PAX Prep

This is a tremendously weird week for me.  In my pastoral duties, I’m gearing up for the single biggest date of the year, the kickoff of our school year youth ministry program on September 12.  This means cleaning everything, organizing, scheduling, calling, writing, and stocking up on lots and lots of silly string.

Yet I’m also heading out to PAX from Thursday through Sunday, which happened only because the date coincided on the one weekend that I didn’t have any church events going on.  My wife’s been pretty supportive in urging me to go — she knows I need a “me trip” to just get away and recharge.  But it’s also a work trip, since I’m going to help cover a lot of the MMOs there for Massively (and probably take a lot more pictures for myself and Bio Break).  I’ve never been to PAX (or any video game convention, for that matter), and feel not just a bit apprehensive as to how to handle it all.  Top that with checking on the flights, hotel room, coordinating with my fellow writers, and packing, and I’ve been going nonstop lately.

But don’t weep for me — I love trips.  Well, sort of.  I don’t like being away from home, but I like seeing new places.  And I’m probably the only person in the world who loves packing over the trip experience itself.  I’ve been packing for a week now, making sure that I can carry everything on to the plane without checking anything, and it’s a challenge to figure out what I need and what I might need.  I purchased a new single-strap backpack tonight, and have a nice red rolling backpack as well — that’s it.  So in addition to clothes and toiletries, I’m bringing:

  • My iPhone, earplugs and spare battery
  • Kindle
  • Netbook
  • A regular book for when the plane won’t let you use electronics (boo hiss)
  • Business cards
  • Paperwork
  • Pad and pens
  • GPS
  • Pillow
  • Various stupid toys

I’m a little hesitant to bring that many electronics — I don’t want to lose or get any of them busted.  But then I think, why have them if you don’t use them when you travel?

I even loaded Guild Wars on my netbook just in case I need a MMO fix (I really don’t think LOTRO will run on it).

Anyway, if you’re a PAX vet or think I definitely should see/do something, let me know!  I’m totally up to meet whoever, especially in a shady alley or booth.

Also, Massively is hosting a meetup on Saturday night, so if you’re in the area, please drop on by!

Turbine Kills Horses, Video at 11

It seems as if the controversial rep mounts may be out of the equation for LOTRO:

“Reputation mounts were removed based on beta player feedback.”

All I got to say about this is: way to listen to the playerbase over your wallet, Turbine.  I don’t think the game would’ve been irreparably harmed if the purchasable rep mounts went live (and hey, they still could), but there were a lot of sore feelings about this, and it’s a great thing if Turbine is responding to these concerns.

A Game Master is You!

The general rule of thumb goes that no matter how creative MMO devs may be, players will eventually trump them tenfold.  It’s simply a matter of time, manpower and a human desire to strike out in new directions.

MMOs that constrict players to a narrow path and deny them tools to be creative are games that are inherently frustrating.  Besides, as Jurassic Park taught us, nature and people-eating dinosaurs will eventually find a way to get off the tour and start a bit of mayhem.

This is why many of us tend to create our own content in games, even when the tools to do so are few.  We get bored of the tour, and we want to take control of our own destiny.  We sit down and fashion odd goals that are light-years away from what the devs intended, and then go about doing them just because.  Maybe they seem pointless, but I’d argue that many human endeavors are undertaken just because they’re challenging, not because there’s any substantive end reward.

Lately I’ve seen a number of bloggers create their own “challenges” in their games, which typically involve altering the way they play or placing self-imposed restrictions on what they can or cannot do.  I guess it’s different when you tell you that you can’t do something instead of a dev saying it (maybe it’s easier to submit to your own authority, you schitzo loonie?).

For example, Ysharros spent a week playing LOTRO without doing a single quest as an “Iron Woman” challenge.  In this case, she intentionally cut herself off from content in order to level in an older, more traditional way (grinding mobs), and to see if there was any merit or fun to that.  In another example, one of the guys at LOTRO Reporter set himself a goal of finishing each and every quest in the Shire, along with every deed, before moving on.  That’s something most of us would never do, since we’re typically focused on leveling up and moving on, so by changing the focus of the character, the game experience is altered.

I think sometimes we need to do this, especially in games we’ve been playing for a while.  We need to intentionally pry ourselves away from the most optimal, efficient method of advancement and construct for ourselves a different method of play, if only to see the game in a new light and break us of potentially dull habits.

Have you ever created a challenge like this for yourself?

Assorted Thoughts on Star Trek Online

I haven’t spent gobs of time in STO lately, mostly because I’d been working like a madman on a couple LOTRO projects.  So yesterday I reacquainted myself with the crew of the Harbinger and pushed to finally break out of Lt. Commander and into the Commander sphere.

Getting a new ship is a major reward factor in this game, although I’m still dismayed that Cryptic is reserving the best high-end ships for strictly Cryptic store purchases.  I may play their game, but this still rankles me.  I’ve read a lot of interviews with Cryptic where they almost act bewildered that players call them greedy, and I want to point to stuff like this and go, “Here.  Here is why you’re greedy.  No matter how long I subscribe to your game, I can’t get these awesome ships unless I pay extra.”

