Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Turbine, shark jumping, and $50 horses

"This is not a joke." ~ Turbine
“This is not a joke.” ~ Turbine

There’s a lot of eyebrow-raising issues with upcoming LOTRO content, but let’s talk about the $50 hobby horse, shall we?  That’s right: Turbine’s introducing a toy hobby horse to the store (at least on the test server) that costs 5000 Turbine Points, which is mind-bogglingly expensive.

And then they asked for feedback.

Before we talk about the horse in particular, I want to quote the developer here.  This post is a masterpiece of passive-aggressive communication, and I honestly can’t believe it made it through whatever filters the company has for dev-player chat.  I mean, okay, I get that the developers don’t just want to hear nerdrage that’s completely unproductive and just vile, but the whole post starts from the assumption that that is coming and conducts some sort of pre-emptive strike that hits everyone:

“The store wizards would like your feedback (well-thought out, non-crazypants) on this item.”

“Any rants about how evil Turbine is for making store items, even those that are entirely optional and up simply for the fun of those who are willing to pay for them, will be disregarded. This item is an experiment item. We simply want your feedback on the type of item presented and what might be added to it or done to it to make it a better item. We are not forcing you to buy it. No one is forcing you to buy it. It’s something to be there and be fun for those who may want it.”

/pinches my nose and sighs

OK.  Here’s the thing.  If you want feedback, you’re going to have to accept the bad with the good.  What I’m hearing here is “Shut up if you don’t like this, if you think it’s a money grab, if you don’t think it’s appropriate for the game.  Just shut up.  We won’t even acknowledge your crazypants existence.”  You cannot ask for feedback and then tell the people that their feedback will be disregarded if it doesn’t suit the developers.

Here’s one more thing: Taking this passive-aggressive stance with whoever is reading this is going to make everyone who reads it feel like they’re being chastised.  I don’t care what the reader would’ve said, they’re already starting from the position that Turbine’s kind of cross with them and watching them very, very closely.  It starts a “feedback” discussion off on the wrong foot, in my opinion.

Now back to the horse.  From what I hear, it’s a normal-speed mount with no specified extra features.  Maybe that’s coming later. Lore-wise, this runs right off a cliff and does not-good things to immersion.  Perhaps we’re too late to complain about that, but there’s little room in my head for a Middle-earth where the war-hardened inhabitants are prancing around on kids’ toys.

I love how this dev says “This is not a joke,” as if they knew that that would be the very first response.  I mean, Turbine’s got to know that it’s going to get some strong pushback here.  Lo and behold, the first response is incredulity, and it goes downhill from there:

“3. What sort of features might entice you to purchase an item at this price point?”
“Being an expansion?”

“How long untill Flying Mounts seem like a good idea??”

“2. Would you be willing to purchase this item?”
“If I enjoyed literally setting fire to money in my spare time, probably.”

“1. The price is not a joke. That is the proposed price for this item.”
“The 5,000 price point is astronomical for what the in-game toy provides. You call it not a joke and you’re right. I’m not laughing.”

“My constructive question would be,
1a.Who @Turbine/WB actually proposed that price point?
1b. and have they been fired or removed from the item pricing team?”

“Want me to be level headed? Stop making Store-only items that are over-priced and not available for VIPs to earn in-game.”

“I find the opening of such topic insulting toward me and the fan-base.”

“As a matter of fact I will do everything possible to not buy it and Ill personally lead a game-wide boycott on this item and any such other nonsense in the future.”

“3. What sort of features might entice you to purchase an item at this price point?”
“Make it account wide. Also make it not such a humiliation.”

“I’m not sure that it’s entirely fair to set a crazypants price and then ask for non-crazypants feedback.”

How’s that for your community response?  Oh, go ahead and push it onto live, Turbine.  We all know you’re going to anyway.

Posted in Podcast

Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 45 is up!

tldlsquareDodge and Syp have to put on pants this week because a girl is in the studio.  That’s right, the Honorable Rubi Bayer hijacks our microphone to chat about all the classes we love and hate.  Also we just go off on the strangest rants of all time.  More pants, more rants, we always say!

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 45 here!

Posted in iPhone

Arcane Legends might just be that mobile MMO I’ve been waiting for

arcaneFor some time, I’ve been bemoaning the fact that there aren’t really that many good — or even decent — mobile MMOs out there.  Oh sure, there scads of skeezy menu-based titles and the World of Warcraft-lite Order & Chaos, but nothing that’s sat right with me as both a real MMO in its own right and a title that’s quite playable on a smartphone.

