Posted in General

Ends and Beginnings (of years)

One of the reasons why I did the Flushies this week is that it let me write a slew of posts in advance so I could take some good time off to spend with my family.  It was a great Christmas, thanks for asking; We celebrated both at home and at my parents’, and our 1 and 2-year-old really got into opening gifts and handing out lots of hugs.

Because my family knows me quite well by now, I wasn’t the recipient of traditional gifts for adult men, like slacks or 401Ks.  Instead, it was a geek bonanza, with everything from Bacon Floss to Star Wars LEGOs to the Lord of the Rings extended edition on Blu Ray.  Apart from Batman: Arkham City (which my parents got for me), the only games I got was a Steam deal I purchased for myself to get four adventure titles for a little over ten bucks.  A new headset and solar keyboard are going to be the only new additions to my MMO arsenal, but to be honest, I already feel like I’m rolling in an embarrassment of riches this past year and am certainly grateful to have what I do.

Probably the best MMO gift handed out was from me to my wife — a copy of SWTOR for her to enjoy.  I’m not quite sure how into it she’ll get, since she hasn’t traditionally gotten big into MMOs, but her brother and I are playing it, and she was intrigued from a short stint playing in beta.  So we’ll see on that front.

All in all, it’s been a great year.  Not the easiest year in the world, but I have no complaints.  I’m blessed with a wonderful family, love my work, and have a terrific hobby that puts me in contact with all sorts of cool people like yourself.  Yes, you, the person reading this!  Why not drop a comment down there and introduce yourself if you’ve been lurking here?  Join the Bio Break family!

2011 was a little sad in terms of games shutting down, like SWG and LEGO Universe, but it added two powerful titles to the MMO roster — RIFT and SWTOR — and kept the ball rolling on many, many other promising projects.  I’m hoping that 2012 will be a gangbuster of a year that will bring the genre to a new, exciting level as the competition heats up and everything continues to develop.  Unlike some, I’m really not down on the industry but am and have been enjoying the ride it’s provided thus far.

I’m working on making my resolutions for next year in my private and gaming life, and thought I’d share with you a few ideas that I’m mulling over:

  • A continual strive for balance between gaming and non-gaming activities.  I want to be more okay with taking a night off here and there from gaming, and I’m contemplating a schedule that has five normal nights of whatever I want gaming, one night of no gaming whatsoever, and one night of “lesser played MMOs” gaming where I fire up one of the neglected titles on my desktop and give it some love.  I’m also open to finding and participating in a virtual D&D-ish group online for one of my nights.
  • I really want to add daily exercise to my routine, so I’m going to make and stick to a rule that I cannot game unless I get my exercise in first.  Period.
  • I want to look for more opportunities to group, to help others, and to overcome my solo-only tendencies.
  • SWTOR: I’m going to stick with my Operative until she’s 50 and has finished up her storyline and done a good chunk of the content.  Then and only then will I give myself permission for alts.
  • LOTRO: I need a new goal in this game, and I think that’s probably going to come from leveling up a new character OR by engaging one of the lesser-played (by me) aspects of the game, such as PvMP, dungeon running, or yodeling.
  • Guild Wars: My remaining goal here is to stay in touch with my guild and keep an eye out for GW2.
  • If Vanguard goes F2P, I resolve to give it a go.

It’s a good start, don’t you think?

Posted in Flushies

2011 Flushies: Readers’ Choice Awards

Another new experiment in the Flushies legacy, the Readers’ Choice Awards!  In our last round of Flushies, I asked Bio Break readers to submit their own awards — and winners — in categories that they themselves made up.  It’s far more entertaining than anything I could’ve written, so let’s see what you all created!

Hardest Working Live Team: Star Trek Online

Many MMG Live Teams content themselves with patching in a handful of quests and balance tweaks quests every few months. STO’s Live Team has added the ability to walk around your ship, make DIY missions, play minigames, assign duties to each and every member of your “lower decks” crew, and voice chat with other players.

