Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO’s Update 32 and the kitchen sink mentality

Right now in the LOTRO community, everyone is pretty much only focused on one thing: the arrival of Update 32 next month. This is the one and only significant release in the first quarter of the year and promises to have a little — or a lot — for many different playstyles.

I wanted to round up the list of features and comment on them, so here we go:

  • Abnankâra raid: Raiders are going to be happy to get a Fate of Gundabad instance, but for the rest of us who don’t have any sort of LFG or LFR tool to get into it, it’s a non-issue.
  • Erebor premium housing: This looks and sounds genuinely cool, and sure, I’d love to get a piece of it. Not sure I’m going to, though, because premium houses come with a premium price tag that’s hard to justify to my premium wife. Plus, I have the Rohan and Gondor houses, so it’s not like I’m hurting for living space.
  • Legendary Item Reward Track: I think I can sum up everyone’s reactions to this by saying, “It’s about time, and I’ll withhold judgment until I see how grinding and/or essential this is.” It’s a huge question mark for the game right now, and I’m not fully confident that SSG can pull it off.
  • Angle of Mitheithel: A new zone, huzzah! A new zone in a level range that doesn’t really need any additional zones, huh. As excited as I am to see a little more of Middle-earth, this feels… superfluous at best.
  • Spring festival: My least favorite festival in terms of activities, although there are promises of new rewards.
  • Unlocks for free players: We just learned that free players can earn extra class, race, and virtue trait slots by leveling in this update instead of paying for them, which is a great move.
  • Currency changes: SSG attempted to float highly unpopular and restrictive currency changes that would, among other things, shunt people to the cash shop. It backed off of this plan “for now,” but that left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 209: Superhero MMOs

Battle Bards Episode 209: Superhero MMOs Battle Bards

When they're not saving the world from bad tunes, the Battle Bards stuff themselves into spandex and try out for sixth-tier superhero teams. Because saving the world is en vogue, don't you know? In today's episode, the crew takes a tour through the music of superhero MMORPGs past, present, and future! Episode 209 show notes (show page, direct download) Intro (feat. "Freedom Court" from City of Heroes, "The Rime Woods" from Champions Online, and "Credits" from Marvel Heroes) "Digital Death Dream" from City of Titans  "Nightclub District 2" from Marvel Heroes "Funk" from City of Heroes "Asgard Town" from Super Hero Squad Online "Arkham Asylum" from DCUO "Desert Disaster" from Champions Online "A Brave New World" from City of Heroes  Which one did we like best? Listener notes from Katriana Jukebox Picks: "Welcome to a Kick in the Pants in Good Old Hillville" from Commander Keen 4, "The Winding Meadow" from RuneScape Orchestral, and "Opposites Attract" from It Takes Two Steff's Best Books of 2021 list Outro (feat. "Metropolis 13" from DCUO) Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Battle Bards Episode 209: Superhero MMOs
  2. Battle Bards Episode 208: Valheim
  3. Battle Bards Episode 207: Seeing Red

When they’re not saving the world from bad tunes, the Battle Bards stuff themselves into spandex and try out for sixth-tier superhero teams. Because saving the world is en vogue, don’t you know? In today’s episode, the crew takes a tour through the music of superhero MMORPGs past, present, and future!

Episode 209 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Freedom Court” from City of Heroes, “The Rime Woods” from Champions Online, and “Credits” from Marvel Heroes)
  • “Digital Death Dream” from City of Titans 

  • “Nightclub District 2” from Marvel Heroes

  • “Funk” from City of Heroes

  • “Asgard Town” from Super Hero Squad Online

  • “Arkham Asylum” from DCUO

  • “Desert Disaster” from Champions Online

  • “A Brave New World” from City of Heroes 

  • Which one did we like best?

  • Listener notes from Katriana

  • Jukebox Picks: “Welcome to a Kick in the Pants in Good Old Hillville” from Commander Keen 4, “The Winding Meadow” from RuneScape Orchestral, and “Opposites Attract” from It Takes Two
  • Steff’s Best Books of 2021 list
  • Outro (feat. “Metropolis 13” from DCUO)
Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR: Unleashing an Onslaught

With Ossus done, there’s a very brief interlude before Onslaught begins. I imagine that this was a “gotta give them some story to tide them over” stuff during a pre-expansion lull a few years back, because it’s the very definition of fluff. Both Republic and Empire are getting worked up to butt heads once more, and my Agent really couldn’t care less about either side. Unfortunately, there’s no “factional apathy” option.

