Syp’s gaming goals for September 2018

August 2018 in review

  • This month was easily divided into two era — pre-BFA and post-BFA — and the first half of the month was spent treading water until the expansion released. With moving and other career-changing activities, I had very little time for extra pursuits and didn’t feel as experimental.
  • I did get a few strong Lord of the Rings Online sessions in as I explored around the Northern Mirkwood region and found myself delighted by the lands of Dale (especially when I got to actually, you know, see it!).
  • My Dungeons and Dragons Online group met a few times and kept me entertained as we protected kobolds and pushed the difficulty levels in dungeons as high as we could go. My Druid got to level 6 and I found a bit of a groove as a healer.
  • Once World of Warcraft pushed out Battle for Azeroth, I was playing that pretty much exclusively for the remainder of the month. For a change from how I approached Legion, I leveled up all three of my characters simultaneously, rotating through them at the pace of one per night. I certainly wasn’t the player who had a level 120 in the first day!
  • Mobile gaming was sparse, but I enjoyed some Bloons 6 and Clash Royale.

September 2018’s goals

  • I’m going very light on my goals this month as our family goes through this major transition. I am anticipating some internet outage and a few days of not even having a computer or desk. Hopefully not too long!
  • That said, World of Warcraft is definitely going to get most of my time, and that’s just how it is. I’m having fun, there’s a TON of story that I’ve yet to do, and it’s absolute comfort gaming for me. My goal? By the end of the month I want all three of my characters at 120. Should be easy peasy.
  • Lord of the Rings Online is a good contender for side activities, and I should do a session or two of Star Trek Online as well. I’m also encouraged to see movement on Fallen Earth’s front, and that might make for a fun blog series.
  • Our Dungeons and Dragons Online group is changing nights to Fridays, but that shouldn’t be a problem. I have been thinking about taking my Artificer out for a spin now and then too.
  • Special project for the month is to buckle down and really learn how Elite: Dangerous plays. I’d like to get out of the tutorial and try the MMO proper!
  • It’s been on my mind that I want to finish Pillars of Eternity too, so I’m going to jot that down.

Is there any point to playing an MMO “once in a while?”

As I’ve expressed in the past, in an ideal world where I had all the time to game I wanted in addition to everything else in my life, I would most likely be playing (and blogging about) a lot more things. I’ve tried to figure out ways to maximize my limited time, and to an extent, that has helped. But there’s a huge wall when it comes to the idea of logging into an MMO that I do kind of want to play — but I don’t have the time to do it more than once in a while.

The thought process goes like this:

  • “Oh, I haven’t played or would like to play GAME X! Maybe I should log in tonight…?”
  • “Maybe. But what’s the point if you’re not really getting into it? What can you get out of just one or two sessions here or there?”
  • “I… could get some personal enjoyment. Maybe a blog post. That’s something.”
  • “But no real progression. No social connections. And without some level of dedication, you most likely won’t be coming back. So you’re really just wasting that time that could be spent progressing and having fun in a game that you play regularly.”
  • “I guess you’re right. Back to FAMILIAR GAME Y it is!”

It’s an even more brutal thought process if the game in particular has a low population (like Fallen Earth) or a very uncertain future (like WildStar). Some games, if I’ve progressed in them far enough or have an episodic rollout, are easier to use as “once in a while” MMOs.

It’s an even more grindingly brutal thought process if the MMO in question is one that I haven’t played before and will need to learn and get acquainted with. I really should make a rule that if I try out a new game, I commit to doing it three nights in a row so I’m not tempted to jet off to an old favorite where I can just log in and play without taxing my comfort zone any.

I’ve thought about streaming as a way to break through this mental zone. If I’m directly entertaining others and sharing my experiences, it might make flitting about to different titles personally appealing. The focus and goal wouldn’t be on progression, it would be on the moment-to-moment experience and social aspect.

Of course, I have no idea if I’d be a good streamer or what that entails or if that would just eat up more time I don’t have. I’m going to be settling into a new schedule, and there is a possibility that I won’t be as crunched for time as much as I used to be once I get through this transition.

What do you think? Is there any point to playing an MMO once in a while?

From the World of Warcraft quest log: Battle for Azeroth edition

Every once in a while during my play sessions, I’ll encounter a quest log entry that grabs my interest for one reason or another. Yes, I actually read the quest text. And yes, there’s actually some good writing in these if you slow down enough to take them in. So today I wanted to share four of them from Battle for Azeroth.