That aside, my new heavy cruiser rocks.  It’s interesting that this tier of cruisers are the four-nacelle variety, and, as always, I enjoyed playing mix-and-match with different variants to come up with a semi-unique look.  I also have a weird weapons build.  Cruisers are slow as pigs in mud, so I’ve been focusing on weapons that don’t require you to turn quickly — in this case, turrets (360-degree firing) and mines.  I have four turrets on my ship right now, and when I go into combat it’s like I open up with machine gun fire every time.  It really looks neat, especially if you’re bored (as I am) of the long lines of regular phaser/disrupter/whatever beams.  So I don’t worry about maneuvering as much, and just charge into battles like I’m a gunship, and let them fly around me while I rip them to shreds.

Ground combat’s gotten a bit more frustrating, especially when the enemy groups have two medics (healers) among their ranks.  It’s very, very hard to DPS a medic down when the both medics are healing him, and I’ve had fights stretch on way too long because of this.

Otherwise, I’ve mostly been doing either patrol or episode missions… everything else seems kind of dull, and I haven’t found a good fleet action at my level that is exciting.

Nimrodel? Chop off the last two letters, then you’re on target.

I’m in a bit of a halfway house in LOTRO at the moment.  While I’ve achieved a high enough level and given myself permission to head out of Moria to the east side of the Misty Mountains, I still have business in the underdark (such as a lot of epic book quests to finish), and thus I find myself traveling back and forth, just like Frodo did.  Actually, I can’t imagine the Fellowship escaping Moria by the skin of their teeth, then encountering a NPC who politely asks them to go back inside to deliver a message or perhaps a queche.

In any case, everyone who blogs about this moment in their LOTRO experience — particularly their first time through Moria — always expresses the same feeling of relief and happiness to have Moria at their backs and a beautiful forest spread out in front of them.  Good times.

Oh, did I mention that said forest is full of elves who, despite everything I’ve ever done for Middle-earth up to this point, will plug me with arrows if I go too far into their precious trees?

It gets better: there are a group of semi-friendly elves (although some of the girl elves have incredibly low voices which made me take a step or two back) who will give you quests so that you can earn admission into their awesome Disneyland kingdom.  So I’m asked to grovel before them, doing menial work — including collecting “orc filth” — until I’ve proved that I’m as whipped as a puppy dog.

And to prove how utterly sadistic and evil these elves are (like all elves), several of the quests are riiiiight by the unmarked Death Zone Line.  Groveling, check.  Killed by elves while doing what the elves asked me to do, check.

Seriously, Turbine, where is the freaking option to side with Sauron and go all Terminator on Lothlorien?  Why do you have to enforce the elf stereotype of this race being the biggest group of arrogant, elitist nimrod(el)s in the world?  And why am I shoehorned into doing their bidding without any other option?

Elves: your day of reckoning is coming.  I’ll do your dirty work… for now.  But I wouldn’t sleep if I were you.

(Can’t wait to get to Mordor.  No elves in Mordor.  Gotta be the happiest place on earth.)

Mission accomplished!

It took about a week, but Iron Garrison Guard now loves me so much they gave me my own private ghost.  I call him Gozer, after his uncle, the Destroyer.  I know that it’s gimping me a bit right now to trait into Leader of Men to equip him, but one of my primary maxims of MMOs is “fun over optimal”.  Having a scary glowy ghost plug your enemies with arrows?  That’s fun to me.

And while the archer damage is pretty decent — I think it gets overlooked by a lot of captains for whatever reason — it only gets better with traits, and the upcoming patch promises to make the pet/DPS line a lot more viable.  I’m down with that.

So I guess I can report that my plan worked.  If you’re trying to max guard/miner rep in Moria, running at least four crafting instances a day rushes you right through it (that’s around 6K just for the instances, plus more for whatever rep items you find).  I also realized — on the very LAST day — that running the solo instances awarded by infused sapphire/adamant/garnets award rep too, as well as a few nice bonuses for your LIs.

I’ve officially left Moria, although I’m sure to return to finish the epic book line.  For now, I just need to get out into the sunlight and hunt some elves.  Er, orcs.  Orcs.

Deja vu? I think I have that in the kitchen.

I’ve had a couple people ask me why I’m not even looking at Final Fantasy 14, to which I generally reply that I’m pretty much over and done with my love for the Final Fantasy series, and I disliked almost everything about Final Fantasy 11.  Of course, it doesn’t help matters when Square Enix comes out with ridiculous plans like penalizing customers for playing their game for more than a certain time period.

The proposed “fatigue” system in FF14 has stirred up a lot of controversy this past week.  Basically, if you play a character for more than eight hours a week (not a day, a week), then you start to get less and less experience as you go along until you’re finally getting nothing at all.  This system resets after the full week’s gone by.