All this while doing ground-up redesigns of ground combat, the skill system, crafting, and the quest log. (From Chris Letoile)

Most Fantastic Bug: Hangame deletes an entire MMO

This would be an award given to the game who has a glitch of fantastic proportions, such as WoW’s Corrupted Blood plague of ’05, or the Faldor Massacre of ’06. As far as winners go, I would probably give it to M2, which was accidentally obliterated about a month ago (you wrote the Massively article on the incident, I believe.) However, I’m not really happy with this choice, and feel that there might be a better fantastic MMO glitch out there.  If you know of any better ones that occurred this year, do tell. (From Kyle Connor)

Best Drunken Effects: Lord of the Rings Online

LotRO wins it hands down!  I almost throw up every festival time doing the pub crawl quests, it’s awesome!! (From James Hoysa)

Creepiest Crafting Skill: Butterfly milking in Glitch

There’s just something so unsettling about getting special lotion to message and then milk a butterfly. (From Psnacky)

Most Server Closures: Star Wars Galaxies

Too bad SGW beat out Warhammer for that distinction this year. Maybe they’ll do better in 2012. (From Attic Lion)

Best Simulation of Queues Usually Only Seen In Such Places As Disneyland: Star Wars: The Old Republic

(From Moridir)

Resurrected Gaming D-bag Who Thinks Awfully Highly Of Himself Since He Hasn’t Done Anything Relevant For A Decade: Richard Garriott, aka Richard Garriott de Cayeux, aka Lord British

Congratulations! Sir Richard can’t be here tonight as he’s busy telling the entire world how they should play their games and that his ‘ultimate RPG’ is better than anything you could have ever dreamed of, so I’ll accept for him. Thank you! (From Targeter)

Best player vs devs combat: Jita 4-4 Revolt in EVE

(From Jaggins)

Posted in Flushies

2011 Flushies: The MMO Awards

You knew it was coming — and here it is!  2011 Flushie awards doled out to MMOs themselves!

Best Launch: RIFT

Even with the huge amount of interest that Trion Worlds’ freshman title produced, the team got the headstart and launch off with nary a hitch (unless you count the quickly vanishing queues).  The game worked on Day One and most everyone who wanted to got in.  Considering the numbers of people involved, it was widely hailed as one of the best launches MMOdom has ever seen, and I agree.

Best Expansion: Rise of Isengard

To be fair, there really weren’t a lot of expansions this year in MMOs, and I predict that 2012 will be even sparser.  That said, LOTRO’s Rise of Isengard takes the award by virtue of a sizable expansion to the game’s landscape, improvements upon the game’s storytelling techniques, and a shift to one of the series’ most iconic locales, the tower of Orthanc.

Best New MMO: Star Wars: The Old Republic

It may only be out mere days at this point, but already SWTOR has proven itself as a mighty storytelling machine with polished MMO mechanics and a lovely Star Wars veneer.  I’d say that, more or less, this game has lived up to the hype that BioWare’s put out for years at this point.  Love it or hate it, we’ve just witnessed the birth of an MMO juggernaut, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since…

Biggest Personal Project: Getting 20 Hall of Monuments points in Guild Wars

I know, it’s kind of sad — only 20 points?  Why is that a big deal?  Yet it kind of was for me, since I spent the better part of a year, off and on, playing Guild Wars to build up 20 HoM points so I could save up some goodies for Guild Wars 2.  In the process I met a truly awesome guild, learned a ton about the game, and realized that as pretty as Guild Wars is, I’m definitely glad that there’s a sequel coming out so I don’t have to play it any more.

Promising Contender: WildStar

NCsoft’s Carbine Studios burst on the scene this summer with an instantly captivating title: WildStar.  With a fun trailer, gorgeous art style, and a promise to allow us to pursue a variety of different playstyle “paths,” WildStar is definitely on my radar and probably will remain so for a while to come.

Most Improved: RIFT

Even after its major launch, Trion didn’t sit back and coast for a while; instead, the studio began an intense rollout of major updates to the game on a bi-monthly basis, pumping out feature after feature, world event after world event, and responding to player concerns at such a rapid pace that it immediately put the rest of the field to shame.  While RIFT may no longer be the new kid on the block, it is the most improved game in 2011 and worthy of a looksee if you haven’t already.

Biggest Surprise: Star Wars Galaxies’ closure

As SWTOR’s release came near, I wondered more than once what it would be like to have two (radically different) Star Wars MMOs out there.  I needn’t have bothered; SOE abruptly announced that it wasn’t/couldn’t fight to extend the Star Wars license for SWG and that the game would shut down right when SWTOR started up.  It wasn’t the first MMO closure but it seems like the biggest to date — and perhaps the first to happen due to legal entanglements instead of declining subscriptions.

