Posted in General

Guest post: The mind of a tank


Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Linguistic Dragon of the Ultima Journeys blog — check it out!

In stark contrast to Syp, there’s only been two MMOs that I’ve really devoted any time to. In fact, it’s even arguable that there’s only really been one, as I kind of ignored the Ms in the first one I played and treated it pretty much as a single-player experience that you happened to have to be online for. Consequently, my understanding of the traditional MMO roles – the tank, the DPS, and the healer – was mostly nebulous, conceptual, and entirely theoretical. DPS hit things, tank got hit by things, healer made sure nobody bit it in the process. Simple enough.


My first MMO was Lord of the Rings Online, back in 2011 or so. I gave every class a whirl at some point or another, and it was through those classes that I got my first sense of what role did what. They also shaped my image of what those roles should be – people used Guardians and Wardens to tank, so okay, tanks were the big burly guys with the fancy heavy armor and the big ol’ shields that might not dish out a lot of damage but could sure take it. Minstrels and Rune-Keepers were healers, so okay, healers stuck to the robes and couldn’t take hits very well. And so on and so forth.

In recent days, though, my understanding of MMO roles has shifted. And not just because I’ve actually got some experience running group content now, either. No, said shift began not just because of the content I was playing, but because of the character I was using to do so.
See, I’m the sort of gamer that tends to ascribe a certain persona to his characters. Comes from being a writer, I suppose. Regardless of the game I’m playing, whether there’s an abundance of choice or opportunity for roleplay (however you define that) or not, I’ve always got some sort of background and general personality in mind as I play. Sometimes it’s just rudimentary, sometimes it’s pretty developed. Sometimes it happens on the fly as I play. Other times I’ll borrow a character I’ve written or played elsewhere and see how he fares in the game world. Whatever the case, though, my in-game character’s always more than just a face and stats in my mind.
About five months or so ago, I gave The Secret World a shot, and got hooked pretty swiftly. The setting and general tone of the game put me in mind of a character I’d played in a decently long-running storytelling game with some friends – one that I found myself missing rather a lot – so I approximated him as best I could with the character creator, rechristened him “Ketea,” and sent him off into the game world as part of the Dragon, the faction he seemed the most naturally suited for. The time came to choose his initial weaponset, and after some consideration I went with a blade and chaos magic, the former because that’s what he’d used and the latter because it felt thematically appropriate.
Then I discovered they were both ideal weapons for tanking in the game, and I’m pretty sure I laughed – hard – for a solid minute.
Ketea in his original incarnation was pretty much the physical opposite of what I pictured “The Tank” to be, in pretty much every way. Tanks were supposed to be stalwart, big and bulky, strong and tough. Ketea, on the other hand, was not. More the bookish type than anything else, he was short, a bit on the scrawny side, and definitely more nimble and speedy than tough and resilient. The thought of the humongous monsters smacking him in the face time and again while he just laughed it off was, therefore, hilariously dissonant in my mind.
And then I actually started to tank.
Since my weapons of choice were already well suited for it, when I first decided to go dungeon delving, I did my first few runs as a tank. It took some time (and a lot of patience on the part of those I ran them with, for which I am very much grateful), but slowly, slowly, I started to get the hang of it. I discovered tanking was much more than just getting smacked in the face – I learned tanking was more about control. An awareness of the field and where everybody and everything was, being able to find the most advantageous position and make full use of it, the ability to discern what could be borne and what needed to be avoided – all of these were things that I found necessary when playing a tank. You couldn’t just focus on the boss and make sure you were the one he was hitting – there were a whole bunch of other factors you had to keep in the back of your mind, all of which had to do with controlling the flow of battle to the best of your ability.
And quick on the heels of that realization came a second – that described Ketea perfectly. In his first appearance, that was exactly how he approached whatever fights he ended up in. What he lacked in strength and endurance, he made up for in adaptability and ingenuity. He’d take stock of his environment and use every advantage it could offer, from the makeshift weaponry it provided to the ideal vantage point to strike from. He played the field to its fullest, and did everything he could to make it work in his favor.
Maybe he wasn’t the physical image of the tank, but he was certainly the mental image of one, I was finding out.
And that, I think, has been the crucial turning point for me. To step outside the bounds of mere build and stats and gear – something made much easier by TSW’s classless system – and start thinking of the typical MMO roles asmentalities. I find myself focusing on different things as a DPS as I do a tank, after all, and if I ever give healing a whirl I expect I’ll be paying attention to other things entirely. To say nothing of TSW’s ability to hybridize – which I’m sure will end up a whole other beast should I ever mess around with that.
Maybe MMO roles can serve as more than just descriptions of function – maybe there’s something to be said for them in terms of character archetypes and personality traits, too. And they might not all be quite what you think they are, either – strip away the physical aspects of a role, cut to the essence of it, and suddenly you’ve got a new sense of how the role works in concert with everything else.
It’s definitely something I expect will be handy both in my gameplay and my writing, that’s for sure.
Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Guest post: DDO — Search and Rescue

Pic 0 Gnomework

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by DDOCentral. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in February 2016, which is a milestone within the MMORPG gaming community. Not only is DDO one of the few MMOs to have supported its fantasy world continuously for over ten years but was also the pioneer of the hybrid free to play business model now common with PC based MMOs.

