Posted in Lord of the Rings Online, Quote of the Day

Quotes of the Day: Housing and Volume 2

First up is a quote from the always-humorous (and insightful) Killed in a Smiling Accident:

“Once again Turbine employ the Magic As Plot Protection device, where your band of plucky heroes is rendered utterly helpless by Random Villain B so that he can monologue without the vexing interruptions of you trying to stab him in the face, an occurrence so common now that one wonders just what sort of mismanagement must be going on at Sauron & Sons Ltd. for them not to have cakewalked their way to victory already, given that they can render whole groups of heroes utterly helpless seemingly at will, or at least when it’s most terribly convenient. Perhaps they’re all too busy monologuing to actually get on with finishing the job.”

Melmoth provides better commentary on Volume 2 in LOTRO than I could, really (and, er, did).  While Turbine’s epic storylines are certainly some of the best highlights of the game, they do have their frustrating/nonsensical/tedious/weird aspects — and by frankly discussing them can we hope that Turbine improves upon this feature for the future.

I’ll add one more thought to this storyline.  There are two points where the game seems to give you an actual complicated decision — both revolving around saving an important prisoner or not — but it’s just a charade.  No matter what you choose, the NPCs force you to do what they want anyway, so potential rich exploration of choice-and-consequences averted.

That really, really disappointed me.  I don’t want the game to protect me from my choices during quests, I want to decide something and have to live with my choice (and if I’m so terrifying of choosing “wrong” I can consult a local walkthrough).  These epic stories would really benefit from more of a choose-your-own-adventure slant, and it’s something I hope comes to the future.

Next quote is from Tales of the Aggronaut, who discusses player housing:

“I mentioned above that no one has done player housing right. What I mean by that is that no one has designed a model for player housing that makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s worth the trade-off.”

This is a hard article for me to read, because I’m very much pro-housing (as you’ve all learned by now).  Still, this post makes a lot of valid points from a design perspective, and I completely agree with his final point that housing should be more involved with one’s character and the rest of the game to give it purpose.

And for developers who don’t want to go full-fledged housing route, I wish someone would take my idea of temporary player camps (shh, Fallen Earth, I had it years before you did) and bring it into more games.  Being able to put up a tent and show off a few of your favorite acquisitions in the game world would give players another way to “show off” and fart around in the downtime between raids and whatnot.  The roleplaying possibilities are endless as well.

Posted in Guild Wars

Guild Wars: I’m kind of a big deal

Hey!  I’m back!  I know, you’ve been curled up into a ball suffering fever dreams and panic attacks since my abrupt silence this past weekend, but it is over.  The truth was that I was going out of town for a few days and I wanted to take a weekend off writing (and gaming for the most part) to just be with family.  It’s good to unplug now and then.  Keeps perspective.

But something miraculous happened right before I left that I wanted to share with you: I finally, for the very first time since it launched in 2005, finished a Guild Wars campaign.  The wind is strong in my GW sails, and with the help of lovely guildies and a few generous strangers, I plowed through the final handful of missions of the Nightfall campaign without any difficulty.  This means my Hall of Monuments ticker went from the default 3 to 4 (wow, buckle up for progress!) and I could move on to Prophecies.

It’s a heady feeling to have accomplished this, mostly because I’ve been throwing myself against the Guild Wars wall sporadically over the past half decade and seeing little results.  The Guild Wars 2 thing is a great motivator, but I’m also just enjoying it for what it is: a decent (if not gripping) story, a crapton of strategy, still-beautiful visuals, and an all-around feeling of a different type of MMO than everything else out there.

I’ve been bugging friends and guildies with lots of newbie-type questions, stuff they probably knew by heart years before but aren’t that obvious to me.  Guild Wars is a deceptively deep and strangely odd game in some ways, and while it may look like a standard MMO at times, it plays like a whole different duck at others.  I find that I’ve been overlooking incredibly helpful options that the game honestly does not go out of its way to show to me, but everyone else seems to know about as matter-of-fact.  So the more of those I learn, the easier it becomes.

