Battle Bards Episode 101: Ragnarok Online

As the Battle Bards cruise into their second hundred episodes, it’s time to cover a very long-lived fantasy MMO from 2002, Ragnarok Online. The game has an… interesting soundtrack and a devoted following in some circles, but as the crew discovered on today’s show, the score is not without its criticisms. It’s time to kick summer vacation to the curb and trumpet another parade of MMO music!

Episode 101 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Aplen Rose” and “Theme of Alberta”)
  • “Theme of Lutie”
  • “Splendid Dreams”
  • “March with Irish Whistle”
  • “Dream of a Whale”
  • “Sleeping Volcano”
  • “Antique Cowboy”
  • “Christmas in the 13th Month”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Frotierkilla
  • Jukebox Picks: “Meet Tiki and Mermaid” from Dragon’s Crown, “Devil’s Swing” from Bendy and the Ink Machine, “Drake’s Theme” from Uncharted
  • Outro (feat. “Erebos’ Prelude”)

Am I missing out by not having a collection?

Time and money. Money and time.

Two things I’m often very short on these days and work against the idea of harboring a collection. But it hasn’t stopped me from being wistful that, as a geek, I don’t really have a collection. I kind of wish I did. I have collected things to varying degrees over the years but not seriously and not extensively. I have some SNES games, but not really a collection. Star Wars Legos. MMO memorabilia. I tried vinyl collecting for a hot month last year. But not really having time to commit to cultivating a collection and the funds to support it keep killing it.

I feel like I’m maybe not as interesting or fulfilled without one, sometimes. I have a friend whose “thing” is collecting PEZ. He’s been doing it for decades now and has an amazing collection. He’s even got a tattoo. Everyone knows that’s his collection and supports him in that.

Lately I’ve been feeling a pang of envy when I watch YouTube videos of fans that have these amazing collections of various things (usually video games). I’m not envious of what they own, but that they have a thing. It makes me wish that I had collected cool art or had been more serious about accumulating a game collection back when I had a lot more time and spare income for it. Now I don’t know if it can ever really happen. The console game market seems a lot more pricey and rare now that people have been more aggressively collecting through ebay and craigslist, and I don’t even know where I’d start. Plus, with the re-releases like the SNES Classic, I wonder at the purpose of even having such a collection.

But I still kind of want one.

Another issue I have with collection is where to put one. I don’t have a lot of space in our house that is actually just mine. We have four kids and a smallish house, so my space is pretty much a desk and a bookshelf. We’ve talked about carving out part of a room as a den, but I’d feel selfish when the kids are already bouncing off the wall for lack of space. A physical collection of items would require a lot of shelf space no matter what it is, and that’s why I asked family members to stop getting Star Wars Legos for me. I just had no more space for them (and wasn’t super-interested in amassing a great amount of them).

Probably the one thing I do collect a lot of and organize is music, particularly video game music. This is not a boast, but I genuinely think that I probably have one of the largest MMORPG music collections out there right now. I’d be very interested to meet someone who has more (and peruse his or her library!). It’s satisfying to collect and organize and possess a wide range of something you like.

Maybe this ties into another part of my nature, that I get really excited about things I see that are cool and feel compulsion to do/collect/enjoy/practice that too. But really, we only have so much time and money to go around, and one has to make choices.

Perhaps one day I’ll focus on a collection and really go for it. I am going to set up my SNES again for my kids to enjoy soon, and there are several games that I would love to own with it. But I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford seriously collecting for it. Maybe a little at a time, see where that gets me.

Do you collect? How’d you get into it and why do you do it?

LOTRO: Goodbye Bingo Boffin, hello virtue grind!

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Actually, “endings” in MMORPGs are not as common as in other games, as we’re used to the adventure (and the road) going ever on. But after 52 installments of Bingo Boffin’s journey, it was finally time to draw his story to a definite end.

The final part took the form of a dinner party in which Bingo invited neighbors and all of the friends he made over the course of his travels, providing a fitting epilogue, a few laughs, and even a reunion of Hobbit cultures that were previously separated. We also got to see just how much Bingo has grown over the year and how he turned into somewhat of a skillful diplomat.