There are currently 128 free to play quests in DDO, with the three most recent f2p quests released on May 10th, 2016 as an extension of the 10th anniversary celebration. The official 10th anniversary update earlier this year introduced the Gnome and the Iconic Deep Gnome player races to DDO and the subsequent Update 31 is appropriately entitled, Gnomework.

All three of the f2p quests feature a Gnome NPC quest giver and each of the quests somehow involve one or more of the gnomish qualities of exploration, illusion mastery, and invention. ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener’, and ‘Search and Rescue’ are offered at both the mid-level Heroic and upper level Legendary quest difficulties.

Search and Rescue

The third quest in Gnomework is the only one that takes place in The Forgotten Realms; the gnome NPC Popkin ‘The Shiv’ Shortshanks is found in front of The Lonesome Tankard inn near the village of Eveningstar’s periphery. Popkin explains that she and her comrades were exploring an ancient tomb in the Stonelands after hearing rumors of treasure buried there and then things went sour.

Reconnaissance had been going well until Popkin found a secret door at the back of the tomb leading to an underground cave complex. The party entered the passageway and were ambushed, with everyone splitting up during the fighting. Popkin escaped out a back entrance but is now afraid to re-enter the tomb by herself to find her lost friends.

Pic 15 Meet The Shiv

The young female gnome implores the adventurers to recover her five disappeared compatriots: Tristran, Lianter, Kirina, Helayna, and Jarus. An old man in a “funny hat” (probably Elminster) gave Popkin five Word of Recall trinkets that will transport the party members back to Eveningstar when used from the Stonelands. The adventurers take a wagon to the Stonelands Crevasse and are greeted by a cacophony of harpies after sliding down a rope into the rocky chasm.

Pic 16 The harpies are alright

Once the party has dispatched the harpies and some Stoneland scorpions, the players enter the tomb of which the walls are lined with glowing Netherese orbs. The orbs can be smashed which will dim what little light exists in the tomb’s chambers.

Pic 17 Hallway to the unknown

Waves of undead come at the party and chamber’s secret door can be opened by locating two control orbs among the breakable orbs. Further fighting brings the party to the Master of the Tomb, a mummy named Laeron and his Helmed Horror honor legion. Destroying the mummy allows the party to find a lever behind the throne.


The lever is pulled back to reveal a delved cave entrance. The players are set upon almost immediately by subterranean monsters, including Umber Hulks.

Pic 19 Umber Hulks are here too

The five lost adventurers are all over the map, but the first one found is most likely to be Jarus the Purple Dragon Knight. Some dialogue will explain what the preceding party had encountered in the underground tunnels and then the players can send Jarus and the others back to Eveningstar.

Pic 20 Nothing a little aspirin can’t fix



As the party explores the cave network, there are more mobs and finally a band of powerful kobolds blocking the path to a lava filled hemispherical cyst in the crust of the layers of stone beneath the Netherese tomb. If the kobolds are beaten, the wall of fire preventing entrance to the lair of Daeronnax the red dragon will drop.

Pic 22 Ready for a fight

Slaying Daeronnax and his kobold entourage will set free the fourth lost party member. The fifth party member (or what remains of him) needs to be found behind a sealed door
elsewhere among the passages to complete the main quest.

As enjoyable as the primary section of Search and Rescue is, the quest’s optional is that much better. The optional for this dungeon is the most extensive in DDO and is effectively another quest by itself.

If the players thoroughly probe all of the dead ends in the cave network, they will find an entrance to the upper fringes of The Underdark. Beyond some burrowing Umber Hulks, the opening to more caves can be found in a partially collapsed tunnel.

Once inside, the party finds the area is a drow elf outpost and must battle drow archers, drow casters, and driders to move deeper into the maze of caves and underground

Pic 23 No one expected this

Obtaining a silver key is necessary to open the drow vault’s door where more of the dark elves are guarding the drow command’s living quarters as well as the entrance to a lower level summoning chamber used by drow arcanists.

Pic 24 The bedroom where the drow high command commit their unspeakable depravities…and also get a good night’s sleep

The end fight takes place in the summoning chamber where the party must subdue summoned slaadi (of the red, green, and blue varieties), more driders and drow elves, and finally Il’tharis the Terrible. Il’tharis is a grey slaad, from the executioner sub-species in slaadi society, and is the first appearance of a grey slaad in DDO.

Pic 25 Drow summoning chamber

Executing the high priestess of Lolth, Mistress Laerion’vyr, in her chambers ends the optional after the summoning chamber altercation.

The drow outpost optional in Search and Rescue is nearly pure Menace of the Underdark, the largest and most popular of DDO’s two paid expansions over the game’s history. Players have been clamoring for more drow elves and more Forgotten Realms and they receive those things in spades with this update.

There is even an easter egg for the observant behind some rocks near the opening to the Underdark optional. The avalanche caused by umber hulk activity has crushed what
appears to be a dead Phaerimm, a malicious creature found in The Great Sand Sea of Anauroch  in the Forgotten Realms.

