Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Do Druids poop in the woods?


The long journey back to Druid life

In a recent WoW post, I talked about how I was searching for purpose and a goal in the game now that I’ve gotten Broken Isle Pathfinder Part One and pretty much have my Death Knight on auto-pilot doing daily emissary quests. There are some odds and ends to tie up with her, but until 7.2 arrives, my attention is starting to turn elsewhere.

The natural outlet would be an alt, but settling on one has been more difficult than expected. I’ve experienced this in MMOs, where I end up playing a class that’s so perfect for me that when I go to try others, I find them severely lacking and end up rejecting them all.

I gave several of my mothballed level 100s another try: The Beast Master Hunter felt dull and lacking a punch, the Shaman is just a mess and so much less interesting than it was in Draenor, and I can’t get into a good rotational groove with my Warlock. Then I got all fired up for a few days to create a new Monk — a class I’d really never tried before — and see what healing with that was like. Turned out that by the time I was running Deadmines, I found myself wistful that I didn’t have all of my Druid healing skills at my disposal. And that led me back, in a very roundabout way, to my Druid.

I have to say that I absolutely hate her name — Syppe — which I think I must have been punch-tired or something to not figure out a better version of the Syp nomer legacy. I might actually have to pay to change that one if I stick with this character. But it’s been pretty neat to come back to her and get things sorted out.

She just hit 101 last night and is in the early steps of opening up her class hall (such a confusing design, by the way) and forging through her first Broken Isles zones. It’s going to be… interesting to play a healer spec while questing, but I think I’ve figured out a good approach. She’s got the balance affinity, so that gained me the Moonkin form and some nice ranged spells. I’m not burning down things super-fast, but at least I can take them on at range and cycle through groups pretty well. Plus, I’ve figured out which healing spells I can use in Moonkin form (yay renewal), so I’m kind of hard to put down.

Posted in Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online: Tzatziki saucers


Since it’s Star Trek Online’s anniversary and the launch of a new season and all, I figured I owed the game some time. Even though I have a few episode arcs to catch up on, I went ahead and jumped into the new Season 12 mission, Of Signs and Portents.

Plus, as with most new episodes that STO releases, there are some limited-time rewards for running it, including a couple coming up in, um…


1999? Is this Cryptic’s way of saying that the studio has mastered time travel? Are we to be sent back to the Clinton era? Gotta brush up on my Matrix memes and warn the world about the Nokia N-Gage!


As this is the first of a line of eventual quests, there’s very little meat to it. I’m sent in along with the Klingons and some other alien race that I have yet to meet in the episode arcs to investigate some planet-destroyin’ that’s going on with protomatter bombs. Those are the BEST bombs, by the way. So much better than antimatter, doesitmatter, and promatter bombs.

The big baddies this time around are the Tzenkethi, or as I like to call them, the Tzatziki, because I love my Greek food. Can I just admit that one of my pet peeves is how annoying most Star Trek alien race names are? It’s like the writers gave up after the 189th race and just started slamming letters and apostrophes together in the hopes of creating something mysterious-sounding.


I don’t think these aliens are all bad, not really. For one thing, they’ve got these sweet cyber-armor outfits that look like something an alien extra from Mass Effect would wear. For another, the first time you see them, one does a cannonball into a pool. Dude just wants to party.


Hey, it’s a bomb! Looks like the whatever-they-are are trying to get rid of crystals, so I’m guessing that it’s a big fake-out and we’ve yet to meet the real threat going on. I hope these lizard guys end up being on our side. Would love to recruit one for my bridge crew.

There’s more ground combat in this mission than space, and I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that my shotgun, while cool to look at, is a poor weapon in this game. It just doesn’t shoot fast enough or handle quite right. Alas.

Anyway, happy birthday Star Trek Online!

