/AFK – Syp’s Birthday Special Edition

chuck_norris_birthday_cake*cof* Happppy birthday to meeeee… and lookit all the presents I get to open!  (Actually, if you want to give me a present — and why shouldn’t you? — leave me a link in the comments section to something you think will make me laugh.  And no, linking back to Bio Break isn’t valid.)

Blog of Champions

BreakfastOfChampsIt’s not every day that a MMO company piques my interest with a marketing ploy, but I’ve got to say that Champions Online’s Daily News blog has done just that.  It’s smart.  It’s sassy.  It talks about how the devs and the ESRB are fighting the good fight of making sure you can’t create a fully nude character.  It sort of lets us eavesdrop on the meetings that are shaping the game right now.  And it looks to be updated regularly, with inside info behind the creation process — perfect for those starving for CO’s fall release.

According to the Daily News, this is created and run by a studio hired by Cryptic, but operates semi-independently:

This site is created, written and edited by Intent Social Media on behalf of Cryptic and Atari. Our editors and journalists enjoy privileged access to the Champions Online team. The content on this site is neither approved nor edited by anyone at Cryptic or Atari.

Of course, they know who butters their bread, so don’t expect to see a daily rant about the seven hotbar slots limitation.  But as long as they bring us tasty little morsels like vanity pets WITH POWERS, well, I’m pretty cool with reading it.

Star Wars: Trooperama

Gah, seriously BioWare… you’re making these other companies look bad when you put out incredible dev dispatch videos like this.  I mean, playing a (storm)Trooper will probably be pretty low on my list of classes to try at launch, but you’re making a good case why I’m an idiot.  Totally love these videos, they’re right up there (or even above) Mythic’s podcasts that set the standard for these sorts of media releases.  Feels like they’re making a movie.

The MMO Deathwatch

15578__06matrix_lWell, I guess Matrix Online is going to bite the big one to nobody’s surprise — except the surprise that this game kept going as long as it did.  Remember, kids, SOE Station Access is more than just a great value, it’s a welfare shelter for MMOs that can’t earn a living themselves (not that I’m knocking the idea of Access — I think more companies should do it — but it certainly keeps games going on life support far past their right to continue operating)!  5 years… that’s a pretty decent span of time for a title that would’ve failed within a year had it not been picked up by SOE.

A side note: I found it kind of amusing that they announced MxO’s cancellation under the headline of “All Good Things Must End”.  Was Matrix a “good thing”?  Is anyone even playing it?  Did you ever hear anything praise-worthy about the game after its release?  I guess the developers need some validation from their hard work here, but… man, don’t be trumpeting this up more than you have any right to be doing.

So: Matrix Online.  Shadowbane (maybe).  Tabula Rasa.  Auto Assault.  It’s time to get a little morbid and start taking predictions: which MMO will be the next on the chopping block?  I’ll refer back to this post when it happens, and winner will get a lifetime subscription to “You’re So Awesome” magazine.

“You’re Not Playing It Right!”

treeRight there, up there, is a quote that makes me absolutely cringe when it comes to online gaming.  It’s not meant to be an exact quote, but more representative of a type of mentality that exists in MMOs — that there is a Right Way and a Wrong Way to be playing the game.  God help you if you’re the latter, because someone’s gonna teach you with a harsh “L2P NOOB!” and then you’ll be in tears, wondering if you should just up and quit and go back to tinkering around with Lite Brite (unless, of course, a friend comes over and informs you that your pegs are backwards and you should “L2Litebrite, noob!”).

I know there’s a lot of baggage that comes the oft-repeated phrase, “It’s just a game”, but the reason that is said is that so many people treat MMOs as very much Not A Game.  It is something More.  Something Important.  Something that doesn’t appreciate your messing around.  This is partially due to the competitive nature of players and the division of gaming types — those who play to win, those who play to enjoy, those who play to socialize, and so on.