The dinner party bit was a nice bookend to how the whole chain started, and I really liked the quiet moment when Bingo reflected on his travels with you in the foyer. “Every adventure comes to an end someday,” he said, but there wasn’t a lot of regret there. Bingo satisfied his urge to explore and see the wider world, and he’s brought more than a bit of that home with him.

While there were parts of the chain that were more time-consuming, boring, or annoying than others, overall Bingo Boffin’s quest is a wonderful addition to the game and a great alternative to the “real” epic quest. I especially recommend it if you like fluffy items as rewards, such as cosmetics, housing decor, and pets. I’m swimming in the latter two, and I really need to take an evening to work on my home so I can clear up some inventory space.

Now that we’re weeks, if not days, away from Mordor opening up, it’s time to prepare for the expansion. For me, this means first of all making a new outfit! I love the Bartleby backpack and worked an adventurer’s outfit around that. While I have plenty of pets, I’m making it my thing to pull out squirrels in any MMOs that let me. Love my white squirrely here as a tribute to Squirrel Girl.

Next up is to flesh out my virtue roster. I made a list of how many points I need to bring each to 21 (that being the new cap when Mordor launches) and took an hour or two to cross-reference my deed log with LOTRO Wiki to figure out which deeds I needed to do. I really wish there was a better way to organize this in-game, but oh well. Here’s what I ended up with:

There’s a lot of slayer deeds in there, alas, but I do have several slayer accelerators in my bank, so I’ll try to make the best use of those. Hopefully it won’t be too bad and I’ll be able to get most of these done by launch day.

By the way, SSG, I’m really OK with you delaying the expansion to late August to get in some more testing. July 31st feels too fast, too rushed for what needs to be a homerun release. There’s no rush here!

WoW: The power of memory

So here’s an interesting little story that’s happened to me this past week. I was on Facebook the other day, enjoying the nonsensical stream of posts, links, and random thoughts from my network of friends and associates and “how do I know this person?” when I saw a notice come up from a very old World of Warcraft Christian guild that I used to belong to back in the Wrath of the Lich King days. Again, very old.

I clicked on post, because I was amazed that it was even still around. As I read the activity, I got encouraged to see their continued existence and vibrant activity, and before you knew it, I went to that server in question and pinged the guild leader to say hi. I remembered this guild vaguely because it was one of the very few Horde guilds to which I belonged, where I had a level 80 Tauren Druid stomping about named Echoes.

Well not only did the GM say howdy back, he actually remembered me from seven years ago and greeted me by my actual first name. He’s a high school teacher, he says, so that’s why he’s good with names, but I work with kids and I barely remember my own offspring’s names on any given day, so I think it’s more than just an occupational skill. Obviously, I was impressed and pleased to be remembered, and a little ashamed that I didn’t recall very much about this guild in return (again, it was seven years ago, so that’s the excuse I’m sticking with).

I took it as a sign of sorts and got drawn into creating a new Undead Warlock (my 237th to date, if anyone’s keeping track) to hang out with them a bit, if only in chat. Not a lot in common that a level 15 and a level 110 has in this game. But I’m having fun, in my own little ways, exploring the post-Cataclysm world from the Horde point of view, running the occasional dungeon as DPS,

I have really enjoyed exploring more of the Forsaken as a culture. If I could go back in time to the very start of my journey with WoW, I think I would advise myself to roll and stick with the Undead as a race. To me, it’s the most interesting of all of the Horde races, although I’ve often had a problem with the visuals of bones jutting out of the armor models, breaking up their designs. But I’m kind of getting past that now — and past the fact that there’s some zombie elf lady in charge of us all — to revel in the Halloween nature of the faction. Plagues for all! ALL!

I’m also starting to learn that over on the Horde side, it’s still about 80% Blood Elves. I get that they’re probably the most good-looking in terms of human-like models, but it’s a bit extreme even so. I ran Deadmines the other day and I was the only non-Blood Elf in the group. It was a bunch of preening fashion models and me, a decaying, shambling fool trying to keep up. Felt like high school all over again.

