Tolkien Prof makes the Washington Post

While it mentions LOTRO once, this piece in the Washington Post isn’t MMO-centric, but rather honors an internet celebrity who’s doing a lot of good for the works of Tolkien these days.  Many LOTRO players are fans of the so-called Tolkien Professor, a teacher and podcaster named Corey Olsen.  I’m a fan myself, and have enjoyed his straight-forward and illuminating podcasts that have really opened up Middle-earth for me.  Olsen is part of the intellectual geek movement that’s making people take notice of the fact that we can spawn some pretty smart cookies who also like scifi, fantasy, comic books and other geek activities.

Olsen the professor finds himself in much the same spot as Tolkien the author: beloved by the public, yet not entirely accepted by the intelligencia.

“I get the fact that some people don’t believe that what I’m doing counts as scholarship,” he said.

The RIFT Advent Calendar

Counting down until RIFT’s head start on the 24th!  Me too!  It helps not to think about it — I really hate the month before MMO launches, because I go crazy and everyone else goes crazy.  It’s like a teenage hormone overload (“I HATE YOU!  Oh wait, I totally love you!”) that I’d rather just duck my head down and skip.  But if you’re having a hard time doing so, here’s a two-week RIFT advent calendar to give you 14 ideas of how to pass the time:

14: Take a deep breath.  Smile.  Enjoy life.  Go for a walk.  Abandon walk after two minutes to rush back to the house, panting heavily for your need to reconnect to the internet and see if any new RIFT info has been released.

13: Make a resolution to become more active in the community.  Join the official forums and make a few cognizant posts with legitimate insight.  Read responses.  Scream loudly and weep bloody tears.

12: Make a second resolution to never use the official forums ever again.  Feel an overwhelming sense of peace about it.

11: Talk with a friend about the various merits of the different pre-order packages.  Eventually realize you’re debating the finer points of whether or not it is good to own a weird virtual pet, and hope that nobody else is listening in.

10: Participate in the beta, but not so much that you spoil your appetite for the main course.  Strip your character down to his or her skivvies and run through rifts like they were slip-n-slides.

9: Start up a RIFT blog or podcast to “get in on the ground floor.”  Bonus points if you can incorporate the word “Rift” into it without sounding like a clone of all the other ones.  Good luck with this — I’ve been there.

8: Start saying your good-byes to past or present MMO loves.  Caress them and tell them that it’s not them, it’s you, really.  Reminisce about the good times, and then hit the “Cancel Subscription” button so hard it gives a customer service rep a kidney bruise.

7: Read the RIFT comic books to, quote, “understand the lore better,” end quote.  Perhaps form a book club to digest the finer points of such luxurious prose.

6: With less than a week to go, search for a guild.  When you don’t find a good one within two minutes, panic and start sending in apps for guilds with Latin names that translate into “House of Bunny Fetishes.”

5: Go mad with the waiting and commit yourself to a local mental hospital.  When the nurse asks you to note your condition, check “Other” on the form.

4: Scan Twitter for any and all mentions of #Rift until it becomes a trending topic.

3: Go through a long, dark night of doubt as you wonder if you’re anticipating this game too much — and if it will fail you.  Feel the world crumble under your feet as uncertainty reigns.  Then get a Frosty from Wendy’s.

2: Counter night of doubt by going to a local tattoo parlor and getting a foot-wide RIFT panorama inked onto your back.  Make sure to take pictures so that the internet can point and laugh and feel generally superior.

1: Eh.  Crochet?


iPhone: Battleheart stole my soul

There was a Penny Arcade strip about Minecraft in which Gabe kind of meanders through the world trying to figure out what to do when he finally “gets” it — and then says, “Oh no.  Oh no.  I’m in some real [bad word] trouble here.”  He knows the game’s about to steal his soul by appealing way too much to his desires, and he’s powerless to stop it from happening.

This is exactly how I felt when I booted up Battleheart for the iPhone last night.  I’m in some real trouble here.

It’s odd, because other than my recent foray into Dungeon Raid, I really haven’t concerned myself with iPhone games lately at all.  I don’t have time for them, I’d rather read, etc.  But I started to hear incredible things about Battleheart, and it really looked like something I’d enjoy, so why not?

How little did I know.  Forgive me!

Everything about Battleheart just clicks with me.  At its core, the game is an RPG battle simulator where you control a party of four characters going through a succession of fights.  You can swap out characters, equip new gear, replay levels and add new abilities every fifth level.  Simple, clean.

The sheer flexibility of the system, the easy-to-control combat interface and the lovable animations gel together to make a game that’s a lot better than it has any right to be.  You can make a party of almost any mix of classes — so far I’ve found clerics, knights, barbarians, bards, rogues, witches, wizards and monks — and see how they work together.  If I use my cleric to constantly heal and buff my knight, who in turn takes all the aggro, then I have an unstoppable duo.  Or maybe I want to overcharge my barbarian with bardic songs and have him cut through the enemy like butter.  That sort of thing.