Posted in Retro Gaming

Star Control 2: The end


(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I wasn’t expecting too much at the conclusion of Star Control 2, but the designers apparently had a great final reward in mind. During the end credits, most of the alien races appear to spout  off all sorts of jokes, fourth wall-breaking comments, and story conclusions. It’s simply hilarious, as one would expect from this game. So without commentary, here are some choice screenshots from the credits sequence. Thanks for reading this playthrough series!

e2 e3 e4 e5 e6 e7 e8 e9 e10 e11

Posted in Retro Gaming

Star Control 2: I’m da bomb


(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As the Utwig head off to war against the bad guys, I feel like I’m running against the clock to get that bomb and do my own Death Star trench run before all of my allies end up being space fodder.


While I have permission from the Utwig to go get the precursor bomb from one of their planets, the Druuge show up and seem to think that it’s still theirs. Or it should be theirs. It’s aggressive mercantile strategy, and I’m going to have to counter it with aggressive starship punches to the faces.


With the Druuge fertilizing outer space with their remains, I land on the planet and claim the bomb for my own. Totally seems like a good idea to be carrying a massive bomb around in my cargo hold, right?


I head over to meet the last undiscovered alien race, the Umgah, but they’re having a Bad Day. Apparently they rescued one of the Ur-Quan’s “talking pets” and bioengineered it into sentience, whereupon it used its psychic powers to take over the Umgah and force them to do its bidding. It tries the same on me, but one of my devices shields me from the psychic attack.


This guy is flat-out hilarious, by the way. After beating his ships, he pretends to have turned a new leaf, but then gets real and promises to help as a member of my crew against the Ur-Quan. His psychic powers could come in handy and he has a grudge against them, so why not?


It’s time for the final showdown! The Chmmr install the bomb on my ship, which unfortunately takes a LOT of slots and disables my emergency warp-out ability. The good news is that I now have unlimited funds to outfit the rest of my ship and build a fleet for the confrontation. Next stop: the heart of the Ur-Quan empire!


This really is the point of no return. The Ur-Quan’s super-weapon is surrounded by a massive fleet, and the aliens are so incensed that I defy them that they pronounce genocide against all humans.

But they got to get through me, first.

I discuss the plan with the talking pet, and he uses his psychic powers to clear out that massive fleet orbiting the planet. With those ships distracted, I swoop in and attack the remainders around the weapons platform.


My bird allies swoop in (so to speak) in the midst of the battle to deliver much-needed reinforcements. BAWWK!


Here it is, the precursor weapons platform. It’s a tough nut to crack, as it’s protected by a shield. I have to knock out eight generators before making my bombing run.


My escape pod detaches and the ship/bomb explodes, taking out the Sa-Matra and effectively destroying both alien races.


Fan service!


I wake up in the hospital above earth in time to see the red slave shield finally come down. We did it! I am victorious! And I have a cute blue girlfriend to boot!

That’s the end of one of the best retro game experiences I’ve had to date. Star Control 2 holds up remarkably well even today, thanks to its fun space sim and RPG mechanics, the weird and wooly alien races, and the witty writing. I can see why it’s been regarded as a classic.

It might be the end of the game, but not of this playthrough series, because I have an interesting coda coming for you tomorrow!

Posted in Music

The great music overhaul of 2016


So if you’ll excuse my extreme nerdiness and self-indulgence today, I wanted to talk about my music collection.

Ever since I started collecting digital music in the early 2000s, I had my own organizational system. It’s nothing fancy, just a dozen or so folders devoted to various musical genres (pop, video game, comedy, Christian, etc.), into which I would put songs that I generally liked. I used to keep EVERYthing, but having long since realized that there are tracks I will never listen to ever again, I stopped doing that and only saved songs that I liked for one reason or another. The only exception to this plan these days are MMORPG soundtracks, which I have kept in full due to the projects that I use them for.

So as I listen to and sort tracks, I have thrown the best into a folder that I’ve called “Mobile Mix.” Since I have too much music to fit on most mobile devices (first iPods, later the iPhone and my car’s flash drives), I wanted to pull music that I would listen to the most while I was on the go. A favorites mix, if you will, which is something that I imagine many people have.