“L2Play” folks and the “It’s only a game” folks are two ends of a polar argument that’s been going on  for a while now.  Are MMOs a game, or not?  And if they are, then why do some players try to impose their will on other players as to how they should play, spec their character, approach the game, and perform certain roles?  If this is “just a game”, why is there such intolerance to off-specs, non-optimal group compositions, and non-hardcore approaches to gameplay?  If we should “L2Play” to master a game and somehow derive more enjoyment out of it for it, then why can’t we see that it’s important to be challenged, to push yourself to achieve more, and to learn that how you play the game affects others?

As part of my job, I lead a lot of games with our teens.  Over the course of a decade or so, I’ve gotten wise to a couple principles of how teens (and really, all ages) respond in a social situation to games:

  • Everyone wants to “win” — it’s hardwired into them that this is their #1 objective.  Even if there is no set prize, people want to come out on top and be declared a winner.
  • In preparing a game, you have to assume that people are going to either bend the rules (cheat) or not fully understand them, and therefore have to be 100% clear in creating the boundaries of the activity.  You are the Rule-Maker (and also enforcer).
  • Players want fairness to apply only when it helps them, not others.
  • Players are quick to berate teammates for failing at a task (unless you actively encourage everyone to cheer their team on), because, as we said before, they want to win.

That understood, I have gravitated more toward games that are all-inclusive (i.e., don’t just pander to the excellent athletes), that encourage creative thinking and solutions within the boundaries of rules, and that subtly guide them to enjoying the game as a fun, interactive social event instead of a win/lose competition.  It’s not bad to win (and we still have winners), it just shouldn’t be the be all, end all of games, especially when you’re trying to grow a community with them.

In online gaming, I’m much more toward the end of the spectrum that sees this as “it’s a game” (I’ll take out the “just” there, since that’s a dismissive word).  There’s levels of obsessive behavior that can spawn from getting too far away from seeing that (which is true in most forms of entertainment/hobbies).  And personally, I want to be myself in these games, not what someone else says I should be.

(Question for those who play to win — at what point have you ever “won” a MMORPG?)

I’m okay with the game company being the Rule-Maker/Enforcer, as it’s their game and their right.  If they say I shouldn’t be able to fly, so be it.  If certain areas are off-limits, or by using bots I’m breaking their EULA, then I won’t.  But within the boundaries of the rules they set, I’m going to play my own way, even if that means I’m not playing optimally.

The “L2Play” crowd doesn’t care one way or another how I play the game — unless it affects them in any way.  Such as being on their team in a PvP situation, or in a tough dungeon crawl, or whatnot.  Then, suddenly, there’s enormous amounts of peer pressure to spec X, do Y and be Z.  If I don’t, I’m being a jerk and responsible for ruining their gaming experience.  Sound familiar to the list I posted above?  There you go.  Basic human behavior, 101.  Other players aren’t looking out for me, for what gameplay would make me the happiest, or what freedoms I should enjoy in my character development.  They’re worried that my self-centeredness will impact their own self-centeredness, and hence the conflict between the two sides.

Now, to be fair, when you play a social game with others, it comes with responsibilities that you can’t (or at least, really shouldn’t) dismiss because you’re so self-centered as to be the only person who matters.  Scamming other players, ninja looting, demeaning folks, engaging in exploits, trying to ruin other people’s experiences deliberately, stealing from the guild coffers, wielding your sexuality as a weapon to get others to do what you want, being completely one-sided when it comes to receiving help but never getting it — these are despicable actions, and they are almost universally hated by the game community, who polices such activity and uses peer pressure to keep total jerkwad anarchy from breaking loose.  If you’re a tool, then you’ll earn the rep as one, and reap the consequences.

So it’s important to be a decent human being who is considerate and respectful, at the very least.  Common sense stuff.  But there’s a line where the community, which has done good in squashing the more reprehensible behavior, decides to go one step further and start demanding that you shape up according to what is the best way to play, or else you too are being an ingrate.  This is where I part ways.

My stance is pretty firm: I, as a player, do not, nor never will care what you spec your character to be, what gear you get, or what you do in the game as long as it’s within reason.  I’m all for grouping with off-spec players and giving them a chance to try something different, as long as they actually try and not be an active burden on the team.  If all you want to do in the game is pursue achievements to accumulate meaningless points, then more power to you, as long as you’re having fun.

