Little Details

One of the things I like about my Lore-master is his ability to stun the heck out of everything, which usually results in a mob reeling a little bit.  But today I stunned a deer, and instead of the normal animation, the deer kept staggering to the left and the right like a drunken sailor.  Kind of made me laugh.  I like little things like that!

RIFT: T-Minus 28 Hours And Counting…

For someone who’s a little over a day away from a game he’s been anticipating for months now, I’d have to say that I’m a paragon of “cool as a cucumber.”  It helps that I’m terrifically busy this week, and trying to get everything done so that I’ll have an afternoon or two to play without interruptions means that I’m working like a dog right now.

As I type this, I’m reinstalling RIFT (if you have a beta or alpha version, you need to uninstall that and then hit up the site to get the new version) in preparation for tomorrow’s head start at 1pm EST.  No doubt the servers will get slammed, there might be problems, and I should just steel myself for potential frustration, but these things too shall pass.

I’ve finally settled on a starter character: I’m going to play a Dwarf Guardian Rogue on Faeblight.  Why a Rogue?  I went back and forth on this a lot, but ultimately decided that it’d be good for me to get out of my typical groove and go for a more action-oriented class.  The fact that Rogues can use rifles, spec for healing/support, and even tank if needed appeals to me, plus I love the bomb-chucking saboteur soul.  It’s not like I — or anyone else — isn’t going to roll three other characters anyway.

Generally, I think most people who were interested in RIFT are pretty jazzed at this point, particularly because there are no major red flags that we can see.  Sure, some folks just don’t like what’s offered or think it’s more of the same, but that’s more personal preference than genuine criticism.  It’s not perfect, of course, and there are people poking hard at it to see if they can find that soft spot of disillusionment they need.

For example, Game Genus is down on RIFT for the number of at-launch zones compared to (sigh) World of Warcraft’s list of 2004 zones.  Okay, putting aside how tiring and frustrating it is for people to constantly be comparing everything to WoW (and whether having “less” than WoW makes something “not good”), let’s look at this and see if it has merit.  Is RIFT anemic in zones and size, and will that bite the game on the butt in the long run?

I think the most legitimate complaint are the number of starting zones (two), although most players will probably only go through these four times, so it’s not as major of a problem as other games.  It’s just a little thin.

As for the rest of the world, sure, it’s smaller than some game worlds.  I think it has to be, and I think it’s ultimately best for the type of game world that Trion is making.  What Game Genus doesn’t get is that the bread-and-butter of RIFT is the dynamic content, not the size of the world, and if everyone gets too spread out, then the fun of that dynamic content is reduced dramatically.  Case in point, WAR.  WAR had a great idea with public quests, and they were fun in the first tier or so — when everyone was in the same areas and level range.  But after a while the population got spread out, the zones got far bigger, and the popularity of PQs took a severe nosedive.  You simply need a critical mass of players for these events to be fun.

And — pardon the cliche — but it’s not the size so much as what you do with it.  We all know RPG and MMORPG worlds that can boast absolutely vast square footage but have little content to fill it all.  Size for size sake — or many more zones just for numbers’ sake — can be a detriment rather than an asset.  I’m always of the opinion that whatever space is in the game should be used and used well, and from what I’ve seen so far in RIFT, that’s the case.

Plus, there’s nothing stopping Trion from expanding the world as I’m sure they will be.  If 14 zones are a dealbreaker for you, then, yes, RIFT’s probably not for you.  Personally, it’s a bit of a non-issue.

What your weapon style says about you

“I’m a bit dull but what can I say?  I like to live!  Also, my shield doubles as a sled when I travel to snowy zones.”

“This is my epeen.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.  With it I will disregard being a team player in a never-ending quest to top the DPS charts.”

“I’M WOLVERINE!  SNICKETY-SNICK-SNICK!  BUB!”

“I have seen way, way too many movies.  If I had a third arm, rest assured I’d be holding a weapon in that too.”

“This is not a weapon.  It is a stat receptacle.  I just like carrying large planks of wood to make me feel secure.  It’s a thing — I’m talking with my therapist about it.”

“I am the love-child of Legolas and Rambo.  And maybe Robin Hood.  In this scenario, Legolas would have to be the female with a child-bearing womb.”

“I will never sit at the cool kids table.”