And I’m feeling optimistic as I head into Prophecies.  With a full team of heroes at my back, upgraded armor and a full 20 levels, it should go a lot easier than the initial stages of Nightfall.  I really like that Guild Wars combat is more about squad-based attacks, and now that I’m able to equip seven heroes with my main guy, it’s like I have a full array of the best pets ever.  If I’m confident I can win a fight, often I’ll just alt-tab out for a quick minute while my team mops up.  Lazy gaming!  Love it!

I think my only regret is my choice of class.  The Dervish is an interesting concept — not a lot of scythe-wielding classes in MMOs, I can say — but it just hasn’t grabbed me.  I’m not really sure why I went with it, but now that I’m pretty far along in this whole trying-to-get-HoM-points quest, it’s not like I can just start over either.  So I grin and bear it and pretend I’m the grim reaper, and that helps.

Posted in Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online

Age of Waterslides

I suppose we’ve all heard the news that Age of Conan is joining the not-so-exclusive F2P/Hybrid club.  We’re getting to the point — honestly, we’re probably miles past the point — where this is a shocking and stunning development.  I like Funcom’s semi-laid back attitude toward this, however, which is to say that “after an MMO’s been out a while, it usually makes sense to go to this model.”

And I can see that.  In a way, F2P/Hybrid (or however you want to call it) is the new “trial program” for the new decade.  It pulls more players in, it gives established players more options, it increases the game’s visibility (at least for a limited period of time), and it avoids getting so entrenched in the “subscriptions are the only way to do things” mindset that it gets left behind the pack.  Not that I think all sub games should go this route, but as a consumer, it’s a win-win for me.  I never thought I’d be at a point in my MMO gaming career where the biggest limitation for gaming wasn’t my wallet but my time.  Right now, without spending a penny, there are so many great options on the table it makes my head swim.

It does make me wonder why both Star Trek Online and Warhammer Online have yet to do this, as both of those titles could benefit greatly from a similar move, but oh well.

So oddly enough, Age of Conan is shaping up to have a great year between this, all the new content, and the movie tie-ins.  I think Funcom needs it, and I hope that it’s successful enough to keep the funding for The Secret World rolling in.

And speaking of movie tie-ins (transition cue!), last night I finally played through the entirety of the Goonies-inspired Inn of the Forsaken in LotRO.  This latest update isn’t the game’s largest by far — and in fact, if you don’t like dungeons or skirmishes, you might not even notice anything new at all.  But I like that Turbine’s having fun with these instances and coming up with different approaches to them, which is something I always loved in DDO.

Inn of the Forsaken is less of a dungeon crawl than it is an adventure-themed fun house.  There are traps, riddle doors, secret passages, and — best of all — a waterslide that leads you down to a pirate ship in a cavern.  It’s not as impressive a final reveal as, say, World of Warcraft’s Deadmines pirate ship was, but it still made my group (who hadn’t run it yet) gasp and laugh at the fun of it all.

I’m still really hoping that Turbine gets a much better LFG/LFF tool in place this year, because it’s a shame how hard it is to still find groups in the game, especially considering how they’ve widened the range of available dungeons by scaling and made them easily accessible anywhere in the world through the UI.

FINALLY, tonight I’m hosting a fun game of freeze tag on Landroval at 9pm EST.  If you’ve never played LOTRO’s freeze tag or just want to join us, meet up with our kin in Bree-land at the ruins at 26.1S, 49.7W.  Trust me, it’s really cool!

Posted in Quote of the Day, RIFT

Quote of the Day

“Trion Worlds understands this premise. Their product is good, but it’s not enough. Just like McDonald’s, World of Warcraft is omni-present in their field. Luckily, World of Warcraft seems to not score high marks on treating customers and their subscriptions as highly valued. This gives Trion Worlds an edge. If they also make the customers feel special and give them pride for being a customer, the Rift airship is going to stay aloft a long time.”

~ Kill Ten Rats

Posted in Guild Wars, RIFT

Rift Wars

First up on this rainy Monday morning agenda is the news of free character transfers for RIFT.   I was hoping, but I didn’t really think they’d do it, mostly because we’re used to how much MMO companies try to milk as much cash from you as possible.  But, no, apparently your monthly sub is enough for Trion, which is going to let you move to “select servers” once a week for free.  I like that guilds will be able to transfer their details as well, and that there’s no initial limit on how many times a particular toon can move.