This quest wasn’t particularly notable except for the surprise appearance of Calvin and Hobbs as major NPCs in this one region. Of course I was a big fan of the comic strip, and it’s great to see an homage to them in-game. As long as it’s not too obnoxious, I do like these kinds of references. Seems like they amuse the devs, so why not amuse me as well!

I thought this job posting did excessively well on being both funny and developing some of the culture of this region in Kul Tiras. From this one entry, I can deduce that there’s a bit of a class schism and can sense that it’s more an issue of pride and identity more than anything else. “Dainty frilly froo-froo estate life” should be a t-shirt.

This elicited a bark of laughter at the surprise Zork reference. And bonus points for the fact that there actually WAS a brue in this house!

This small quest series caught me totally off-guard and affected me rather deeply. You arrive at this farm, kill a few bad guys, recover some trinkets… and then learn that this farmer just lost his wife and little boy to the quillboar attacks. I genuinely felt empathy for this character in the space of reading this quest text, and gladly helped him defend his farm and bury his family afterward.

Battle Bards Episode 127: Champions Online

When you sit down to make a list of the greatest heroes that humanity has ever known, obviously the Battle Bards will top that list. So who better to comment on the music to the sadly neglected superhero MMO Champions Online than they? The trio wiggle into their ill-fitting tights and see if they can make sense of this off-kilter soundtrack before they have to dash out and save the day, yet again.

Episode 127 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Midtown,” “Apostolic Church,” and “Renaissance Center”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Location! Location! Location!”
  • “The Undying Reef”
  • “New Harmon Reeducation Facility”
  • “Sovereign Sunset”
  • “Renegade Run”
  • “Snake Gulch”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Scott
  • Jukebox Picks: “The Traveler” from Crusader: No Remorse, “Main Theme” from Octopath Traveler, and “Main Theme” from Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Outro (feat. “7th Anniversary Celebration”)

Secret World: A bounty on my head

At this point, let’s be honest: I’m just in Secret World Legends for the story. I put up with the pretty blah action combat, the terrible gear progression, and all the rest just to pop in when — and only when — there are new stories to be experienced. Funcom wants to engage me? That’s the only way.

Last week we saw, well, something less than a full-featured content update and more than a hefty hotfix. There were four quests — three repurposed TSW factional quests with varied difficulty levels and one short epilogue quest for South Africa. It was something to keep us occupied for a while. I wasn’t that interested in doing those old quests (and certainly not on repeat), so I just showed up for that rather short sabotage quest, Public Enemy Number One.

In my Anointed quarters in the New Dawn compound, there’s a suspicious gift basket on the counter. Very suspicious. Nobody in this game world EVER loves me enough to send me a teddy bear and wine.

Yeah, that makes more sense. Not as much sense as someone thinking that they could blow up a Bee with a small gift basket bomb, but points for the overexcited card. BOOM!!

Thus began a little cat-and-mouse chase across the compound as a sniper kept trying to take me out. I wove in and out between buildings, trying to close the gap, only to find that Computer Cheating(tm) was at play and he magically moved to a far-off location.

This took me back to the slums, where I tried to track him down. Had a few opportunities to check in on the locals here, including this lady and her trashed abode. Was she robbed? Had a fit of pique? Or defended herself against the night monsters?

The bounty hunter — for such he was — eventually led me to a booby-trapped corridor with barbed wire and land mines. Considering that I just had thrown his own grenade back at him and left a bloody gaping wound in his side, you’d think he’d be a little less inclined to take me one, but give the man pluck for his profession.

Apparently the whole world still thinks that I’m responsible for the Ground Zero bomb in Tokyo and there’s a bounty out on my head. Considering that my faction only recently started getting my back again, that’s pretty par for the course in this game’s story.

Well, that’s it. See you next content update!

My 10 favorites NES games

I’ve been meaning to write this list for a while, especially since I’ve done my top 10 SNES, PlayStation, and Atari 2600 games. What makes coming up with a list of my favorite 10 Nintendo Entertainment System games a little weird is that unlike the other game systems I’ve done, I never owned a NES. Instead, all of my friends did, and so my experiences were always bumming off someone else’s system. Even so, I had my favorites! Here goes nothing.

1. Ikari Warriors II

I’ve seen this on some “worst of” lists, but for me it was always a fave because my friend and I would play co-op on this shooter for hours when I went over to his house on Sunday afternoons. Yes, occasionally we’d get stuck in the levels and end up shouting at the other person, but that was half the fun.