Pic 26 Watch for falling rocks

The Stonelands are on the way north to Anauroch, so this squashed Phaerimm may portend a future update featuring a showdown with the shadow mages of Netheril.

Gnomework is free to all and the quests begin in the mid-level Heroic range, with one quest (Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener) set at Level 13 on Heroic Normal. Even if you have never played DDO before, you can jump into the action and try out these quests by purchasing the Iconic Deep Gnome player race from the DDO Store. All Iconic classes start at Level 15 and are fully geared. See you in game!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Guest post: DDO — Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener

Pic 0 Gnomework

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by DDOCentral. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in February 2016, which is a milestone within the MMORPG gaming community. Not only is DDO one of the few MMOs to have supported its fantasy world continuously for over ten years but was also the pioneer of the hybrid free to play business model now common with PC based MMOs.

There are currently 128 free to play quests in DDO, with the three most recent f2p quests released on May 10th, 2016 as an extension of the 10th anniversary celebration. The official 10th anniversary update earlier this year introduced the Gnome and the Iconic Deep Gnome player races to DDO and the subsequent Update 31 is appropriately entitled, Gnomework.

All three of the f2p quests feature a Gnome NPC quest giver and each of the quests somehow involve one or more of the gnomish qualities of exploration, illusion mastery, and invention. ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener’, and ‘Search and Rescue’ are offered at both the mid-level Heroic and upper level Legendary quest difficulties.

Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener

The second quest in Gnomework is also in the Harbor area, near the gates to The Inspired Quarter. The party meets the gnome master illusionist, Callumnie (a calumny is a kind of false statement), who entices the players with an offer to tell an exciting story. Callumnie explains that he has travelled all over the world of Eberron, from the gnome kingdom of Zilargo to the distant, nearly uncharted continent of Argonnessen which is home to a race of Dragons. Callumnie assures the adventurers his tales are so vivid in their descriptions that those who hear them will believe themselves to be actual participants.

The party agrees to hear the compelling yarn, so the gnome illusionist invites them into his humble abode.

Pic 6 The gnome at home

Callumnie then asks the party to step through the double doors adjacent to his dwelling’s foyer, into the hallway, and onto a luminescent blue circle covered in glyphs. Once the party has gathered on the illusionary spot, the players are surrounded by heavy mists and are transported to an urban scene which appears similar to Stormreach Harbor but perhaps a dream-like version of it.

Pic 7 Where it all begins…

Callumnie’s voice is heard in the players’ heads and he instructs the party to find an Upstanding Citizen to begin the story but warns that she is a “master of disguise.” The Upstanding Citizen is standing in the middle of the street as the party enters the City and is a lone halfling female.

The streets of the Harbor are populated with NPCs bearing often absurd names – for example, Completely Ordinary Citizen and Extremely Dull Citizen – who will state nonsensical things if the players speak to them. “If I was actually in this story, I would have something interesting to say.” The names of the NPCs will change randomly each time the quest is done or based on other factors that are not yet clear.

To advance the story, the players must take a “missive” from the Upstanding Citizen to two human thugs named Julius and Vincent. The goons are just down the street but, in keeping with the often bizarre nature of dreams, the players must walk a dozen or so yards to the men and hand them the letter personally. Julius and Vincent accept the letter after some harsh dialogue and request that the players give Upstanding Citizen their own handwritten letter.

When the letter is returned to Upstanding Citizen, she asks the players for another errand. This time, they are to retrieve “an artifact” from an Elf holed up in the local tavern. Upstanding Citizen says that this Elf deserves to die as he is a thief, murderer, or pretentious abuser of grammar (these text options change as well, depending on what the players say to the halfling).

The party finds the pub after a quick jaunt down several streets and enters to see a small army of elvish rangers with bows guarding the Elf.

Pic 8 Stepping in for a drink…or maybe not

The party finds the Elf in the back corner of the pub with his bodyguard. The players must extract the artifact from the Elf, which soon turns into a fight involving everyone in the room. After defeating the Elf and his escort, the players must beat a hasty retreat with the artifact as many more elven rangers gather outside the tavern to prevent the artifact from being stolen.

Pic 9 The welcoming committee

Pic 10 The welcoming committee’s friends


After battling waves of belligerent elves in the City’s streets, the players notice Julius and Vincent down an alley with an escape route to an airship waiting in the clouds.

Pic 11 Julius and Vincent are more pleasant than they first appeared

Once aboard, the players learn that they are on a Sharn Syndicate airship and must meet its commander, the halfling Lucy Lawful. The Sharn Syndicate is a criminal organization in Eberron known for its use of feral halflings as muscle.

Pic 12 Celebrities do sometimes show up in people’s dreams

The players learn from Lucy that no reward is offered for the artifact and that they are to be dropped off on land empty handed. The players leave the commander’s quarters and bump into Upstanding Citizen as they return to the lower decks.

Upstanding Citizen says that the Sharn Syndicate would never let the players leave the ship alive and that they should swap out the real artifact with a counterfeit one supplied by her. The real artifact can then be used as a bargaining chip to secure safe passage. The players agree and must fight their way through the ship’s crew once the deception is revealed.