Having gone through the first 15 levels a few times these past couple of months in World of Warcraft, I will say that these are among the slowest and most agonizing of levels in the game to experience, especially if you’re coming from an endgame character. The lack of mount makes going anywhere a chore, and the miserly parceling out of skills means that attacking at the beginning is so dull and repetitive. As a Warlock, I didn’t even get my pet until level 6, and it wasn’t until level 10 that I had two DoTs and the pet to make combat bearable. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s still a couple of long hours right there.

I’ll be going Affliction, at least for the time being, because it doesn’t look like Demonology is any less annoying to use than it was a few months ago. Once again, I really miss how classes were in Draenor. Legion “class fantasies” ended up ruining so many of the specs that I enjoyed, such as Demo Lock (with my Terrorguard), Enhancement Shammy (with my pets), and BM Hunter (with a much more interesting rotation). But that’s the WoW life — you adjust to Blizzard devs’ crazy handling or you just go away.

Secret World Legends’ (new) gear grind

I still can’t get over how fast this current playthrough of Secret World Legends is turning out to be. But looking back, it makes sense. The first time I went through TSW, I was figuring everything out and playing content as it (slowly) released. The the second time was artificially slowed, what with screenshotting and documenting the adventures for my blog series.

Now it’s like the constraints have been lifted, the time-to-kill lowered, and I’ve taken off at a sprint. Really, it’s just about as fast as I’d play any normal MMORPG, but TSW always felt tougher, harder, and slower than “normal” MMOs.

I’m finding that I’m going through six or so quests and (yes) side quests every night, in addition to killing any world bosses and taking advantage of pop-up kill quests along the way. Blue Mountain is crumbling before my continued assault, with only Franklin Manor and the main storyline to go. I’m actually getting addicted to the speed, so that’s probably a sign I should slow down a wee bit to do more poking around and taking pictures. But then there’s that voice in my head that keeps prodding me on to “catch back up” with myself where I was before.

I do try to finish up the main five daily challenges every night, since you get a chunk of Marks of Favor with those, and I’m saving up for some much-needed inventory space.

So with all of the quests and such, I’m racking up a great amount of loot bags. I’ve got to say that with all of the big changes of the reboot, the one that I’m finding that I like the least is how loot and gear function.

Honestly, it wasn’t like loot was terribly exciting before. Maybe it’s Secret World’s somewhat generic loot icons that don’t seem as interesting as ones you’d get in other games, but it’s been quite rare to ever get that interested in looting items.

SWL’s changes are a little odd for a few different reasons. First is that your standard mobs just never drop loot. Like, ever. Unless it’s a lockbox, of course, in which case they fart those out regularly. So your primary source of loot is from quests and the one-time rare mobs. But you don’t get specific loot; you get random loot bags that hold just a type of loot (talisman, weapon, glyph, etc.). They do stack nicely, but apart from that, they’re not that thrilling to get or open them. Mostly you hope for a blue or a three-pip item with the stats that you desire, then you hang on to those for dear life.

I was initially in favor of how SWL allows you to use unwanted gear to “feed” and level up your desired gear to higher levels, stats, and rarity. In theory, this is great. In practice… it’s getting old, really quick. I must spend about five or ten minutes every play session doing nothing but leveling up items, leveling up spares for fusion, and then fusing them together. With all of the spares and bags and whatnot, I keep running out of inventory terrifically fast.

Again, the concept is decent and I like just sticking with the gear you want and gradually making it better. But the process is onerous and repetitive, and I can’t help but wonder if there was a more streamlined or elegant way that this could be done. Plus, I keep thinking that one day I’m probably going to toss this gear I’ve been painstakingly leveling once I get into an elite dungeon and have some awesome purple drop or something.

As for what I’m wearing, I’m going for mostly attack gear with the headslot devoted to healing stats and one other talisman devoted to protection. Not super-specialized, but a little more rounded to give my character survivability.

LOTRO: The return trip home

I still take tons of screenshots of LOTRO as it surprises me over and over with its simple beauty. Loved this sunlit snowstorm in Rohan.