One personally interesting fact about SWTOR is it may be the only MMO where I still have and play a character I made on launch day. I made Yeti here back in December 2011, and she’s stuck it out with me ever since. Reading back through my old posts from 2011 sparked warm memories of just how pumped I was for this MMO at the time and how much fun I had playing it.

It’s even more warm and fuzzy for me to know that a decade later, I’m back and having a great time once more.

I spent a session cleaning up some overlooked datacrons on Belsavis. There was this one that is apparently called the “Indiana Jones jump” because it has a similar near-invisible bridge that was featured in The Last Crusade (although this one was holographic or somesuch).

And that officially brought me to the start of the Onslaught expansion! Weirdly enough, whenever I get closer to the end of the current content in an MMO I slow down because I get worried I’ll run out of it too quickly. Of course, Legacy of the Sith is just a couple of weeks away, so this is a silly concern at that.

Posted in General

MicroBlizz and the state of uncertainty

So last week a thing happened where Microsoft sauntered down to a vending machine, rubbed its chin for a minute, popped in $69 billion in quarters, and punched up C10 — the code for Activision Blizzard.

We all witnessed one of the world’s largest software giants gobble up yet another (rather large in its own right) gaming firm, and now we’ve got Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, and Halo all under the same corporate umbrella. Everyone, of course, has Opinions, although mine will probably be less interesting than most.

Partially it’s because apart from the historical significance of this acquisition, there’s not a lot to make me care with this. I didn’t have any strong feelings, pro or con, in regards to Microsoft, and I don’t have any emotional investment in Blizzard these days. It’s certainly interesting to see that the huge scandal of last year may have well led up to this moment, and there are all sorts of hopes and dreams that it will improve the sinking prospects of many of Blizzard’s titles. Right the ship, clean house, start fresh, and all that.

Bobby Kotick, who I’m sure has a reptilian face under that creepy human facade, is most certainly out at the end of this deal, and nobody will shed a tear. Of course, he’ll make out like a bandit and doesn’t really care about your or my feelings on the matter, so again, it doesn’t really matter on our level. He needed to go anyway, and it will be interesting to see how Microsoft structures Activision Blizzard’s management in Kotick’s wake.

There are always other possibilities. Microsoft may push Blizzard to push out products and releases faster, or make WoW 2, or dump everything to focus on the mobile market. It may leave things be and let business go on as usual. Long gone are the days when Blizzard got to call its own shots, and so it must now dance for its many overlords.

So we’re left in a state of uncertainty in relation to Blizzard and its properties, and I can’t imagine that sits well with any current players and fans who have already endured a rather traumatic year of accusations, legal entanglements, and much delayed product rollouts.

Posted in Star Citizen

Star Citizen reminds us that feature creep is still a very real thing

A long time ago on a website far, far away — this would be old Massively — the hot topic that got us up in the morning was something called “feature creep.” You probably don’t need me to explain what this is, but just in case, feature creep is when a studio kept adding more and more features into its upcoming product to the point where it got overloaded and couldn’t actually deliver any of it. At least, not fully and to expectations.

I think a lot of us tracked feature creep on MMORPG projects because back during the boom era of these games, developers were promising the moon. Then the boom went bust, games and approaches went back to the drawing board, and we started to see some more sensible approaches to games.

Some. Not all. Even though we stopped talking about feature creep as much, it was still rampaging across studios seeking to impress players with their potential output. No Man’s Sky had a massive list of features that it promised to deliver — and then delivered very few of them, earning a whole lot of ire. Chronicles of Elyira staged a successful Kickstarter vowing to make this highly ambitious fantasy title with all of these hard-to-implement concepts — and then went bust when it couldn’t even get an alpha out the door.

And then there’s Star Citizen, whose major ambition in life is to be a poster child for feature creep. This game got successfully crowdfunded — and then some — a ways back. But the huge infusion of donations led to Chris Roberts and his team piling on more and more and more and more features like some bizarro Jenga tower of wishes and dreams. This was going to be the be-all, end-all space simulator that would fulfill our every desire. There’d be a single player game. A massively multiplayer universe. This, that, and all the rest.