Over time, I kept throwing files willy-nilly into the Mobile Mix folder to the point where it started to buckle from being too big. At the start of this week, the folder contained over 4,500 tracks, which I had come to realize was causing issues. Firstly, it takes my car almost three minutes to index all of those and start playing them after I turn it on, which has caused a few hilarious moments when music abruptly started blaring while we’re already driving and my wife jumps out of her seat. Second, many of the songs that I had thrown into that folder were no longer appealing to me. I might have liked them at one time or included them because I thought they were noteworthy, but they weren’t “listen to all of the time” candidates any more. The whole idea of this mix is that it’s Syp’s personal radio station, and I should never want to skip a song of it because I don’t like it for whatever reason.

Because of this realization, this week I sat down and started a lengthy project to go back through all 4,500 tracks, listening to them one by one, and culling the songs that don’t have high replay value. I’m also taking the opportunity to fix spelling, capitalization, and other formatting errors.

It’s going to be a slow process, to be sure, but I’m glad I’m finally getting around to it. It’s that satisfying feeling of cleaning out a room that you’ve neglected for too long. Plus, it’s a chance to reaquaint myself with some of my old favorites and remember when I had added these. Also, I’m realizing just how weird my tastes are. As my wife said the other day when we were driving, “Is this the theme to the Snorks?”

Yes. Yes it is. Have some fun with the Snorks, my dear.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: The breathtaking beauty of Gondor


Through the Paths of the Dead

The standard format of MMOs goes that the higher up in levels you go, the uglier and more visually oppressive zones get. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, and this trope does seem to be changing these days, but that’s the rule of thumb. Happily, LOTRO seems to go back and forth between attractive and dismal settings, and being able to explore the beauty of Gondor makes getting up to these high levels worth it.


Even though this is my second time going up through the levels, I’m still incredibly impressed with what the devs did with Gondor. Rohan was admittedly gorgeous and got a lot of press, while Gondor seems to be an expansion that was chopped up into smaller parcels and never given its full due. But it really is a terrific region, with its own music, architecture, and narrative. It even worked in some Elves, if you go for that sort of thing. I don’t, but hey, it’s a break from wall-to-wall Man stuff we’ve had ever since Dunland.


Behind in levels, ahead in spirit

My Lore-master has been racing behind the level curve of these new areas and quests. I could only just get into the new volume of the epic quest at level 91 (it starts at 95 and quickly ramps up to 100). I decided to slow down for a bit in the first area of Gondor to do a bunch of side quests and knock out a few more levels. I think it’s paid off: I’m level 94 and I figure that if I can at least get to 96, I’ll be able to go through the next few books of the epic with no worries (books 2-4 are all level 100 content; book 5 starts going from 101 to 105).


Ugh. So, so pretty. I loved this brook, especially when the daylight hit it. I am still bowled over by the sense of world that LOTRO gives. It’s not just wall-to-wall mobs and quests, but there’s a lot of wilderness and places to explore. It feels big, but not in an “I’m totally lost” sort of way.


I’m not as big of a fan of the Gondor interiors as I was of Rohan, but both are lightyears ahead of the younger region of Bree and those houses.


The Elven cave city is one of the more interesting locales of the game, I have to admit. Seems like a lot of work was done in it for a relatively small payoff. I do have a lot of questions about those Christmas lights and how the Elves put them up there and keep them lit.


A new look

I have hundreds of mithril coins (thanks, lifetime sub for all of those TP), so I splurged at the market and equipped myself with a snazzy new outfit for my Lore-master. Some black die made it look sharp, and I really like the hood design that sort-of covers one eye. I also used a low-level ash staff as a cosmetic weapon, since I prefer that natural look to those weird, funky LI staves.

Posted in General

Syp’s classic video game trivia!

Last night in RIFT, I had the pleasure of running our weekly trivia night. I themed my questions around classic video game trivia, and so to get the best bang for my buck, er, efforts, I thought I’d post them to see if any of you would like to try your hand answering in the comments:

  1. WHAT ARE THE NAMES OF THE FOUR GHOSTS IN PAC-MAN (you must name all four)?
  2. WHAT WAS MARIO’S ORIGINAL NAME (from Donkey Kong)?
Posted in General

6 types of MMO pet classes


By now, most of you know that I usually gravitate to pet classes in MMOs (and any RPGs, for that matter). I love the virtual companionship, the feeling of “ganging up” on an enemy, the visuals, and the different playstyle. If I’m being honest, pet classes make me feel powerful, and that’s a huge motivation for me to play them.