Following the Sharn Syndicate crew’s defeat, the party is teleported out of the airship from another blue circle into a flat, seemingly manufactured forest. The players fight scattered Sharn Syndicate brigands until they come upon a clearing in the woods with yet one more blue circle. Callumnie’s voice is heard again, this time telling the players to step onto the final portal to finish the story.

As soon as the players touch the circle’s border an ambush is sprung of all of the characters in Callumnie’s story that were backstabbed by the party, including Lucy Lawful.

Pic 14 They are the types to hold a grudge

When the Sharn Syndicate gang is defeated, the players enter the blue circle once more to be teleported back to Callumnie’s home for the quest end reward. Callumnie tells the party that even he was surprised by the outcome of the story as it is different every time.

Interestingly enough none of the mobs in ‘Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener’ are counted as kills in the Monster Manual, affirming the phantasmal nature of the quest’s opponents.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Guest post: DDO — Good Intentions

Pic 0 Gnomework

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by DDOCentral. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in February 2016, which is a milestone within the MMORPG gaming community. Not only is DDO one of the few MMOs to have supported its fantasy world continuously for over ten years but was also the pioneer of the hybrid free to play business model now common with PC based MMOs.

There are currently 128 free to play quests in DDO, with the three most recent f2p quests released on May 10th, 2016 as an extension of the 10th anniversary celebration. The official 10th anniversary update earlier this year introduced the Gnome and the Iconic Deep Gnome player races to DDO and the subsequent Update 31 is appropriately entitled, Gnomework.

All three of the f2p quests feature a Gnome NPC quest giver and each of the quests somehow involve one or more of the gnomish qualities of exploration, illusion mastery, and invention. ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Memoirs of an Illusory Larcener’, and ‘Search and Rescue’ are offered at both the mid-level Heroic and upper level Legendary quest difficulties.

Good Intentions

The adventurers meet one Orben Romblemore – Inventor and Genius – in Eberron’s Stormreach Harbor, standing at the entrance to the Saltire District. The Saltire District was previously the setting for the Lovecraftian Harbinger of Madness quest chain but has since been reclaimed by Stormreach’s residents following the expulsion of the extraplanar interlopers from Xoriat. The Saltire District is now gentrified and is home to the Exposition of the Arcane, a magical bazaar run by many of Stormreach’s wizards and artificers.


Romblemore explains to the party that he has invented an Animatic which “will change Stormreach forever!” The Animatic is intended to clean up debris from the constant
destruction caused by marauding pirates, Devil invasions, tavern brawls and the like using Animated Objects controlled via The Animatic’s force field. The bespectacled gnome wants to present his new device in the Exposition of the Arcane, so he offers to teleport the party to the showplace for his construct.

Pic 2 A view of the Exposition of the Arcane from a turret

Once the party finds Romblemore among the vendor stalls, he announces the power that The Animatic possesses. The party is doubtful that this imposing looking Iron Golem will be able to bring to artificial life tools and building materials but the diminutive wizard goes forward with the demonstration anyway.

Things do not go as planned and nearby animated crates selected for the exhibition begin to attack everyone in sight. Romblemore then reveals that The Animatic was built out of a refurbished House Deneith war golem – “Some of its old hostile commands must still be operational!”

As the malfunctioning war golem continues to go berserk and animate yet more crates, Romblemore says that he could make a wand to deactivate The Animatic but that he lacks
the proper ingredients. The gnome wizard needs a Beholder Eye, some Pixie Dust, and finally a Unicorn Horn for the wand itself and explains where these items might be found
in the District.

The Saltire District consists of indoor shops along shallow canals, taverns, sewer tunnels, courtyards, and stone manors, which are now filled with hostile objects animated by the rogue golem’s energy field. Romblemore will attempt to slow down The Animatic while the adventurers search for the enchanted components scattered over the quest map.

The revised Saltire District is expansive with a number of twists and turns through the indoor areas and among its rooftops. DDO is now of the age where it has its own in
jokes and two of the three ingredients are held by noted Harbor area NPCs: Goldscuttle the Kobold, who accepts prayer bead Collectibles for Augments outside this quest, and Durk the Deranged, the bestower of several quests in the Harbor, the Marketplace, and The Twelve.

Pic 3 Durk the Deranged in his sewer hideout

Most of the mobs in Good Intentions are animated furniture, training dummies, implements, weapons, more crates, and even fruit that will attack characters who are not in stealth mode or who are not using an invisibility buff. The time to complete the quest can be shortened considerably by avoiding these mobs altogether and heading directly to the three ingredients once their locations are known.

Pic 4 Animated Objects in the Saltire District shops

There are also random elements to Good Intentions – an optional which spawns two of five possible named monsters of immense strength, including the new as of the Gnomework update Umber Hulk and another which places local madman Durk’s pet squirrel, Nibbles, in varying parts of the quest map.

When the three pieces of the inchoate deactivation wand have been recovered, the party returns to Orben Romblemore and The Animatic. Orben assembles the magic wand and then lowers his containment bubble to shut The Animatic down permanently but the wand fizzles out as soon as the golem is freed.