Instead of wisely keeping the focus to the core product, delivering that to launch, and then iterating on it with more features, Star Citizen has attempted to do it all at once… and thus become bogged down in a never-ending cycle of development, failed milestones, and a launch date that keeps slipping into the future. Sure, there is a part of a game that is playable, and some people have actual fun in it. Good for them. But the whole deal, even with multiple studios and hundreds of millions of dollars, looks doubtful of ever arriving as promised.

Meanwhile you have games like Stardew Valley that push out a manageable project to completion and then spend years afterward adding on those features to a stable base — and getting all of the sales and awards that they deserve. I really don’t understand why this can’t be done with bigger games too. I guess there’s nobody at these massive studios whose job it is to tell the creative people “No… at least for now.”

Posted in A Week In...

A Week in Crowfall: PvP outside of my comfort zone

So the current plan is to alternate between one week exploring a backlog game and one week doing “A Week In…” a particular MMO. I pulled a name out of a hat, and hey, it’s Crowfall. This seems to be a doubly dumb idea, seeing as how (1) Interest in Crowfall has dwindled to almost nothing after its launch last year, and (b) I am so not a PvP guy. But maybe both of those make for a compelling reason TO explore it, because why not in a toss-away column?

Sunday: After an unskippable opening cutscene (ugh), the game gave me two options: Make a brand-new character to level through a multi-hour tutorial or jump into a fast-track tutorial that gets you to level 25 and the action. Normally, I’d go with the former, but in the interest of the limited time this week, I’m going with the second.

I went with an Elken Templar, because why WOULDN’T you be a giant elk in a fantasy game if you had the opportunity? Anyway, upon logging in, I found myself really warming up to the stylized visuals and crisp — if very cluttered — UI. Oh hey, there’s no minimap. Thanks, MMOs, I hate this trend.

I went through the quick tutorial and set up a basic combat rotation while also equipping my heroic elk with basic armor. The game then sent me through the Gank Gate — I’m sure it had some other name, but I’m calling it that because I fully expect to get wedgied the second I step through.

Monday: Random observation — Crowfall takes forever to load. At least four or five minutes from logging in to actually playing this time around. But hey, pretty loading screen art, I guess? Anyway, I arrive in Skyfall and bump into an adorable Guinea Pig Pope. I’d follow him to the ends of the earth, I would.

I also took a look at the map. Egads, I had this so much. It looks like 2005-era RuneScape, all abstract and chunky and not helpful at all. Another weird visual design choice is the rain, which is so large and distracting that my eyes keep tricking me into thinking something’s attacking my character. It’s like an arrowstorm attack is always going off, if that makes sense. But I want to be fair — on the whole, I like the visual style. If this was a normal theme park MMO, it would be more than serviceable.

Oh hai, Mr. Enemy! You’re the first one I’ve seen! I’m just so overjoyed to see you that I’m going to follow you around like a deranged elk stalker, if you don’t mind! Toxxic here (great name) ran away from me, then rooted me, ran away some more, and then — I think — killed himself. It was a very baffling encounter. Then again, I’m no PvP expert.

Tuesday: Today I really got into the thick of the combat system as I worked to complete a quest to kill a whole bunch of other elk-type dudes. You know what? Crowfall’s combat is decent, for an action MMO. There’s no soft or hard lock that I could tell, which was a pity, but the animations were great, the sound effects punchy, and I had some mindless fun hacking away at bad guys while healing myself. My only point of disappointment was joining another player to kill a solo boss — and then finding out that the game only awards loot to the “highest contributor” in a given kill. Bah.

Thursday: About the only interesting thing that happened on this day is that when I logged in, the game happily told me that I had purchased the full version of the game and now had it unlocked. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as I had not purchased anything or given out my credit card, so I’m thinking it was either a glitch, promotion, or the studio figuring out that a journalist was trying it out and decided to gift it to me.

In any case, it was an incredibly boring session of running around, taking pictures, and finding absolutely nobody to fight. This game is very dead, and that’s even worse in a PvP MMO than a PvE one, since you need that critical mass to get the real fun going.

I just kept thinking, “This is such a waste to dump it into a PvP setting.” Crowfall really looks terrific, with great animations and inviting colors. The UI is decent, the combat solid, and the systems all in place. As a PvE game in an established, hand-crafted world, this would’ve been a nice contender. Instead, we have these puzzle-piece maps that are kludged together, giving the community random areas that really mean nothing to fight over.

