Huge Bio Break blogroll update (gee, that’s a mouthful)

OK, some site news here — One of my goals this year is to be somewhat better about engaging with the rest of the MMO blogging community.  This means more Quotes of the Day (my way of featuring blogs without saying “THIS IS TEH BLOG O DA DAY”) and it also means a tighter blogroll.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done a blogroll update here on the site, so I spent an hour and culled lapsed/extinguished blogs while adding several new ones that I follow on my reader.

So what does this mean for you?

Readers: Please take some time to check out the many excellent blogs over to your right there.  All of those blogs (well, for the most part) have been recently updated and are ones that I enjoy in my RSS reader.  I guarantee you’ll find one or two new favorite blogs by the time you’ve gone through the list!

Bloggers: I’m in the middle of this update, so I’ll be adding more blogs over the coming week.  That said, if you have an MMO blog that’s been updated at least in the past month and are not on this blogroll, please drop me a line (or a comment) and I’ll rectify that ASAP.

What I do while grinding

Sometimes I like to engage in active gaming, where I lean forward and get really engrossed in the game and its story.  And sometimes I’m totally cool just grinding mobs for various purposes (usually achievements or for some other goal), which means I lean back and get a little more passive about it.  Get into a groove and just pow-pow-pow for a while.

When I grind, I like to make the most of my time and activate some secondary form of entertainment or project.  Keeps my mind from going too soft, I suppose, and I always like the whole two-birds-with-one-grind result.  So what do I do?

  • I’ll listen to podcasts.  I don’t do this that often any more, but a good ‘cast can fill out an hour or so just fine.
  • I listen to the always-entertaining SF Debris, particularly for the deconstruction of Star Trek episodes.
  • I’ll be listening to new music, usually video game or MMO tunes, and trying to sift through it all for the tracks I want to keep.
  • I’ll pop on a show on Netflix on my iPhone or iPad, usually a long series or a documentary.
  • I’ll get on Vent/Mumble/Teamspeak and chat with my guildies, sometimes even when I’m not in that particular game.

What do you guys do while grinding?

Win an autographed Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition from Bio Break!

Hey guys, how would you like to win something awesome today?  How about a copy of Guild Wars 2?  How about a Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition?  How about a Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition that’s autographed by the entire ArenaNet team?

Awake now?

So ArenaNet graciously sent me a CE to give away by whatever means I deem fit, and here at Bio Break that means PHOTO CONTEST!  I’m all about creativity and having fun, so here’s what I’m asking: Take a picture of yourself doing something MMO-y in the real world.  You can stage it however you like — maybe you’re looting a treasure chest, battling underwater in your bathtub (no nudity please!), organizing your study group or co-workers into a raid boss fight, what have you.  Using costumes is a bonus.  Guild Wars 2-themed is a bonus.

Photos will be judged on creativity, humor, detail, and whatever extra secret sauce you put into it.  You can send in as many as you like, but they must be original creations that have YOU in the picture somewhere.

Send in your photo contest entries to justinmassively -at- yahoo -dot- com.  I’ll take entries until February 9th, after which point I’ll be the sole judge of who is the winner.  I may (may) have a couple runner-up prizes if the situation demands it.

So what are you working so hard to attain?  Here’s a photo of my own:

guildwars2

If you win, I’ll ship you this Guild Wars 2 collector’s edition, which includes:

  • The box covered in autographs by the ArenaNet team
  • A giant Rytlock statue
  • Best of Guild Wars 2 soundtrack CD
  • Making of Guild Wars 2 art book
  • Picture frame and five art prints
  • A copy of Guild Wars 2 with lots of in-game digital items

Fine Print: I’m limiting contest entries to the US and Canada, due to the fact that I have to ship this beast myself.  I’m sorry, I know that sucks for other countries, but I had to make that call.  You can be any age to enter, just keep the photos clean (no nudity, excessive gore, etc.), make sure they’re your own creation and have fun with it.