Pic 5 This won’t hold The Animatic for much longer

The boss fight with The Animatic, now fortified inside a floating gazebo, will complete the quest after the machine’s defeat.

Posted in The Secret World

Guest post: Telling the Untold Stories of The Secret World

shhToday’s guest post is brought to you by reader Dots, who says she’s a writer if not a blogger!

Let me just start by saying I love The Secret World. I spend an appalling amount of time there. I have three end-game toons – one from each faction – a cross-faction Cabal, membership in another another Cabal, and a lifetime membership for the game. I play pretty much every day of the week. I love The Secret World for so many reasons – the atmosphere, the people, the game itself, but most of all, the story. Despite being 2+ years old, it’s well known for the quality of the missions available.

So, what do you do when you run out of missions to run (or you’ve run them so many times you can play them in your dreams?) You write your own, of course.

The Secret World is definitely not unique in having a set of mods written by fan-boy and fan-girl players, but it is the first in my experience to allow enough content creation capabilities that a mod like Untold Stories of the Secret World (US) can exist. SuperJenius wrote US in late 2014 to allow players to take those capabilities into their own hands. And for a would-be game content designer like myself immersed in my favorite MMORPG storyline, it is like Halloween and Christmas wrapped up with a bow. It’s also a boon to players who would simply like a chance to experience more stories within the Secret World between DLCs or want to experience US Lore, which features stories, fan art, cinematic panoramas, and more right in the game areas.

The mod is available on and currently there are nearly a dozen or so quests available for players to enjoy, and more being written every day. The types of stories and content vary by author, but suffice it to say there are some enjoyable and creative stories to experience.

US allows the author to write a quest using XML, leveraging the game’s cinematics, subtitles, animations, and even character looks. You can add music and content via the in-game browser as well to tell your story and interact with NPCs, rare spawns, and more. As a mission author, you can chose to only allow a set group of friends to play your mission locally by sharing out the XML file, or by sending SuperJenius a request, you can get your mission published right inside the mod. Solon has even written a web-based XML editor especially for mission authors so creating your particular vision of The Secret World couldn’t be easier.

More information is available here. I’ve been having the time of my life writing my TSW Magnum Opus – a gigantic multi-part story mission. And, playing through Funcom’s newest DLC, it was eye opening to realize that I could have created more or less the same thing using the capabilities within US. If you haven’t checked out Untold Stories of the Secret World yet, give it a try today!

Posted in General

Guest post: Elves forever!


Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Tyler of Superior Realities. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Embrace the Good Hail and well met, Bio Break readers. My name is Tyler, and I usually blog over at Superior Realities, where I discuss video games, books, TV, movies, and my life as a freelance writer and novelist. Syp has kindly invited me to provide a guest post for Bio Break while he is on vacation.

There are many things upon which Syp and I disagree. Most notably Elves – if I thought he’d let me get away with it, I’d plaster this entire post in nothing but pictures of Elves, just to watch him squirm. But if there is one thing I do admire about Syp, it is his positivity. In the face of a gaming community that is awash with endless toxicity and negativity, he maintains a mostly optimistic outlook and an almost childlike excitement for gaming in general and MMOs in particular. We really need more of that in this community.

In that spirit, I have chosen to follow his lead and resist the temptation to make my guest post another of my patented epic nerd rants. I will take a page from Monty Python and look on the bright side of life… at least where gaming is concerned.

A matter of perspective: If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re very passionate about gaming. If you’re anything like me, you’ve sunk hundreds of hours into imaginary worlds. I like passion. I admire it. But it does have some significant drawbacks. The joy we feel at exploring a new virtual world can quickly turn to anger when developers stumble and steer their games in poor directions. There’s nothing wrong with that really, but our anger can quickly grow until it blinds us and sucks all the fun from our hobby. We lose perspective and no longer see the forest for the trees.

I’m a World of Warcraft player, and lately I’ve been thinking back to the Mists of Pandaria expansion. I was very unhappy with the state of WoW for most of that expansion. Nearly every kind of reward became locked by a seemingly endless parade of poorly designed daily quests, and the endgame as a whole was a grind as rambling and confused as it was tedious.

But there was also a lot of good in Pandaria. It had some of the best story-telling Blizzard has yet produced, gorgeous visuals, awe-inspiring music, and a great new form of endgame content in scenarios. With the benefit of hindsight, I now recognize that my anger over all the ways Blizzard screwed up with MoP robbed me of a lot of the joy of all the things they did right. The strengths of MoP don’t absolve its flaws, but I wish I could have more thoroughly appreciated the good in that expansion, instead of wholly focusing on the negatives.

Looking ahead to Legion, there are already several things about the expansion I strongly dislike, but there are also a lot of things that deeply excite me, and I’m making a very conscious decision to not let the former ruin the latter for me this time around.

To use a more recent example, I’ve been playing a lot of Star Wars: The Old Republic over the last few months. If you know me, you know this is very surprising. For one thing, I’ve never been big on the Star Wars franchise, and more importantly, I have long been fiercely critical of the game’s free to play business model. I believe the phrase “like S&M without a safe word” has come up a few times. But I like a lot of the changes made by the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, and I’m a fan of Bioware’s story-telling, so I decided to give it one more shot.

