Guild Wars 2: Intermission (let’s all go to the lobby)

Yesterday Guild Wars 2 came out with its fourth episode of season two of the living story (ugh, there has to be a quicker way of typing that), but also made a couple of announcements.  The first is that after two months and four episodes, the living world was being put on hold as we count down to a September feature pack.  I guess the “every two week release cadence” has a big asterisk with fine print below saying, “only when we want it to and it sounds good on press releases.”

Ooh, feature pack?  Yeah, but for those of us that are strictly into the PvE side of the game, it doesn’t look like there’s much to get excited about.  The feature pack and the other announcement about some esports tournament all are about WvW and competitive PvP.  That’s fine — not every update has to be for me.  Doesn’t mean that I’m too thrilled.  You mention “esports” and my eyes develop a very thick glaze normally reserved for Krispy Kreme donuts.

So that means that the fourth episode will be the current episode for the next month or two.  For me, I’m cool with it.  I haven’t done most of the achievements with the previous three episodes anyway and have a lot of the game world map yet to do on my Necro.

I logged in last night fully intending to do the first mission in season four, which had something to do with court intrigue because Guild Wars 2 really knows how to push my buttons.  What is this, Sophia the First?  But then my guild mentioned that they were doing some dungeon runs, so I figured why not.  I haven’t done any dungeons with my Necro and was interested in seeing how she fared.

They went pretty well, actually.  The staff is great for doing DPS and conditions at range, and having death shroud available was a decent “oh crap” button in case I started going down too fast.  Kind of like having a second health bar in reserve.  Kind of?  Exactly like that.

I can’t believe that Guild Wars 2 is going to be two years old this month.  It really wasn’t that long ago that I was getting my first glimpse and hands-on with it at PAX.

WildStar: The challenge challenge

s1Last weekend I temporarily (?) retired my medic to pick back up my newbie Engineer in WildStar.  Now that I know the game better and feel more comfortable in it, playing this class has become easier, especially in regard to skill choices and battle rotation.

Since I’m so far behind the bulk of the day one rat pack, I’m actually free to do pretty much whatever I want at my own pace.  So instead of leveling like crazy, screaming “Wait up guys!” I’m choosing to be more completionist than usual.  This means doing all of the Scientist path quests and also every single challenge in each of the zones.

This last one represents a switch in my original estimation of WildStar’s challenges.  I wasn’t that wild about them (no pun intended) at the start, since they’re timed and often asked  you to accomplish a task while fighting over the same resources that everyone else was.  Now that the population is not so much in my hair, I can do these and at least get bronze on them without worrying too much.  There was only one challenge in Algaroc that gave me problems, the one that asked me to kill the super-intelligent apes in the Eldar area, mostly because I couldn’t find enough of a concentration of apes before running out of time.  It took me about seven tries to figure out a good loop between all of the nests (because apes nest in holes in the ground, don’tcha know) before squeaking through with a bronze award.  I scoff at gold on that.

Past the mindless “kill 10 rats” challenges, there is a surprising variety of fun activities going on with these.  They’re kind of like a mix between quests and achievements with an on-the-spot randomized reward.  I do think they should let you flat-out pick the reward instead of rolling on it, since if you don’t get your desired choice you have to wait a while before the cooldown is up.

Probably my favorite in Algaroc is the one where you have to jump to the top of a hill around all of those loftite crystals that give you the super-jump ability.  It’s a little difficult controlling your direction in mid-air, but once you get the hang of it it’s a blast.

s2As I moved on from Algaroc, so I did from my guild to a new one.  I had nothing really against my old guild, but they weren’t the most social people and that’s something I prize in a guild.  So I’m still looking for a good fit and am trying out this group for the time being to see how it goes.

I do wish I could just pack up and move over all of my housing items and even structures from my other characters, however.  So much toast that is now going to waste.  Oh well, we shall rebuild!

Shadow Realms? Yes please.

shadow2Just a couple of weeks ago on Massively Speaking, Bree and I were kicking around ideas from tabletop RPGs that we’d like to see brought into MMOs.  I expressed a desire that I’ve long had, which is to allow players to fully assume the role of an active dungeon master, leading players through an adventure and modifying it on the fly for the situation at hand.  We have a lot of “fire and forget” mission creators in MMOs now (well, a few at least), but none quite like that.  Basically, I wanted to see a melding between virtual tabletop programs and MMOs.