Snowmageddon 9: The search for more snow

Last night the weatherman told us we’d be getting 1-2 inches of snow.  Since we’re in Michigan, naturally that turned out to be well over a foot dumped on us without warning, which meant that everyone was caught off guard this morning — roads now plowed, cars stuck, and the kids already on a school break fuming at a wasted snow day.

This means that I’ve now received a completely unexpected day off work, which I’m not complaining about in the least (well, other than having to shovel and push my wife’s car out of a snow bank).  Even with all the RIFT frenzy, I’m neck-deep in LOTRO these days, totally into the groove with my Lore-master.  I finally pushed through a rather rough patch of slow going (I was too low-level for the quests I needed to do, which meant a lot of skirmishes and grinding) and rocketed from level 39 to 42.5 over the weekend.

In my opinion, while the 30’s bog down, the 40’s are a tremendously fun time for any character class in the game.  Four zones open up for questing — Misty Mountains, Angmar, Forochel and Eregion — and you can start working on getting those legendary traits (I really can’t wait for my sword-and-staff trait, one of the coolest aspects of LMs).  Then, at level 45, you can do the book quests to unlock legendary items, and your power level shoots up considerably.

So all in all, it’s a great period of questing, and I’m definitely not rushing to get back into Moria.  To tell the truth,  I’m trying to figure out the bare minimum I need to be doing to get through the place.  It is feasible to skip Moria/Lothlorien/Mirkwood altogether by finishing all of Shadows of Angmar content and then skirmishing until you can head into Enedwaith, but man, that’s a grind I do not want to face.  Plus, Moria is needed for virtues and traits at the bare minimum.  It will certainly be nice to solo through Volume 2, however — my Captain hasn’t even finished that yet.

Moving on to RIFT, Thursday’s the big day for the game, what with the head start at 1:00 pm, and I’m going to at least try to clear a few hours that afternoon to get in, reserve my names and meet my new guildies.  I cringe at the whole first week rat race that will happen, and I really hope the crowds won’t get in the way of questing too much (I still have nightmares about the first RIFT beta event, where you’d camp an area for hours trying to tag the slowly respawning mobs), but I’m excited overall.  It’s nice to only be in February and already know what I’ll be playing for a majority of the year.

/AFK — Fippy Darkpaw Edition

The big topic this past week was the opening of a new EverQuest time-locked progression server.  Both old and new EQ players flocked to and overloaded the servers, looking to recapture lost experiences or experience lost history.  While I personally didn’t feel compelled to give this a swing, it’s an interesting experiment that I wish more MMOs would try.

Welcome back to /AFK, a roundup of the most interesting blog posts that caught my eye last week:

  • A Casual Stroll to Mordor — Symbols and tokens and marks, oh my!
    “You loot the chest expecting to find some powerful artifact, instead some weird currency drops which you take back to town and trade in for the armor they should have given you when they asked you to go fight the bad guys. It makes no sense for the story.”
  • ETCmmo — You can never go back
    “Getting oh so very lost in Neriak, I wanted to cry…. It was truly terrifying and awesome at the same time. I had never played anything like it.”
  • Kill Ten Rats — Faction cool factor
    “It seemed that everybody was excited about the Defiant, and ‘mature’ guilds were considering rolling Guardian side just to get away from that immature crowd.”
  • MMO Gamer Chick — Rift: Artifact finding
    “Which is why I’m surprised after all these weeks in the Rift beta I haven’t talked about the Artifact Collections system yet. Bottom line, I want to marry it.”
  • MMO Reporter — Why MMOs are missing the boat
    “Most importantly, I want my virtual trek to have consequences. It should require effort to travel. If I go to point B, I must take into account I can’t quickly jump back to A. Why else have a big virtual world?”

Swaggering

You’ve heard of this Swagbucks thing, haven’t you?  It seems like I know quite a few people into it, including my secretary and my wife.  Basically, it’s a program where you spend a lot of time looking at ads, take surveys, use their search engine, play games and do a billion other weird activities to earn the titular Swagbucks, which can then be exchanged for real-world prizes.

I tried it several months ago and decided that the time-to-reward ratio was pretty skewed — it takes a long while to get any measurable amount of Swagbucks, and you’re not getting something for nothing here, since you’re putting yourself in the front seat of a marketer’s circus.  Considering that my wife uses her points toward $5 Amazon gift cards and it takes her between two to five hours to earn that many points, she’s basically taken on a very crappy part-time job for far less than minimum wage.

Even so, she enjoys doing it and derives some pleasure from accruing “free” goodies, so I leave her alone.  If it’s relaxing and fun for her, who am I to take that away?

