Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Singing the low-level blues

bluesEven as I march through Rohan with my level-80 Captain, I’ve been making serious headway with a new alt in LOTRO.  A week or so ago I discovered that my multi-game guild, Mercy Gaming, had started a LOTRO chapter recently that was thriving.  And, coincidentally, on the same server as my other characters.  As they were all in their 20s and 30s, I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to start up an alt and dash up there to participate in group adventures and instances.

So I reclaimed the Syp name from a long-dormant Burglar and rolled a brand-new (wait for it) Minstrel.  Yeah, I could’ve just picked back up my Warden, but for some reason the music was calling to me.  I might be going back and forth between the two classes before settling on one, but there’s no urgency here.

Anyway, between the Warden and Minstrel, I’ve had the longest stretch of time in low-level areas in recent memory.  It’s not a bad thing, to reconnect with lowbie roots.  The Shire is always welcoming, the pace is pretty peaceful, and it’s almost charming to face off against bandits instead of Uruk-hai and giants.

I’m taking the same approach with both of these classes, namely, to ignore questing in general until the second epic volume begins and mostly just skirmish and work on shoring up virtues.  While not engaging from a story perspective, it’s been pretty enjoyable as a relaxing activity.  And, y’know, building up characters at these levels is actually interesting.

I haven’t run skirmishes in a long while, so doing one or two group skirmishes a night has done wonders toward making me appreciate this content again.  I refuse to do them solo; just too long and boring.  But with one or two other people?  Suddenly it becomes a scrappy fight that moves at a good clip.  Storm on Methedras is my absolute favorite low-level skirmish, mostly because it’s visually appealing, relatively fast to do, and full of fun mobs to beat up.

I haven’t queued up for instances yet and might not, I don’t know.  With skirmishes, I know I’m not getting myself into a long slog, just a quick 30-minute adventure.  With instances, who knows.

In any case, skirmishing is proving invaluable for XP as a majority of the deeds that I need to do are level 30 on up.  I have had no problem going from 1 to 20 just deeding, but the 20s really slow down with only a sparse handful to accomplish (at least among the virtues I’ve picked).

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: The Sims

simsThe year 2000 was a weird time for me.  I was fresh out of college, living in the basement of a family in Colorado while I went through a one-year youth ministry internship at a local church.  Having just moved to the state and being generally introverted, I spent the year more lonely than I had the previous five in college.  To fill the quiet hours, I purchased a new computer and spent a great amount of time gaming.

It was during this period that The Sims dropped in my lap.  I don’t mean literally; iTeleportation from Apple was years away, of course.  But I picked it up, curious at the thought of taking Sim City and narrowing it down to a single house.  I kind of liked the idea, as it sounded similar to Little Computer People, a game I had read about back in 1985.  One session into The Sims, and I was really hooked.

Since it quickly became one of the most popular computer games in the world, it’s hardly necessary for me to explain how it worked.  You built and furnished a house, populated it with semi-autonomous people, watched them generally fail at living, and attempted to guide their progress through a daily routine.  It was weirdly meta — you’re playing a game about someone living a life — but addicting too.  Maybe it was about control; you could try to perfect this virtual person’s life even if your life was less than ideal.

For me, I guess I always liked the build mode more then the living mode.  When I was a kid, I spent countless hours building structures with LEGOs, and here was a game letting me create whatever type of house I’d like.  Sure, I’ll be man enough to admit that I was playing dollhouse, but so what?

The other day I downloaded the soundtrack to The Sims 3 (which is quite excellent… the OST, that is) and found myself reminiscing about hours spent meticulously creating a house.  The music always relaxed me and set the mood, not to mention the charming little touches that the game would use (like its Simlish language) to make it clear that it was an alternate reality.  A fun one.  A not-so-serious one.

It wasn’t a perfect game and it didn’t keep my attention past a couple months (Sims 2 and 3 fared even worse in this regard).  I didn’t want to hand-hold these characters — I just wanted to build a cool place and watch them live.  But they weren’t the best at being left alone, and if you didn’t nanny a lot, you weren’t going to earn much money to build anything more than a very basic pad.

It also had a weird moral that stuff is the be-all, end-all to making you happy.  The more stuff and higher quality stuff you had, the happier your Sim ended up being.  Even other Sims could be replaced by certain items to satisfy social needs.  Looking at it from that angle, it was kind of sad.

