Picture of the Day

Okay, let’s talk Turbine’s marketing strategy for the LOTRO Store.  Up until now, I’ve been fine with the balance they’ve struck — I don’t think the store button is that glaring or an eyesore on the UI, the game itself keeps it down to a nudge now or then, and the free points for deeds takes the sting out of requests to check out the store.  I mean, why shouldn’t I?  I’ve got free money to spend!

But this latest update brought a host of new loading screens that are, to put it nicely, tacky as all get out.  The most egregious is above — perhaps it’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also a subtle as an elf with a large gold pile shouting at you in all caps to CHECK OUT THE LOTRO STORE!

Particularly if we’re subscribers or lifetime members, we shouldn’t have to sit through ads.  This isn’t helpful info — you can’t spend ten minutes in the game without knowing that the store exists or how to get to it — so it doesn’t need to be thrown in our faces.  LOTRO isn’t about being garish, and this is garish.

Plus, elf.  That isn’t a way to make me want to spend money, unless there’s an option to pay to replace all the elves in the game with gremlins.  I’d be totally for that.  And I’d keep feeding them after midnight.

New Page: The Adventures of Sype

For the three of you who seem to enjoy the adventures of Sype, the cranky LOTRO Lore-master, I’m going to try to get at least two of his stories a week out from now on.  Because, hey, it’s creative writing!

Also, I’ve created a new page on Bio Break dedicated to this series, which you can check out here: The Adventures of Sype.

Don’t ignore it.  Sype… Sype would be displeased.  And you REALLY don’t want to know what he can do with that staff when he’s displeased.

Rift: How many souls makes a man?

One of my earliest MMO memories is the day I got my City of Heroes box and spent hours before logging into the game pouring through the manual (yes, I think there was a time when I actually read manuals).  It was nearly impossible — but in a good way! — to figure out what superhero I wanted to make, because I not only had to choose an archetype and powerset, but a second powerset to meld with the first.  Any game that gives me a good degree of freedom in creating and building my character outside of narrow limits and an over-reliance on gear is one that has my patronage more often than not.

This is why I’m pretty fascinated with Rift’s mix-and-match class system, aka “Ascended” or “Souls” system.  Basically, you’ll choose one of four basic callings (fighter, healer, rogue, mage) and then start to accumulate souls of other people who died long ago.  Once you have a soul, you can invest points (which you accumulate per level) into the tree to unlock bonuses and special abilities.  Straight-forward enough, sure.

It gets cooler when you realize that you can swap souls in and out almost on the fly, radically changing your abilities as the situation calls for it.  Then add the fact that you’ll be able to activate three (out of an eventual eight) souls at any one time, and it’s a recipe for an obscene amount of builds and combinations.  You can dump almost all of your soul points into just one soul (effectively creating a one-soul build), spread them out evenly, or come up with symbiotic bonds.

While we’re a ways off from launch and even a final list of souls, one enterprising fan has taken all of the publicly available information to create a Rift Role Builder for fans to tinker with.  If you have any interest in the game, I suggest you check it out, if only to get an idea for how the system might function in game and how fun it’ll be to fiddle with character builds to make something unique (or at least, personal).

I’ve even heard rumors — perhaps dev speculation, I can’t recall — that they may also include “for fun” souls that are more geared to RP and festive events.  There’s definitely possibilities for fluffy fun if cosmetic souls are included.

In any case, I’m digging the idea of this, mostly because it’ll stave off one of my major complaints of most every MMO’s end game — a fully built but mostly static character.  Once you figure out the optimal build for your playstyle, there really is little reason to change.

Except that in Rift, the devs encourage you to keep experimenting, to save multiple builds for different roles, and not be pigeonholed into just one limited profession.  I like that.  I like you.  I think we should be friends.

Quote of the Day

“Seriously, who stopped and said, “Guys, wait, hold up on the rebuilding. Someone needs to set up the picnic table. Who’s going to do it? You, Thrall? How about you, Garrosh? Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the turkey!” Thank god for druids. You know they were behind this. The probably have turkeys on tap… though chopping their heads off and stuffing the carcass doesn’t seem too “at one with nature.”

~ Game By Night

The Adventures of Sype: Double-downing in the North Downs

Your typical North Downer: Sitting on his butt, wasting the day with writing... HEY!

“Oi, lollygagger!  What do you call this dump?”

“Er… Trestlebridge, sir.  On account of the big bridge and all.”

Sype squinted at the rickety span and spat into the dirt, which greedily absorbed the moisture and begged for more.  “Trestlebridge, eh?  Had me a bad case of trestlebridges a while back, took six different kind of salves to get rid of it.”

The dour Lore-master trudged through the town, hoping against hope that this land would be different.  That, unlike all of the other places with their petty problems and general laziness, the famed North Downs would be a place of true adventure, of honest…

“Wahhhh!  A nasty goblin poisoned my lunchbox!  Go kill him, complete and total stranger!”

Ah, crap.