2. Super Mario Bros.

My first NES game and my introduction to the 8-bit era. It really blew me away at the time with its graphics, its tight platforming, and all of those sweet power-ups. I never wanted something so bad as when I saw this game in action.

3. Super Mario Bros. 2

I’m tired of the fact that this is a gaming “black sheep” that gets bashed repeatedly these days. Let me tell you that most of those snobby reviewers are dead wrong — we loved this game when it was released and everyone played it like crazy. It had really colorful graphics and the choice of character felt so liberating.

4. Super Mario Bros. 3

Might as well round out the trilogy, because once I played this one, I never wanted to go back to 1 or 2! Three still holds up so well today with its varied lands, a huge assortment of power-ups, secrets, and paths.

5. Contra

The Konami code turned this game from Nintendo Hard to a high-powered playground. Even with that one-hit death thing, the rocking music, the many types of guns, and the weird alien levels made us feel like we were Rambo going nuts in our own movie.

6. The Legend of Zelda

Here’s the thing: I’m just not that big of a Zelda fan. Ever since A Link to the Past, I feel like I’ve outgrown whatever appeal these games have. Yet the NES original held my fascination for its RPG elements (including all of its loot) and how my friends and I were trying to figure out all of the secrets of this game before internet walkthroughs and guides.

7. Spy Hunter

James Bond if it was just James Bond’s car. And that worked as a really odd shmup that had you blasting cars with machine guns, throwing out oil slicks, and when the time came for it, trading in the car for a speedboat. We played the heck out of this at my cousins’ house in Florida.

8. Blaster Master

Sunsoft always knocked it out of the park with its music, and Blaster Master has one of my favorite level themes of all time. It was a good Metroidvania-style game with the ability to jump in and out of your tank/car, not to mention those overhead levels. Lots of gaming variety here, and I never got tired of tossing out bombs.

9. Batman

I always preferred this over Ninja Gaiden as a wall-jumping platformer. Batman always seemed cooler, and he had more weapons and better visuals. Plus, again, that rocking Sunsoft soundtrack.

10. Castlevania

I went back and forth between Metroid and this, but in all honesty, I’d choose to play Castlevania back then and now. It’s more straight-forward, has better weapons, better music, and that awesome gothic horror vibe.

Honorable mentions:

  • Metroid: Great starting music and double jump
  • Double Dragon II: Fun mindless beat-em-up
  • Rygar: Don’t know why, but we kind of like this game and played it a lot
  • Dragon Warrior: The NES didn’t have a lot of straight-up RPGs so this one caught my attention by default
  • Duck Hunt: Why couldn’t we shoot that dog?
  • Battletoads: Really great animations but it was too tough and unforgiving as a co-op
  • Metal Gear: Way too tough and poorly translated, but the inventory and sneaky play was intriguing
  • Goonies II: This game gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies that makes me think back to my youth. All I remember is the low-tech firepower these kids had, but that made the game that much more interesting.

The summer of novel change

Change is coming…

As I recently shared on Twitter, my life, my routine, my job is all about to change at the end of the summer. After 18 years of serving as a youth/associate minister here in Michigan, I’ve been called to become the senior pastor of another church out in New York state. This is not a sudden decision or a sudden change, but something that has very much been in the works for two years now.

I’ve seen change coming, and while I didn’t struggle against it, I wasn’t exactly running to embrace it. Life with four kids, two jobs, and a wife with a career of her own is busy enough even when things are relatively stable. But God’s been slowly but persistently pushing me toward the senior pastorate, and after more job interviews and offers than I care to state, I finally found the one that I’m sure I’m supposed to go to. And so we’re going.

Change is terrifying to most people and especially to me. I like my constants, my routine, my security. Changing my job location, my job type, my house, my state, all in the span of a month and a half is so overwhelming that I think I just lapped all the way back to “calm, cool, and collected.” My wife and I have been firing in all directions, working on selling our house, buying another, figuring out what I need to do to get ready for my job, and making a list of the hundred or so things we’ll need to do to get settled into our new home. The kids are all scared too, because they’ve never moved before. We’re taking them away from their friends and school and church family. It’s going to be hard before it gets better, but as I tell them, we’ll do it together.

What keeps me from going crazy during all of this is just knowing that it’s the right thing. Staying wouldn’t be. It would be the easier thing, but I know I would regret it in the end. I have this peace in my heart that I can’t explain, but I know that it’s a much-needed gift from my Lord to help me prepare and make it through this transition.