It looks like I’m going to get my wish, sort of!  BioWare just announced Shadow Realms, which isn’t an MMO by most standards, but will be online, will be co-op, will have persistent character development, and will have an ongoing story.  The best part is that players can choose to be a “Shadowlord” to DM adventures against groups of four hero players.

Seriously?  This sounds amazing, moreso from BioWare.  It seems a bit like Neverwinter Nights 2.0, and good for BioWare in creating a new IP instead of becoming so risk-adverse that it simply milks Dragon Age and Mass Effect until the end of time.

I also like the dual-world setting with a mishmash of technology and magic.  Looks superficially like The Secret World (c’mon, that concept art up there could be on Funcom’s site), which isn’t a strike against it for me.  I love me some contemporary action-adventure fantasy science-fiction horror.  And it sounds perfect for small groups of players who want to do D&D-like gameplay without the heavy rulebooks.

Now… we settle into the long wait.  I hope it’s far enough along that it’ll be out sooner rather than later.

Six things about the Atari 2600 that I forgot until now

marioI was watching a retro review of an Atari 2600 game the other day that unlocked several memories I had of that quirky first console.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. The games were very colorful and bold — sometimes moreso than the NES — but had horribly large pixels.  That made rendering text or recognizable human figures problematic unless they made them very big, which is why so many of the games used non-human avatars (spaceships, frogs, etc.).

2. Almost all of the games never had a win condition.  They were super-short and leaned heavily on repition, usually by resetting the stage and making it faster or tougher somehow.  Again, another limitation of the console’s memory.  So one lesson we learned early on is that no matter what, you would lose.  It was only a question of when.

3. Another way that the devs eked out content was to make dozens if not hundreds (and that is not hyperbole) rule variations for the games.  Combat, that packed-in staple, had large plane versions, invisible walls, invisible planes, bank shot tanks, fast moving, slow moving, and so on.  Playing with invisibility in any format seems really weird today, but it was kind of a fun challenge back then.

4. By holding down the reset switch and turning on Space Invaders, you could start a game where your guy could shoot TWICE in a row instead of just once.  That was the first easter egg that I ever encountered in a video game.

5. Later games really chafed under the limited controller (the one-button joystick).  Some required the use of two controllers (such as Defender II) to allow access to more player options, while others used that horrible keypad (Star Raiders) for input.

6. Development on Atari 2600 games went on long after the video game crash of 1983 and even the rise of the NES.  We often bought stripped-down versions of NES games in the late 80s, like California Games, Ikari Warriors, and even 1990’s Xenophobe.  1992 saw the last official Atari 2600 game released (EU’s Acid Drop).

Battle Bards Episode 33: Allods Online

As we’ve proven before on Battle Bards, free-to-play and foreign doesn’t mean that the soundtrack is going to be lame.  On the contrary, scores like Allods Online is what gets us out of bed in the morning, pumped for another day of listening to excellent MMO music!  We’ve got several great tracks from Allods today, so put on your listening ears and uncover your tapping toes.

Episode 33 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Menu” and “Hadagan”)
  • “Main Theme II: Game of Gods”
  • “Gibberlings”
  • “Lords of Destiny – Instruments – Kania”
  • “Astral Prelude”
  • “Jungle 1″
  • “Goblinoball”
  • “Lords of Destiny – AC9 Main NM”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Kevin
  • Mail from Shay
  • Outro (“Disband Deed” from Wurm Online)

Listen to episode 33 now!

Monogamy and the MMO player

gamessssProbably one of the most common questions I’m asked is something along the lines of, “How can you play so many MMOs?  How do you have the time?  How can you stay interested in all of them?”  Well, one question if you smooshed all of that up and swallowed it.

I think I give the illusion that I have much more time than I really do.  My average day contains perhaps two or three hours of playtime, and that’s at the end of the day after everyone’s asleep (since my household goes to bed at 9 except for me, I’m in a rare position of having a few hours to myself even with four other people around).  I don’t make terribly fast progress in any game, but pokey my puppy on up, trusting that I’ll finish the race eventually even though I’m meandering while others are sprinting.  Right now I might give four games a half-hour apiece on a given night or just spend an entire evening devoted to a big project on one game (such as last night, when I knocked out two difficult slayer virtues for my Lore-master in LOTRO).

The multi-MMO aspect of this query is easier to address.  I play more than one MMO because I can’t imagine going back to the days of doing one and one game only.