Best F2P Switch: Fallen Earth

There were more F2P transitions this year than you could shake a stick at, yet I was most pleased to see Fallen Earth take the leap.  Not only is this a terrific, underrated game deserving of a much wider audience, but GamersFirst created one of the most generous F2P models I’ve ever seen.  Players can experience the entire game free of charge without any content walls or pay-to-win foolishness.

Worst Idea: Final Fantasy XIV announces a subscription restart

After one of the worst major launched MMOs in history, Square-Enix were so fearful of players deserting that they fired the team and allowed everyone to stay in the game with no subscription cost for over a year while they reorganized and retooled the title.  Which is great, don’t misunderstand.  The bad idea is that starting in 2012, the company will restart subscriptions.  And no matter how good the game is now, I don’t foresee a good outcome of going from F2P to subscriptions.

Sleeper Hit: Glitch

Good things happen when you least expect them, and I don’t think anyone expected Glitch.  The browser-based 2D non-combat MMO became an overnight sensation in the community due to its whimsical humor, community building, and crafting focus.  While it went back into beta for more tweaks (which is… odd), Glitch nevertheless proved that you don’t have to be a huge AAA MMO to steal headlines.

Posted in Flushies

2011 Flushies: The MMO Community Awards

Today we’re trying something new in these here parts: Handing out Flushies to the MMO community (and, more specifically, the blogging side of it).  In the past I’ve been reluctant to do so, because for every award I dish out, there are many sites that are perfectly good, entertaining, well-written, and interesting — but don’t make the list.  In other words, I hate excluding folks.  So these awards come with the caveat that there are loads of terrific MMO blogs, many of which are listed on my blogroll to the right (and many more of which are in my daily RSS feed).  That understood?  Good.  Let’s begin.

Funniest Blog: Killed in a Smiling Accident

While not the most prolific of bloggers, every (sizable) post by Melmoth and Zosu is to be welcomed — because a laugh is assured.  The KIASA crew tackle MMO topics and games with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek manner that always impresses me with how witty and verbose it can be.  I have a hard time not making their posts the quote of the day every time they put out a new one, and I curse how clunky I feel in comparison to their style.

Saddest Departure: The Pink Pigtail Inn

Blogs come and blogs go with steadily regularity, but the established, well-liked ones are the ones that you hope last forever.  While I might not have been into World of Warcraft at the same time Larissa was, I did appreciate her excellent insights and thoughtful presentation.  When she closed the doors to the inn in July, it was definitely a loss for the MMO blogging community.

Best New Blog: Mana Obscura

This may be somewhat of a cheat, as Mana Obscura actually started in 2010, but during a two-week period in 2011 this blog shot to the top of many of our radars as MMO bloggers started linking to Gazimoff and pointing out how enjoyable his writings were.  Bonus points for a cool site design and a nifty name!

Best Podcast That I’m Not In: Mos Eisley Radio

Due to time limitations, I don’t listen to a lot of MMO podcasts, but out of my current roster of favorites, Mos Eisley Radio stands out.  It may be one of several SWTOR podcasts, but I feel it gets an extra nod because its crew takes turns talking (no one person dominating the conversation, a pet peeve of mine), they’re pretty entertaining, and the show feels tight.  They made the wait until SWTOR’s release bearable.

Best MMO Comic: The Jedi Gambit

Greg Moran did excellent work when he was doing a webcomic on Warhammer/World of Warcraft, and it’s great to see that he brought his talents to a new game: The Old Republic.  The Jedi Gambit is well-drawn and -written, and you can even download the entire first issue as a PDF file.

Best Retro MMO Blog: The Ancient Gaming Noob

TAGN’s Wilhelm is unafraid to look back when everyone else is looking forward.  From talking about Star Wars Galaxies to TorilMUD to EverQuest, he kept these classic titles in the limelight and did so with panache.  Bravo, I say.  Bravo.

Best Specific MMO Blog: A Casual Stroll to Mordor

Between podcasting, covering Lord of the Rings Online news, and writing up guides, the husband-and-wife team of Merric and Goldenstar have come to dominate the LOTRO community scene.  And I’m not just saying that because Merric suffers to do a podcast with me; CSTM is the gold standard by which game-specific blogs should aspire.  They make it hard for me to top them on a weekly basis with my Massively LOTRO column, and that’s a good thing.