Then again, you could get slightly sadistic and try to torture and/or kill your Sims.  The ol’ stick-them-in-a-pool-and-take-away-the-ladder trick was a personal favorite.  Hey, don’t judge!  I just wanted to see a ghost.

As I’ve said, The Sims franchise never did hook me back in after that.  It did lead me to playing The Sims Online, which just failed in so many respects to copy the qualities of the core game.  But at least for those few months in 2000, we had some good times, the Sims and me.

Posted in Guild Wars

Guild Wars 2: Achievement Injection

f5f23Chauncey-590x511Yesterday, Guild Wars 2 introduced the first patch that really got me excited.  I mean, I was definitely a fan of the Halloween/Christmas events, but this patch finally feels like it’s tailored to the way I play.  What got me so excited?  The upgrade to the achievement system.

Ever since I started experiencing achievements in MMOs, I’ve felt strongly that there should be a reward structure attached to them so that they were more than just a high score.  WoW’s achievement system always felt like a missed opportunity to me, with very few of the achievements giving you anything other than a virtual pat on the back.  Other games, like RIFT and LOTRO, do tie in fixed rewards to some of the achievements.  But I can’t recall a game letting me stock up on “achievement currency” to buy the rewards I liked, and that’s something I’ve really wanted for some time now.

That’s why I’m excited about this patch, because it’s the first step to turning the achievement system in GW2 into something that rewards me for my regular activities.  It looks like the changes to the system will be rolled out in a couple phases, so for this first phase, we’re seeing laurel currency that can be earned by completing daily and monthly achievements.  The currency can then be turned in to vendors for a variety of goods, including some of the much-coveted high-level swag.

What’s interesting to me is that the devs have changed things up so that the daily/monthly achievements change on the new day/month.  It introduces variety into the game so that we don’t get used to running the exact same patterns day in and day out.  That’s awesome.  It was a bit of a mental shift to look down the list of five achievements last night and go, “Oh, I have to dodge?  And rez?” but it was cool too.  One of the goals of achievements is to encourage you to try out new activities and get out of a routine, not stay in one.  To know that there will be different achievements every day will go a long way to accomplishing this.

I remarked to my guild that I could see this as being not just a beneficial system for the average player, but beneficial to the game as a whole.  Having selectable rewards behind rotating daily achievements will probably suck in a lot more players into participating — and if the achievements encourage interaction (such as running events and rezzing others), then it builds community.

The future possibilities of this system as mentioned by the GW2 devs have me even more excited.  Things coming up include:

  • Selectable daily achievements from a list
  • Rewards for all achievements, not just dailies/monthlies
  • More offerings in the achievement store

Considering that my average play session in Guild Wars 2 is 30 min to an hour of landscape exploration, pursuing daily achievements is as good of a goal as any other.  Once I’m done with world exploration on this character, my first alt will focus more on events and (now) whatever daily achievements come along.  This patch really reinforces the notion that the world is to be experienced, not just plowed through on the way to the endgame.  I wasn’t *not* excited to log in as of late, but now I feel even more interest in getting in a good GW2 session before bedtime.

Posted in Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

“The specific things you probably that probably get you mad, annoyed, happy, passionate, sad, and dissatisfied with are the same things a Community Manager gets mad, annoyed, happy, passionate, sad, and dissatisfied with. And that’s because they love and hate the product or game or service as much as you do.”

~ Overly Positive

Posted in The Secret World

The Secret World: A return to hell

s1Our Monday night TSW group, equipped with cutting-edge gear and — more importantly — the most ridiculous outfits known to mankind, decided to go to hell.


We’re continuing our slow and gradual tour of The Secret World’s dungeons, and last night’s challenge was to do the second of the hell instances, Hell Fallen.  I unfortunately didn’t see the beginning cutscene, so I’m not 100% sure why our lost our falootin’ minds and decided to vacation once again in Lucifer’s backyard.  But before I knew it, we were back in this crumbling industrial wasteland.  Lots of screenshot opportunities, except that we were mostly running for our lives.

Since none of us had done this dungeon before, we decided to tackle it without the aid of any guides.  That made for an interesting experience, as we were shouting at each other suggestions and obvious observations: “Don’t stand in the deadly sandstorm whipping rocks at you at 500 mph!”  “Fire bad, Pid, fire bad!”  “Stop DYING everyone!”