Whenever you go on a trip, there’s always that moment when you hit the furthest away you’re going to get and then you turn around and start heading back (unless you’re on a loop but just go with this sentiment). It’s about that time for Bingo Boffin in Lord of the Rings Online. He’s taken me into the heart of Rohan and a series of amusing, sometimes inconsequential, sometimes heartfelt adventures, but I could sense the return trip coming. And sure enough, we found ourselves treading back to the Shire on a different path than the way we came.

I don’t like returning from fun trips until the moment I walk in the door at home. I hate the sense that it’s all over, that the adventure is finished, and that all that remains is to cover the miles and wrap it up. That’s why, in real life, I try to schedule or arrange something neat on the way home so that I have something to anticipate rather than dread on the last day.

We’re not quite home yet, but the goodbyes have already begun. I was honestly a little taken aback at how I felt a twinge of sorrow at having to leave ol’ W.W. behind (with his new family), but Bingo seemed to roll with it better than I. This trip has seen a lot of supporting characters come and go, and I think that’s a fact of adventuring. The road may go ever on, but people come and go at different paces and in different directions.

Bingo never got his own “fellowship” the way Frodo did, but he certainly made a lot of friends and rarely upset those he met. I’ve been keeping my eye on his character to see what the writers would do with a non-Bilbo/Frodo Hobbit, and while there are some similarities with storylines in the books, Bingo’s had his own approach.

He’s certainly more helpless than Frodo and Bilbo — not a swimmer and definitely not a fighter. I can’t recall him ever getting into a scrap directly, now that I think about it. He’s fashioned himself a writer, but there’s a lot more to his depth than just a tourist keeping a journal.

From his silly, over-primping start to the journey, Bingo has started to develop that tougher Hobbit tenacity that served the book characters well. He’s far more likely to charge into action than away from it, and more than once I’ve seen how his compassion and desire to help people has led him into harm’s way. His network of companions aided in that regard, and perhaps it’s more sympathy than respect that he’s garnered, but he uses it all the same to make progress.

Probably the best example of how far he’s come is an instance where Bingo insists that we dive deep into an actual dragon cave to rescue the only character more helpless than he (a “treasure hunter”). At no point does he show fear or despair, but actually leads the way right to the middle of the lair and to assist his friend.

As an aside, I was taking a lot of pictures of the dragon waking up and freaking out, and apparently I took too long in getting out, because I failed the instance and had to do it again. All in the name of screenshots!

We’re not home yet, but it’s coming. Maybe this or next week. I have about a half-dozen quests left, after which it will be time to get past this extended vacation and start getting ready for Mordor.

6 ways to get my interest in your upcoming MMO

Do you have an upcoming MMORPG that you’re making? Gee, that’s swell, mister! But before I hop on board that express hype train, you’re going to have to fulfill some requirements for me. Yeah, kind of like quest objectives. If you want to stir up my interest and raise reputation with my faction, here are six ways to make that happen:

1. For the love of all that’s holy, have a hook.

Original ideas and design is extremely difficult, and it’s OK if most of your game shares similarities with other MMOs out there. But PLEASE have at least ONE core concept that is interesting and serves to set you apart. We call this the “hook,” and it’s what lures players in to your product above all others. There are so many upcoming games that think that by putting “open PvP fantasy sandbox” on their resume, they’re somehow making themselves this unique, desirable snowflake when in actuality they’re just another Q-tip in the jar.

2. Put some effort into your art style.

Greys and browns with clunky 2001-era models don’t really do it for me when it comes to art. I’m no visuals snob, but it really does help if you look somewhat attractive. If you don’t have the funds to pull off a stunning, photo-realistic world, then go colorful and stylized. Do something to avoid looking drab and dull.

3. Post regular development and design posts.

In covering MMOs over the years, I’ve ceased to be amazed how some of them seem to be handled by marketing monkeys. And not the good kind of monkeys; the ones that think that “minimum effort” and “occasional flurry of activity” is all that’s needed to avoid a pink slip. If you’ve got a game coming out, then post something at least once a week to fuel community excitement and keep your project from looking dead in the water — even if the reality is anything but.