This means change in another way, too: I’ll be stepping down as a senior reporter at Massively OP. I’ve been doing news for Massively and MOP since 2010, and again, it’s kind of sad that it’ll be the end of that. But I can’t do it with my new job and schedule, and I really do want a break from the pressure of the daily news cycle.

But I won’t be leaving MOP, which makes me happy. I’ll still be there doing the podcast and other columns (we’re still figuring that out), and I’ll still be writing here on Bio Break and doing Battle Bards as usual. Writing is my outlet and hobby and passion, and it’s a good thing for me overall. That won’t change.

Editing is like wrestling with a grammatical bear

The other “life news of Syp” that I wanted to share is an update on my novel. After finishing the first draft back in June, I took a week to rest and then started working on editing. Initially I thought I’d edit a chapter a day for 35 days, but very quickly I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Some of my chapters are much longer than others, and this editing thing is really a painstakingly slow process.

In my head while I wrote the book, I thought it was pretty great the first time around — at least the writing was solid. But now I see that it needs work, a LOT of work. That’s what writing is, really. Nobody gets it done perfect right out of the gate.

So what I’m doing is making a relatively sane daily goal of editing for 15 minutes. That’s usually a few paragraphs, but I can dig down deep into those. My editing style is to read the book out loud, so that I can hear how it sounds. That may seem silly, but it’s not. It’s a good editing technique, and one that I’ve used for years on my sermons as I refine them over the course of a week. You have to hear how a sentence and paragraph flows. You have to hear if you’re doing nothing but enormous sentences with no change in cadence and structure. And you definitely need to hear the dialogue. If it doesn’t sound right to me, I figure it’s REALLY not going to sound right to others.

I’m somewhere in the middle of chapter 9 right now. Making progress, but editing is very low on my list of priorities this month (obviously). I am a little worried that the emotional high of my excitement that I had while writing it is not there right now. I still like the book, but it’s been a lot of work for a good chunk of the year now and there’s a long way to go. So I’ll keep taking little steps forward and trust that it’ll get done one day.

Torchlight Frontiers — yes, please!

The other week’s surprise announcement of Torchlight Frontiers hit me as a double-whammy: Not only was it an unashamed MMO with some decent talent behind it, but it actually made good on the very, very long-rumored idea of a massively multiplayer Torchlight. That dream was dead and buried quite some time ago, or so we thought before this project came out of nowhere.

Torchlight (and its sequel), if you’re not familiar, is basically “colorful Diablo.” It was created by some of Diablo II’s devs and had a strong cult following — myself included — that appreciated its cartoony style, more upbeat attitude, and its slick presentation. Customizable and usable pets were a big draw, too, and I never got tired of sending my dog back to the town to sell my stuff when I was too lazy to do it.

Now, we don’t know a lot about this project so far, probably because the team wants to use Gamescom and Pax West as a publicity platform for it. That means that by the end of the month, we’ll most likely have a greater idea on what this game entails and what kind of timeframe we are looking at before launch.

It’s a huge plus in my book that Torchlight Frontiers got a lot of the original devs back together and that this team is really gung-ho on making an MMO with this property. It’s a slight minus that this is under the Perfect World umbrella, because that means lockboxes and plenty of ’em. It’s not enough to warn me away, but I don’t have to exactly rejoice over PWE’s involvement.

I’ve been wanting a good Diablo clone MMO for quite some time now, especially after the former promise of a Torchlight MMO faded away and Flagship’s Mythos, well, the less said about that debacle the better. What’s even more interesting is that this announcement coincides with some really strong teases that Blizzard will be announcing a lot of things with the Diablo franchise later this year, and I can’t entirely rule out a Diablo MMO as a possibility, especially as that studio once was looking at such an idea.

I can see TF being a really nice “on the side” MMO that hits the spot when you want mindless clicking — while still delivering a social element and world persistence. Count me extremely interested!

WoW: For the… Horde?

With two-thirds of my World of Warcraft character rotation residing on Alliance, it figures that my Horde character — an Undead Warlock named Lilaca — feels like the odd corpse out. Every third night I abandon the Alliance zones and head over to Jurassic Theme Park, where I quest for a Horde that I don’t feel particularly connected to.