Hell Fallen continued the tradition of TSW dungeons having minimal trash mobs and maximum boss fights.  I think there were six?  Only the third gave us any serious trouble, but we made a little more progress every time until we beat it.  I think that’s a good indication of a well-balanced fight.  Challenging, but not impossible.

The fourth boss fight was interesting in that the game let us immediately come back into the fight if we died.  Usually, you’re trapped in a little circle with the option to heal up or watch the others fight without you.  But to come back right away?  That was like cheat mode.  I don’t know whether or not it was glitched, but I guess we can’t complain.

I finally got enough AP by the middle of the dungeon to buy a top-tier shotgun skill, rail turret.  I don’t know why it the name suggests like a big rail gun, because the actual skill is kind of like laying down a small techno volcano that spits fire at nearby enemies.  In any case, I love having a few turrets now to lay down.  Going to see if there’s any I’ve missed collecting.

It wasn’t too long before we cleaned up — and that’s only with one pit stop for a certain someone to change outfits.  I won’t name names, but it’s the person in this photo who’s not me:

s2 s3

Posted in Books

Reading Railroad

vorpWith so many projects going on in my life, I’m finding it increasingly helpful to make lists and schedules, even if I don’t strictly stick to them.  One of those areas, oddly enough, was reading.  I’ve started to feel like my approach to reading was getting scattered.  I have a lot of half-finished books that I really should wrap up, and I kept thrashing around for new book ideas without any sort of plan.

So I took an hour the other day to dig through several book recommendation lists and create a list of about 20 novels that I’m going to try to read this year.  Since many of those are the first books in series, that could end up being a lot more than 20 books if all goes well.  So I’ve got my reading list lined up, and my new rule is that for every new book I read, I’m going to finish up one of those half-read ones.

Anyway, if you care for a few recommendations, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

  • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold — I was really excited to finally read a new book in the Vorkosigan universe, although it was a bit disappointing that Ivan, not Miles, is center-stage in this one.  It’s still a pretty entertaining read that actually comes in the timeline before Cryoburn (which was the previous book released in the series).
  • Devil’s Lair by David Wisehart — An interesting revisit of Dante’s Inferno as a group of Dante’s contemporaries journey to Hell to recover the Holy Grail.
  • Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron — A solid end to the Eli Monpress series.  I highly recommend these books: the characters are quite engaging and the fantasy world is definitely different than the norm.
  • Red Country by Joe Abercrombie — The latest book in his First Law universe, Red Country is more of a Western than anything else.  It’s still pretty brutal, but actually not as dark as his previous books.  It’s also not as good, in my opinion, but I still enjoyed reading it.
  • Prince/King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — Now talk about dark, here you have a series where the main character is as anti-hero as you get.  He’s a prince-turned-assassin who travels with murderers and is hell-bent on revenge.  And yet, he’s a guy you end up rooting for, because there is something about him that is redeemable.  And as an added bonus, the fantasy series takes place in a far-future earth, so there’s a bit of post-apocalyptic vibe going on.
  • The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks — I love Weeks’ stuff, and this second book in his color-magic series picks up steam from the first.  It’s still a weird magic system and world, but I’m kind of on board with the concept.  The prison escape sequences were my favorite.

As always, I’m up for more recommendations from you guys!

Posted in Podcast

Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 50 is up!

tldlsquareThrough thick and thin, ice and snow, laughter and tears, shades of gray and shades of commercial interruptions, Dodge and Syp have finally made it to the 50th episode of TLDL.  The traditional anniversary gift for a 50th is “naked pillow fight,” but the two forgo that for a rousing discussion on alting and endgames.

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 50 here!

Posted in EverQuest, Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

EverQuest Next was a black box project for years – and it was only last month that Smedley and the team showed it to the EverQuest and EverQuest 2 teams. Smedley says he was so nervous the night before the presentation that he couldn’t sleep – but that both teams received it enthusiastically.

Players will have to wait a bit longer to try it themselves, but maybe not as long as you’d expect. ‘Players will get their hands on an actual release version of what we’re doing late [this] year – and I don’t mean a beta,’ says Smedley.”

~ SOE President John Smedley on Gamasutra