4. Don’t let players buy their way to success before the game even starts.

It’s a disturbing trend with early access and crowdfunding these games how some MMOs — and I’m sure you can think of a few specific names — are so eager to grab any free money they can that they start making design compromises by selling advancement and serious advantages before the game even comes out. It might make the people who just dropped $300 feel like they’re on top of the world, but you know what? It repels a lot of others who might have played but think, “Why should I now? That guy is already king of a realm and owns a titanic space-carrier, and the game hasn’t even launched.” This is particularly troublesome in competitive (PvP) environments.

I’ll make it simpler for you: If you can’t start us all off on a fair and level playing field, then I probably don’t want to try it.

5. Demonstrate competence, confidence, and vision.

This is kind of a lump-all category, but sometimes when I’m reading posts, tweets, and watching dev videos, I can tell when a team just isn’t quite all together. Maybe there’s an exec who is spouting crazy all over Twitter at the dead hours of the night and can’t be muzzled by anyone. Perhaps we only ever hear from the same one person over and over again, as if the studio is afraid to let anyone else off their leash. Occasionally you see games where everything keeps changing again and again and again, as if the devs are responding too heavily to community feedback and trying to appease everyone. Maybe the team projects a juvenile and slovenly look. And once in a while we see newer studios that obviously don’t understand how things work and how to talk to both fans and media.

I’m not saying don’t be outspoken — please speak out! I’m not saying don’t have a sense of humor — you’re going to need it! But watch yourselves, control your message, have confidence, show humility, and create the game you want to create.

6. Don’t have elves.

Better yet, have elves but kill them all in some global pandemic in the first scene, leaving the remnants of the world’s races to rejoice and live happily ever after.

Looking at Secret World Legends’ roadmap

Last Friday, Funcom finally posted its promised post-launch roadmap for Secret World Legends, giving players an idea of how it will be reinstating TSW content and then proceeding after that. Here’s the condensed version:

  • July – Elite dungeons (out already)
  • July – Remainder of Transylvania missions
  • July/August – Whispering Tide event
  • August – Tokyo part 1, lair mega-bosses
  • September – Tokyo part 2, Orochi Tower, NYC raid
  • October – Halloween event
  • December – Winter event
  • Late 2017/early 2018 – Dark Agartha, agent missions, new story region

First of all, let me say that I am having an absolute blast in this game so far — much more than I had anticipated. The reduction of the time-to-kill on mobs and the general enthusiasm over the relaunch has kept me logging in night after night, even though I’ve done all of this several times before. I’m up to my neck in Blue Mountain, so hopefully sometime this week I’ll make the jump over to Egypt.

I’m also pleased, of a sort, that the studio got this roadmap out. Like most everything with this launch, it should’ve been done weeks ago, but at least it’s here and we have an idea of how the next half-year or so is going to go. So what do we have?

Well, right now SWL is in an odd place where it is catching up with itself — that is, re-implementing content that The Secret World had already before its “retirement” and the reboot. So while I’m sure PR is going to herald this roadmap as a “wow, look at all of the stuff we’re doing for the game!” I see it as “wow, look how much you didn’t have ready for the relaunch last month!”

At least it looks like we’ll be caught up, so to speak, by the end of September, which isn’t too bad. And I know that the maps and some missions are requiring revamps, not to mention the reworked AEGIS system, so I’ll acknowledge that it isn’t merely copying data over.

For me personally, this content rollout should do just fine. I’m not going to find myself racing into a content wall for a while, and the task of getting through Tokyo and gearing my character up through epic dungeons will most likely take most of the fall. That’s just as well, because what we all really wanted to know — what NEW stuff is coming — isn’t going to be here for a while yet.

Funcom was definitely cagey about the new-new info, but we do know a few things we didn’t before. There’s going to be some sort of WoW garrison/SWTOR crew skill agent assignment system, which is the sort of thing I actually like as long as it doesn’t get too spammy. Dark Agartha sounds really intriguing, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Dungeon? Quest? Community event? It’s very vague.

