This is my two-year-old daughter Ellivena (or Elli for short).

Like most dads, I love my daughter (and son) immensely. When we found out we were having a girl, I worried a lot that she wouldn’t like me.  Now we’ve become an inseparable pair.  She’s incredibly stubborn but very loving, always coming over for hugs or telling me small bits of wonderous things with her eyes wide open like she can’t even believe it.

Like most dads, I’ve often had a hard time not boasting about her to everyone I meet.  Maybe this annoys some (and I’m not sorry!), but in one special case, it turned into a terrific surprise.

So this is what I’ve been sitting on for over two years now: My daughter is going to be an NPC in Guild Wars 2.

Let me back up.  So it’s PAX 2010, and I’ve been dragged along to the ArenaNet party.  It was a big year for Guild Wars 2’s promotion, and this party was a huge celebration of the convention as well as the fans.  There were tons of devs there who mingled with everyone, and Mike O’Brien gave a great speech thanking everyone for their work and/or support.

I don’t know what came over me, but I went up to O’Brien after that and told him that I just had this great little baby daughter.  I said, “I think she has a great name — it’s combined from both of her grandmothers — and I think it would be perfect for a character in your game.”  I then handed him a piece of paper with her name written on it, shook his hand, and walked away.

Didn’t think anything of it, really.

The next day as I boarded the plane back home, I got an email from one of the writers that O’Brien had passed along this strange request and that the writer would be in touch for where Elli would appear in the game.  Understandably, I was flabbergasted — sometimes it pays to be bold, I guess.  But I really, really didn’t think any studio would care enough to listen to the ramblings of a baby-enthusiastic dad to put his daughter into a game.

I sent a couple pictures of Elli back to ArenaNet and more or less forgot about it for a while after, mostly because I still didn’t believe it was going to happen.  Fast-forward to a month ago, and I got another confirmation that Elli was going to be in the final game as a Sylvari (oh the irony, right?) (not that I’m complaining).  The one catch is that she’s not in the open world, but in one of the Sylvari storylines in the level 10 through 20 experience in what the writer called the “life” branch.  That’s all I have to go on.

Naturally, I’ve been trying to find her in the beta weekends and stress tests ever since, to no avail.  The problem is that I haven’t found any place online that’s mapped out all of the storyline decision points or listed all of the NPCs, so I don’t know exactly where to look.  I was really hoping to have a screenshot to share with y’all by launch, but instead I’ll ask for you guys to keep an eye out and holler if you do find her.

Obviously, this makes the launch of Guild Wars 2 a little extra special for me.  I am grateful to Mike and the ArenaNet crew for this, especially when he had no idea who I was.  It’s just the sort of thing that you hear ANet doing a lot, such as renaming one of its servers to honor a community member who passed.

Have fun in Guild Wars 2 tomorrow, and if any of you find Ellivena, make sure to let me know where and how!  And if you could get a screenshot, that’d be spiffy.

Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 36 is up!

Justin and Dodge are on similar diets and can’t seem to talk about anything else.  But they’ll try, oh they’ll try!  Today we’re going to address two great topics from listeners, namely the “bigness” of MMO worlds and the sustainability of F2P.  But chances are that you’ll never get through the first ten minutes anyway.  Trust us.

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 36 here.

College nostalgia

Iron Man director Jon Favreau in 1994’s PCU (one of my favorite movies)

One of those thoughts that rocks me back on my heels is that one day I’m going to have to explain to my kids that I didn’t always have the internet.  That somehow society managed to function before that.

It’s the way of technology, exponentially increasing while leaving the recent past as ancient as mummies in the desert.  I’ve always wondered how different my college years would’ve been if there had been the high tech there is today.  I don’t consider 1994 to be super-old, but depending on your age and perspective, perhaps it is.  In any case, when I first went there, my college had only gotten phone lines in dorm rooms five years prior.  There was no internet to speak of, at least on our campus.  Heck, we thought we were cutting-edge because every freshman in ’94 got a bulky laptop that ran Windows 3.1.  Our music was from radios, cassette decks, and giant multi-disc CD changers.  Past that, most of our daily life was free of high technology.

For me, I consider it a blessing.  It forced me to hang out with others, go on adventures, and generally not be concerned with emails and Twitter and all of the daily high-tech minutiae that dominates today.  I was extremely introverted in high school, and college helped me develop a more balanced lifestyle that carries on to today.  Plus, I can’t imagine if I had to deal with MMOs on top of college courses — I think I may have failed out.