Oh, there’s a huge appeal to being a monogamous MMO player, especially when you do have limited time.  Some days I think about how attractive it might be to just cast everything but one title aside and plunge fully into that game.  My Massively Speaking cohost Bree was telling me that that is exactly what she does, playing a single MMO for a month or two before putting it down and picking up something else.

I don’t think I could do that, and a lot of it has to do with the nasty feeling of burnout.  I’ve had really bad burnout experiences in the past, and it’s always the same story.  I’m super into an MMO, I play it constantly, and then one day I abruptly can’t bring myself to log back in.  The very thought of the game is like ashes to me, and I look at all that I’ve done as a massive waste.  I feel horrible that I’m abandoning friends and I feel lost in my gaming time as my mainstay is now no longer there.  Turning a game that I loved into something I detest is kind of sad and horrible at once.

But ever since I started juggling MMOs, I’ve found that I haven’t had that nasty crash-and-burn experience.  I think of it as having a diverse portfolio of games, spreading out my interest and relying on the titles that are more interesting to me at a given time to balance out the ones that have dropped in my esteem.  There’s little pressure to keep playing a single game, and instead of “leaving” I either cut back or take an extended sabbatical from it.  Other than losing contact with guildies, it’s worked out well for me.  Coming back to MMOs after a break is more refreshing and I’m almost never out of options of something new, fun, or interesting to do.

Prior to playing MMOs, I was never a monogamous gamer.  I doubt many of us were.  We were just gamers.  We might play one game extensively, but there wasn’t much baggage involved in putting it down to play another.  I didn’t own a console with just one game.  I didn’t only have one program installed on my computer.  So why should MMOs be different?

MMOs demand so much time from you to where they start messing with your brain, making you think as though you’re cheating on them not to be giving them 100% of your attention.  Sure, for some activities you’re probably going to have to go all-in or at least stop going to work — particularly if you want to raid or be highly competitive or get the best of the best gear.  But once I made peace with the fact that I wanted none of those things, I developed a lot of peace in my playstyle.  I cherished the experiences of an evening and the gradual progress toward a goal.  I slowed down to really get into a game instead of racing through it.  I can look back and see how stressed out MMO gaming used to make me when I was all about one game and one game only, and now I can see how I’m much more mellow and content about it.

Another mind-trap that we buy into is that MMOs are a one-and-done product.  Once we’ve played and left, there’s no reason to go back.  Yet we do go back, don’t we?  I’ve lost count of the number of weirdly apologetic blog posts from people sheepish that they’ve returned to a game that caused them to previously burn out and call the bride of Satan.  Hey, there’s no shame in it.  It’s actually pretty great to return to older MMOs, since they’ve established themselves more and have gotten away from the drama of launch.  Some of the unhappiest players I’ve seen are ones that rip through new games, grown bored with them, and are seemingly incapable of playing anything that isn’t cutting-edge fresh.  “There’s nothing to playyyyy!” they cry, surrounded by hundreds of MMOs.

With more relaxed business models (thank you, free-to-play and buy-to-play) there barrier of finances has been lowered and there’s no huge reason why we can’t game hop more.  For me, at least, it’s worked out wonderfully.

Month of DDO: City on fire

v1We begin the next quest in the Wheloon prison chain.  I’m summoned to the city-prison to interrogate this prisoner who’s proven to be more bother than he’s worth.  He’s pretty open with me, saying that he used to be a farmer but with the help of Shar, he’s accessed great powers and was able to escape the prison by going through the shadows.

Oh, would I like to see it?

v2The world lurches and shifts into the Shadowfell, a somewhat black-and-white-and-purple realm where shadows come out to attack.  Shadows, meet quarterstaff!  You go down just as easy as any flesh-and-blood foe.

v3Outside, the docks of Wheloon are on fire.  I’m quite impressed that the prisoner revolt was able to torch so many buildings — in the rain, no less.  Must have had one heck of an organizer.

It’s a long, meandering journey through the city, attacking shadows and prisoners alike.  I am reminded of how DDO conditions players to bash any and all barrels on sight, even though they almost never hold anything of value.  SHADAR-KAI SMASH!

v4After a long while of that, I end up back in the magistrate’s office where I began, only this time the magistrate is dead and the Shar priest is gone (again).  We need to nail this guy to the floor, I swear.

I’m attacked by an assassin, and compared to the cakewalk of the fights up till now, she’s a beast.  She keeps stunning me and taking off huge chunks of my life, and it’s only through liberal potion-usage that I’m able to make it through.