And I don’t regret it one bit. The game might not have been worth it for me before KotFE, but it definitely is now. Don’t get me wrong. I still think their business model is a travesty, and I have more than a few other problems with SW:TOR, but the intensity of the Imperial agent story and the joy of getting to know great characters like Vette and Nadia are worth it. I’m very glad that I swallowed my stubborn pride and gave the game one more shot.

I’m also reminded again of those people who refuse to try Diablo III because of its always online requirement. For the record, I agree it’s a poor decision on Blizzard’s part, but discounting the game entirely based on that has always struck me as a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Whatever flaws it had at launch, D3 has evolved into one of the best RPGs of recent memory, and if you haven’t played it, you’re missing out.

My point here is not that criticism is bad. Quite the opposite. Criticism is crucial. We should never stop criticizing games when they faceplant. Criticism is the only way anyone or anything evolves. But don’t lose perspective. Don’t let your dislike of one or two problems rob you of the joy of an otherwise good game. Don’t miss out on good experiences by clinging to stubborn pride or trying to make some kind of statement.

It’s also worth remembering that game developers are not homogenous entities. People in the gaming community have a tendency to treat each developer as a singular entity, or at best a dictatorship where one prominent developer is viewed as the sole source of every decision, but this is not the case. Development companies are diverse groups of people spread out over many teams. They might not all agree on everything, and many of the people who work on games have little to no say in the big picture decisions. This knowledge has done a lot to help me maintain my sanity as someone with very strong opinions, both positive and negative, about a lot of games.

The people who run the monetization for SW:TOR are a bunch of money-grubbing sleazewads. But the people who write the game’s stories do not bear any of the blame for the game’s greed. They do good work, and they’re worthy of my support. The systems and endgame designers for World of Warcraft change their design philosophies more often than I change my underwear, and the only consistent vision they seem to have is the need to find new and creative ways to make the game more unnecessarily time-consuming and to remind non-raiders we’re second-class citizens. But the aesthetic wing of Blizzard, from environment artists to soundtrack composers, are among the best in the industry, and they deserve no blame for the mistakes of their superiors. They’re worthy of my support.

If you truly don’t enjoy a game, then just move on, but if there are still things you enjoy about it, don’t let its flaws consume all your attention. Don’t ignore the bad, but don’t fixate on it. Embrace the good in games.

Elves forever! Selama ashal’anore! *Runs off cackling.*

Posted in General

Guest post: Our digital communities


Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Iogro Merryberry of A Hobbit’s Journey. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

Here’s a big shout out to Syp over at Bio Break who recently asked if anyone would like to do a guest post while he is out on vacation!  So, thank you for the fantastic opportunity Syp to expand my reach a bit into the Blogosphere and gaming community, and ENJOY VACATION my friend!!!

I wanted to take a minute and share one of my favorite topics in gaming which is Community as it’s huge for me and that is why I’ve been so excited and anxious to get this post written and out.

For me, Gaming and Community started back in the days of the Nintendo and our favorite little hero Mario…as my friends and I would have huge weekend parties full of junk food, way too much soda, and more hours of yelling, and being boys then I can even count. Now, let me set the tone here and let you know that when the “NES” or Nintendo Entertainment System first came out I was only four, and no I wasn’t playing Mario at the age of four but I wasn’t much older before I got my first gaming system…which was all mine and not my brothers….”Insert Obnoxious Little Brother Grin”.

See, my brother was older and his gaming systems were a different generation; his first gaming system was the original Atari, and yes I did play it, but my big brother was a typical big brother and I only got to play it every once in a while….or if he wasn’t around….I may have snuck into his room and played it on occasion.  Typical brother stuff you know.

Ok, let’s fast forward a few years and breeze by the era of my “SNES, Sega Genesis, and pretty much every other gaming system you can think of” and we’ll land around the time I got my first PC that could handle gaming.  The system my brother had built for me was an Intel 486 and probably something like half a K of memory or some nonsense like that….but the first PC game I remember playing was a flight simulator, and yes I know what you’re probably thinking “A FLIGHT SIMULATOR?” are you kidding me?  But this game was not only fun, it’s something my friends and I had massive competitions over to see who could get the best flight times, or even complete some side missions of landing a plane.  Though this flight simulator wasn’t anything that blew your socks off on graphics or intense game play it did create community among a group of friends that spawned a passion for gaming, competition, and stronger friendships.

Just as all the gaming systems have changed over the years, the way we interact as gamers has dramatically changed as well!  We have so many social features at our fingertips when playing games, and whether that’s on a console system or a PC we can choose to interact over a chat message screen, or throwing on a headset and chatting with some of your “Guildies, or Kinnies” from a favorite MMO game you play.  For me, MMORPG games are what revolutionized the communities we see today as they draw players in and allow them to customize the way they play the games.

It wasn’t until I started playing LOTRO back around 2008 that I really even understood how huge the gamer communities had become.  What has come from playing games like WoW and LOTRO for years is not only a place that I can meet friends and go team up on a large group of mobs, or even 12 man up on an instance, or even those groupies around the Blog-O-Sphere realm, and also connect over socially media while doing all of that!