So I guess I have to just give Trion a round of applause here.  Really, they keep upping the ante with how much and how fast they’re giving to customers, and I know transfers was a big “WANT” item on many folks’ list.  I don’t think they nor their game is perfect, but they’re already light-years ahead of how Blizzard or Cryptic treats their customers.  I mean, heck, even in LOTRO I had to shell out $25 and wait over a week to get my captain moved between servers.

If nothing else, I think that Trion’s aggressive strategies are going to pay off for players of many other games too, because good competition means that hopefully all parties will get shaken out of complacency and start trying harder.

Enough of that — on to Guild Wars.  Yes, Guild Wars!

It’s been a game I’ve been meaning to return to, but I haven’t gotten worked up enough to do so until last night.  And then it was that whole ordeal of coming back to a game after a prolonged absence where you don’t remember anything you were doing, what your skills meant, your goals, etc.  On top of that, during my break ArenaNet completely reworked my class (the Dervish) and allowed us to use 7-hero parties (yay).

So a lot of adjustment, but I actually got really excited about it all last night.  Found a great guild and soaked in a lot of advice for my noobish mind.  I don’t know what it is about Guild Wars, but I perpetually feel like there’s so much I don’t know in that game compared to other MMOs.  It’s not radically different, just different enough.

Anyway, I worked up a new build and captured a new elite skill to go with it, which was fun.  After running a mission with some guildies and dying a lot, someone finally figured out why the mobs were aggroing me nonstop — my armor was pretty crappy.  In my defense, Guild Wars doesn’t really go out of its way to tell you how to upgrade armor or when you should or give you good armor drops, so I guess I’ve been stubbornly plowing my way up through the levels with incredibly sub-standard gear.

So now that I’m not dying all the time, the game’s gotten more fun and I’m looking forward to actually finishing up my first campaign in the next week or so!

Posted in General

Thoughts on graduating

Three years ago I did something I never thought I’d do again: I went back to school.  To seminary, in fact, to earn my masters and fill in all of the educational blanks in my mind that were there.

12 years ago, I graduated college with two bachelors degrees, and I remember the craziness of that day.  Like many graduations, that one was about change, transition, moving on.  I was leaving my home for the past five years and starting out in “the real world,” so to speak.  It was a nice ceremony, but like with most moments where I’m ready to move on, it felt surreal.

Today, after three years of additional schooling, I got up in front of a small crowd with 30 of my fellow classmates — spanning all manner of age, gender, race and quirkiness — and was hooded as a Masters of Arts in Christian Education.  With honors, I was surprised to find out (I don’t really pay attention to my transcript).  And again, it felt surreal.  Not because I was moving on, this time, but because I’d more or less gotten used to being a student again.

It’s weird how that all comes back, but it does.  And like I tell all of our teens going to college, it makes a world of difference when you’re studying something you actually want to learn instead of merely have to learn.  As tiring as the late hours, the homework, and the time away from my family was, I did enjoy the fellowship of my classmates, the discussions that we had, and the exploration of our faith.

I don’t necessarily feel smarter than I did three years ago, although I know I’m more equipped now than I used to be.  My thought was that if I was going to teach something as important as this, I wanted to make sure I got it right.  But I’ve been in perpetual awe of the folks I’ve met who have an encylopedic knowledge of verses and facts, of the folks who have incredibly moving personal testimonies (in particular a guy named Joe, who escaped civil war in Africa to come over here to get his degree so that he could go back and minister to the region), and of the honesty that was shared.  Ministers, like everyone else, are weird, faulty, frail, and sometimes broken people, so it’s good to hear that I’m not alone on that front.

I certainly owe a lot of thanks to the encouragement from friends and family over the past couple years.  Some of them made it up this weekend, and we’re celebrating.  I was a bit miffed that — yet again — they forbade us from tossing our caps in the air.  Is this just a TV thing?  I’ve never been at a graduation where people throw their hats in the air.  I want to.

So anyway, I graduated, and life as I know it… will remain more or less the same with fewer classes.  Huzzah!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

The Warden spring fashion catalogue

I splurged on myself today and purchased, for the first time, Turbine Points in LOTRO.  Hey, it’s both my graduation and birthday (well, close enough), so why not?  Basically, I just wanted to get my hands on a few cosmetic niceties I’ve had my eye on, and as a result I started to fashion a few new outfits for my baby Warden.