It’s interesting to look back to that era, because it’s when the internet and the WWW made inroads in our campus.  Because our basic laptops had no great modem to speak of, all of our internet work was done from our computer center (which still brought us together, in physical proximity, at least).  It’s there that I started writing my first web sites, where I discovered online chatting, where my roommate and I waited for a half-hour for the Phantom Menace trailer to download, where I got sucked into emails and online forums, and so on.  Yet online gaming never registered for me during that time, and even going into 1999, most of what I played was my PlayStation console.

I think my college self would be astounded if the me of today showed up and talked about all of the advantages we have — wifi, ebooks, MMOs, online shopping, instant news, smartphones, lime Coke.  But I think I would be a little jealous looking back as well.  Kind of makes me want to dig out my old Magic cards and read a physical book, it does.

Guild Wars 2: Hearts of Darkness

I broke my own rule yesterday: I started thinking about Guild Wars 2.  Fantasizing about it.  Desiring it.  Itching for it.  And quickly, over the space of an hour, I descended into a madness that is unspeakable.  Let’s just say that I was found by friends while gnawing on a head of cabbage pretending that I was in a PvP fight with a Sylvari.

Seriously, how did you hardcore GW fans last five years?  Is this why the community is so nuts?

It got bad, my friends.  It got bad.  I can only console myself that it would’ve been a lot worse if I didn’t have so many other excellent titles to keep myself occupied as of late.  But it’s hard to deny the Jupiter-like gravitational pull of Guild Wars 2, especially after having dabbled in the beta.  I can’t wait to start, to roll my main, to get back with my guild, to savor the headstart/launch festivities and chat and inevitable comparison-to-WoW debates, to take my time and explore, and to spend some time introducing the game to my wife.

To stave off the madness — back! back foul beast of the active imagination! — I decided to channel this excited energy into practical preparations.  I logged onto my guild’s forums and read up on all of our sinister plans.  I downloaded the client on my laptop.  I dug out my unfinished Edge of Destiny novel and vowed to give it another shot.  I combed through websites looking for practical guides.  I spent 45 minutes reading up on crafting, of all things.  I listened to that new GW2 single and cursed the slowness of DirectSong in getting the soundtrack to me.  I logged into the last half-hour of the stress test and said good-bye to my ugly Sylvari mushroom head, which I left underwater, next to a sunken ship and surrounded by undead pirates.

It was a productive day.

It certainly felt weird to log on during the stress test because it felt like everything was in limbo.  Nothing mattered in terms of what you did with a character, although I was pleased to see that my digital deluxe goodies arrived in my character’s mail, the Hall of Monuments achievements accurately reflected my work in GW1, and the GW2 hat is free in the in-game store.  I was even more pleased that the launcher finally let me accomplish something that months of wrangling with NCsoft could not — it gave me the option to change my log-in email address.

So I just spent a half-hour puttering around, taking in the scenery, investigating the UI, talking with a couple guildies on, and generally feeling that calm sense of pre-launch excitement.  Guild Wars 2 may not be all things to all people, but I know it’s going to be great for me.  Is it only Wednesday?  Sigh.  Three more days.

Here’s a few helpful links for those wanting to prep up for the big day:

Weekend at Bernie’s

So I’ve been chugging along in RIFT like crazy these days, trying to make the most out of my final pre-Guild Wars 2 time while decking out my character for Storm Legion.  I’ve geared up pretty well so far, enough that I can hold my own on Ember Isle, which was my goal.  Ember Isle is a level 52ish zone, and since the level cap is at 50, it means that it is not a cakewalk.  Very pretty and cool, but not a cakewalk.

I still was dying more than I wanted, so after a couple of aborted adventures, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a better build for my solo journey.  What I centered it around was the Druid’s level 26 greater fairy pet, which is a strong healer and light DPSer.  I noted that when I had that pet out, my Druid was all but invincible — but I wasn’t taking down mobs fast at all.

So what I did was create a build that put 26 into Druid and the rest into Shaman for the harder hitting melee, and that’s worked out tremendously well for me.  I have three shields, a self-heal, and whatever heals the fairy throws out, plus a lot of natural mana regen and strong DPS.  It might not top the Inquisitor as my favorite class, but it’s working very well for me so far.

Last night I was puttering around some ruins when I saw a glowing sparkly thing, and you know that you ALWAYS have to click on glowy sparkly things.  It turned out to be the entrance for Ember Isle’s puzzle, and so I had fun figuring that one out.  It was easier than some others I’ve done, and at the end I not only got a great lesser planar essence, but a new vanity pet!  Named Bernie!