This passion for games and community has grown for me and a great friend of mine who goes by the gamertag: Victus Darkaero – you can find him out on Twitter @Victus_Darkaero or wondering the digital platforms.  Now why mention this, well for both Victus and I…this love of gaming has grown into a monthly podcast called All Things Geekery.  Swing by and check our site out sometime!

We threw the idea of podcasting around for some time as we both loved listening to podcasts, and honestly both of us always wanted to try creating our own.  We’ve just begun this journey into the podcasting realm and currently have two episodes released.  Each month we explore the world of geeky hobbies which plays right into our love of the gaming community and blog-o-sphere realms.  Check the podcast out sometime as we would love to hear from you and get your feedback. You can find us out on iTunesStitcherLibsynOvercast, and Google Play Music.

Community is so important in games, writing, podcasting, etc…as without that core foundation these things would be boring for the most part as we would have no one to cheer with, or make fun of when that one guy or gal “Accidentally” pulls that huge mob over to your RAID group and wipes you all… I promise I’ve never done that, EVER!   More importantly community goes even further than just the games we play, it reflects our character and who we are as people, and I just want to say thank you to all my gaming friends I’ve had the pleasure of sharing exciting gaming moments with, or possibly some witty banter on Twitter. See, community is more than just zero’s and ones that make up a game or a social network, it’s people and their personalities and that my friends is why I love community and gaming so much…It’s all because of you!

Come visit me over at A Hobbits Journey where I write weekly on gaming, community, and many more great topics.  I look forward to connecting with you and chatting sometime.
You can also find me out on Twitter @iogromerrybelly.

Posted in Music

Guest post: Faeldray’s Eclectic Game Music Mix


While Syp is away on vacation this week, enjoy this guest post from Faeldray of Lair of the Wolf Dragon. After you’re done, check out his blog. Don’t worry, he won’t bite!

Greetings folks! This is Faeldray from Lair of the Wolf Dragon and I’m here subbing for Syp while he adventures in the strange place known as The Outdoors. I hope he doesn’t get eaten by a bear or something.

Since Syp loves video game music, particularly from MMOs, I thought it would be great to share some of my favorite tracks from my soundtrack collection. I don’t have nearly as many MMOs on my list but I hope you’ll enjoy the music nonetheless.

Let’s start with a game that I’m pretty sure Syp has a soft spot for, considering that he has over 400 posts tagged as Lord of the Rings Online.

The time I spent in LOTRO wasn’t very long so I never made it far enough to see Rohan. But I remember it from the movies and from the first time I heard the uillean pipes, I was in love. Combined with violins, Theme for Rohan is a beautiful melody that makes me think of fire-lit castle walls and racing across rolling hills and plains that never seem to end.

The soundtrack for Dying Light is both unusual and interesting, and Passage is a great example of it. I feel like the composer took at least some of his inspiration from the Resident Evil movies theme. It takes classical instruments and mixes them with electronic music, even distorting them so that they sometimes sound a little off. It’s a game that’s filled with action and a lot of unease (there are zombies everywhere after all). And the violin solos—those are for the heart-breaking moments when you see the suffering that the people of Harran have been through.

More violins! Sensing a pattern here? Dune from Runescape is far, far too short in my opinion. I wish I could hear more of the instruments playing off one another because I think it could have gotten even more intricate and breathtaking.

A Story About My Uncle might be a 3D platformer/puzzle game but that doesn’t mean that there’s no time to stand around and take in the beauty of the world. Without giving away too much, A Sign of Life is what you hear when you come across a sleepy and very unusual little village where you certainly weren’t expecting one. This track does an excellent job of conveying the sense of wonder that you feel as you explore all its nooks and crannies.

Starbound is one of those games that I really need to play more. At this point, the time I’ve spent listening to the awesome soundtrack is likely many times more than I’ve actually spent in game. I have quite a few tracks that I enjoy from this game but my very favorite is I was the Sun (Before it was Cool). The Chinese music combined with the country western twang reminds me a lot of Firefly/Serenity, and it’s just an upbeat tune overall.

Aveline, the protagonist in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, walks between worlds in more ways than one. Not only is she both a lady and a skilled assassin, but she also has a mixed heritage: French and African. Main Theme does an amazing job of weaving the two together: a operatic female singer contrasted with deep male chanting, and classical instruments combined with fast-paced drumming. This really is her song.

Planet Explorers is still in early access so it doesn’t have an official OST yet. It already has the beginnings of one though. To the New World has been using in some of their trailers and captures so many of the aspects of the game: exploration, survival, creating, and fighting. If you’d like to hear more of this music from the game, I’ve created a playlist on Youtube.

It’s been so long since I played Siege of Avalon that I don’t have a clue where in the game that I heard The Alchemist. But as soon as I did, I remembered exploring the vast Avalon citadel and its environs. It’s not a terribly happy place when you’re there and the melancholy is apparently in this track. There are no chosen hero here; it is a story about just trying to survive and do what you can to turn the tide of a war.