This has always been a problem with the Horde and I in WoW, dating all the way back to 2004. I’ve struggled to connect to this faction and find any sort of attraction or interest in it. There are plenty of reasons, including:

  • Ugly and off-putting races and models
  • The whole “barbarian” and “savage” angle that dominates
  • Hunched over models
  • In the case of the Undead, broken armor pieces
  • Bland early zones (circa old Barrens)

I don’t abjectly hate the Horde, and I do understand how there’s a counter-cultural appeal to it. But apart from the Forsaken with their dark Tim Burton world, so little of it called to me. Oh, I’ve played a Hordie from time to time, most of them being either Undead or Tauren, but the spirit and ethos of the faction doesn’t speak to me.

In Battle for Azeroth, we kind of see this in how the initial cities and zones are designed. Both are gorgeous in their own way, don’t get me wrong. But the Alliance has this sharp-looking naval theme with cool characters and fantasy tech and a city that I’d want to actually visit. The Horde? It’s the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, complete with boat ride. Jungles, savages, dinos… it’s not terrible, but it doesn’t have me drooling for those play sessions the way the Alliance zones do.

That said, I’m glad I do get to romp around Horde zones every third night. The questing in particular has offered several bizarrely entertaining moments, such as raising up a little triceratops and helping two endangered dinos fall in love.

While I’m doing all of this, I’m trying to get a handle on the Warlock changes. At least Demo got a major overhaul with 8.0, and it was this build that I spent a lot of time trying out over the past month. I can definitely attest that it has improved significantly over the Legion-era Demo build, with better pets and a more clear rotation. But the rotation itself seems shaky and had me looking down too often to see what skills were off cooldown and what weren’t. Plus, there was a lot of long cast times for each fight, and that got old even with all of the pets running around.

So more recently I’ve switched back to Affliction and found a much better experience there. After trying out different talents, I think I’ve settled on a build that lets me insta-DoT to my heart’s content while Big Blue there tanks for me. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is comfortable, familiar, and lets me progress through questing without struggling with the combat system. I like feeling nimble as a spellcaster, and I think that this build is the best I’ll be able to do here.

DDO: Plundering Crystal Cove

Last week we had a nice change of pace by eschewing our normal dungeon runs in DDO and spending time romping around the Treasure of the Crystal Cove event. As I’ve never, to my knowledge, done this before, it was pretty cool to see a different part of the game in action for a limited time.

Plus, pirates. Pirates always make things better, especially if they’re PIRATE KOBOLDS. Maybe I’m prejudiced, but DDO has the best video game kobolds of all the kobolds.

I was in for a surprise when I showed up to the event instance, because this incredibly nostalgic sight greeted me — the initial tutorial zone for DDO! I know this is old hat to experienced players, but I never knew that the devs repurposed this area after creating Korthos Island. I had unexpected flashbacks of going through those houses on the harbor there, learning about the game and generally feeling lost. Still feel lost, but that’s just how I roll.

I noted that out of all of the MMOs I play, DDO’s NPCs seem to talk the most outside of quest chatter. I actually love this. I love seeing random mobs, both good and bad, chatter and throw out flavor text. It’s amusing and makes me see them as something more than loot buckets.

Speaking of loot, we spent a good deal of time running around and killing things in the hopes of getting both treasure chest maps and compasses. The latter were needed to access an instance that I’ll talk about in a bit, but I greatly preferred the former, because I like my loot to be as accessible and strings-free as possible.

I gave my Druid an upgrade by purchasing the new Falconry enhancement tree! I haven’t looked into it too much, but it’s nice to have a snowy white falcon pet in addition to my wolf, and I appreciated how there’s some healing buffs in the tree.

After a while, we dove into the crystal cave to run this peculiar instance. Basically, you need to enlist the help of very enthusiastic kobolds to mine a bunch of crystals — and the more crystals you get, the more currency you’re awarded when the instance ends after 15 minutes. But you’ve got to clear out the cave of mobs, protect the kobolds from new mobs (and bosses) that arise, and guide the kobolds to the crystals using torches and teleporters. It’s a lot of running around, basically.

And a bit of fighting, too. We almost had a full party wipe on our third try thanks to a powerful boss, a flame trap, and four out of five of us hitting the dirt. His flame trap managed to kill every kobold in the place, but fortunately we staged a comeback and could rez all of the kobolds for another shot at life and endentured slavery.

Want to say that, hands-down, the best part of this instance is listening to the kobolds. There is a TON of voice acting here, and all of it is hilarious. They’re quipping, they’re joking, they’re humming little tunes, and they’re all doing them constantly, so it’s like you’re in the middle of a group of hyper toddlers. I was laughing a lot.