Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The sights and smells of Gondor

q1There’s an (inconsequential) choice at the end of one of the new epic story side missions where you — as one of the cursed spirits where you get to choose whether to go with Aragorn to be redeemed as part of his ghost army or to swear eternal allegiance to Sauron.  So of COURSE I had to go with the latter, just to see what happened.  It was a little bit of a letdown during the closing scene, but I appreciated the choice nonetheless.

q2War-steeds?  Bah.  I’m all about the goats in Gondor, baby!

q3This was right as the sun was starting to come up, and I thought that the shade of the sky contrasted so nicely with the bonfires of the beacon here.

q4Gondor on the sea.  Is this the first time that we’ve seen the ocean proper in LOTRO?  I guess Forochel’s Ice Bay leads out to one, but I can’t think of anywhere else.  Gondor architecture is a little blocky and swan-y for my tastes, but it’s still impressive in scope.

q5There’s an elf cave in Gondor?  There’s an elf cave in Gondor.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around elves voluntarily living underground, especially bumping into them after so long since seeing them.  Mirkwood?  I guess Mirkwood.  I wasn’t weeping in joy to be reunited with them, but it is kind of nice to see a race other than Man for once.

Posted in Music, Podcast, The Secret World

Battle Bards Episode 32: The Secret World

It’s the show that Syl’s been dreading for almost eight episodes now: The Secret World!  Between conspiracies, zombies, ancient myths, and present-day cabals, is there actually music in this game — and is it any good?  The bards investigate in this creepy, kooky, mysterious, and ooky show!

Episode 32 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme”)
  • “March on Templars”
  • “Through the Hollow Earth”
  • “Factions”
  • “Sand Meets Sky”
  • “Combat part 6”
  • “Sleepless Lullaby” by Bright September
  • “The Zombie Stare” by Amy Sweet and Clyde Shorey
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Crim
  • Mail from Imakulata
  • Outro (featuring “Nassir’s Dance”)

Listen to episode 32 now!

Posted in Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Kickstarter dreams

“It’s seen as churlish to say this out loud during the fundraising period, since a lot of attraction about Kickstarted video games is they are bringing dreams and aspirations to life. Telling people that their dream project is almost certainly doomed to failure is perceived as urinating on them from a great height, which very few people appreciate.”

~ Evil as a Hobby

Posted in General

Are you an entitled player?

entitlement3If nothing else, my ArcheAge post from last week showed that there are definitely passionate feelings on both sides of the pro-PvE server/anti-PvE server discussion.  Not being as intimately familiar with the game as some folks, I learned a bit about the makeup of the game and how, indeed, a PvE server might not be feasible even if Trion wanted it to be.  But my wish remains: that I’d love to experience this particular sandbox MMO — as it looks pretty nifty in so many areas — but not in a PvP setting.

Anyway, one of the comments on that post used (and then retracted) the word “entitlement,” which is a label that seems to be applied often and liberally these days in (but certainly not exclusive to) the MMO scene.  The misapplication of entitlement bugs me a bit because it feels like a cheap shot to shut someone down who disagrees with you on a way that an MMO should be run/structured/added on to.  Kind of like how we over-plaster “hipster” on folks and trends that we don’t like, whether or not they’re actually connected to the hipster movement.

The word “entitlement” has so many negative connotations associated with it that getting slapped with it is going to stink up your reputation something fierce.  And I have no doubt that some gamers act as if they’re entitled to everything, at the center of their own narcissistic universe… but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s like this, even if they want something about an MMO to change.

Entitlement means that you have a right to something by virtue of who you are or what you have done.  I paid the cashier at McDonald’s a dollar, I am entitled to a sodium-laden cheeseburger.  Another definition — and this is the one that’s probably used in MMO arguments — is “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).”  The word “arrogant” should probably be attached to “entitlement” here in many instances.  In larger society, entitlement is seen as people demanding things now just because they want them so very badly, but not as a result of any time, effort, money, or resources spent to earn or deserve them.

So the following is how I see what entitlement is and is not when it comes to being part of the MMO community — and please let me know if this jives with how you see it or if I’m off-base here.  I’m geniunely curious.

