Old Testament, Mr. Mayor! Real Wrath of God-type stuff here!

First of all, kudos to The Secret World for getting both a hair stylist and a plastic surgeon into the game relatively early in the life of this MMO — I know plenty of MMOs that put this way, way down on their bucket list.  It’s so easy to make an ugly or off-putting avatar in TSW and so hard to tweak one just right, so being able to fiddle around with looks and having more options regarding them is a blessing.  Yeti is now sporting a faux hawk with a significantly cuter face, and since players got a coupon for one free hair style and one free makeover, it cost me nothing but a little bit of time.  I also loved that both the barbershop and the plastic surgery area had their own theme and lore behind them.  Dr. Frankenstein’s great-great-great-whatever?  Good for him for finding work.

So every night I make it a goal to log in and get at least one to three quests done.  I like to savor them, because they’re all great little stories, and pushing myself to rush through them robs them of something special.  Last night I was moving on to a new quest-giver in Egypt, a mysterious immortal guy who has a brother who just so happens to be a burning bush.  And there’s a connection to the ten plagues of Egypt.  Draw the lines between the dots as you will.

It’s actually a great little investigation quest, nothing too difficult other than matching up Hebrew symbols with Arabian counterparts.  I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory too far, but I will say that there are a few great representations of the plagues (although, alas, not all of them) that happen to others who are not you.

But what I was thinking about during the quest and what I wanted to talk about today is the connection between The Secret World and faith.  I remember early on in TSW’s progress, I was already wondering just how the game was going to handle religious references, especially with its contemporary setting, pseudo-religious secret societies, and love of mythology and supernatural occurrences.  It was inevitable that Christianity would be a part of it in some way, and since I’ve never got the impression that Tornquist or his story team boasts a strong faith or respect for others’ faith, it was mildly concerning to me.  “Mildly” because I’m not on a one-man campaign to make everyone in the world fall into line with how I see things or else I get frazzled; the truth is the truth and that won’t be changed, and I can fully accept it when fiction writers tackle these subjects in their own way.

Still, I didn’t especially want to be playing a game where my faith was vilified or belittled, and there could have been a real possibility of that.  Instead, what I sense is that the writers are striking an interesting balance of skirting near subjects pertinent to religions but not going so far as to levy judgment on any of them.  There’s this sense of sampling the most interesting elements and then weaving those together in a bizarre tapestry that still doesn’t make sense to me.  It just seems bigger than what we can get a hold of, and I suppose that’s one of the goals of the game.

Plus, there does seem to be a wide sampling of faiths, including Native American, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Norse, Hindu, and probably tons of the Eastern ones over on the Dragon side.  If there’s a subversive agenda at work to subtly dig at any of these, I don’t see it.

But the question of belief and faith is quite prominent in many of the characters’ lives, and the events of the game certainly uphold the notion that there are forces at work that are quite supernatural in origin. There’s a real hell in the game, for example.  There are miracles.  There are genuine people of faith and there are false prophets and cults (such as the Morning Light).

At least for me, it makes me think about what my character believes and what her motives are more than in other MMOs.  I picked Templar because it not only looked more interesting than the other two factions, but because of its religious iconography and roots.  Sure, your handler early on makes a clear distinction that the organization has little to do with Christianity, aside from using the cross as its symbol, but that doesn’t mean my character is divorced from beliefs.  In fact, one of the things that the Bible makes clear is that there is far more going on around us than what we can see with our eyes, because we are spiritually blind for the most part.  Plenty of moments in TSW give me that same feeling, especially when we’re in ghost form and see different elements in the world than when we’re alive.

Agenda or no, pro-one faith over any others or no, what praise I can give to TSW is this: It’s not afraid to mention or explore religious history, events, or notions, even if it’s just cherry-picking the most visually or conceptually interesting.  Religion is a topic that most guilds won’t even touch with a ten-foot pole, but here’s an entire MMO that seems comfortable incorporating a wide variety of belief systems and topics into it without flinching.  It doesn’t have to respect what I believe, but I can respect that it’s bold enough to mention faith instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

LOTRO: Bouts of madness

With my Captain in LOTRO finished with her epic story and sitting pretty for the expansion, I have no business left with her until October 15th.  So I had a bout of madness yesterday going, “Ooh, I’ll roll an alt!”  And I got about an hour into it when I started slapping myself across the face saying, “What are you thinking, man?  This is ludicrous!  This alt will never amount to anything; there’s too much content to tackle and no time to do it in.  Besides, don’t you play like three other MMOs?  Are you trying to become the first person who intentionally created multiple personalities through erratic gaming?”