I’m a little wary about marketers getting too much information about us, but she swears that she uses fake info and email addresses (although that’s only a stopgap measure).  After doing a little research on it, it seems on the up and up, and there’s even a social aspect to it, as Swagbuckers (Swagbuccanears?) collaborate on Facebook and blogs to share point codes and strategies.

I mention all this because I found myself laughing while playing LOTRO last night and realized that I am, in a way, doing some of the same things.  LOTRO’s fairly unique in MMO space for letting you “earn” Turbine Points — which have real-world dollar value — through play.  Unless you’re a very poor person trying to get TP to unlock content, I don’t think most folks play with TP gain as the primary goal, but it is a nice bonus, particularly if you play multiple characters.

I should start keeping track, but I know that in the past week I’ve earned around 100 TP for doing what I’d normally be doing anyway in the game — 5, 10 or 15 points for various deeds.  Since we have additional cosmetic slots and an expanded mapping system coming up for sale in the next update, I’ll need all I can get, so every little bit is nice.  I just found it amusing that in our own way, both my wife and I are doing the same thing: gaming and getting paid for it.

The fallacy of “one way to play”

On my list of MMO pet peeves, people telling others how they should play — particularly in a condescending, controlling, demeaning way — is right up there at the top of the list.  It smacks of elitism, of narrow-minded min-maxers who have long ago traded the love of the game for a mathematics worksheet, of being a general tool.  It doesn’t help a community bond, but instead props up someone’s ego in exchange for shredding someone else’s self-esteem.

Really, why does this happen?  Understand, I’m not talking about someone giving well-intentioned advice or taking another player under their wing and providing guidance.  I’m talking about that jerk who immediately goes on the offensive in a pick-up group or in general chat, slamming someone’s build or gear or preferred playstyle as DEAD WRONG and OMG YOU SHOULD DIAF NAO.

I was reminded of this lovely individual last night while I was playing LotRO and /glff (Global Looking for Fellowship channel AKA “Barrens Chat for Middle-earth”) popped to life as one Lore-master was discussing his or her experiences using a bear pet.  Immediately, a superior being descended from the heavens into /glff, backed up a dump truck full of examples why this person was completely wrong and failing at the game, and dumped it all over the channel.  You NEVER use bear!  Bear sucks!  If a LM uses a bear, you know they’re a bad LM!  Even talking about a bear makes you a bad LM!  You fail at life!  Who’s driving?  Bear is driving, how can that be?

Now, the regrettable thing here is that the attacker was obviously knowledgeable about the class and could’ve shared this information in a much less antagonistic fashion.  Instead, the /glff audience was treated to a jerk yelling at another player about how there really is only one way to play and they’re completely wrong if they don’t do it.

I’m sorry, but this is just so off-base I don’t know where to begin.  Understandably, the longer an MMO is out the more specific builds are fine-tuned until they are widely considered superior (at least until the next patch).  Some builds and playstyles will result in faster kills, better protection, more economical use of resources.  But the most optimal build is not always the “best” or “only” one to use, and we hurt ourselves as a whole by insisting that everyone fall in line and use just them.

I saw a lot of this in World of Warcraft, of course, and it never ceased to chafe.  You were wrong if you did X or had build Y, and should only be doing Z at all times.  I recall way back in Vanilla WoW when some players liked to experiment with melee hunters — a big no-no for most of the community, and the subject of a heated podcast (which, like the above LM, spent the whole hour yelling at the anonymous hunters about how stupid they were being).  Again, doing that wasn’t optimal and probably wouldn’t get you invited to many groups, but I had a problem with this hardline attitude about someone else’s playstyle.  If they’re having fun and not hurting anyone else, why can’t they choose how and what to play without getting grief for it?

These are games, after all, and what may be the most “fun” might be as far from “optimal” as you can get.  I may want to use a pet that isn’t the best stat-wise, but I prefer it for the visuals or the RP theme.  I may want to diverge from the beaten path to experiment with alternate builds, even if they do end up being useless.  I may want to try running a dungeon with an unbalanced party mix just to see if it can be done.

Digging deeper, we may be getting into themes of individualism vs. collectivism, but I’m too tired to be that intelligent.  In short, if you want to tell me how to play my game, think long and hard about your intentions for doing so — and be receptive to how I might take such unwarranted advice.  I have a pack of trained marmosets at the ready.