  • Entitlement is when you feel a game should change for you personally.  Entitlement is not when you have a desire to see a game change in some way, but stop short of demanding (or throwing a tantrum) over it.
  • You are entitled when you see game development as something that services you first and foremost.  You are not entitled when you understand that you are part of a community and can fathom why devs will be making features that are (in their eyes) for the best of the game and the larger community even if they’re not up your alley.
  • If I pay for a game service, I am entitled to what the studio has promised for that payment (access to the game, delivery of an item purchased, etc.).  If I’m playing but not paying, then my claim on even those factors is skimpy at best.
  • I’m entitled to get whatever’s coming to me within the established rules of the game for the actions that I take.  I have no grounds for entitlement when I want advancement/virtual goods in exchange for no effort on my part, just because I see others — who have earned them — possessing them and I want a slice of cake too.
  • Since I’m agreeing to a studio’s EULA when I play its game, my “rights” are pretty much subject to whatever the studio has laid out in that electronic contract.  I may feel that I am entitled to be treated a certain way in the game, but what’s really motivating the studio to do anything is to avoid bad publicity and keep as many consumers using its product as possible.  It doesn’t HAVE to do anything it doesn’t want to unless there is an actual law that touches on some aspect of the service (a studio cannot use my account information for fraud, for example).

My general feeling of where the line lays with entitlement is whether or not you believe that a studio has to do something because you want it to.  I’ve yet to meet a person who is completely OK with everything an MMO has and does, and does not want to see anything changed, added, or taken away — but that is not necessarily entitlement.  We all have opinions, desires, and wish lists, and part of the fun of being an MMO player is sharing those and discussing them.

It’s when people become self-deluded, perhaps through a feedback loop of reading other forum posts confirming their desire, is when there’s a danger of moving over into arrogant entitlement.  It’s no longer a wish or something one lobbies for (on, say, a blog); it becomes a bold declaration that this HAS to happen, and how DARE the devs not make it so right away.  The “or else” is implied and is about as empty a threat as can be.  Or else what, you’ll just whinge some more?  Stop playing?  Create a (snort) internet petition?

However, the problem with carelessly slinging around “entitlement” is that it eventually makes a hypocrite of us all.  Sooner or later your expressed desire for change or a feature could get you labeled as entitled by someone who disagrees with you.

I’m not short on opinions, but there’s a difference between expressing those and demanding them.  I may not agree with the actions of a studio, I may not play a game or may leave because of those actions, and I may express disapproval with what happened, but I’m hopefully grown up enough to accept it, be happy for those who are getting what they desire, and eventually move on.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

System Shock 2: Command and conquer

(This is part of my journey playing through System Shock 2. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

cc1We’ve finally made it to the penultimate deck of the Von Braun, command.  SHODAN pops on the comm to tell me that we might as well give up on this ship, as it’s a lost cause, but before we blow it up we have to transfer everything over to the Rickenbacker.  Wait a second, the Von Braun is the only ship with a FTL drive.  Why are we giving up on it again?

Right off the elevator, I trigger a security camera that sends out an alarm.  If you don’t get these cameras quick enough, the game goes into a two-minute security alert while mobs bum rush you and the klaxon goes off.  It’s very nerve-wracking, so I usually find a hidey-hole and hope that I can live to see another day.

cc2Happily, the inventive level design hasn’t ceased — the command deck has a tram system!  Ooh, I love trams and trains and all assorted public transportation goodness.  While I take a ride to the first stop, the Many tell me (how?) that they’re looking forward to getting to Earth and wiping it clean of us free-thinkers.  Me and SHODAN are the thin cyber line between the homeworld and this threat.  That’s not a comforting thought.

cc3As I make my way through operations, I spot the last two humans on the Von Braun fleeing from one of the big muscley dudes.  Naturally, I’m behind a force field and can’t help or join them, so it’s just like the last dozen or so times that I’ve encountered NPCs.

One of System Shock 2’s limitations is the fact that all of the men share the same look and the women share the same look (with one exception in the latter case).  It’s not terribly noticeable since most everyone’s dead, but once you do spot it, it becomes hard to ignore that you’re on a ship of clones.

cc4Since my character is incapable of shouting, “Hey, wait up guys!” the escape pod takes off and I’m left behind.  Again.  So alone, forever alone.  It seems like a bit of a jerk move on their part, since they’ve obviously seen me at least once.  I guess I would be a third wheel.