Bernie instantly became my most favorite companion in the game:

The picture doesn’t do him justice.  He’s like a short, squat blob that looks vaguely like the Chinese guy from Gremlins, and he smokes a pipe.  Because he smokes, he huffs and puffs when he runs, and occasionally grunts.  I stinking love him so very much.

Here’s a better picture:

Five Good Things

Every once in a while I feel the need… the need for speed!  And to blather on about something that’s either caught my eye or entertained me outside of MMOs and movies.  So for that, I’m booting up a semi-recurring feature called Five Good Things.  There are these things, see?  Five of them.  And they are, indeed, good.

1.  Music: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game soundtrack

Seeing as how Scott Pilgrim is a console title, I haven’t played it, but I am fond of the movie and comic book.  This soundtrack came recommended from a few different sources, but I’ve delayed picking it up until recently.  Wish I got it sooner, because it’s right up my alley — pure retro 8/16-bit music with a modern kick.  This makes absolutely great travel music or something to listen to during a marathon of anything.

I guess it’s by the group Anamanaguchi, but I’ve never heard of them before.  I’ll definitely be checking out their stuff now.  Give it a listen!  I’m serious, this is incredible stuff.

2. Website: The Nicest Place on the Internet

ArenaNet’s Rubi Bayer passed this along, and while it’s not new, it did make me smile a lot.  Basically, it’s just people recording themselves giving you (the camera) a hug with sincere emotion.  Or I think it’s sincere.

3. TV Show: Black Books

A while back I put out a call on Twitter for offbeat sitcoms, and this was one of the ones tossed back.  It’s a BBC programme (I spelt it all Englishy like!) from the early 2000s, just 18 episodes total, about a surly book shop owner, his recent hire, and best friend next door.  There’s a lot of hilarious beats, facial gestures, and wonderfully quotable lines.  Great stuff.

4. Book: The Wind Through the Keyhole

I finally, finally got around to reading Stephen King’s latest entry in my beloved Dark Tower series.  It’s a shorter novel that he’s sandwiching between the fourth and fifth books in the series, and while it’s not necessary to read for the larger story, it’s great to get another glimpse into this world.

Basically, Wind Through the Keyhole is a story nestled inside a story nestled inside a story.  It takes place when the ka-tet is holed up during a storm, and Roland tells them a tale that centers around a fairy tale he once heard.  In a way, his story is a sequel to the events of Roland’s story in Wizard and Glass, and it helps show a little more of his transition from youth to gunslinger.

5. Hygiene: Bubble baths

Have you taken one recently?  You totally should.  It’s not just for little kids!

The lull before the storm

+1 for unintentional RIFT pun in header

As my church job functions on the school cycle, with summer breaking up the year, right now I’m in the same throes of end-of-season pensiveness that strikes a lot of the youth.  The quiet of late August is about to erupt into an absolute frenzy, and all I can do is prepare and hold on to my pants.

I’m not just talking about the start of a new school year or my child arriving next month, although those are both a consideration.  I’m also talking about how crazy it’s about to get in the MMO space.  Within a week of each other, both Guild Wars 2 and LOTRO’s Riders of Rohan will launch, followed by RIFT’s expansion at some undefinable point later on.  I know well enough about myself that I’m going to want to spend a lot of initial time in GW2 when it arrives — gorging, if you will, on the newness and excitement.  But I’m also going to need to keep on trucking in RIFT before the x-pack arrives, and I certainly don’t want to neglect getting my new horsie in LOTRO.  And before I forget, TSW’s second update — now with rocket launchers — hits on the 28th as well.  Oh, and SWTOR and City of Steam and Pirate101 and a dozen other side attractions are also vying for my attention.

So it’s very weird to be in this lull right now.  I seriously considered going to GenCon this weekend, but I think I need the quiet and peace more than the hectic crowds that that would’ve offered.  The lull offers a chance to plan and prepare, to map out schedules and make sure that all of the other details in my life are tidied up.

It’s also fun to feel the butterflies of anticipation and excitement flutter in my tummy.  There always seems to be something on the MMO horizon to look forward to, which is one of the reasons that I love this genre.  It’s just that it is so rare to get so much in so little time, and to see it approaching like a tidal wave of fun.  I just hope I’ll be able to open my mouth and swallow it whole.