I’ve tried all three of Spacetime Studios’ previous titles — Pocket Legends, Star Legends, and Dark Legends — but none of them stuck with me at all.  So color me surprised (that’s bluish-pink in the Crayola spectrum) that I’ve taken a shine to its newest MMO, Arcane Legends.  The maddening thing is that it’s hard to say why this is more “sticky” than the other games for me.

Arcane Legends is essentially the next iteration of Pocket Legends, only with humans instead of humanoid animals plus a pet system.  Think of a very Diablo-lite style of gameplay (main attack button mashing + the occasional special attacks and potions) in a world broken up by instances, where other players can come and go alongside of you as they please.  You go on quests, smash barrels, level up, gear out, and gradually open up the world.

What strikes me as compelling about Arcane Legends is that it seems far more polished and engaging than its predecessors.  Less confusing, too.  It’s easy to see where I’m going, as the camera’s not swiveling about all the time.  Combat is silky smooth and occasionally tactically challenging.  You not only choose skills at level up, but can customize those skills in various ways.  You can unlock and level up pets who fight alongside of you and give you special bonuses.  There are daily rewards just for logging in (sort of like a loyalty program that you find in F2P MMOs).  And it’s a breeze to pop in and out.

Even the art style is a notch above.  It’s very colorful and stylish, although there’s a hint of a harder, less “kiddie” world among it all.  My character is a scarred, bald warrior who totes around a weapon bigger than he is, and I dig the visceral feel of swinging that puppy around.  Well, not my actual puppy — he wouldn’t take kindly to that.

I was pretty impressed last night as I discovered that the bard in the tavern offers a special daily quest.  These are short solo instances where he sings if your great deeds as you perform them, and afterward he gives you a special currency that can be horded for better gear.

I don’t know where/when the F2P wall is at this point.  There’s a strong push to buy elixirs and treasure chests in the store, which makes me hope that this is where Spacetime expects to get most of its money (instead of making us pay to unlock world content).  I have noticed that the game occasionally rewards me with store currency as I play, which is a very nice touch indeed.

So I’m just a few days into playing this, but wanted to pass along at least a cursory recommendation to check it out.

Posted in Music

Cranking up the tunes

On my church’s last summer mission trip, we wrapped up the week by throwing a spontaneous dance party with a hundred or so teens.  I let it slip to the coordinator that I used to be a DJ in college (true story) and before I knew it, I was in charge of the music.  This meant that I had a captive, dancing audience to the nerdiest songs in my library, and I had a blast throwing out the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song and Spice Girls’ Wannabe to see if they’d get it and/or like it (which, surprisingly, they did.  I have hope for this generation.).

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve always had a passion for finding and collecting geeky music — and it’s been a long time since I’ve had an audience who’s willing to let me bombard their ears with my stuff.  My wife, oddly enough, just really isn’t into music at all.  I do little dance parties with my kids (there exists a video of me and my infant swooning to Dirty Dancing’s Hungry Eyes that you shall never, ever see).  But I guess I’ve really been burning just to share some of what I find interesting.

That’s why I not only started the MMO Music page here on Bio Break and the Jukebox Heroes column on Massively, but have been engaging more people in conversation about what kinds of video game (and specifically, MMO) tunes they like.  I have my outlet now, and it’s proving to be very cathartic.

Prior to starting Jukebox Heroes, I thought I had a pretty good collection of MMO music, but it turns out that what I had was rather incomplete, scattered, and missing many, many major titles.  Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time tracking down free MMO music as well as purchasing whatever albums are out there (which are more than I originally expected).  I’ve found that many composers have several free MP3 files of their video game music on their websites.  And I’ve made a list of all of the games that I want to cover, which as it stands right now, will take me through 2015 or so.

Anyway, I guess I’m just putting it out there that this has quickly become a growing central interest in my hobby instead of something way on the fringe.  I’m amazed at all of the great MMO music that I’m finding that I’ve never heard before.  I think that most players tend to know a few scores pretty well (insert “Age of Conan is the best soundtrack evar!” here), but there’s so much more out there.

I’ve done several additions to the MMO Music page over the past week, including adding these soundtracks:

  • Glitch (free)
  • Spiral Knights vol. 1 and vol. 2
  • Drakensang Online
  • Hellgate London
  • SUN
  • Zu Online
  • Atriarch
  • Free Going Rogue tunes
  • PlaneShift
Posted in The Secret World

The Secret World: To hell and back

I’m coming to look forward to our guild’s Monday night TSW runs more and more every week.  It’s helped by the fact that the game is pretty flexible in allowing players of a wide range to group up and tackle both older and advanced content.