I haven’t really played my Warden much, but she’s going to be my quest completionist character, and I expect that once I finish getting my LM and Captain through Enedwaith she’ll get a lot more attention this summer.  So I’ve been sending her all sorts of goodies for the upcoming trek, and today she has three new outfits.  This one is by far and away my favorite:

Yes, I caved in and got her that pricey premium Steed of Night that’s in the store… hey, it’s on sale this weekend, and I’m splurging.  Give me a break 🙂

So the outfit!  I’m quite pleased with how this turned out.  I don’t usually use hauberks, but I wanted to give her a more military look so I tried to work around it.  It’s actually a simple outfit — the Hauberk of Glory, the Ravens mask/cloak, and brushed leather boots — all dyed red.  I don’t think enough players really play around with dyes, but they can change outfits dramatically.  I’ve almost never seen the raven’s mask dyed anything other than its standard black, and this gives it so much more personality.  She looks ready for war!

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Wasteland and Fallout 2

Anytime I think of Interplay’s Wasteland, my happy circuits always overload.  There’ve been games I’ve liked, many I’ve loved, but really few that I crushed into a fine powder and drank so that they would become a literal part of me.  Wasteland is by far and away one of the coolest games that ever came out of the 80s, and when I found it I fell hook, line and sinker for the apocalypse.

Set some time after nuclear war ravaged the planet, you’re put in charge of a group of Desert Rangers who keep the peace and have an arsenal that would make any hardcore militiaman weep in envy.  Instead of just giving you one character to create, you got four — and I’ve always liked RPGs that let me create whole parties.  Why can’t we do that more these days?

So pretty much you’re kicked out of your cozy HQ and told to go investigate some bad stuff going down in the communities around you.  This wasn’t going to be easy, because Wasteland was a pretty unforgiving game in some respects — it didn’t hold your hand, your characters were initially fragile, and you could contract all manner of diseases and injuries as you went along.  Still, the game world just gripped me, even though it looks laughably simplistic today.  It helped that Interplay went to great lengths to provide a robust amount of features that aided the player in feeling as though they were really interacting with the world: you had multiple solutions to problems (such as brute-forcing your way through vs. lockpicking a door), the world always remained the same after you did something or killed something (Wasteland was one of the first persistent video game worlds), and everything was described with incredibly memorable details.

Of course, any fan of Wasteland knew of the infamous manual, a sort of bizarre copy protection where the game would occasionally tell you to read paragraph so-and-so or otherwise you couldn’t advance.  To make matters more interesting, the manual had a lot of fake-out paragraphs so you couldn’t just read ahead and figure out the secrets.  This being before the internet, Wasteland wasn’t instantly spoiled for us by hundreds of detailed guides put out before the game left beta.

Even though it was a hit, Wasteland was the last big post-apoc RPG on the PC until almost a decade later, when Fallout hit.  Now, I never really got into Fallout, mostly because I didn’t have a computer at the time that could run it, and because when I did, I didn’t like the strict time limit that the game initially imposes on you to solve a crisis.

However, Fallout 2 was a totally different matter.  Fallout 2 was a vast improvement on the original, as long as you put aside the horrendous tutorial that had you fighting ants with a spear (!) for way too long.  The world was bigger, the options more vast, and everything I loved about Wasteland I found once more here.

I must’ve played Fallout 2 dozens of times, trying out different character builds and seeing the consequences of my actions.  Fallout 2 had a morality system of sorts (BioWare didn’t have a monopoly on that) and the ability to choose really interesting perks from time to time gave me something to shoot for.

One of the neatest things about the game was that when you beat it, there was a whole bunch of epilogue scenes showing you what happened depending on the choices you made during the game.  It gave me a big reason to go back and play through it again, just to see what might change.

Fallout 2 not only had a great combat system (turn-based, but still fun), but the creators infused the game with tons of pop culture references and easter eggs to make us laugh.  Plus, it had the best opening line of a game ever: “War.  War never changes.”

Sure, Fallout 3 was okay, but it didn’t quite do it for me the same way that 2 did (and I’d love to see Fallout 2 get ported to the iPhone, yes indeedy).