More guilds and players should lighten up when it comes to bossing others around due to some sense of superiority gained through better gear and more obsessive learning of the game’s mechanics.  I mean, hey, it’s great if you want to try to teach me something new or guide me to utilizing my class in a better way — I love to learn new things — but you need to step off the Better Than Thou Express before you start dictating that I must do this, or else.

I’ll close with an anecdote from way back when. I was listening to WoW Radio during the second year of playing the game (pre-TBC), and the two hosts were just berating the dumb idiots out there who decided to spec balance druids or melee hunters or whatnot.  How dare they!  They weren’t playing it right!  Why, these scum aren’t fit for living, nevermind a place in my group!

I think that was the last time I listened to that show, due to blood pressure issues.  Now, being a melee hunter (at least, back then) was a very non-optimal setup and often was indicative of someone who only had a basic grasp on his or her class.  But that doesn’t mean it was a forbidden way to play — it was allowable within the rules set by Blizzard, and in fact, permitted by the game’s setup to enable a player to make that decision.  But the larger group of players had long ago decided that it was a Wrong Way to play, and levied undue amounts of sarcasm, hatred and scorn for such folks.

Listen, you don’t have to group with these folks.  If you’re serious about achieving tough content, then it’s reasonable to set your standards high for teammates.  If you want to master the game, be the best you can be, and exalt in it — more power to you.  But that doesn’t give you the right to go overboard and begin passing judgment on all players in the game for not treating the game as you do, seeing it as you do, and playing it the way you do.

It IS only a game.  It IS important to learn how to play it and engage with others properly.  And it IS vital that we try to reintroduce a level of civility, respect and appreciation for a wide range of players, specs, goals and styles.

LOTRO: I… Am… Hero!

51PHCAc2hqL._SL500_AA280_No matter how MMOs are supposed to make us feel, I hardly ever assume that I’m the big gallootin’ hero of Sherwood Forest, sauntering in to save the world and then break for a light lunch.  During play, my feelings vacilitate somewhere between “paid exterminator”, “delivery boy” and “evil genius in good guy’s clothing”.  Killing critters?  It’s like popping bubble wrap, pop pop, soothing and fun in a way, but hardly challenging.  It’s often the larger sense of achievement that prompts me to continue, instead of the heat of the moment.

It’s okay — I’m not complaining.

But every once in a while, I — like you, most likely — get into a real pickle of a fight, a challenge that makes my neck hair go all fizzy, and my brain stirring from its bubblewrap-induced stupor to find new and creative uses for the hotbar.  You know, those fights that aren’t 1-2-3-repeat, but 1-7-shift-F-holycrapwhereisMYSHIELD! fights.  That’s when I start to feel, if not like a hero, then something approaching TV action star quality.

Had one of those scuffles earlier, which would’ve been a lot more cool if I had an audience instead of elbowing the wall in my living room and crowing, “Did you see THAT?”

Captain Crunch was off completing quests in that first ruins area in Lone-Lands (LOTRO players know the one — aka “Don’t Fall Into The Valley Of Elite Spiders” ruins), when a hunter jets by me, going in the opposite direction, as if hell was hot on his heels.  Like rogues in WoW, I have a nasty prejudice against the hunter class in LOTRO (and it’s not just the Legolas connection), so I didn’t have much sympathy when I saw a train of about 12 goblins dashing after him.  I think I snickered a bit and waved a jaunty fare-thee-well to hunter #109,242 (as I like to call him).

That’s about when the train broke and the critters started rubberbanding back to their starting positions — NPC monsters are very homesick, I guess, and can’t wander away too far without feeling the pangs of Ma’s cooking.  This means they all ran right by me, and while trains of mobs in these modern games aren’t supposed to latch on like they used to, 8 of them triggered me as a threat on their way by, touched home base, and came back.