This week, our adventures began in the new Albion Ballroom, the interactive theater that came with Issue #4.  It’s a surprisingly fun RP tool for people to put on plays, and we all had a few laughs trying out the different stage options and showing off our new Leatherface masks.  To use the theater, you rent an hour’s worth of time for a nominal fee, and then you and your group can go up on stage and fiddle around with the controls (other people can come into the theater and just watch, of course).  There’s an object you pick up on stage that gives you access to the curtain, backdrops, music, sound effects, and objects, and it didn’t take us long to figure out that the game will drop objects wherever you’re standing.  So the idea is, I guess, that your group sets up the stage and then performs whatever they want to.

Following that, we decided to do a couple of lowbie dungeon runs for the benefit of those of us (me) who haven’t seen them.  First up with Hell Raised, the “let’s go to the underworld!” jaunt that we so often see in Disney flicks (well, at least Hercules).  It’s accessed via Room 13 in the Overlook Hotel, which has this scary glowing door in the middle of the room.  I’m kind of impressed that there’s this weird rock ‘n roll song playing when you go near it.

Hell as TSW envisions it is pretty stylish, kind of heavy industrial factories coupled with crumbling gothic architecture.  The first thing I noticed was that the map was not quite what it is elsewhere:

Yup, that’s stitched-together human skin.  Have fun identifying the parts!  Actually, this is a great example of how TSW often goes the extra mile for storytelling immersion.  There are so many additional graphics that are made in the likeness of real objects, like photographs, typed reports, paintings, and so on.  Loads of these, actually.  I suppose the game could’ve just told us in plain text boxes about them, but to see them up on screen allows you to deduce the truth on your own.  Like with that map: It tells you a lot without being overt about it.  It’s something you would find in hell.  It creeps you out and makes you feel unclean.  It makes you wonder who gave you this map or how you got ahold of it.  And it tells you in a picture how much this is not a place you want to be.

So all of us being overpowered for the instance made trivial work of the various boss fights.  That’s something else I like about these dungeons: minimal trash fights.  It keeps things moving along.

I got a huge laugh out of the fact that during the whole dungeon, you’re hearing this ghostly female voice telling you to hurry up, to save her, warning you, etc.  At the end, an ugly naked succubus-harpy-thing flies up and reveals that this was just her messing with you.  She gets the best quote of the night:

“So sorry… but your princess is in another castle.”

Seriously, TSW, stop making me laugh so hard!

The other dungeon we ran was the Darkness War, which was something about Aztecs and Vikings in  New England.  I’m not really sure I *got* the story behind it, but again, the boss fights were pretty fun.  Funcom really came up with interesting mechanics that weren’t too difficult to understand, and it keeps the fights from being boring tank-and-spank ordeals.

Good night indeed!

Posted in Guild Wars

The Guild Wars 2 pyrotank

Today I feel like talking about the build I’m using — and vastly enjoying — in Guild Wars 2.  It’s a variation on an Engineer “pyrotank” that is floating around; I pulled together a lot of different builds along this line and have been tweaking it since.

The core of the build is using your flamethrower kit along with the Grand Master trait of Juggernaut.  This trait jacks up your toughness while throwing stacks of might on you.  In essence, you become a tough-as-nails close-range killing machine.  Mostly I’m running 30 firearms (again, mostly for the Juggernaut trait and any flamethrower-related traits), 30 elixirs (there’s a lot of survivability here including Backpack Regenerator, which synergizes with the flamethrower kit), and 10 inventions (I like the 5% damage reduction from Stabilized Armor).  Along with a pistol and shield equipped, and I’m just wading into the thick of the fight and coming out in relatively good shape.

I’ve been a huge fan of the flamethrower, not only because it visually rocks and there’s something so satisfying about blasting enemies with a face full of fire, but because it can hit multiple mobs at once and gives you some decent utility.  This build is as unsubtle as anything, because you’ve got to attack up close and you’re going to get hit a lot while you do your damage, but the damage stacks up quick on the enemies and I’m rarely in danger of dying.  I like to throw down a rocket turret and radiation core for additional damage (I usually have both poison and burning conditions on my foes because of this).  When I’m in large group events or trying to tag tons of mobs, I can do so with ease: Just trigger my default flamethrower attack and run around like a madman, laughing all the way.