So what are you waiting for?  Get that camera out and start snapping pictures!

Psst… want another chance to win a CE?  Then check out these sites as well:

Nostalgia Lane: The Burning Crusade

burningSix years ago to the month, World of Warcraft released its very first expansion pack.  At the time I was a year away from becoming a blogger, still living in my old apartment, and enjoying my first year with my wife.  Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time passes, how these things that happened *years* ago feel like yesterday.

I was getting nostalgic for WoW lately, not enough to make me want to play it, but nostalgic in the sense of “I miss the old days, not what the game is now even though I know it’s technically better.”  WoW at the turn of The Burning Crusade felt like an incredible, magical time for the game.  It had become established as the premier MMO with a massive following, and I had just hit level 60 with my new Gnome Warlock who I had named Syp.  When we heard the news that there would be an expansion, everyone went bananas.  I mean, the game had never had one before.  We really didn’t know what to expect.  And we’d been slowly going stir-crazy in the same zones for over two years at that point.

There was a big to do at the portal gate in Azeroth prior to the expansion, and players such as myself who participated were treated to a tabard that shot out sparks every minute or so.  A cool little doodad.  Then came the night of the release.  It was one of the only — and the very last — times that I ever went to a store for a midnight release to get my copy.  My wife thought I was nuts.  I probably was.  It was cold, being January in Michigan, and I had to stand in a line outside with a whole bunch of strangers who made me profoundly uncomfortable.  As soon as I snagged my copy, I rushed hope to install it and make my new characters.

I was reading something on WoW Insider not too long ago where the author was bashing TBC as not that great of an expansion in retrospect, which I guess was his opinion and okay.  But he did say something that rang true, which is that whatever expansion WoW players first encountered seemed like it became the expansion that defined their experience and memories of the game.  I was probably more of a vanilla WoW player than anything, but TBC definitely left a huge impression on me.

Going through the dark portal to Outland for that first time was… incredible.  I took many, many screenshots.  Outland was so alien of a place, but it was new and exciting.  Up to that point in WoW history, the quest flow of the old world wasn’t the best, especially in the higher levels, but Outland featured a much more refined hub-quest model that provided enough XP and kept things moving.  Within a day, we all replaced our old gear with new (“green is the new purple” was the catchphrase of the time).  A bazillion people were in the first Outland zone, which made questing difficult (but not impossible).

I alternated with Syp and a brand-new blueberry space alien hunter named Ghostfire.  Those new races still seem exotic to me, even as they’ve long since become the old guard.  I loved the Draenei look and alien tech aesthetic, and I do wish that I had stuck with my Shaman that I also rolled back then.  Those totems looked wicked cool.

TBC created so many memories for me.  Who didn’t fall to death in Shatt a few hundred times?  Or didn’t complain about the poop-scooping quest?  Or wasn’t kind of in awe of the beauty of Nagrand?  It was the only expansion of pretty much any MMO where I became, temporarily, a raider.  Kara was such a fun instance to explore with a 10-man group.  Again, it feels like all of that was just yesterday.

Even with the new areas and tighter quest flow, TBC wasn’t without its flaws.  I still don’t think that Outland meshes well with the rest of the game, zone-wise, especially with all of the subsequent expansions.  I still maintain that flying mounts was a big mistake that trivialized exploration and content, a stance that feels backed up by how the devs had to keep coming up with excuses to “ground” us for the new expansions so we wouldn’t just fly over challenges.  The music was so-so, probably my least favorite of all of the expansions.  And the dailies were not enjoyable at all.

Wrath of the Lich King was a fine expansion and a lot of fun to return to later on, Cataclysm got my attention for about a week before losing it, and I sincerely doubt (but never say never) that I’ll see Mists of Pandaria’s content.  For me, The Burning Crusade was THE expansion of the game during my career there, and I still can’t believe it’s been six years.