Long story short, I got swarmed, my morale bar began dropping quickly, and my herald (“Padre” the friar) had a sudden case of death.  But unlike some other retreat-prone classes (hunters?), we captains relish a good scrap, and I didn’t think twice about starting up my attack cycle.  I hit a pot to stop the bleeding, and needed the first kill to happen quickly so that I could get my self-heal going.  That didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so when my morale dropped into the 100’s, I hit my new skill “Last Stand” to stay upright for 15 seconds, long enough for the first kill to give me a heal, then another kill let me trigger my shout thingie that hit the rest of them for a good chunk of health.  After a frenzied 45 seconds or so of combat, I stood triumphant over a mound of corpses.

Now, THAT was fun.

Casual Recruitment

uncle_4msam_hatA lot of the time I see guild recruit messages spamming chat that might as well say “INSERT TEMPLATE RECRUITMENT POST HERE” for all the originality that they give.  It’s always something along the lines of:

Knights of Templar is now recruiting!  Casual, fun guild looking for helpful people who hate drama so much that they kill theater majors on sight.  Must be a warm body to bolster our numbers, conversation and participation optional.  To entice you, we have the same exact guild features — bank, hall, cloak/tabard/shield/standard/hat/fanny pack — that everyone else does!  PST to join!

And really, how could you not want <Knights of Templar> sullying your character’s name by floating like a vulgar statement right below it?  How could you not want to join this elite order of obviously casual AND fun folks who aspire to the knightly code of combat?

In all seriousness, about 95% of recruitment messages in general/zone-wide chat are as forgettable as the guilds they advertise.  There may be lots of different flavors of guilds, but there are only two categories: casual and hardcore.  And the hardcore folks don’t use chat channels to pull in their recruits — you have to hunt them down, sign up to their forums, submit and application and blood sample, undergo a lengthy interrogation and a 14-month probation period before being allowed into their hallowed company.

In comparison, most casual guilds don’t care about quality, they want quantity.  They have a churn rate of departing guildies that have to be offset with incoming ones, and for your basic level casual guild, the only meaningful aspect to them is that they have a critical mass of bodies to keep chat alive enough so that it doesn’t appear dead (and thus lose even more folks).

Now, there are exceptions in the casual guild market where these groups are not only picky about quality but sometimes go just as far as hardcore guilds in their application process.  They might not be above using the chat channel for recruitment messages, but they’re going to try to offer you a reason why they’re better than the others, and to give you a reason to notice them (as you should do in kind when it comes to throwing your name into their hat).  I always respect guilds that take the time to (a) have a decent, interesting guild name, (b) come up with a captivating/funny/different recruitment message, and (c) have some standards of quality during the application process to weed out players who are leechers, malcontents, immature or non-participatory.

Back in World of Warcraft, I was an officer (and co-GM) of a couple guilds, and one of my main duties was to get the word out about our particular (and peculiar) in-game family through recruit messages.  Wielding the awesome power of words, I tried hard to come up with recruit ads that showed that we were a cut above the rest.  Here are some of my favorites that I saved:

  • WoW is more than just grinding, and <Time Well Wasted> knows that!  Join us for squirrel discussions, scavenger hunts, sleepovers, BASE jumping and more! PST for info.
  • Squirrel worship.  Frank discussions about gnome psychology.  Suicide charges into The Undercity.  An alt-a-holic meeting on Thursday nights.  <Time Well Wasted> knows how to get you to 200 days /played without losing your sanity.  PST for info!
  • Do you miss having fun in WoW?  Need a guild that’s your friends, support group, mommy AND crazy uncle Larry all in one?  Join <Time Well Wasted> and see what you’re missing!  PST for info.
  • <Time Well Wasted> offers ALL the BEST features: *Cool green “guild chat” font colors, *Free demotions, *Penguin Ninjas, *Sandcastle HQ, *Guild bankruptcy, *All the [Goretusk Liver] you can eat, *And so much more!  Well, nothing more.
  • !yadot nioj dna esur revelc ruo hguorht ees ot [doG lerriuqS eht fo rorriM] ruoy esU  !uoy dniheb pu gnikaens si <detsaW lleW emiT>
  • Van Cleef annihilated us.  Gnomer gave us night terrors.  Our bones line the walls of Scarlet Monestary.  Our ghosts help serve Moroes in Kara.  And zoning into Zul’Aman killed us immediately.  <Time Well Wasted> – We wipe with *style*.  PST to join today!
  • So, I had this dream last night, right?  There was a pygmy circus clown, a demon-possessed bunny rabbit and Chester A. Arthur, all chanting “Join <Time Well Wasted>!”  Then I woke up, drenched in sweat and clutching a [Rabbit Foot].  I think it’s a sign.
  • Boredomasaur dies, you gain 245 experience. (+122 exp Awesome bonus)  You don’t feel normal.  You receive loot: [Time Well Wasted guild application].  You receive loot: [PST for more info!]
  • Are you bored with not dying all the time?  Then join <Time Well Wasted>, and find yourself so engrossed in guild chat that you’ll be running off cliffs and pulling 20 mobs at once in no time! <TWW> is recommended by 4 out of 5 Spirit Healers.
  • Lost?  Confused?  Lonely?  Constipated?  Twitterpated?  Giggly?  Hurt?  Crazy?  Boggled?  Excitable?  Bumfuzzled?  Hungry?  Kidnapped?  Sweet-smelling?  <Time Well Wasted>: The guild for every state of mind.  PST for more info!
  • Are you afraid of guild drama?  Guildies with contagious diseases the doctors have yet to identify?  Raid looting rules so complex that IRS agents run screaming for the hills?  Then <Time Well Wasted> and our relaxed, mature guild might be for you!
  • Are you: * friendly * slightly crazy, but in a good way * an altaholic * looking for a WoW experience beyond the grind * prone to falling off cliffs * mature, and * dead sexy?  Join <Time Well Wasted> and find your perfect fit!

I’m not saying that these are the way to go, but I had an above-average response due to them, and many times it would net the exact people we were looking for.

LOTRO: The Boggening (er, Bloggening)

800px-BakshiLegolasI find it interesting to see which MMOs have a rabid, wide-spread blog community and which do not:

  • Many blogs: Eve Online, WoW, LOTRO, WAR
  • Few, if any blogs: EQ, Age of Conan, many older titles

More and more bloggers have gravitated toward the multi-game field, as I have, simply because you’re hedging your bets, not putting all your eggs in one basket, whatever cliche you like, etc.  I learned a LOT about blogging by focusing on one title (WAR), and I can attest that it’s very much a different feel — and holds a different readership — than multi-MMO blogging.  While my current preference is for the latter format, I respect blogs with a narrow yet focused range of discussion.

LOTRO’s blog community, while not overwhelming in numbers, is pretty dang strong — and like the game community itself, is fairly mature and helpful.  There’s tons of great blogs out there (MMeOw, LOTRO Follower, Middle-Earth Adventurer, and so on), but I wanted to highlight two blogs that have definitely enhanced my experience in the game at this point.

The Road Goes Ever On is most likely one of the more unique MMO blogs I’ve ever seen, as it takes advantage of a unique LOTRO feature — its adherance to the source material (the LOTR books).  Instead of discussing the game as a game, what the author does is provide an abbreviated version of the published story alongside large screencaps from the game (and helpful footnotes).  If you’re not the hugest LOTR buff, you might not have appreciated just how faithful the game is to the novels — at least, until you start reading this blog.  It’s really cool how much they’re able to trace the journey of Frodo and Co. from just what is present in the game world.

I’ve enjoyed reading the posts because it has enhanced my understanding of the backstory and current story of the game — Lord of the Rings is no doubt one of the most unwieldy fantasy settings of all time, just because of how much detail and history Tolkein poured into it.  Doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just hard to keep track of who all these apostraphe’d named folks are, who does what, what history has led up to this point and so on.  Any blog that can help straighten that out is a keeper in my book.

I also have to give props to LOTRO Info, which I found the other day as I was searching for captain guides.  The guide I found there — one of many, many, many guides — was truly excellent, and I poked around on the site to discover a pretty funny webcomic and other helpful tips on how to progress in the game.  I really apprecite fan-driven sites that make it their mission to provide a helping hand to neophytes (or even vets) of the game, instead of being like me and just jawing about nothing in particular.