Posted in General

“Violence is wrong,” say gamers, “unless it’s funny.”

As we’re probably all aware, video game culture — the games themselves, the players, and the media covering it — has a wee bit of an image problem.  No matter how far we’ve progressed in becoming more mainstream, trumpeting video games as art forms to Roger Ebert, and helping to cure AIDS through gamer groupthink, we’ve yet to shrug off this massive reputation of being immature jerks.

Some days, like today, I can see why we’re spinning our wheels with progress in this regard.  If you haven’t heard already, there’s this story of a middle-aged dad in the UK who was taunted by a teenage kid over Xbox Live, so he tracked the kid down and choked him.  Not to death, but bad enough that it freaked the family out and ended with an arrest.

It’s a story that’s lit up discussions all over the place, mostly due to so many people — wait for it — applauding the choker for his actions.  I’m not even remotely making this up.  Gamers far and wide are applauding this physical assaulter because he represents “sweet vengeance” or something on smacktalking video game jerks.

What gets me, when reading reactions to this story, is just how petty and vindictive these comments are.  Plenty of them start with “I don’t condone violence, BUT this kid was asking for it.”  Because violence is bad, you know, unless it’s either funny or provides some sort of vicarious release for gamers who sometimes fantasize about slapping online jerks upside the head.

I get that.  We all have those daydreams, especially when someone is just mean, rude or vile to you and you feel like you can’t do anything about it.   The thing is, having fleeting dark revenge fantasies is legal.  Physically trying to kill someone is not.  No matter how much you think this kid “deserved” the payback, words don’t justify assault.  It’s when gamers are coming to the defense of the choker that I realize the mob is no better than he.  He just did what they wanted to, and they’re cheering him on for it, all while making noises about understanding that it wasn’t really right and hiding behind the shield of “it’s FUNNY so stop taking it so seriously!”  No, it’s not funny.  It’s sad and kind of sickening.

There’s a lot of other side issues in this topic, such as the fact that this guy is clearly unstable, the kid’s parents should’ve been monitoring their son’s online behavior, and that if this teen was griefing this guy, there were plenty of ways to avoid/block/blacklist him so as to not have to deal with him from then on.  I understand the kid and the parents aren’t blameless, but none of this excuses the guy’s actions, and gamers do no credit to their community by trying to provide justification just because of their own personal frustration at griefers.

Seriously, how can we act like we’re maturing when this sort of thing goes on?  It’s good to read statements and discussions by those who weren’t rooting for the choker and realize that this gives a black eye to the games community, and that’s heartening.  I just wish I had read more of them today.

Posted in General

September Survey Results

This monthly what-MMO-are-you-playing survey isn’t anything remotely scientific or probably fair, but I’m just curious what Bio Break readers are playing and wanted to get a finger on the current gamer pulse, so to speak.  So without further ado, the top ten (which is actually more like top 15 with the ties):

  1. Lord of the Rings Online (127 votes)
  2. [tie] World of Warcraft and RIFT (68 votes apiece)
  3. Guild Wars (37 votes)
  4. [tie] EverQuest II and City of Heroes (25 votes apiece)
  5. Champions Online (23 votes)
  6. EVE Online (19 votes)
  7. [tie] Age of Conan and Star Trek Online (17 votes apiece)
  8. Fallen Earth (14 votes)
  9. [tie] Warhammer Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online (11 votes apiece)
  10. [tie] World of Tanks, Star Wars: The Old Republic beta, Aion (6 votes apiece)

By and far, LOTRO had the most votes, which you can chalk up to (a) its continued popularity, (b) this month’s expansion, and (c) a good chunk of LOTRO fans who read this blog.  Take your pick.  RIFT and WoW are battling for the #2 spot, and Guild Wars has a decent third place showing (are people trying hard for their Hall of Monuments points, like myself?).

I’m most surprised to see Warhammer Online on the list, since I’d long assumed that fell out of favor, but hey, that’s cool!  Champions is another shocker, a mere couple of votes down from City of Heroes (and way, waaaay above DCUO).  Out of this list of 15 titles, one is in beta, one is buy-and-play forever, seven are F2P or have F2P options (with two more about to make the switch — Fallen Earth and STO), and the rest subscriptions.