Now, to you or I, this smacks of punishing players for playing, right?  But to Square’s wacky mentality, it’s because they’re trying to impose some sort of artificial fairness across all of the playerbase:

“First off, the main concept behind FFXIV is allowing those players with little time on their hands to play effectively, and game balance is based off of that. Furthermore, it is being designed to not give those with more time on their hands to play an unfair advantage. Because of that, systems such as Guardian’s Favor (a bonus to Guildleves) have been implemented to make leveling in the short-term easier than leveling in the long-term.”

I don’t really have the energy or desire to spell out why this is incredibly stupid, but it’s already starting to bite the company on its bum, as well it should.

The funny thing, to me, is that right here is an example of history repeating itself, and companies failing to learn the lessons of the past.

Way back in early 2004, World of Warcraft was in the beta stage, and those of us on the outside were devouring every scrap of new information, patch notes, etc., as it progressed.  In April, Blizzard threw testers for a loop with a new concept called a “rest state.”  To quote the 0.6 patch notes:

  • The Rest state modifier only affects experience earned from killing monsters. It does not affect experience earned from quest rewards or other experience rewards in the game (such as future PvP experience rewards).
  • As players kill monsters and gain experience points, they become increasingly tired. Their rest level reflects this tiredness in five tiers: well rested, rested, normal, fatigued and exhausted.
  • Well-rested players receive bonus experience points for killing monsters. Rested players receive a smaller bonus. At the normal rest level, players receive no bonus experience points for killing monsters. Fatigued players receive half of the normal experience points from their kills, and when exhausted they will receive a quarter of normal experience from a kill.
  • To become well rested and start earning bonus experience from killing monsters again, players must either log out or rest online at an Inn (see below) for several hours.
  • Thanks to the comforts of a warm bed and a hearty meal, players who rest or log out at an Inn can regain energy up to the maximum level: well rested (it takes 8 hours to go from exhausted back to well rested). Players who log out anywhere else in the world will only regain energy up to the normal level.
  • Note that while your character is resting at an Inn, you can play other characters on your account. The rest state is per character only.

Now, this is certainly not what made it into the game, and the reason was that testers and followers flipped their collective lids over it.  Penny Arcade even made it into a strip, which you can read above, gently mocking both sides of the debate.  But do you see the similarities?  Both games are/were trying to manipulate how players spent their time in the game, by rewarding those who used alts and punishing those who stuck with one character for a great length of time.

Blizzard, of course, decided to rethink this, and eventually toned it into a no-punishment, all-reward system that we see in WoW today (and many games since).  I thought it was an interesting experiment at the time, but nobody likes to feel confined in their gameplay, and unless you’re very sensitive to these things, it didn’t make any difference whether others were leveling faster or slower than you.  But apparently FF14 doesn’t think so, and history loops back on itself.

God bless Atari 2600 box art!

Shotgun America pointed me to a trio of articles (one, two, three) showcasing the ridiculously awesome Atari 2600 box art — which was almost always hand-drawn illustrations of the fantastic variety — compared with the actual game graphics.  I recall so many of these covers like it was yesterday (times thirty years).

I felt bad that my kids will never see video games progress from the stone ages as I did, so I’ve formulated a plan.  We will purchase a 70’s era TV, hook up my 2600, and deny them access to the outside world.  Every year, I’ll advance the game industry for them by five years or so, until they’re caught up.

Now who’s up for a game of Frogger?

We have a ridiculous hobby

I swear (I almost typed “I sweat”), some days I’m convinced that video gaming has forever left our planet and is firmly residing in some other universe where common sense that applies to everything else ceases to apply to games.

Case in point, today’s big internet discussion on buying used games, via Penny Arcade and others.  The discussion revolves around how it’s just not right to buy used games because it doesn’t support the game companies/developers directly, and how we’re all filthy almost-pirates for doing so.  Okay, that’s mushing a lot of arguments together without proper context, but that’s the tone I’m certainly getting.

I think this is silly beyond belief.  Really?  We shouldn’t buy used games on principle?  Listen, what you do with your money is your business.  Give it to directly to the game company, buy a used game, whatever.

People who are railing against buying used games — have you never purchased a used DVD?  A used car?  Used books?  Second-hand clothing?  A used anything?  Do you do drive-by spittings against garage sales?   Do you picket Salvation Army?

So why the heck is this a big deal?

And in our mass-consumption culture, isn’t it the smart thing to do to buy used, to stop buying everything brand new?

I don’t owe a company allegiance; I look out for my family and our household budget first and foremost.  My parents taught me to be frugal when I was growing up, not to refuse to buy used products because it wasn’t directly benefiting the company that made it.   But hey, I guess my mom was just a thief for buying us toys at garage sales because we couldn’t afford to get them off the shelves. Shame on her.  And shame on my wife and I, since about 85% of everything we own we purchased used or second-hand.

If it’s important to you to buy directly from the company, then do so.  But don’t be telling me how I should be spending my money, or trying to levy a guilt trip because I don’t see the world as you do.  Video games aren’t so special that they should be put aside in a different category than everything else in this regard.

This all is silly, and Sam the Eagle does not approve.