Interviews over at Massively

I’m always proud and excited over doing interviews, even if they aren’t always the pageviews blockbusters that I’d hope they’d be.  Anyway, I’ve done two recently that I wanted to share with you:

RIFT: Life in the fast lane

After two crazy weeks of work, I finally had a respite this past weekend — and some much-needed time to myself.  When it came to gaming, I decided to have fun and throw all my chips into one basket to see what I could do.

In this case, it was a weekend of playing nothing but RIFT.  As I’ve said in the past, I feel the pressure of the expansion growing, even though we don’t know when it’s coming.  What I do know for sure is that it’s (a) in the fall and (b) Guild Wars 2 is launching at the end of August.  That means that I need to get serious about getting this character ready for expansion content in the span of a month before a fourth title comes along to compete for my time.

If I’m making this sound dire and work-like, it’s not; I like a challenge, and it’s enjoyable to push my character out of a lackadaisical leveling pattern to something with a strong purpose.  My current goals are:

  • Hit 50
  • Finish up the last five zones of quest content (Droughtlands, Shimmersands, Stillmoor, Iron Pines Peaks, and Ember Isle)
  • Get cranking on Planar Attunement
  • Gear up in a few dungeon runs — nothing serious, but enough to tackle Ember Isle
  • Do the saga quests (like the Water Saga)

It’s a hefty to-do list, that’s for sure.  So with my weekend, I wanted to cross off one, if not two items from that list.  I decided that on Saturday, I would do ALL of Droughtlands in one go.

Considering that there’s over a 100 quests in this one zone, it was kind of crazy.  My big advantage was that I was about four or five levels above the content, so I could breeze through mobs rather easily.  I started the day by gobbling up all of the quests I could find, then began running them like a madman.  It was crazy.  It was fun.  It felt like a shopping spree where you’re trying to grab all you can before a time limit ran out.

I didn’t quite accomplish an entire zone in a day — but I made serious progress and finished the rest on Sunday.  A casual playstyle means that I rarely finish a whole zone — particularly in the elder game — this quickly, so it felt like a neat accomplishment.  Big thanks goes out to two guildies who lent a hand for a few group quests that I couldn’t solo.

So Droughtlands is officially behind me.

During this experience, two significant experiences happened.  The first is that I began to strongly fine-tune my Cleric’s Druid build so that it would be a lot more durable.  That meant ditching my Sentinel soul, scaling back on my Shaman talents, and weaving in a very strong dose of Justicar.  It’s created a really fun hybrid that is flexible on the spot.  With a few button clicks, I can go from a tank with a pet healer to a DPS machine with a damage pet.  The melee aspect of it is quite enjoyable as well, although I do still love my Inquisitor from time to time.

The other experience is that I jumped into high-level Instant Adventures for the first time and saw my XP bar practically shoot through the roof.  Questing is steady, slow progress on the XP front; IAs seem almost criminally overcharged when it comes to the XP that’s raked in.  Between a handful of IA sessions and finishing Droughtlands, I went from level 42 to 48 in a weekend.  For me, that’s huge.  With level 50 in sight, I’m going to be pushing even harder this week to hit that mark.

Plus, IAs are just a lot of fun as a whole.  I like quests for what they are, but IAs are instant grouping with rapidly changing goals and activities that just chain together.  It almost feels like a cheat mode for the game.  Plus, I’m getting just huge chunks of planarite and other special currency to spend on much-needed gear.

So even while one juggles MMOs, it’s still cool to put all but one aside for a big marathon session from time to time.  I love the feeling of accomplishment that came out of this weekend, and I feel like I’m actually getting there with my character’s progress.

Thanksgiving in July!

You know how they have Christmas in July for some insane reason?  Like brain worms or a global conspiracy or something?  I’ve decided that today’s going to be my personal Thanksgiving in July.  I just feel kind of thankful today for a lot of reasons regarding gaming and blogging, and wanted to make sure I gave some sort of public acknowledgement to those who make my life brighter.

First of all, thanks to my coworkers at Massively — great folks, all, and a reason that I feel like I’m part of a team and not just flying solo there.  We may not all see eye-to-eye on every topic and game, but their passion for MMOs keeps mine roaring.  Special thanks to my editor-in-chief Shawn, who constantly gives me creative reign in columns and has to deal with us writing monkeys.

Thanks to my co-hosts on Massively Speaking and TL;DL, Bree and Dodge.  I look forward to recording both of these podcasts every week because I get to chat with each of them for an hour or so, and they’re always a lot of fun to bounce off of.

Thanks to those who’ve inspired me to go on a diet this past month, namely Professor Beej, Moxie, and Dodge (among others).  I’m 10 pounds down and feeling that there’s hope for the first time that this might actually work.

Thanks to Bio Break’s commenters, who often come up with excellent counter-points, ideas, and conversations.  This blog would feel dead without them.

Thanks to the many excellent MMO bloggers out there who keep my feeds full and lively every day.  I always regret that I don’t call out individual blogs often enough for entertaining and enlightening me, and I’ll try to do better about that in the future.

Thanks to MMO Melting Pot — a great topic aggregator that’s featured Bio Break more times than I can count.

Thanks to my guilds, especially those who put up with my constant questions and are there to lend a hand when needed.