From LOTRO to City of Heroes to Warhammer Online, I’ve tried out most of the pet classes that were proffered, enjoying some while rejecting others. One thing that I’ve grown increasingly aware of is that there is a tremendous variety within the pet class category. One game’s pet class might look and play entirely different than another, allowing for personal preferences to come into play.

Today I want to boil down most pet classes into six types, with the caveats here being that (a) I’m not even going to discuss species of pets (animal, humanoid, mechanical, aetheral), and (b) some MMO pet classes embody two or more of these types. Lots of bleeding over between them. So here we go!

1. The Tamer

The concept behind this pet class is being given the tools to go out into the game world and either permanently or temporarily turn an enemy into an ally. World of Warcraft’s Hunter is a good example of how a pet can be chosen and tamed, adding a meta game as players comb the world for certain types. EverQuest II, I believe, has at least one class with the core mechanic of charming enemies on the battlefield. I even had a Neverwinter companion pet that had its own charm-like ability, which was some Inception-level craziness there.

2. The Swarmer

Swarmers tend to trade in one powerful companion pet for a slew of weaker, more specialized pets that work as a team — or just to swarm over the enemy like piranha. Guild Wars/Guild Wars 2’s Necromancer is famous for the “minion master” build, and who wasn’t a fan of City of Villain’s Masterminds? Visually, this class can be very satisfying to watch, as now YOU are the one mobbing the mobs. It’s kind of messy and chaotic, though.

3. The Buffer

One of my least favorite pet types, the Buffer is the class where the pet is primarily a walking buff that does minor damage in combat. It’s primary there to be a boon to group content. LOTRO’s Captain comes to mind with its heralds or its Lore-master with the little spirit ball-thing. The one benefit of these types is that they’re more mobile than stationary totem-deploying classes, since you hopefully don’t have to keep resummoning the pet.

4. The Tanker

A Tanker class is any one where the pet draws aggro and is able to take a good-sized beating while you provide the damage. I split hairs here with pets that can draw aggro but probably shouldn’t and don’t tend to keep it for long. Tankers are great for players looking for low-stress combat and pair nicely with ranged weapons.

5. The Healer

Once in a while you do encounter a Healer pet class, where the pet either aids in the character’s healing role or does all of the healing itself. RIFT’s Druids and FFXIV’s Scholar both feature healing pets, and they are really awesome. It’s nice to have an autonomous companion healer in the midst of stressful dungeon crawls.

6. The Cannon Fodder

Cannon Fodder types are pet classes where you summon very temporary pets that are meant to do burst damage, take quick aggro, and die. Sometimes these come as swarms, sometimes not, but in every case they are pets that don’t stick around past their timer, even if the job isn’t done.

Posted in General

Why MMOs kicking your butt isn’t always bad


When a whiny carebear needs some tough love

I’m sure that I come off as a whiny carebear at times here on Bio Break (“Your words, Syp, not mine!”), especially when it comes to combat situations. I hate the feeling of being roadblocked in MMOs when I can’t progress due to an encounter or particular mob being far too difficult — and not having any other workaround. I dislike mobs that are overly annoying (stop running away! Fight like a man… er, kobold!). I don’t want to be in a battle that lasts for more than 45 seconds. I’m apparently a hard person to please.

But today I’m going to step out of my comfort zone to admit that, yeah, it isn’t always bad when an MMO kicks my butt. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing, even if I resent it at the time.

If I can talk about my faith for a second, my worldview is such that I believe that life is hard. Sometimes very much so. And that instead of creating easy-peasy paths for us to travel down in comfort (I’m not a prosperity gospel kind of pastor, let’s just say), God strengthens us to deal with the challenges of life by trials and other at-the-time painful growth. Life doesn’t always get easier, we do suffer, but with His help we become better and more capable of dealing with it properly.