I don’t know how many more PvP-centric MMOs we need to prove that it’s very, very difficult to put this gameplay at the center and be popular, but all of these failures never seems to stop the next person from trying. Hey, Camelot Unchained, I guess you’re up to bat?

Posted in Books

Book report: Greatcoats, Admiral, and more!

I don’t have any set quota that I want to hit for reading in 2022, except for “more than the pitiful showing that was 2021.” I usually am working through two titles — one on Kindle, one on Audible — and thought I’d give a report every time I hit five of them. So here are the first five titles I read this year.

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Ostensibly a locked room mystery set on a spaceship, Far from the Light of Heaven suffers from trying to do too many things at once without doing any of them well. Thompson gives us an intriguing setup — a ship full of hibernating passengers that arrives at its destination with dozens dead and no clear suspect — but then muddies things up with too many developments, a weak central story, and a cast that’s all about an inch deep of character development. It was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end, but I knew well before the final chapter that this was a misfire.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

This is my second Kingfisher book after Minor Mage, and now I’m seeing a pattern. Both had a good core concept — here, a teenage girl who has a magical affinity for working with bread and bread alone — both try to be whimsical, and both are kind of very thin and shallow. I liked the concept of a girl learning to use her weird magical talent to save her city more than how it was actually executed, and that’s a shame.

Second-Hand Curses by Drew Hayes

Using the public domain realm of fairy tales, Hayes navigates it with a trio of mercenaries — a guy who climbed a beanstalk, an undead creation, and a werewolf — who are always out for profit. And if the profit happens to help people cursed or plagued by magical scenarios, so much the better. This book is broken up into episodes as the trio go on their journey, and while most are interesting twists on familiar tales, the descriptions sometimes get a little too stilted and awkward for my liking. Still, it was a good read.

Tales of the Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell

I was beyond delighted to return to the Greatcoats world for a fifth book, even though this is a series of short tales instead of a larger narrative. De Castell didn’t give me as many stories as I was hoping (although the “Vol. 1” part is promising), but he made up for it with some great moments, unique characters, “what happened next” answers, and some other perspectives. I really liked one that features a disgraced Greatcoat and a series of other ones that feature a new Greatcoat who’s both fat and an expert in the supernatural. This was a breezy read.

Admiral by Sean Danker

I’d been hearing about this book for a while, so I sprung for an audiobook version a month ago. It’s a scifi survival tale that at least nominally revolves around two mysteries. What’s happened to put four soldiers inside an abandoned spaceship, and who is the main character — the titular Admiral? I was looking forward to some good mystery reveals, but what I found was that the book is mostly about this foursome figuring out how to survive and keep going. It’s fine, just fine. Not quite as amazing as I’d hoped, but it was a decent listen.

Posted in General

How NFTs, crypto, and metaverses are robbing me of gaming joy

While some of this has been a while in coming, it honestly feels like overnight the whole gaming scene has gone bananas. And not in a good, “let’s plop some yummy ice cream down in the middle of you” kind of way. No, it’s more “soulless corporations jamming a six-gauge needle into the neck of gaming and sucking out its life force.”

Almost every third story I see pop up in the gaming sphere has to do with crypto, NFTs, or metaverses, and it seems like its getting worse. I don’t know what lit a fire under studio execs that these trendy buzzwords were the best way to sell out their companies in the pursuit of making a dubious buck, but a fire is raging all over the place. It’s like the gold rush of ’49, except that studios are rushing to capitalize on stuff that might well not have any value whatsoever tomorrow.

And if there’s anything even more rabid than studios pursuing these moneymakers, it’s the attitude of gamers that almost universally hate these ideas. Oh, I’m sure there are those that speak highly of such things, but it’s certainly not as many as those roaring in disapproval. Normally, we’d have to wait a while for a backlash to start, but no, it’s been here almost since these trends started popping up. Gamers by and large don’t want crypto and NFTs in their games — and they don’t much care for the evil cackles that studios sport whenever the word “metaverse” arises.

Rule of thumb: If Facebook identifies something as a hot trend to jump on, it probably is as haunted as the burned-out shell of a forsaken orphanage.

I feel like I’m crazy town. I can’t see how any of this is contributing to positive game development and better gaming spaces for all of us. I used to think that lockboxes were insidious, but this? This all actually makes lockboxes seem downright wholesome and manageable.