If you’ve made it to the end of the Summer in Stardew Valley, you’ve experienced the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies. I never thought pixelated jellyfish would be so awe-inspiring but this track adds so much to the sense of beauty and wonder. I look forward to this festival every in-game summer.

And for the finale, I have a small tribute to Lionhead Studio, the developers who gave us the Fable series and now is sadly no more. The first Fable game I played was Fable 2 actually and one of the first locations I was sent to was Bowerlake. The track for it is so soulful and haunting that I would come back in-game time and time again just to hear it. If there was ever a song that exemplified nostalgia for me, this would be it.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 75: Dance Party!

Get out on the dance floor and boogie down with the Battle Bards! Today the bards look for — believe it or not — electronic dance music in MMO soundtracks. Yes, it exists, and yes, it’s all over the map. So strap in for a tub-thumping, rave-inducing episode that does skew to the goofy and surreal at times.

Episode 75 show notes

  • Intro (feat. “Club Tracks” from Anarchy Online and “Club 47” from Star Trek Online)
  • “Free to Dance” from WildStar
  • “Lords of Verminion Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Sunset Tracer” from Tree of Savior
  • “Pocket D Themes” from City of Heroes
  • “Involute” from Granada Espada
  • “Robo Factory Theme” from The Sims Online
  • “Stratus” from The Matrix Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Floating Sky” from Trove, “Peaceful Hills” from Portal Knights, and “Wet Hands” from Minecraft
  • Outro (“Mission Complete” from Spiral Knights)

Listen to episode 75 now!

Posted in General

Guest post: Bio break, Murf-style

Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Murf of Murf Versus. Check out his blog for more great word-stuff!

As ardent MMO enthusiasts, I imagine we all have our fair share of bio break related stories. When Syp asked for guest posts, I very tongue-in-cheek said only if I get to talk about bio breaks. He called my bluff and here I am.

Going to the bathroom is rarely an adventure. Going to the bathroom while having an online adventure often can be. I remember my younger days, the days of EverQuest and Ultima Online, when I was carefree and able to stay up all night long. My father hated that I did that. He’d get on to me anytime he caught me, and he often did. I would be finishing up my epic adventures around five in the morning when he would first be getting up. He always thought I was wasting my summer days while I slept in until near dinner time.

I will not gross you out with details, but it is amazing how creative the young can be when avoiding the ire of their parents.

Flash forward a few years to the height of The Burning Crusade, and my days of holding in for epic loot were in even fuller swing. Instead of avoiding judgement by my father, I was avoiding judgement by my peers. And by epic loot, I meant it, as this was the era in which I was one of those hardcore, server-first, elitist raider types.

I doubt every dedicated raiding group is blessed with one, but my guild had a tank that everyone loved. He was our guild leader and raid leader as well. On the rare nights when he was not present, we went from a guild doing server firsts to a guild ranked server last. He was our glue and a real charming bastard to boot. We had the healers and the damage dealers to back him up, but without him, we were completely lost.

It turned out the scheduling was rough on him. We were only doing three nights a week, but he was there for raids early and stayed on past our cutoff. He also had a full-time job and he regularly logged in on off nights to help farm for the guild bank. I imagine he also spent a lot of time reading or researching raid strategies as well.

Table setting done, our story takes place one raiding eve during a particularly busy period for our guild. We had taken over as the server’s top guild only recently and we were pushing hard to finish Kael’Thas first in Tempest Keep. We had even added a few extra progression nights to keep up our pace.

We were having an off night. Instead of breezing through the bosses of Tempest Keep, we were wiping on Void Reaver, the raid’s second boss. As you can imagine, there was a lot of cursing and arguing about people taking too many balls to the face. It was a frustrating evening as they sometimes are, but there was a noticeable lag with our fateful leader. Rather than his chipper, optimistic self, he sounded tired and worn down. He was still both chipper and optimistic, just less so than usual.

After a particularly gruesome wipe, he declared bio break in officer chat. He also mentioned changing his laundry. It turns out, with all the extra raiding, his regular chores were lagging behind too. The other officers all call a break since we cannot proceed without our leader.

Five minutes pass and he doesn’t come back, then fifteen and he still hasn’t returned. Worry starts to set in. Several officers were personal friends of his, so they start calling him. We play a game where we all yell into our mics on Vent hoping to get his attention. A defeated night suddenly turns somber when no one receives any answer.

Utterly confused and wrought with worry, we’re forced to call the night early. We weren’t making any progress and no one had the heart to keep trying.

The next day in the early evening, almost twenty four hours later, our raid leader’s bio break ends. Some of us were running some random heroics when he suddenly popped into Vent and logged into game. We were overwhelmed with relief that he was okay.

He apologized profusely. He felt so bad that things had ended because of him and that the entire guild was left hanging.

Turns out, after taking a bio and starting his laundry, his dirty clothes looked so comfortable that he laid down for a moment. That moment turned into a night and then a day and then more of the following night.

We never let him hear the end of it. To this day, when someone says they are taking a bio break, I worry they will go to asleep doing their laundry instead. No one is around who gets that thought, but it still makes me smile.