Other interesting results:

  • No readers play RuneScape?  At all?
  • DCUO and EverQuest tied for a measly 3 votes apiece… I don’t know if that’s sadder for EQ or DCUO.
  • 3 votes of “None”
  • 3 votes for FFXIV, so apparently some people are still playing it!
  • Cool to see write-ins for a wide variety of titles, including DAoC, Vanguard, Star Wars Galaxies, Runes of Magic, Dragon Nest, Forsaken World, Vindictus, Anarchy Online, WURM Online, Hellgate, Perpetuum, Eden Eternal, League of Legends, Puzzle Pirates, Need for Speed: World, Star Legends, Age of Empires Online, Global Agenda, Free Realms, and Pirates of the Burning Sea

It’ll be interesting to see what next month brings!

Posted in Final Fantasy

The Curious Case of Final Fantasy XIV

We haven’t spoken of Final Fantasy XIV around these here parts since late last year, when I awarded it “Dud of the Year” with a slightly guilty feeling.  Actually, I’m hard-pressed to think of any blogger who’s even mentioned playing it within the last eight months, apart from Massively’s Eliot.  Eliot brought to my attention the fact that FFXIV is just now hitting its first anniversary, which Square-Enix celebrated by saying that the game “greatly damaged” the Final Fantasy brand.  Ouch.

Ever since the game launched in complete shambles, Square-Enix has been scrambling to make it right — somehow, anyhow.  Every once in a while I hear about patches and fixes, but it’s safe to say that the FFXIV buzz in the MMO community is somewhere around flatline.  It just doesn’t exist.  But what I didn’t realize is that for this past year, the game’s been entirely free, since SE is not confident enough in its product yet to flick on the subscription switch.  I knew it was free for a couple months following the launch, but still?  A year later?  How much money is FFXIV losing the company on a monthly basis?  And what will the company do from here?

The first option is to get the game to a much, much better point than it was at release, throw a relaunch party of sorts, and pray that players stick around — and that others come check it out.  The second option, of course, is to go free-to-play and introduce some sort of microtransaction business model to help fund the project.  Pulling the plug entirely would be a PR disaster for Square-Enix, especially since it’s a major part of the Final Fantasy series — Roman numerals and all.

I’ve often been baffled by Square’s business practices, especially in the MMO field, because I get the feeling that the devs and corporate suits are too far removed from the rest of the industry at this point and unwilling to change that.  Maybe things are finally getting better.  But something’s going to need to be done with FFXIV sooner or later before it becomes a money pit from which there is no escape.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Running with the deer

After a lengthy ordeal involving me, the LOTRO patcher, and a police stand-off, I finally got Rise of Isengard loaded onto my computer and logged in to experience the wonder and majesty of… crap, did it just crash?  It did, didn’t it.

It wasn’t the smoothest launch day, to say the least.

But when the dust settled and I got in, there was enormous fun to be had.  Our kinship was overflowing, the GLFF channel was scrolling by so fast, and I barely knew where first to go.  Since LI points had been reset, I spent some time working on those and figuring out where all my skill buttons went (since several skills got consolidated).  Once everything got sussed out, I headed down into Dunland after a completely unnecessary Book 4 intro detour into a part of Enedwaith that is tedious to travel to and didn’t really need to be visited other than to high-five a quest giver and leave.

Rise of Isengard offers you the choice of one of two starter clans to help out, so I went with the Clan of the Stag and spent the evening wrapped up in their plight.  I don’t know if Enedwaith was just so substandard or if I’m way into the expansion vibe, but I got completely sucked into the story being told there.  It wasn’t just Generic Quest Hub #164, but a village with a real tale to be told… and even though I was incredibly tired, I stayed up as late as possible to help them out.

I’m pretty psyched to get back home today and play.  I can already tell that LOTRO is going to dominate my gaming time for a while to come, and that’s just fine — Guild Wars and Fallen Earth will be there when I get back.  I’m surprised just how fast the XP was coming; after just a couple hours of play, I’d already gained a half level and seen plenty of folks hit 66 and 67.  One kinnie actually saved up a full quest log of turnins to get a jump on the “race.”

Good stuff.  Loving the new armor and the additional stories — hope this feeling continues throughout the expansion!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Glory of glories, it’s expansion day!

As I write this, the heavens are pouring down rain and the lighting scheme in my office is something akin to “serial killer cavern.”  It’s a dark and gloomy day, is what I’m trying to say.  But oddly enough, it’s a good day, a GREAT day.  Why?  Because when I go home tonight, I have a brand-new Lord of the Rings Online expansion to explore: Rise of Isengard.

I’ve actually refrained from touching LOTRO for a good week or so now.   I tend to do that right before game expansions, because I like to build up the anticipation some more as well as have a break so that my batteries are fully charged.  I did log in last night to make a new outfit for my Lore-master and buy him some consumables, but that was it.  I’m ready.