Anyway, I’m selling the top right pixel of Bio Break for $500,000. Serious offers only.

Posted in Rimworld

Rimworld Reborn Part 6: Space or Bust!

Forget Rimworld — I know you all want to hear about how Duckworld is going! And it’s progressing quite well, thank you. Lots of chickens, a couple of frisky ducks, little babies, the usual.

You’d think I would learn my lesson about taking on quests to attack bandit camps, but… no, I fell for it again. And like last time, we lost five good colonists in one horrible afternoon. Farewell Squint, Latch, Nego, O’Donovan, and Lumpy. Lumpy! I’ll miss you most of all.

Garry takes it the hardest — Squint was his daughter, and Lumpy his fiance.

So Garry finally snaps and takes out all of his frustrations on El during an “insulting spree.” El takes maybe two seconds of this before she hauls off and punches Garry’s leg (!), driving him away (Garry’s non-violent, so his default mode in a combat situation is to flee). After this, he goes on a punching spree against the prisoners. C’mon, Garry, you’re making us look bad!

The worst event yet hits the colony — toxic fallout from some far-off chemical fire. It bastes the landscape in poison, requiring me to get everyone inside and keep them there as long as it lasts. Suffice to say, this is going to kill all our crops and keep us from doing anything outside.

It is a pain. A huge pain. I have to cancel a whole bunch of projects, harvest as much as quickly as possible, create some new doorways to wall off the hallways from the outside, roof the chicken pen, and start installing coolers in all of the rooms to replace the wood-hungry passive coolers. My goal was to take the colony to wood-free dependence within a day or two.

Apart from that, it became a game of keeping everyone inside. I disabled planting and harvesting crops, destroyed the horseshoe, and basically reduced the need to go outside at all. I also disabled cooking so that everyone would use nutrient paste (which only uses up half of our stored food) for the time being.

This marks the start of a long, terrible time in the colony. We run out of building materials to work on the coolers and vents. Garry snaps yet again and slaughters half of the ducks and chickens. And most of my colonists have early signs of toxic poisoning.

We do survive, and after a while, the colony gets back to normal. With new prisoners converting, we’re up to nine people pulling their weight.

What I learned today: Whenever colonists get into fights with each other, there’s a beat-by-beat log that’s created so you can read through the whole fight later. It’s educational!

I’m further into a Rimworld run than I ever have been so far with this game. Our research and technology level is rocketing up, and we even built a comms station to talk with traders and other factions.

The only bad thing is that we’ve completely run out of steel and components on this map. That leaves only a few options — wait for some to fall from meteorites, trade with others, or head out for other lands and strip mine.

So a rat self-tamed and joined the colony — and I wasn’t paying attention to it. That was my folly, because the animal people took it and threw it into the animal pen with the chicken. Then, yup, the rat ATE ALL THE CHICKENS. Suffice to say, I was peeved and killed the rat. Shortly thereafter, a whole flock of ducks up and joined the colony, so I am now flush with duckies.

A psychic ship crash-lands nearby and starts sending out horrible psychic waves to upset everyone. Instead of sticking around to deal with it, I decide on a bold — and probably stupid — course of action. I’m taking the whole colony (9 colonists), loading them up with bedrolls and food, and making for a spaceship on the other side of the planet. I’ve never done this quest, but presumably if we can get there and survive, we’ll take off and win the game. Honestly, even making it to the spaceship would be a big win. It’ll be a 16-day journey, and that’s the longest journey I’ve ever taken in Rimworld.

One last look at the homestead before we abandon it. I’m really proud of this colony, it did quite well over four years of game time:

Whoops, I accidentally left a prisoner in his jail cell with no food. Well, guess he’s a goner. Then a fire breaks out and guts a quarter of the base due to a lack of anyone actually there to fight it.

And despite two breakdowns and one ambush, the whole crew makes it to the ship! Now comes a new challenge — enduring 15 days of attacks. To prep, I build a smaller base, hunt for more food, and start setting up defenses.

Unfortunately, everyone pretty much has a massive meltdown and there’s no recovery from multiple tantrums, Dezi’s shooting spree, and Garry’s complete destruction of the ship’s reactor. I’m going to end the series here, at least having accomplished a big base and a trip to see the ship — you know, the one we destroyed. Thanks for reading!