Delete character.  Whew.  Thank you, mind.

Of course, that still left me with little to do and I kind of wanted a project to focus on for these final couple pre-expansion weeks.  So why not, I thought, dig out my Lore-master and see if I can’t get him prepped for Rohan too?

It’s been a while, a long while, since I’ve touched my LM.  He was certainly dusty, with overflowing bags and a small fortune in gold that was doing nobody any favors.  I started out by clearing up his inventory and rearranging the UI to my new favorite configuration (which means that most every element is on the bottom, including the map).  I also finally broke down and resized the inventory because these teeny-tiny icons on a large resolution weren’t doing my eyes any favors.

Next up: A new outfit.  A good practical outfit.  One of the frustrations with working with LOTRO’s males is that they have these abnormally skinny waists that make tight-fitting outfits look ridiculous.  So I tend to prefer robes and heavy armor.  My LM got new black duds and prepared for adventure.

While I know I have two books to go with him on the epic storyline, there was a greater issue to tackle: his squishiness.  I gave up playing him in RoI because he just kept dying, even though that build had served me well up until that point.  I liked my Bog-lurker, but the LM blue line is fragmented and not focused at all.  So now I’m red, although I still am trying to keep my eagle pet in operation.

The issue, I found, wasn’t in my gear or build, but ultimately in my virtues.  When I first rolled this character, I pursued one or two vitality (health) virtues and then concentrated on loads of fate after that.  In doing some research, I found that pretty much no other LMs had my configuration of virtues, preferring ones like zeal and fidelity instead for better bonuses and resistances.  This meant that I had to rethink my virtue build — and go back to get all of these new ones that I now needed.

That’s a monumental task.  Out of the five virtues that I now have, only one is at 11 (out of 14) and the rest range from rank 2 to 7.  That meant I had to draw up a list of where all of these virtues were at, cross off the few I had done, and start backtracking my way across Middle-earth.

Again, a bout of madness, but this time with a much more noble purpose.

Whether or not I can get my virtues up to date and my build smoothed out by Riders of Rohan is kind of irrelevant.  I’ll still play on day one with my Captain, so I’m not feeling pressure to get all of this done.  But it’s a substantial challenge, and I look forward to having a more solid and sturdy character at the end.

Save City of Heroes campaign labors on

It’s been about a month since the announcement of City of Heroes’ closure, and the movement to save the game has reached a critical juncture.  It’s hard to maintain momentum for big movements like this over a long period of time, because we’re oh-so-easily distracted and there are all of these games and expansions coming out.  Plus, it’s critical because after a month of protests and other general activist activities, we haven’t heard peep one from NCsoft that the company is wavering in its decision.  Finally, we know at least some of the Paragon devs have left to join Cryptic and Star Trek Online, so even if NCsoft relented today, the studio and game wouldn’t be in the same shape it was a month ago.

One of the leaders of the movement has admitted partial defeat, saying that he can’t see a future where NCsoft agrees to restore the game/studio or at least keep it alive on maintenance mode.  Instead of hoping for some sort of decision reversal, he’s hoping that the company will be open to selling CoH off.  SOE?  GamersFirst?  Perfect World Entertainment?  gPotato?  Nexon?  All of those leap to mind when it comes to multiple MMOs and companies willing to take on orphaned titles.  I won’t pretend to have any deep insight into this, however.  Nexon is in bed with NCsoft, so whether that’s an impossibility or a slight in-house reshuffling is unknown to me.

There’s always the even slighter possibility that City of Heroes gets shuttered in November and then picked up at a later date to be restarted, a la APB.

I’m wondering how much any of this movement to save City of Heroes has surprised or impacted NCsoft.  It’s hard to put a human face to a corporation, especially an overseas one that coldly and dispassionately pressed the cancel button on this title.  It’s certainly not been a PR boon to them, and perhaps they thought that any disgruntlement would just blow over quickly instead of sparking into a full-fledged rally the way it has.  Maybe NCsoft anticipated all this and more, but made the decision and steeled itself against the backlash.  Really, there’s little pressure other than giving the company bad publicity that players can do.  NCsoft already wasn’t mourning the financial loss or loyalty loss of these customers, so the leverage is all on their side.

Eliot from Massively thinks that the movement needs to go further and pull out the harsh language. “There’s a certain revolutionary spirit necessary for an effective protest,” he writes.  “I’m not entirely certain that we’ve got that.”