I turn around and fiddle with the trash on the ground, finding yet another pack of cigarettes.  One thing that System Shock 2 has taught me is that even in the future, even in deep space, even on a high-tech vessel, there will still be people sucking on cancer sticks.

cc5With the last escape pod gone (why would I want to go to Tau Ceti V anyway?), I resign myself to doing SHODAN’s bidding once more.  This involves getting to the bridge and helping to regain full control of the ship from Xerxes so that SHODAN can blow it the heck up.  Hey, I just work here, I don’t make policy.

cc6This is where the game gets extremely annoying, because in order to “beat” the command level, you have to return to previous levels (such as operations and engineering) to accomplish various tasks.  It’s a lot of needless backtracking to fiddle with buttons and then coming all of the way back to the bridge anyway.

cc7There’s also a side mission in which I have to blow up some shuttles to stop the Many from escaping the ship before it can be destroyed.  I can’t help but think that I’m also getting rid of my own escape route, but I’m then distracted by the wall decals misspelling “shutle” all over the place.

cc8This was a fun fight.  I was heading back after blowing up the shutTles when a whole pack of hybrids came at me through the corridor.  That involved a lot of backpedaling while I switched to my assault rifle and went to town on them.

cc9Well, even after gaining full control of the ship, SHODAN says that the Many are “one step ahead” as usual and the self-destruct isn’t an option.  I’m going to have to go to the Rickenbacker (as if there was any doubt about that anyway), but before that happens I have to take care of the capain of the Von Braun.

The captain has mutated into a floating brain thing, which so reminds me of Mother Brain.  It has this regenerating psychic projection that attacks from elsewhere, so you have to find the brain and kill it in order to shut the whole thing down.  How’s life as a floating brain working out for you?  Kind of hard to hold weapons, I would think.

With everything wrapped up on the Von Braun, I take the umbilical to the Rickenbacker and prepare to see what fresh hell this second ship has in store for me.

Posted in WildStar

WildStar: Avenging, assemble!

foomLast night I… flame-jet dropped?  Pyro-dropped?  I don’t know what the term is for “jumping out of an aircraft with a jetpack to slow your fall” is in the game, but that’s what I did.  The Exile spy organization was sending me to infiltrate an ICI (the Dominion spy group) complex, and since I’m a one-zombie army, why not?

That’s when I came up against probably one of my most challenging nights in the game.  I was going about questing in the ICI cave in Whitevale when I died.  I wasn’t paying full attention, so I buffed up and came back for another go.

Four deaths in rapid succession later, and I knew I had a problem.  The cave had a pretty tight and high mob density with some tough guys that could spew out rather large telegraphs.  With little room to jump around, I was getting pwned something fierce.  Extra mobs got pulled, telegraphs took me from 85% health to 0% within seconds, that sort of thing.

While my guild offered to come in and helped — they knew the cave and were sympathetic — I took it as a challenge to my current build.  How I was attacking and what skills I was using in what order wasn’t working, so I started to experiment.  I finally have access to a couple of tier 4 abilities, so I studied those and figured out which ones would allow me to unleash as much up-front DPS as possible.  I didn’t want to mix in too many healing skills, since every one I chose means a DPS ability taken out of the rotation, but I had to keep a couple.

That stupid cave took me far longer than it should’ve, but by the time I was done I emerged with a much more effective build that kept my health up while killing far more rapidly than before.  I appreciated the lesson, intended or not, because the game presented a challenge and then supplied me with an array of tools to overcome that obstacle.  It was up to me to figure out how to do that most effectively, and by trial and error, I eventually did.  Reminded me of more than a couple of instances in The Secret World where the same sort of thing happened.

The combat system of WildStar wasn’t my most anticipated feature going into the game, but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorites.  It has a great feel and responsiveness to it, and it allows for a lot of user choice when it comes to the style of fighting.

Posted in ArcheAge

ArcheAge: We don’t serve your kind in here!

aaThere’s no doubt that the ArcheAge beta is some kind of popular right now, and I have no reason to think that the launch won’t be a big event.  Whether or not I’ll be playing is still up for debate, however, as it’s dependant on two factors: If free players will be able to obtain housing (last I heard Trion was talking about this) and if the studio will create a PvE-only server.

Because frankly I do not want to roll on one of the current servers.  The community is downright toxic from many reports that I’ve been hearing, and I think that the griefing potential of PvP activities is contributing greatly to that.  The downside to sandboxes: there are just so many more ways you can screw with other players than kill them in mindless combat.  In alpha — where you had to pay $150 to get in, I might remind you — there have been stories of jerks trying to outdo each other and chat channels that must be moderated by Satan, or at least Jerry Springer.