Because I’m used to this in real life, perhaps that’s why I resent it when I get challenged in MMOs. Part of me whines that I just want a relaxing, comfortable gaming experience for my unwinding time. Games are an escape from real life in a way, so why bring real life into it?

As much as I might resent how life has thrown me through the wringer and set challenge upon challenge upon me, I have to admit that today, I am a better person for it. I couldn’t have been the dad I am today 15 years ago, for example — I was far more self-centered, undisciplined, and inexperienced. So might MMOs be like that too?

An immovable force in LOTRO

Let me share a recent story. So I was finishing up Volume III of the epic in LOTRO the other night at level 91, and this particular mission sent me into an underground area of Isengard to kill six mobs. No problem, right? I haven’t really had any difficulty killing things on my LM, that’s for sure. But here it was different: The level 95 signature mobs had a host of tough, hard-hitting buffs that made them difficult to down and extremely dangerous to my level 91 person when they burned through my pet and started slapping me around. I started dying left and right, first perplexed and then angry at what was happening. I just wanted to finish this dumb “kill 6 orcs” quest! Why must it be so haaaaaaard?

However grudgingly, the game got me to respond by shifting my tactics. I tried different pets. I paid attention to the fight and figured out that staying out of melee range — even if the mob was only attacking my pet — was preferable, since the mob had AOE melee attacks. This was better, but not good enough to get the job done.

That’s when I cracked open my toolbox and got to work. I want to clarify how I feel about challenging encounters in MMOs: I only really start throwing a tantrum when there is no way past them with what I have on me. But if I can progress if I try different tactics and skills, then the encounter becomes a sort of “combat puzzle” to be solved — and my toolbox is my array of skills.

Like probably most players, I get into a fixed rotation for my battle and more or less ignore all of the rest of my skills. In some games where you only have a few skills, that’s no problem, but for others, like LOTRO, you might have dozens of possible skills waiting in the wings. If the game stops you hard with your routine rotation and makes you rethink how you fight, it can be a revelation to look at these ignored skills. I’ve had this happen many times in The Secret World, but I can’t recall LOTRO doing it to me before (in this case, part of the difficulty is the level disparity).

The mob had tons of strong buffs? I realized I was a Lore-master — and one of my specialties is debuffing. It’s not something I usually do, because fights with a pet and some burning embers are usually over fast enough not to need them. In this case, I went through my list of skills and pulled out a half-dozen debuff abilities, then gave them their own special section on the toolbar. In my searches, I also found an overlooked healing skill that threw a pretty nice heal-over-time spell on me and my pet which I didn’t even know existed. That discovery alone was worth the frustration that this quest caused.

With my revised strategy and toolbar, I started laying into these mobs. I hit them hard, throwing debuff after debuff and then attacking fast from range. This new approach worked, and my pet wasn’t even 1/4th of the way depleted before the mob went down. Victory! I went from frustration to being flushed with pride at overcoming an obstacle. And I walked out of that area with a better understanding of my class, a new healing skill, and a revised perspective. It was worthwhile.

So yeah, I might complain from time to time. It’s a blog, it’s my outlet, that’s what happens. But I need to admit that having my butt kicked out of complacency is something that needs to be done from time to time — whether it’s the game doing it or me doing it to myself.

Posted in The Secret World

The Secret World: Transylvania noir (Besieged Farmlands #5)


(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Death and Axes (investigation mission)

Sophie is one of the truly good people in The Secret World. She’s under a lot of pain, as she somehow feels the death of people in the vicinity, but she remains optimistic and compassionate. She talks about how it was really bad at first, when the vampires came, which makes me think that what happened here was a lot like what happened on Solomon Island when the fog rolled in: Evil was unleashed quickly, rapidly, and widely, penning the survivors in and cutting off their route for escape.

Sophie talks of both the dead and undead that linger around here, and encourages me in so many words to check out the spirits that are also causing her torment. Anything I can do for a fan, really.