Best Rivalry: Tobold vs. SynCaine

Every once in a while the pseudo-married couple of MMO bloggers get into a public spat and we all benefit from the fallout.  Tobold and SynCaine may be polar opposites — Tobold has a cool tone while SynCaine cackles like the Joker — and it shows in their opinions, attacks, and counter-attacks upon each other.  If they stopped, I’d honestly miss it.

Groovy Discussion: Game By Night

Each MMO blogger has his or her own focus, tone and style, and Game By Night’s Chris just gels with my own very well.  Any time I read a post from him, it’s usually well-thought out, levelheaded, and interesting — and more often than not, gets a discussion going on other blogs.

Best Roundup: Welcome to Spinksville

What’s this award about?  Some bloggers are very insular and only write in their own universe while others are social butterflies and keep the link love flying.  Best Roundup goes to Spinksville for doing a consistently awesome job rounding up blog community quotes, discussion and news while adding her own unique thoughts on top.

Best Bloggernalism: Kill Ten Rats

Bloggernalism is a completely made-up word that I’m using to describe a fan blog that manages to get in some legitimate investigative or interview journalism in there somehow.  Kill Ten Rats had several exclusives over the past year with ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2, and that’s to be applauded.

Sharpest Analysis: Player Versus Developer

Player Versus Developer has made a name for itself by providing spot-on analyses of MMO games, packages, options and other features.  If you want to know how free-to-play titles stack up against each other or what in-game festivals have to offer, PvD is the place to go.

Best Session Recaps: [tie] MMO Gamer Chick and

Sometimes you just want an MMO blog that simply focuses on the day-to-day play sessions of the author, and in this regard two blogs equally share top honors.  MMO Gaming Chick and have become favorites of mine due to a readable writing style, attractive use of pictures, and keen insight.

Posted in Flushies

2011 Flushies: The Geek Awards

Welcome to the 2011 Flushies!  The Flushies are Bio Break’s own award ceremony to recognize some of the highs — and lows — of the past year in MMOs and gaming culture.  They’re solely my own opinion, and many of the categories are made up on the spot and will never return again.

This year the Flushies award ceremony will take place in four parts, with today’s focus upon… let’s call it “geeky” stuff.  These aren’t necessarily related to MMOs, but have to do with my personal interests as a geek.  So what’s on the docket?

Best Book: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

Martin’s extremely long-awaited fifth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series overcame the lameness of A Feast for Crows and brought back the awesome characters and stunning twists that the series is well-known for.  While it concluded all-too-soon with some characters almost standing still, it entertained cover to cover.

Runners-up: The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss), Ready Player One (Ernest Cline), The Heroes (Joe Abercrombie)

Best iPhone Game: [tie] Tiny Towers and Tiny Heroes

This was a surprisingly competitive category this year, and in the end I had to settle on a tie between the pixelart-tastic Tiny Towers and the Dungeon Keeper-esque Tiny Heroes.  Both are addicting, highly replayable, and very much worth your time if you have an iOS device.

Best Movie: Super 8

Not exactly the best year for movies in general, I was underwhelmed by many that came out.  While I certainly haven’t seen them all, the best that stands out in my mind is J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, which is a loving sendup to E.T., The Goonies, and 80s childhood flicks in general (even though it’s set in the 70s).  Very entertaining and a must-buy for me.

Runners-up: Bridesmaids, The Muppets

Best TV Show: Game of Thrones

Another difficult category to narrow down to just one show, but to be utterly fair, Game of Thrones deserves to be crowned (ahem).  It was the talk of the blogosphere last spring as its brutal yet excellent production values stayed fairly loyal to the books and had viewers hanging on every twist, plot and bare piece of anatomy.

Runners-up: The IT Crowd, Parks and Recreation, Community, The Walking Dead

Best Toy: Star Wars LEGOs

I know they’re not new, but dang it if Star Wars LEGOs aren’t the most addictively attractive things in the world.  And expensive.  I’m always looking to collect all of the original trilogy sets, but some of them are well north of $100, and that is really hard to justify.  So for now I’m sticking with the mini-sets and occasional gifts from relatives.