And thanks to the MMO devs and CMs who obviously work on these games because of a shared love of the genre and not because they thrive on non-stop criticism and fanboy rage.  Special thanks to Trion Worlds for being one of the hardest-working studios I’ve ever seen; ArenaNet for taking the path less traveled; Turbine for putting up with my interview questions; Cryptic for forging ahead through the backlash; and for devs who’ve lost their positions or jobs but keep sticking it out because this is what they love to do.

The Secret World: Beefing up

Continuing from my rant yesterday on frustration with TSW’s slow combat, I decided to buckle down and figure out a better way to go about my business.  Since The Secret World is, at least to me, an adventure game first and foremost, the combat takes a distant second in my interest.  It’s there as a way to slow my progress through the story in addition to puzzles, so it’s important to me that fighting not be aggravating.  One-minute-per-kill is aggravating.

So I took some of your suggestions — Lick Your Wounds is an excellent skill, thank you — and dove into the forums looking for a good all-around build.  What I’m looking at now is a blade/chaos build that focuses on penetration, DPS, and lots of health regen.  Perfect for my purposes.

Of course, just blithely switching over is more easily said than done.  I needed to invest skill points (of which I had just one) to allow me to use these two new weapon types, and I needed to grab several skills with AP to construct my new hotbar.  So I decided to do this in phases.  I’d ditch my elementalism first, keeping my shotgun for the time being (the turret is nice, and the shotgun is QL6 blue).  I turned to a quick bout of PvP for some additional SP and AP, and after a half hour, I got 3 SP and 10 AP — enough to get started.  Finally, just when I was despairing about getting a blade that would work, I got not one but two during a couple side quests I wrapped up.

All in all, I bumped my Blade skill from 0 to 4 in the course of an evening, equipped a QL5 green blade, and then grabbed ten new skills.  Before I knew it, I was in a completely different world of fighting — just with these skills, I was whittling beasts down a lot faster, and the health regen made me happy.  Part of me always feels bad for using swords in a contemporary or scifi setting (pistols are so much cooler), but I know that it’s always an option for the future to switch, so I’m not freaking out about it.

Anyway, for right now I’m happy.  I think the fact that you can use ANY passive skill, no matter if it’s for a weapon you have equipped right now or not, is one of those eye-opening moments in your journey.

Hm… now I really want blades/pistols… darn my indecision!


It seems like every studio developing a new MMO gets a bee in their bonnet about a particular game design mechanic or topic.  Sometimes it’s more than one, but you’ll end up hearing lots of talk on this one subject that will hardly — if at all — be mentioned in any of the other MMOs out there, in development or released.

One of these topics for Warhammer Online was the concept of “time-to-kill” — in other words, how long it took the average player to kill an average mob.  Seriously, TTK (as Mythic called it) was like a major subject worthy of numerous posts and quotes, but it’s something I’ve also heard zilch about in other titles.  Do studios consider how long it takes a player to dispatch an enemy?  Probably, but I’m guessing it’s not the centerpiece of design, either.

In any case, the reason I bring this up is that time-to-kill has stuck in my head over the years.  I actually do notice that in Game A it takes a lot longer than Game B to kill a critter (all things being equal — levels, gear, etc.).  Right now, time-to-kill for me in The Secret World is absurdly high.  Fighting white or yellow single-dot mobs with my QL6 shotgun and elementalist magic, I can expect to spend a minute trying to burn that puppy down.  If there’s more than one mob (unless it’s a swarm), I have to flee.  Maybe I’ve really gimped myself and my build, but I don’t think so.  Or it could just be that this combination isn’t great for single-target stuff.  Or I’m just at a tough point in the game and my power level will start to grow from here.  I have no idea, but every quest is a slow slog through mobs that I’d much rather be killing in 15-20 seconds than in 60.

LOTRO’s pretty bad with TTK as well.  At higher levels, those mobs don’t fall down that quickly, and even though my Captain is highly specced for damage, with an archer out and sometimes even my landscape soldier, I never feel like I’m killing as fast as I’d like to be.  This is especially noticeable when trying to complete slayer deeds.

On the flip side, I adore RIFT’s time-to-kill.  Battles feel quick and breezy, and I’m rarely stuck with a stubborn enemy that refuses to budge a single inch on its health bar.  This has a trickle-down effect on quests: I can just throw myself into the fray and not worry as much that getting through an enemy camp is going to take the better part of a half-hour.  Guild Wars 2, as well, seems like it has a good TTK rate, although I just saw content through level 15, so who knows.

SWTOR is a good example of how TTK can work both for and against a game.  There are pretty much three standard mobs in the game: packs of 2-4, solo tougher guys, and solo elite guys.  The packs are always lightning-fast battles and lots of fun.  The semi-tough guys are acceptable and usually what I consider a standard MMO fight.  But dang it if I didn’t try to avoid them or especially the elites, not because I couldn’t kill them, but because the trade-off in time was usually unacceptable.

So if there’s any great conclusion to all this — and there isn’t, trust me — it’s that I prefer faster fights that might come more often to compensate.  And I really wish I could figure out a better way to take down these @%#^ bug mobs in TSW’s Blue Mountain.

Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 33 is up!

Dodge and Syp take on the Big Four fantasy races in one of the most abstract, silly, and passionate shows you’ll ever hear.  Come one, come all to soak in their wisdom on humans, dwarves, gnomes, and — yes — elves.  Justin constructs brand-new swear words to deal with the last one.

Two topics in 30 minutes or your next podcast is free. You know you would listen to all this if it just wasn’t so… long!

Listen to episode 33 here!