I don’t want to be a part of that.  If I’m going to play the game, I want to be able to explore the entire world without worry that someone would think it was funny to sink my trade ship an hour into a journey.  So I went on the official forums (I know, I broke Syp Rule #1) to see if there was any movement for a PvE server.  What I found was pretty illuminating in regard to the current ArcheAge culture as a whole.

You would think that a request for a PvE server would be met with a reasonable “why not?” from the community, but nope.  There’s sheer hostility and panicked entreaties for the studio to do no such thing.  It would ruin the spirit of the game!  It’s not how ArcheAge is meant to be played!  Don’t cater to those stupid carebears, we don’t want their kind in here — or if we do, they should be fair game!

“Let the people who like the pvp play on a pvp server and the people who like pve enjoy the immersive world of Archeage peacefully,” the original poster said.

The responses?

  • “In my opinion, ‘PVE server’ goes against everything that AA stands for.”
  • “I am sure you can enjoy the game without actually PvPing as well. However, you’ll just have to be very careful and cautious. But hey, if you are in dire need of protection and don’t fancy fighting players yourself, you can always hire someone to protect you!”
  • “Just hope not, the game is all about PvP, so Carebaears just don’t join ArcheAge”
  • “PvP is integral part of the game and removing it makes the game pointless.”
  • “TRION already knows it has a niche player base and will likely not deviate from PvP, which is what the majority wants.”
  • “We need people who do not want to play on a PVP server on a PVP server, that way the ‘good guys’ will have someone to protect.”
  • “If you’re in a sandbox, you should damn well be able to kick down sand castles in every area, rather than be unable to in certain areas.”
  • “However, the core of the game is designed with the threat of PVP in mind. Without that element, you will be playing a broken game and you will end up getting bored of it very fast.”
  • “They won’t create PVE servers even it that could give them 1000% more revenue because they don’t want the game to have PVE servers. Believe me when i say, if you hate your gameplay being interrupted by gankers, then don’t bother with this or any game that was created with PVP as its essence.”
  • “It’s frustrating to be doing trade runs to get ganked by 5 higher level people. I can understand that. But it’s what this game is practically built on. The PvE aspect of the game isn’t very strong. “

It keeps going with all kinds of conflicting logic.  I love the “we need you carebears to protect!” line because when have you ever seen “heroic” players defend those just trying to play the game they want?  I’ll be ganked by both groups, morelike.

What I get from the anti-PvE crowd is that they are definitely threatened by the notion of a PvE server because that will take the gankees away from them.  I mean, if your PvP server is so wonderful and contains the full ArcheAge experience, wouldn’t people WANT to play on it if given the choice?  No, you know that they’ll choose to cut PvP out of their sandbox experience as when Trammel went live for Ultima Online.  Having a PvE server isn’t threatening unless you know that it will be more popular and suck sheep away from your hunting grounds.  I think these posters know that and fear it.

“Sandbox” doesn’t have to mean “always containing the threat of PvP.”  If you like player conflict, it’s cool, and I am all for you having a place to do it.  But I’d love to play in a sandbox world that doesn’t have it.  So I’m holding out hope that Trion will evaluate the beta culture and create a server for PvErs.  At least in my case, it will be a major deciding factor whether or not I’ll play, and I’m OK with saying that.

Posted in Nostalgia Lane

System Shock 2: Fun and games

(This is part of my journey playing through System Shock 2. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

rec1Holy crud, there’s another non-mutated human left alive on this ship?  Hey man!  How’s it going!  Wish you could be over on this side of the glass, but oh well — I wish you the best of luck!

Today we’ve arrived on deck 6, recreation.  At first I thought it was kind of weird to have a full deck devoted to what amounts to a playpark on a company scientific vessel, but then I realized that they probably expected to be in deep space for some time and would need a place for the crew to blow off steam.  Now, of course, they’re all horribly dead or coopted by the Many, but it was a good intention on behalf of Tri-Optimum.

rec2The goal of this deck isn’t all fun and games, unfortunately.  SHODAN tasks me with turning on a transmitter that will send a distress call to Earth (which will do… what with that information, exactly?  This is Earth’s first FTL ship, so a S&R mission is out of the question.) and will also weaken Xerxes (which is SHODAN’s primary concern).  Easy enough, right?