I can’t get over how silky smooth the interface and load times are, either.  I have an older 3G model, and Battleheart boots up and runs perfectly — and it’s a universal app, which means it scales up to the iPad as well.

What’s probably the most damning factor (and I mean that in a good way) is that Battleheart compels you to do “just one more fight” over and over again.  The replayability factor is off the charts, because if you’re bored you have a wide canvas to experiment with classes, skills and gear.  The fights are really interesting too — I got to the first big boss, who takes breaks from beating you up by running around on a rhino while smaller enemies drop in.  It was a nonstop battle from start to end and it impressed me with the variety.

Anyway, just wanted to pass along another high recommendation for iPhone gaming, especially if you’re already bitten by the RPG spider.

Should RIFT go dark?

The frequency and duration of RIFT’s beta events (six so far and counting) have a few bloggers wondering about their purpose, not to mention the absolutely massive list of patch notes that seem to accompany each of them.  As we head through the last few weeks before the head start/launch, the questions of how Trion is handling the beta are rising.  Here are a few I’ve seen and have popped into my head:

Is Trion overexposing RIFT at this point?

I think a lot of folks were pleased that RIFT more or less flew under their radar until sometime in December, when it reared up out of the water like an extremely polished and welcoming Loch Ness monster.  It’s a refreshing change of pace not to marinate in the hype and build up for so long that you lose all taste for it, but instead to have a really big, really well-done MMO pop into existence out of (seeming) nowhere.  “Howdy!  Wanna go for a ride?”

Of course, the announcement of RIFT’s beta was like the starter’s pistol at the marketing races, and we were off.  With TOR being pushed back and GW2 coming out God knows when, RIFT suddenly had the full attention of the coming attractions crowd.  I previously remarked that it was a special kind of genius for Trion to handle the beta in segmented, limited-edition events rather than a contiguous process, because it made the game seem that much more special.

But by now, it almost seems like there have been too many beta events, not to mention to the polite fiction of handing out keys hand over fist instead of just opening it up to everyone.  Having a beta event two weekends in a row kind of feels like they’re pushing the game for the game’s sake rather than for testing.  That’s just a feeling, of course.

Is Trion overreacting to player feedback?

It’s a possibility.  Every beta event has come with a monster list of patch notes, which is more or less for the par with pre-release titles (for those at home praising Trion for quick, responsive fixes, just keep in mind that pretty much every MMO studio before launch does this sort of speedy implementation — they don’t have to work on a live game, after all, and everyone’s in crunch mode.  So don’t assume it’ll always be like this.).  And while I personally welcome many of the changes, I have to admit a bit of worry that the team may have difficulties sorting through all the feedback — especially on the emotionally-charged forums — and are overcompensating as a result.

For example, I kind of liked the old racial abilities.  I never thought they were necessary or overpowered, but I guess enough people whined so that now we have pretty bland versions shoved into place.  And I don’t quite get this whole “we’ll let you get a mount before 20” switch.  Convenience is nice, but good things should be earned, otherwise you won’t appreciate them.

Does Trion really need any more of these events to get the game ready?

Undoubtedly, every event is invaluable in terms of testing the server load, expanding through the new areas and so on.  But we’re only a few weeks away, six events under our belts, and the phrase “diminishing returns” comes to mind.  How many people do you know who are actually testing the game (submitting bug reports, etc.) versus just playing, anyway?

And let’s not forget, Trion has a parallel alpha that’s been running non-stop on a separate server, where more of the (allegedly) serious testers are located.

Should RIFT go dark?

I’m not stating a lot of facts here, just opinions — but in my opinion, I think the time has come for Trion to cut the cord and stop running beta events.  Whether or not they should do so for testing purposes, I can see this as being a perfect time to make all of the beta testers go cold turkey and sweat it out for a few weeks.  Launch should be special, not “oh, I just played this game last weekend,” and RIFT needs a big jump at the start that a couple weeks of quiet could give it.  Like with any horror movie, you don’t just keep ratcheting up the scares without some downtime between them — it gives the audience time to breathe, to compose themselves and to anticipate.  RIFT going dark will allow our hunger and anticipation to grow instead of stagnate.

/AFK: The Final Countdown Edition

Two and a half weeks left, and RIFT players will finally be able to colonize Telara for good.  This isn’t a lot of time to get one’s affairs in order — families need to be abandoned, jobs quit, pets sold the circus, catheters set up, etc.  Hopefully, we’ll get it all done.

Or, y’know, we’ll just treat it like a normal game when it gets here.

Welcome back to /AFK, my weekly list of the the most interesting or well-written blog posts I’ve read:

  • The Common Sense Gamer — Looking at Rift
    “The Rift System: You’ve read about this all over the place and by now, so you know generally what this is…in theory. In practice this mechanic MAKES the community work together.”
  • Ardwulf’s Lair — Vanguard Abides
    “It seems to me that if the population is that small, the game’s bottom line might be improved by an order of magnitude – or more – just by making it free-to-play, and relying on a significantly higher population using the existing cash shop.”