So what we have here, really, is a murder investigation case, Secret World-style. It’s one of the more clever missions of the game, even if it makes you Google Translate Romanian way too often.


Part of Sophie’s distress is standing right behind her, which can only be seen when I dive into the spirit world and see a ghost hovering right over her shoulder. This is the ghost of a detective who was apparently investigating a murder — the murder of Sophie’s boyfriend, Mihail.


This mission is big on finding clues, both in the living world and in the anima one, and using logical deduction to figure out what to do and where to go next. At the murder site, a hanged body is watched over by a raven. That’s never a good sign in this game.

Mihail left a love letter to Sophie, begging her to run off with him. He was also disturbed at how he could hear the spirits talking through her voice while she slept at night. I would think that’d be disturbing.


The investigation led me to a local farm, where Sophie’s mom and dad had been killed as well. Their ghosts continued to hang around to give me the info for a license plate, because why tell me a name when a license plate could be so much more ambiguous?


We’re condensing a lot of backtracking, translating, and investigation via the late detective’s laptop, but in the end I uncover the murderer: Mihail’s brother, who was heavily influenced by a local revenant. I perform my justice and find the body of the detective, hopefully putting all of the spirits to rest and helping to ease Sophie’s pain a bit.


Dead Reconning (action mission)

Iorgu is one of the (rare) dull mission NPCs in this game, so let’s skip over him and talk about The Secret World’s vampires — or Strigoi, as the locals call them. While TSW’s werewolves are pretty typical stuff, I give the devs credit for making the vampires far from sexy and tropish. If anything, they’re creepy-looking bloodsuckers, kind of like human mosquitoes with claws. The excess clothing and gas masks allow them to be out during the day, while the straws coming out of the mask are presumably for feeding. You genuinely want to kill these guys on first sight, and that’s to the game’s credit.


This mission serves as an introduction to this big threat that’s descended to the front steps of the village. We learn a lot about vampires here: how they dress, how they fight… and how they feed. Vamps can drink animal blood but vastly prefer human blood for the edge it gives them. To help this, they keep “blood stocks” around. These are people strapped to a frame with tubes sticking out of them all over the place — again, for easy access. As far as I can tell, they’re beyond the point of saving, which is why the game lets you mercy kill any you see. At least, I’m hoping that’s the case, because I’ve often felt bad for them. Even the name, blood stock, is so impersonal and strips the humanity away from this shell.


Other than learning about vamps, this mission takes me on a tour of the Soviet-era apartment block that grew up right next to the more homey village. Lots of brutal cold war architecture, with ugly concrete structures jutting up all over the place and forlorn playground equipment.

There is a zip line at one point, although this is traversed in first-person cutscene (boo). At the end of the mission, I find a note on a computer ordering the vampire horde to hold back and not overrun the village. Apparently there’s a bigger plan going on, and I intend to find out what.

There’s a short side mission follow-up, A Body of Work, that involves gathering much-needed supplies for the villagers.


A Drink to Remember (action mission)

After getting a little tipsy with Iorgu, I set out to push deeper into the vampire-held territory to see what’s going on behind their front lines. Turns out, not so good things. Also, it’s an apocalyptic wasteland, a warzone that makes me wonder where the tanks, mortar rounds, and bombs are. Vampires with their prickly claws couldn’t have done all of this.


The vamps are building strange siege engines — giant, semi-hidden things with mechanical treads and jutting, bird-like appendages, It’s hard to figure out how these would be used in any situation, nevermind a siege one. On the inside, they’re mostly fuel tanks, old computers, and blood stocks.


I bump shoulders with the vampire general here, who is amusing to watch type with those giant claws on. Also, it’s a little weird that he pretty much ignores me until I attack him. I am not above getting in a free hit at the start.

After stepping over his corpse, I read the general’s email and see that even he was getting orders from higher-up, orders to stay put and work on those siege engines. But what for? They could’ve overrun the village with a small platoon of vampires at this point.

Another short follow-up mission, Blood Drive, puts me in the role of a blood delivery man to the local church. Why? We’ll go into that another time.