Nope.  Not only is the transmitter behind several locked doors, but it requires a code.  To find this code, you first have to pick up a particular PDA that mentions how a guy hid the code in the electronic paintings on the level.  So then you have to find every… last… painting and click on each several times to hopefully get part of the code.  Then when you have them all, you have to try every combination of the numbers to see what works.  It’s really annoying.

rec3Happily, it’s a fun deck to explore since it has a bunch of stuff that the Enterprise only wishes it had.  Here’s a movie theater (please stand by).

rec4Wait, there are KIDS on this ship?  Why?  What?  Huh?  Is the Von Braun rented out on the weekends to birthday parties so that Tri-Optimum can make a few bucks back?  This sign really puzzled me.

rec5There’s also a casino…

rec6…and a holo-brothel.  I can just imagine the teenage boys finding this part of the game and being all excited, only to discover that there isn’t a shred of nudity in the place.  Decapitated heads, sure, but holographic prostitutes?  I guess they’re offline for the day.

rec7The mall is another disappointment.  I mean, points for having a space mall and for entertaining me with a couple of the signs, but most of the stores are closed up and what is there is pretty dull.  But hey, why not buy a robot maid for your 8×6 crew quarters?

rec8I got a laugh out of the “gardens” that have, tops, two plants and a big hole.  Underneath is a scary set of tunnels with eggs and dead bodies galore, so I guess we know what’s fertilizing the lawn.

rec9Unlike many of the space ghosts on the Von Braun, this lady isn’t grieving or freaking out, but quietly getting drunk while swaying to the music.

rec10My questing eventually gets me to the basketball court, where I first meet Mr. Big and Muscley here.  While he takes some good ol’ fashioned bullets to put down, most of the mobs on this deck were handled with the EMP rifle.  That’s my new favorite for any mechanized foe (cyborg, mech, droid) — a couple of shots from that rechargable weapon and they’re toast.

rec11The pool is another nice touch, although I wouldn’t want to be in this room if the gravity cut out.  Reach for that life preserver, dude!  You can do it!

So I find the transmitter, enter the code, and generally feel good about my state in the world.  SHODAN gets freakier than ever after it, telling me that while the message didn’t get to Earth (I don’t think) she was able to beat Xerxes down some more.  Yay?  Victories in this game do not often feel so much.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Echoes of the past

qqIt never ceases to amaze me how a little sabbatical can bring back my appreciation for LOTRO.  Affection can go dormant, like embers after a burning fire, but can always return after a time.

I was thinking about this last night when I was roaming around Gondor.  There’s something about this game and its world that always felt more real to me than many others, and perhaps that’s a feeling that’s earned only after an extensive history with a game.  My Captain isn’t merely going through the paces.  She’s been on such a long journey but still has the fire to see it through.

So it was comforting to get back into the groove of questing, exploring, and smacking bears with my two-hander.  Kin chat was hopping, mostly with a discussion over a semi-farcical male calendar that we debated making.  Short hairy men would be spot-on for a Middle-earth spread, don’t you think?

And even as I realize that the heyday of LOTRO is probably past (but one never knows about a future renaissance), it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone’s left or lost passion for this game.  For some folks that I see, LOTRO is all they play, and they are ears-deep in Update 14 with glee.

Even with the new class coming out this fall, I can’t imagine going through all of the leveling process again in the current climate.  Maybe back when I hadn’t done it so often and when more of my friends were playing, sure, but I don’t think I have it in me (or have the time) to do it all again.  I’m grateful that I’ve kept one character at the level cap so that I can see the journey through.

Every so often I engage in a pointless fantasy where I can return to a game at a specific point in time, usually around its launch, instead of playing it in the here and now.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere of newness and potential that only exists in those first months and the first year, or the fact that the community is leveling up together and discovering things at roughly the same time.  For example, I’ve been feeling a yearning to return to DDO as of late, but I would have no idea where to get plugged in to the current scene.  The present is unknown, but how it used to be in the past — when we had regular groups and I knew the content well — is familiar.  Again, there’s comfort in that.  Maybe I’m just a big comfort hog.

I miss LOTRO being on the tip of the daily tongues.  It still is in some quarters, but the store, the age, and the new shinies have pulled people away.  What used to be a family road trip has become a mostly solo adventure for me.  So I yearn for what was even as I go forward.