Best Meme: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Why must Ponies be so awesome even though they’re targeted at little girls?  Why did such a huge community swell up around this show, including adult male “Bronies,” that love Applejack, Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity without shame?  We’ll never know, but it became one of the biggest meme hits of the year.  Mods are asleep, post ponies!

Best Webcomic: xkcd

While it might be full of stick figures, obscure mathematical and geek references, xkcd never fails to delight with humor, dazzling charts, and nerdy doodles.  I always love seeing new comics come out of this workshop, and I really need to get an xkcd t-shirt one of these days.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Super Mario Bros.

Christmas, 1985.

As a kid — as with most kids — Christmastime was a terrifically special time of the year.  I was nine years old and a slave to the Toys ‘R Us catalogue that would come in the mail that time of the year.  My brothers and I spent hours pouring over the pictures, circling our favorites, and making lists for our parents to look at and say, “You want me to spend HOW much on molded plastic figures with ‘realistic battle damage’?”  Since it was the middle of the 80s, toy consumerism was at its height, with everything from Transfomers to He-Man to Ghostbusters to Teddy Ruxpin to G.I. Joe to what have you.

But probably my strongest memory of that particular Christmas from a present that I didn’t get.  It was a day or two past Christmas and I went to my friend Andrew’s house to stay overnight.  We were high on sugar, since we got and promptly consumed those Lifesavers “books” that are popular even today, and he was eager to show me his new toy: a Nintendo Entertainment System.  Now, I’ve mentioned in the past that due to family finances and my parents’ hilarious non-understanding of how technology advances, the NES was never to visit our home since we had a “perfectly good Atari 2600.”  But that didn’t really matter, because just about everyone I knew had one and I enjoyed it throughout my childhood anyway.

However, Andrew’s NES was the very first one I ever saw, and it absolutely blew me away.  It helped that one of the two games that came packed in was the masterpiece Super Mario Bros., although of course I had no idea how big this game was or how important  it would become at the time.  All I knew was that (a) the graphics put anything on the Atari 2600 to shame, and (b) it was downright addicting.  I think I was most entranced by the concept of power-ups and how they transformed my character — from a small guy who would die in one hit to a larger version, then a larger version who could shoot fire.  Plus the invincibility stars and 1-Up mushrooms and coins were all part of the fun.

Did we get any sleep that night?  Nope.  Andrew was just as much in love with the game as I, and we kept passing the controller back and forth between lives.  I don’t think we got very far, maybe to the first Bowser castle or so, but we kept trying and totally geeked out when we found where that first hidden 1-Up mushroom was (the internet was of surprising little help back in 1985 for some reason).

It was following this overnighter that I began a lifelong habit of designing games in my head to improve off of what I had played.  I imagined a Super Mario Bros. level editor that would let you create your own worlds, perhaps with new power-ups and the like.

And while my kids will be growing up in a technological wonder age, they’ll never really have that singular experience of seeing the industry lurch forward so far, so fast as it did in 1985 with the advent of a little jumpy carpenter and a previously-unknown company that took console gaming to the next level.

Posted in Flushies

Make up an award! Be a star!

I’ve been hard at work on this year’s Flushies awards for next week, and I wanted to try something new this year.  One of the days of awards will be reader-submitted.  As in, you make up the award, and you tell me who won it.  The whole package.

So I’m asking for people to send me in their award categories AND winners to!

Here’s the thing: Don’t be normal.  Don’t be bland.  Don’t do “Best MMO.”  Do something strange, weird, offbeat, and interesting to you.

Let’s see what we can come up with this year!  Thanks in advance!

Posted in Picture of the Day, Star Wars: The Old Republic

Picture of the Day

Just wanted to show off how my Star Wars shelf is coming along… I added Darth Vader’s TIE fighter, a mini-AT-ST, my SWTOR Darth Malgus statue, and the classic trilogy posters to the mix.

My “to do” list for the shelf is to add a shelf or stair so that I can layer these, or perhaps hang some of the starships from the top — lots of empty space there.  I’d also like to procure Slave I, an X-Wing, a B-Wing, an A-Wing, and Luke’s landspeeder.  The Hoth Echo base would be cool as well, or the Imperial Bunker from ROJ.