But perhaps don’t count City of Heroes’ capes out just yet.  The rally was a huge success and there are two more months left.  The players posted this really well-done (and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it) video recently about the movement, and I’m impressed all over the place with it:

Happy Panda Day

It’s a big gaming day for many of you out there, as World of Warcraft released its monk/panda/pokemon expansion.  It’s the first WoW expansion I’ll not be purchasing, which is both a strange realization and something I’m at peace about.  I’m not here to rip on WoW today, however; if you’re all jacked up about Mists of Pandaria and are having a great day, more power to you.  Hope you have fun!

The older I get, the more I see how life moves in predictable patterns.  There are periods in my life where I get really into something — say, Star Trek, the X-Files, the Simpsons, college, LEGOs, etc. — and after a while, I’ll part ways with that.  Usually, but not always, there’s some bitterness following that, as if it helps the breakup to bash it.  To look at the bad parts.  To bolster up the reason for the departure.  But following that comes some time where I don’t think about it at all, and after that, a fond nostalgia for its good aspects.  I love arriving at this final stage, because it makes me feel a bit more grown up to let go all of the negative bile and simply appreciate something for the good it brought in my life, even if it didn’t last.

I think I’ve been at this stage with World of Warcraft for a while now.  It was such an influential game in my life that helped to blossom my love of MMOs.  It was my gaming world entire for a couple years, and a big part of it for a few years after that.  But with so much play came burnout, backlash, and bitterness.  I’m not saying that all of the criticism I’ve had about WoW and Blizzard is invalid, but I had to struggle against making it into a crusade.  I couldn’t even talk about the game for a while after that without trying to cut its feet out from underneath it.

But that disgruntledness served little purpose.  It was obscuring the truth that WoW gave me a great time, helped me meet wonderful people, was a fun activity for my wife and I to do together, and encouraged me to get into blogging and check out other MMOs.  Plus, I keep having to relearn the lesson that not everyone out there is at the same stage I am in gaming.  Some people still very much love WoW (and other MMOs), and they don’t want to hear about how much it sucks by a guy who doesn’t play it.  My bitterness attempted — inadvertently — to drain them of some of their current joy.  So I needed to live and let live (or in my mother’s words, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut yer trap.”).

Now, I’ve bottled up the good memories of WoW and put them in a museum in my mind to visit from time to time.  It’s just all positive there, now.  It’s all that’s worth keeping.  It’s what makes me genuinely happy for those who are excited about the expansion, because they’re still adding on to those memories, and we’re all just gamers anyway doing more or less the same things.

So happy Panda Day to you all.  May the Murloc bless you.

Five Good Things III: The Dream Warriors

It’s Monday.  I’m sick.  And the baby has us in a seven-day-plus holding pattern right now as we wait for the labor to go full-force, which has caused no end to disruptions in our lives.  So let’s talk about five good things, shall we?

1. Driving: AV jacks in cars

Both our new and previous van had one of the greatest features ever: a small hole.  That hole allows me to plug my iPhone into the stereo system, and I love it to death.  No more fiddling with custom CDs, horrible radio tuners that never work, or other workarounds — now I can just jump in, plug in, and listen to my incredibly bizarre playlist.  I was trying to calculate the odds that one other person on this planet has the same collection of songs that I do, and I feel confident that it’s zero.  Except for you.  You and I share a special bond, we do.

2. Book: Pines

I’m on a hot streak when it comes to gripping books lately, and the most recent I finished (well, second most recent) was Pines by Blake Crouch.  Pines is kind of blowing up the Amazon charts right now, and for good reason.  It’s tense, inventive, and wrecks your mind in all sorts of good ways.

I don’t want to spoil it, because it’s one of those kind of books, but it’s more or less the story of a Secret Service agent who wakes up after an accident in a very creepy town out West.  Everyone’s seemingly against him, and he can’t quite seem to escape.  Figuring out what’s going on is what’ll keep you flipping through it.

3. TV: Fall DVD season

Oh, how I love the fall, because that’s when all of the shows that I’ve patiently waited to see finally come out on DVD.  We don’t watch TV, so this is the time where I catch up on the previous year.  I’m drowning in seasons of Community, Big Bang Theory, Parks and Rec, The Office, Warehouse 13, and so much more.  It’s bliss.

4. Seasonal: Halloween decorations

Halloween’s my favorite holiday, especially how people and stores get all into decorations.  The mix of creepy and goofy fun appeals to the child in me and makes me happy that the leaves are falling.  Plus, homeowners who go all out and do their entire yard up in spooky decorations always get a full-stop from me when I’m driving.

5. Food: Gyro meat

Detroit is rolling in Greek restaurants and diners, which means that I don’t have to go far for a gyro.  Recently I’ve discovered how much I crave this type of meat, especially on salads.