when I couldn’t be in-game.  And I do hope I don’t take myself too seriously/pompously, because where’s the fun in that?

A good blog title is essential to branding your future content and being the foundation on which you build your reputation and blogging portfolio.  Giving it some serious thought and consideration is paramount.  I’m always a little in awe of the great titles I see out there.

Recovering from PAX Prime

ronnieI am bushed.

I flew back home last night after five days in Seattle for PAX Prime, and it was a relief to be back in familiar environs and to see my family.  I do like going on trips, but there’s something comforting about returning home.  From my own feelings and from talking to a lot of folks, four days for PAX is just too much.  By Sunday everyone was exhausted, vendors, media, and attenders alike, and Monday was like a ghost town.

Probably the highlight of the trip for me came last Thursday when I got to tour Undead Labs’ studio and chat up the development team for State of Decay and Moonrise.  Seeing the developers’ passion and hearing them talk about these games really makes you aware of how much like the rest of us they are.  It’s something that we occasionally forget when we’re vilifying them for whatever.

Most of my weekend there was spent ping-ponging between interviews.  Most MMO studios elected to hold off-site meetings — I think that only Blizzard, a few MOBAs, Shroud of the Avatar, and Wargaming were actually on the show floor.  It’s probably too expensive for the rest of the online gaming studios to be there unless they have something major to show.  And I actually prefer sitting down in a quiet hotel room with developers instead of trying to hear them over an incredibly noisy crowd.

There wasn’t any big game I was there to see, and it never ceased to amaze me how some folks would be standing in line for upwards of eight hours to get their hands on a single title.  I did check out Tales from the Borderlands (Telltale Games) and the indie megabooth.  World of Warships actually looks like something that would appeal to me, since it is incorporating RTS elements for those of us who are less twitchy.

I did go to a few parties, but really, parties aren’t much my thing.  The Trion party took forEVER to get into and was swamped with so many people that there was no food and you couldn’t play any of the games.  WildStar’s shindig had good food and some devs, but I can only stand around so long before I get restless.  One night I went to the Space Needle to be a total tourist, which was pretty neat.

It’s nice to soak in the nerdy gamer vibe and to see that many people come together to celebrate a mutual love of games, for sure.  I don’t know if I’ll be going back next year — I think it might be time to switch it up and try out a different venue.  We’ll see.

Bio Break’s State of the Gamer

swanI’ve had a whole lot kicking around in my head about what I’ve been playing, what I’d like to go back to playing, and what’s ahead that I’m looking forward to playing.  Might as well write it all down and slap it with an embarrassingly pompous title.

/looks up at the title

Whew.  Good.  So ready?  Here we go!

Currently Playing

WildStar is still going strong in my interest sphere(tm).  I think I’m going through it at a good pace so that I’m not butting my head up against the endgame right now, but am allowing for a few more months of additions before that happens.  Building up my house and fleshing out my Engie’s build are my main priorities.

I can’t see myself leaving Lord of the Rings Online either.  It’s one of those games that never compels me to log in, although when I do I generally enjoy myself greatly.  The new Beorning class isn’t going to change the game for me, but being able to continue the journey through Gondor is something that should fill up my winter months.

It’s probably obvious that I’m in a deep The Secret World lull.  This is mainly due to the glacial pace of new content releases.  I’ve been toying with starting up another alt in the meanwhile, but I’d rather have new stories than rehash old ones.  Whenever new updates come out, I’ll be going back into it, but for now it’s a rarely played title.

I’ve finished up my expedition into Dungeons and Dragons Online and won’t be continuing there.  Not a horrible game by any means, just not something I want to be playing right now.

Guild Wars 2 is another mainstay that’s fun if I push myself to log in, although I can let it slip by for days.  I feel a little unfocused in that game, although there is tons to do.  I need to finish up the new living world stuff, fill out the map, and become richer than the ten kings of Europe.  The intermission that Anet is taking is making me take an intermission as well.

Like to Go Back to Playing

I have room in my schedule for at least one other part-time MMO right now, although who that will be is really up for grabs.  There are three front-runners in that race: Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, and RIFT.

All of these have new content, either Neverwinter’s recent module 4 or the other two’s upcoming expansions.  I still have much love for RIFT and am quite intrigued by the tease of the minion system with Nightmare Tide, although I know that if I go back into that game I’ll be rerolling once more.  It’s probably the most time-intensive of the three in terms of what I’d need to play to get to the new stuff.  The expansion does look pretty awesome, tho.

I was all on fire to return to Neverwinter with a new Scourge Warlock when I logged in the other day and logged out after three minutes.  Maybe it’s been too soon?  Maybe I have my fill with action combat and fantasy?  I’m not sure what it is.  Could be I just need to give it another shot.

Star Trek Online is a good bet then.  It’s Cryptic, so it’s really easy to play in short bursts — a mission or two here and there.  And while the expansion doesn’t have me on fire, it is more interesting than Legacy of Romulos to me and will give me more to do with my crew.  I rolled up a new captain the other night and rediscovered how much I enjoyed the visuals and different style of gameplay that comes with space combat.

Looking Forward to Playing

There are three non-MMOs that have my full attention for this fall: The Sims 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Wasteland 2.  All of those have great potential to be fun alternatives to online gaming, and I will probably be getting each at some point.  Man, I can’t believe Sims 4 comes out tomorrow!  Of course, with me and every Sims game following the first I’ve had a tradition: buy it, play it for three days, and never play it again.  They’re games I really should like, but something about them eludes my attention.

So let’s move on to MMOs, shall we?  The only big question marks for the remainder of the year are probably ArcheAge and Landmark.  I’m willing to give Landmark a serious go, but only when it’s feature-complete and in a non-wipable state, so that might be several months.  And who am I kidding, I’d only be playing it because EverQuest Next isn’t out.  Landmark knows it comes in second, and it’s only by virtue of releasing first that it’ll get as much attention as it will.

ArcheAge?  Hm.  My feelings on the PvPish nature and the reports of toxic community still have me leery about this.  I’m curious how people have told me how “weak” and lacking the PvE content is while stressing how you never have to play the game so that you bump into any PvP situations.  Seems like a lot of folks that I read playing the game are pretty much 100% into the PvE side of it, which sounds robust to me.  I guess it’ll come down to trying it out at some point, seeing what Trion does with the launch, and gauging the post-launch situation.  It looks promising for a lot of reasons, but if I never played this I wouldn’t feel empty in side either.

My wish list right now is mostly Skyforge and EverQuest NextH1Z1 is a good candidate as well, although I’ll hold out to see what kinds of servers they’re releasing.  Survival sandbox is all well and good, but I’m not doing that with ganking jerks crowding out the zombies.  I’ll keep an eye on the space sim wars to see how Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen shake out, and as for the big fish, that’s probably it.  Shroud of the Avatar got my attention at PAX for its unusual combat system and surprisingly good looks, so I’ll be keeping a closer eye on that.

So what are your plans for gaming going forward?