My excitement isn’t exactly bubbling over, it’s just at an elevated rate.  I really do wish there was something I was so eager to see or do or experience that I’ll be rushing at like a newly opened theme park ride.  Instead, this all feels like a solid addition that will be filling in the long run.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s excursion, because expansions always bring out friends and kinnies in droves.  General chat channel talk spikes up as well, as everyone wants to share their experiences with others.

My plan is to approach this expansion with a laid-back, steady sense of exploration.  It’s cool that there are two “starter” towns for Dunland to both give players choice and spread out the populace somewhat.  This may be defeated by the fact that the westernly one is a bit more off the beaten track than the eastern one.

After a long, long wait, players can progress their characters upward and onward: ten new levels, 2 more ranks per virtue, new skills, better armor, etc.  I’m not thrilled about having to level up 12 virtue ranks, but I won’t be in much of a rush to do it anyway.  Instead, I’m more interested in seeing how my character functions with the class tweaks, and to be hunting down all of the new armor designs for my outfits.  I’m going to have to keep an eye out for the next tier of legendary items, too.  And crafting!  Oh, the crafting!

In short, not going to be bored any time soon.

So happy expansion day to my fellow LOTRO players!  Enjoy and see you in game!

Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

On the fifth day before Christmas, BioWare gave to me…

…a Wookiee in a pear tree!

So on a Saturday, of all days, BioWare finally announced the two big details everyone was waiting to hear: When and How Much?  The When is December 20th (or 22nd in EU), and the How Much is $15/month with discounts for multi-month orders.

Obviously, big, big news, although it’s certainly not going to satiate any SWTOR fan’s desire for more info (for instance, when does the early access start)?  Anyway, let’s break it down:

Launch Date

BioWare’s obviously concerned about pulling a World of Warcraft with its launch — i.e. having too many people try to jam through the door at the same time, servers crashing, people unable to log in.  A bad launch day is something players tend to remember and hold over a company’s head forever, so it’s pretty imperative that this not happen.

So we’re seeing a multi-stage rollout: first the early access folks with the pre-orders, then NA, then EU.  Within that, BioWare’s stated that it has no compunctions against throttling access during this period to ensure that those who do get in aren’t subject to a horrendous experience.

December 20th is an interesting pick for a launch date, I’ll admit.  I honestly thought it’d be a little before this, perhaps December 10th or so, but the 20th accomplishes a few important deeds.  First, it hits the targeted “Holiday 2011” mark.  Second, it gets the game out the doors before Christmas, although just barely (and I feel bad for the BioWare staff that will undoubtedly have to work through the holiday season to troubleshoot and monitor everything).  Third, it makes this the “must play” game of the season, particularly in the weeks afterward where there’s traditionally little else to compete for attention.  Finally, it gives BioWare as long as possible to polish up the game without crossing the Christmas barrier.

For many people, it’s better to have a date than to be left wondering, but now players have to cope with the reality that we have a three-month (minus a couple days) wait in front of us instead of the hope that, hey, it could come out on Halloween or something.  It’s a good chunk of the year to wait, but speaking as a player who deeply values a finished product over something rushed out the door early, I’m all for giving BioWare this time.  I just hope that they get more of the beta test weekends going and soon, so that the feedback can be incorporated into the launch product.


I really thought we’d be seeing a little something different with the subscription cost — perhaps a higher per-month charge, or a strong emphasis on an in-game store, or whatever.  But no, it’s pretty standard: $15/month, $42/3 months, $78/6 months.  As always when studios offer this variety, it’s up to players to weigh the potential benefit of a few dollars saved versus locking into a longer time frame.

I am happy it’s not more than $15 a month, and I think it’s smart, because it puts SWTOR on war footing with WoW.  One thing to note is that we didn’t see anything in regards to either special pre-order pricing (I like what LOTRO and RIFT did with that) or lifetime subscriptions.  I wasn’t really expecting it, but still, it would have been nice to have more options.

Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic


If you were to ask me — and I’m not suggesting for a minute that you would do so, since you’re a busy man/woman/intergalactic parasite — what my most anticipated aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic are, I’d most definitely put “companions” in the top five.  Easily.  I know some people are not on board with the concept, but I’m willing to be 100% self-centered in this regard and go, “WOO! It makes me happy, baby!”

After all, I’ve always loved pet classes, crave non-combat pets, and vastly enjoyed the array of BioWare companions that the company’s created for their various single-player RPGs.  They do live up to the word “companion,” because they’ve provided an artificial but still meaningful feeling of companionship during my journeys.  I’m much more likely to remember companions and their related stories from those games than the other aspects of the games’ stories, which is a testimony to the storytelling power that these characters can bring.