The Secret World: A stealthy approach

vialMuch has been said about The Secret World’s excellent investigation quests, as well should be.  They’re (almost) always a pleasure to encounter and unravel, requiring more brainpower than brawn.  But I haven’t seen a lot of folks talk about the game’s stealth missions.

Maybe there’s a reason for that.  Maybe stealth missions are of the devil and should be shunned.  That’s how I feel sometimes when I run them, but then I acknowledge that they’re giving my brain a workout in a different way too.

Stealth missions are the exact opposite of action missions; they downplay combat immensely by either (a) giving you no enemies at all, (b) placing groups of enemies who will overrun you, or (c) placing super-mobs who will one-shot you.  Instead, you have to be careful in planning your approach to objectives, dodge security cameras, find ways around laser wiring, set off diversions, and so on.  They can be exceedingly tricky and sometimes frustrating, usually because a single mistake means almost certain death.  However, the game does take pity on us by providing checkpoints through the mission so we don’t have to start all over again.

Last night I was running a stealth mission in Transylvania, Sins of the Father.  Story-wise, it’s a good chapter in the story of a disgraced doctor whose dad was some sort of mad scientist/super-scientist.  The goal was to head into a spooky Soviet bunker and find a prototype vampire or somesuch.

It was an exhausting mission, taking place over numerous stages.  You first had to skirt around giant mobs while repairing a door to open to the next section.  Then you had to jumpstart four reactors in a certain order within a time limit — all while dodging more giant mobs.  Then a hide-and-go-seek session with a patroling mob in a corridor (plus security cameras attached to turrets that will shred you).  Then not one, but two separate rooms full of crazy laser wiring and hard-to-reach switches.  Finally, there was a fight with the prototype itself.

I think I died about three times, all in all, which isn’t too bad for a stealth mission.  I had to tamp down on my impatience, because there’s just no way to rush through these missions.  It’s a lot of waiting, timing, and careful jumps.  I guess for some people that’s a refreshing change, but I was so dang antsy by the end that I welcomed a final boss fight instead of all of this sneaking around stuff.

Then again, I certainly won’t forget the mission or the gloomy bunker with its cold war sensibilities.  Maybe the game making me take my time to notice everything is a blessing in a cruel disguise.

RIFT: Before and after the fall

fallAs of late I’ve been putting more dedicated time into RIFT, LOTRO, and GW2 — the former two to make serious headway in the expansions, and the latter because I’d really like to wrap up world exploration so I can move on to an alt.  I’ve been enjoying these slightly longer play sessions because they’ve helped me really get into the stories going on.

For RIFT, I’m currently in the heart of Brevane.  I had assumed that this continent would’ve been the duller of the two new ones, especially since Dusken is all about a horror-themed wasteland.  Yet I’ve been surprised; Brevane is quite a puzzle.  It’s all about the ruins of this highly advanced “magi-tech” civilization that fell almost overnight and your exploration into what happened.  It’s a compelling mystery, made even more so interesting by the quest flow.

I have to hand it to Trion, they really came through on the promise to make the expansion less about vacuuming up quests at hubs, doing them, and boomeranging back, and more about constant progression through a story and areas.  So this past weekend I was in the Eternal City, the big town in the center of the continent that’s been overgrown with nasty flora.  You’re going in after a lost expedition and piecing together clues as to what happened here.  After several quests, you are tasked with rescuing a guy who’s in the middle of this mutant camp.  Instead of just plowing your way in there by brute force, the game has you find a disguise, prepare diversions, and then stage an epic breakout.

That leads to probably one of my favorite moments in the game, a pulse-pounding chase up an aquaduct while this MONSTER of a critter chases you and your rescued knight.  You eventually run out of track and the NPC tells you to jump for it.  I’m like… okay… this is going to hurt, and then leap hundreds of feet to my doom.  Happily, I landed in water — and in a new zone.  The whole quest line was a way to get me into this new zone for different adventures, and I didn’t realize at the time it was doing so.  A really neat moment that had me saluting the game and eager to see what lay ahead.