And then there’s this: “As a results of the events that ended at the top of the Orochi Tower, continue the main story mission and follow up on a lead which will send you on your way to a brand new country.”

YES. We’re getting a new region and a new story, which is partially why most of us vets are putting ourselves through the full game again. We want to see what happens next. But what is really interesting here is that initially Funcom posted “continent” and then changed it to “country.”

Why does that matter? There are pretty much three accepted theories as to where we are going next: the Congo, South America, or Antarctica (with the Moon being a distant fourth). If it’s a new continent, then Africa was ruled out as an option, because we already went to Egypt. But then they changed it, so now I’m thinking the Congo or mid-Africa region is much more of a possibility. I am rooting for Antarctica myself, but we’ll see.

Getting on top of my summer reading

One of my goals this summer is to enjoy one of my lifelong favorite pastimes more, which is simply reading. I’ve taken to toting around my Kindle more (I read more on the actual Kindle Paperwhite than I do my phone) and have greatly enjoyed a string of terrific books recently, including Tyrant’s Throne and Red Sister. I’m trying to spend my last hour before sleep doing more reading than TV watching, as it’s the quietest time of the day.

But lately I’ve also realized that I’ve become haphazard in my accumulation of books and approach to reading. Thanks to Bookbub, I’ve been adding free and discounted novels several times a week (seriously, check it out, it’s great) and been tossing them into my “To Read” Kindle collection. Then there are books that I started but never finished. And an ever-growing wish list of titles on Amazon. And a bookshelf at work full of church books that I’ve bought or been gifted over the years that I’ve never touched.

And so I decided that something needed to get done. I had to organize.

Church books was the easier one: I’ve pulled out about a good dozen titles that I would really benefit from (such as Parenting by Tripp, Doctrines of Grace by Boice, and Desiring God by Piper), stacked them in a reading order, and started to go through them a chapter a day as part of my devotions. I’ve also created a document to take notes, since it helps me with overall comprehension (something I learned in seminary).

Yesterday, I got serious about my Kindle and Amazon collection, although that was a much larger task. I created a document that was divided into five sections:

  • Wish list books to buy (high, medium, and low priority)
  • Books I already own and need to read
  • Books I started but did not finish yet

This took me a long time, since I had to first comb through my entire Kindle collection dating all of the way back to 2011, looking up book ratings, bookmarking favorite authors (and seeing if I missed any books from them), and ranking them all on my to-read list. Then came my wish list, which really was an enormous, unwieldy monster. I probably deleted about 2/3rds of it, books that might have had passing interest but I know I’ll never have time to read, and then ranked the rest. Since I have some 70 books owned on my to read list, I’m not in a tearing hurry to buy more, but there are a few toward the top of my wish list that I’d like to get sooner rather than later.

Many of these books are part of long series, which is both a blessing and a curse. Just looking over the list, I think that if I did little else but read for the next year, I probably couldn’t get through it all. It’s an unclimbable mountain, getting higher every week with new releases, but at least I’m getting organized about it. Plus, if I have books on my wish list, I can easily sort to see if any of them are on sale. Unless it’s a “must have right now” novel, I don’t like spending more than about $3 on a book. Just my frugal nature, I guess.

One thing I did realize is that I’ve been starving for good space opera/scifi in my reading. I’ve been overdoing it on fantasy lately (I have a smattering of imaginative horror in the list too, but I don’t read as much of that as I once did) and could use some starships and aliens. So in organizing my lists, I bumped up some of those types of books in my queue.

With a lot of these books that I got for free, I’m not going to feel bad about giving each about one or two chapters to really hook me in before tossing them back on the pile. Life is too short to force myself to read books that aren’t that engrossing to me (or ones that are poorly written, which you bump into a lot, unfortunately).

It was very encouraging to go through all of these books for a different reason, which is that by reading the descriptions and reader reviews, I got excited about eventually diving into titles that I had totally forgotten about. There are some really interesting books out there that don’t easily fit in genre descriptions, and those I anticipate the most.