I think that the boon of companions is something that can’t really be felt out in the many quick impressions that people are getting from conventions and beta testing weekends, and thus might be vastly undervalued until people start playing for keeps.  I know there’s worries that “hey that guy has my companions and thus I lose that unique spark” and all that, and while it’s understandable, I don’t think it’ll be as big of a deal in the long run.  I like that BioWare’s not only including appearance kits so you can make your companions look different, but that the team’s removing the names of companions over their heads when you look at other players and their little friends.  It’s a small touch, but it’ll help to shore up the illusion that we’re all special snowflakes.

Gamespot posted a new 7-minute dev diary about the companion system, and it just flew by when I watched it, it was so good.  You can tell that the devs know not everyone’s sold on companions, but that they’re confident enough in their place in the game that they’re going to put them out there and trust that they will catch on — and even be a watercooler topic for some.

I agree that Blizz looks like one of the coolest characters ever — a Jawa with a rocket launcher(!).  If you’re not allergic to spoilers, several sites already have the full list of all 40 companions (5 per class, plus a ship droid per faction) for quick perusal.  Five seems like a good number, particularly when you consider that you can only take one with you on any given excursion.  It’s enough that you could switch up a new companion every night for most of the week and get a different experience each time.

BioWare promises that companions are more than mere pets, and I can see what the team is trying to do here.  In addition to providing storytelling moments and feedback on your character’s decisions, they can participate in crafting (and crafting quests), get into romances with you (I’m betting each class has just one romance option per gender, so two out of the five), unlock special companion quests, and — perhaps most importantly — shore up your character’s weaknesses with their strengths.  An example shown in the video was of a ranged Force user who teamed up with a melee tank companion to keep the bad guys off of his back while he worked his mojo.

The “gift” system from Dragon Age, etc., is back, and it’s both appreciated and unfortunate.  Gifts are basically a way to buy influence points with your companions if you treat them like crap or do actions that they disapprove of.  On one hand, it lessens the consequences of your choices if you don’t have to live with the fallout of what you’ve done.  On the other hand, this frees players up to actually choose what they want instead of what they think they HAVE to do to appease their companions.  I guess that having to shell out money for the gifts is a form of consequence, when you think about it.

Companions might be such a huge draw after the launch of the game that new ones will be in high demand — and could up the replay value of classes.  Heck, I can see even going through the same class twice, choosing wildly different choices and engaging with my companions in different ways, just to see what happens.  We typically do that for most BioWare titles anyway.

In any case, I know I’m going to have to eventually experience all eight classes, if nothing else than to see all of the companions and get to know them.  Looking at the scope of that, SWTOR could be the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Posted in Guild Wars

Waiting for launch? Give us something to do!

Yesterday I finished up the Guild Wars Factions campaign, marking the length of this journey so far around a year or so.  It’s a nice feeling of accomplishment, coupled with the realization that I’m finally making real progress on my Hall of Monuments (and can, y’know, actually see said Hall pretty soon).  I’m trying to suss out how I can get two more titles without a huge amount of time and effort, but I don’t see any shortcuts presenting themselves.  It’s either grind or time at this point.

That’s probably fine, since it’s not like Guild Wars 2 is beating down our door here.   One step at a time and you can walk around the world, although the wet stuff is probably going to impede your progress.

Looking over Hall of Monuments details last night got me thinking about just how much I appreciate having something — anything — to do in preparation for an as-of-yet unreleased title.  Lately it seems as though studios are giving players more to do to fill in the gap of the long wait and take the edge off the impatience:

  • Guild Wars:  Hall of Monuments
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Guild registration and structuring
  • Dragon Age: The Journeys flash game
  • The Secret World: ARG and faction test

Heck, even giving us special promotions to hunt down in the real world (like Del Taco’s STO shuttle offer) is usually preferable to sitting on one’s butt.  It’s a satisfying feeling to not only be given a task to do, but to know that that task will ensure you a nice little bonus, toy or trinket in the game when it launches.  It’s why the appeal of pre-orders (with their assured bonuses) is so strong.

I know dev teams are pretty much absorbed 100% with testing, polishing, and creating new systems for the game in the months leading up to launch, but if the studio can swing it, special promotions, games and tasks can not only appease anxious players but grab some extra publicity in doing so.  After all, there’s never going to be a time post-launch where the studio has the playerbase’s attention so fully as it does prior, so why not take advantage of that?