* * * * *

A week later, and Sype dearly wished he’d never heard of the North Downs.  To tell the truth, he was starting to be convinced that he was in the suburbs of hell and being punished with menial chores that all the fat soccer moms and beer-swilling dads couldn’t be bothered with.

Sype drove the butt of his staff through a raven’s beak with a solid crunch.  “Kill these birds, he says.  Wakes him up too early, he says.”

Movement out of the corner of his eye prompted him to spin and fling a fistful of embers at a passing lynx.  The cat howled as the smell of burnt hair wafted over the land.  “Go slaughter sixteen of these cats and haul their carcasses back here so I can make a coat from their ragged fur and be the BELLE of the BALL.  Bah!”

He paused and wiped away a forehead of sweat with the back of his hand.  The Committee told him that his services were desperately needed in the region, but as far as he could tell, the real problem was the severe lack of motivation for everyone to waddle out of town and get on with their lives.

“It’s almost like…”  Sype began to talk to himself out loud, then shook his head.  It was a silly thought, anyway, but it kept coming to him.  His life started to remind him of a story he once read, where a naive dwarf spent his whole life in a village where everyone else was an actor, and an invisible audience watched him go about the business of living without realizing that all of his trappings — even his relationships — was a sham.

No… the Committee wouldn’t do that to him, would they?

He whirled around, half-expecting to see faces peeking out behind a rock and laughing at his pointless endeavors.

Nobody.

Sype squinted.

Still nobody.

Another lynx moseyed on by, stoically ignoring the smoldering remains of his third cousin.  Sype stared at the cat, and then a light went on over his head.

He threw a lasso and caught the cat, who put up far less of a fight than expected.  Almost as if it knew what was coming.

* * * * *

“You got my pelts?” the woman wheezed, as she struggled to her feet.  “All sixteen?”

Sype doffed his hat.  “Yes ma’am.  They’re in excellent condition, too.  I took the liberty of dropping them off at your home.”

With that, he sauntered out of town at a steady pace — fast enough to get out before trouble began, but not too quickly as to miss the screams of the owner of sixteen angry wildcats nesting in her foyer.

NEXT TIME ON THE ADVENTURES OF SYPE: Sype forms the first U.N. of Middle-earth — and does anyone think to thank him?  No, of course not.

I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it, I’mma gonna lose control and I think I like it!

Just a couple weeks ago I was worried that the rest of 2010 would be a “run out the clock”-type situation.  I felt a bit restless, there wasn’t anything on the horizon that got me excited, and 2011 still (for whatever reason) seems so far away.

What a difference a week or so can make.  Now my excitement is not only roaring, but split between two imminent events: the November Update in LOTRO and the start of the Rift closed beta, which I happily will be seeing with my brand-new VIP beta key.

While LOTRO’s November Update has a lot of decent quality of life improvements, its the addition of Winter-home to the Yule Festival that has me pumped.  Turbine’s really stepped up their festival improvements this year — the Spring Festival got the new shrew-stomping event (among other things), the Fall Festival saw the addition of the lauded Haunted Burrow, and now the Yule Festival gets a completely new mini-zone dedicated to the event.  Only the Summer Festival remained relatively untouched this year, and that’s pretty impressive.

I know that in-game holidays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (and some folks actually get pretty irked by them for whatever reason), but I’m a huge fan of their inclusion.  They shake up the static nature of the world, they take our focus off mindless killing for a bit, and they often coordinate well with our real-world holidays to create a unified feel.

The two new activities that we know about in Winter-home are snowball fights and interactive theater.  Seriously, interactive theater.  It’s so crazy that it just… might… work!  I don’t think that many other MMOs could get away with this sort of things without the devs being laughed out of a job, but it’s right up the LOTRO playerbase’s alley.  I definitely like the new cosmetic outfits and the choice between pandering to the rich or poor that the event gives to you.  I think I’ll do “poor” on one character and “rich” on another to see how it goes.

As for Rift, I’m dying to see if my initial impressions were misled or perhaps even understated.  Every week I’ve been digesting the latest Rift Podcast, where they usually bring on a Trion Worlds dev or two to chat, and my respect for this title is growing.  It doesn’t sounds as radically different as, say, Guild Wars 2, but there are strong indications that it’s simply well-made, polished and hits all the right spots even so.

So next weekend is the first beta event, and although I’m usually not one for betas, you couldn’t tear me away from this one.  Hope to see some of you in there too!

Black Friday Sweet Nothings

First up, it’s great to know that Turbine — unlike some of its players — isn’t afraid of descending into a bit of poo humor now and then.

Next, it seems my question on MMOs and social gameplay has spawned a bit of discussion — follow the trail:

And just to clarify a little something about all that: Sometimes I ask questions that just pop into my head, but I have little opinion about, or am trying to sort it out myself.  Trust me, if I wanted to say something profound about it, I would.  I’m a 95% solo gamer, although I do like to group and socialize if there are enough incentives and it’s a good group of people.  I was just wondering aloud, that’s all.

Finally, if you haven’t been checking out Steam for their insane daily deals this week, get thee hence!