Sometimes I miss plinking things with my rifle, to be sure.  I don’t always like having to be at melee range, especially knowing that the class supports a very long range option, and I’m substantially weaker if I’m trying to attack underwater (for some reason, flamethrowers and water don’t mix… huh.).  And I know that the damage doesn’t scale up with kits as it does with regular weapons, which is a common complaint among the Engineer community.  Still, I’m having a blast with it, I feel awesome lighting everything on fire, and it fits in perfectly with the character, so I’m going to stick with the build.

Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars and the uncanny valley

I think The Secret World has spoiled me in ways I haven’t fully realized yet.  Ever since going back to SWTOR, I’ve had a lot of difficulty getting into the stories and quests the way I could last year, but didn’t put a finger on it until recently.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that while it was pretty good for what it was, TSW showed me how it could be a lot, lot better.

Here’s a quick and dirty list of what’s holding me back from reveling in SWTOR’s strongest suit.

Problem #1: Stupid facial hair and morbid obesity

I cannot stand cutscenes where the other person has one of the ridiculous cartoony moustaches or beards or mutton chops.  Just about all of them are butt-ugly, looking more like someone glued a slug to their face instead of giving any semblance of “hair.”

And the male morbidly obese model is incredibly distracting, because I simply cannot buy how this character is a soldier or mercenary or anything other than a Walmart shopper who needs an electric cart to scoot down the aisles on.  I mean, props to BioWare for acknowledging other body types, but there are stops along the way from “well built” to “Jabba the Hutt.”

Problem #2: There are far too many NPCs

This is why I think TSW does so well: It keeps its cast list to a manageable number, akin to what you’d find in a book or movie.  Over the course of several quests and investigations, we get to know these characters, and there’s always the chance we’ll be coming back to them when missions are added in the future.  I can probably tell you several aspects of each NPC questgiver in the game off the top of my head… and I really can’t do that for most of SWTOR.

SWTOR had a lot of voice acting and actors involved, but that’s the problem: There are way too many.  It’s a problem that many MMOs have, the disposable NPC who means little because they’re one among a legion and you won’t be speaking to them tomorrow.  They don’t have a chance to make an impression and you already know they won’t matter.  When you tack on expensive voice acting, it turns that disposability into a tragedy.  Sure, some of the story characters and companions are more fleshed out, but BioWare had to stick to the traditional MMO model of an enormous supporting cast.

It makes me wonder what if… what if the cast was far more limited, such as what we see in a standard Star Wars movie?  What if there was nothing else than the personal storylines and a much stronger emphasis on your interactions with a few NPCs and your companions?  I think I would’ve liked that a lot more.

Problem #3: The uncanny valley

This last problem wasn’t something I really acknowledged until recently, and again, only when compared to TSW.  I won’t argue that TSW’s characters are sometimes off-putting to behold, but the excellent writing, voice acting, and — this is important — facial and body gestures combine to form a believable personality.  I get as much from a shrug or a happy dance as I do from a line of heavy-handed exposition.

So going back to SWTOR feels like stepping way backwards.  These characters don’t really emote.  Sure, they have good voice acting, but their faces don’t really show emotion or match up to what’s being said.  “Angry” and “orgasmic” are basically the same expression.  And gestures?  Since BioWare apparently used some program to cinematically splice together cutscenes instead of doing them by hand, you’re going to see the same gestures over and over again — gestures that don’t have much to do with anything being said.  Just Theater 101 stuff.

Is it the uncanny valley?  I’m starting to think so.  They look like people, they talk like people, but they do so through Leatherface masks.

I’m wondering if all this combines to a subconscious unease, as if my brain can’t quite make that final step to accepting these characters as believable fiction.  The pieces are in place but something’s getting in the way.

Posted in General

I’m thankful for…

  • A newborn son, who might keep me away from games more than I’d like, but makes it worth it when he cracks one of his big toothless smiles.
  • A wife who listens to my yammerings on MMOs and even knows a bit about what I’m talking.
  • Several great supportive guilds who welcome me into each game session, even though I play less than most of them.
  • So, so many great games — and great new games — that I hardly remember a time when I was starved for gaming goodness.  My cornucopia overfloweth.
  • The fact that I can play such a wide variety of terrific MMOs without paying a cent — and can be constantly trying new ones just because there’s no up-front cost.
  • Being content with the games I have and enjoying them.  I see so many folks who are disgruntled to the point of misery and am glad I haven’t gone over to that dark place.
  • All of my readers and listeners for Bio Break, Massively, and Too Long; Didn’t Listen.  You guys seriously rock!
  • My co-writers at Massively and my co-host on TLDL, Dodge.  Terrific people to both hang with and work with.