Syp’s gaming goals for July 2020

June 2020 in review

  • I’m ending the month in a very different place than I had anticipated. I barely played Phantasy Star Online 2 at all — just wasn’t that appealing to me — but I did fall right back into World of Warcraft with a brand-new account and a new Druid to level. I got my Worgan to level 45 and started to map out a plan of how to catch up for Shadowlands.
  • Lord of the Rings Online was a big month of treading water by doing nothing else than deeds on my Minstrel. I got all of Eriador’s deeds done and started in on Moria and Lothlorien, but to be frank, I’m ready for some actual new questing content.
  • I also got into doing some RIFT for the first time in two years. Nothing hardcore — I just missed it and wanted to revisit an old favorite MMO.
  • I throttled back on Elder Scrolls Online a little, doing about one Greymoor quest a night along with some antiquities. One of my guildies helped deck me out with a great suit of stamina gear, and I switched my Warden over to being a bow-using ranger type. I haven’t finished Western Skyrim yet, nor have I stepped into the underworld.
  • Thanks to a week vacation at a cabin with no internet, I managed to wrap up my Knights of the Old Republic playthrough about a month earlier than anticipated! Right now I actually have retro gaming posts written and scheduled through the end of 2020.
  • I bought and tried out that indie survival game Among Trees, although it’s got a long way to go before being fully cooked.

July 2020’s goals

  • Speaking of early access, I picked up Torchlight III, mostly because I was encouraged by all of the content and fixes that are going into this week’s patch. No huge goal here, other than to try it out and see what there is to see.
  • My overarching goal of the month will be to level up my World of Warcraft Druid as much as I can. I don’t have Battle for Azeroth on that account yet, so I’m holding off on that until I can buy Shadowlands and get BFA for free. But still, getting to 90 or so would be a good sign of progress.
  • I’ll keep doing my one-quest-a-day in Elder Scrolls Online, see if I can’t get antiquities to the next level.
  • LOTRO is busting out its new wedding event/content update this week, so you better believe I’m going to be all over that with (wedding) bells on.
  • And Fallout 76’s first season starts this week as well, so I’m going to table all my quests until the One Wasteland patch comes out and just do seasonal stuff. See how far I can get on that game board.
  • For Retro Gaming, I’m going to tuck into Sam and Max Hit the Road. I never played it, so it’ll be a new experience for me.

Looking back at July 2015…

Looking back at July 2010…

 

Setting up shop as a baby Druid in World of Warcraft

As I told my wife the other day while we were playing World of Warcraft together, I just wasn’t feeling the same excitement of leveling and building up my Death Knight as I had expected. The more I contemplated a better fit, the word “Druid” kept coming to mind more and more. So I rerolled as she yelled from the other room “Are you KIDDING me? I sent you bags!”

Despite this deep wound in our marital relationship, it was a good move, because right from the get-go I was far more engaged in this character. I went with a Worgen (not my favorite race, but Druids have fairly limited options, and I wasn’t going Horde, rolling a Nelf, or grinding forever to get a Kul Tiran whatever. I figure I can always race switch in the future if I can’t stand it, but I’m not too worried.

Frankly, I think a Druid is a great choice for a brand-new account when you have no transmog or unlocks. Since I’d be mostly in a shapeshifted form, it didn’t really matter as much what my armor looked like, and I’d be getting a few movement advantages with the Moonglade teleport, instant travel form, and speed boosts. I won’t be worrying about chasing after mounts, either.

Compared to when I was playing a Druid on WoW Classic, this version is definitely more fun and energetic, with a bigger array of spells and more “pop” to them. I’m going Balance, so figuring out a good rotation was key to making combat encounters go more smooth. Probably the biggest nail-biting choice I had to make was the Tier 1 talents, which had two great choices that I wanted equally. One kept feeding me astral power both in and out of combat so that I could fire off the hard-hitting Starsurge at the start of the rotation, while the other was a three-treant summon. Considering that this was the only (as far as I can tell) pet or summon that the Balance Druid gets, I really wanted that summon, but after trying out the astral power-feeding talent, I couldn’t deny that I needed that more.

Of course, this all meant that I had to start all the way over at level 1 and do my best to charge forward to 120 while building up this account and what I needed for the character. I cheated just a wee bit by mailing all the gold I had from my other account, but that was just for 30-slot bags and a single WoW token. I took herbalism and skinning (skinning is so quick on Worgen!) and started gamely through zone quests.

It’s been both relaxing and enjoyable in a way that I look for in WoW. I have a goal, I have a class I like, and I have smaller milestones to keep me focused for the journey there. The double XP boost is a huge help, and within a few days, I was already in my mid-30s. I do love that the zones level-adjust alongside you so that I’m not over-leveling or quitting one zone to hit another. Once I get to 60, I’ll probably do Northrend from 60-80, then Pandaria, Draenor, Legion, and Battle for Azeroth. It’s a long, long road ahead, and that’s not even including any rep grinds. But I think at least getting to 120 and decking myself out in decent gear is pretty doable, and I’m excited to think of all of the toys and pets and other goodies I’ll be unlocking along the way.

One thing I haven’t been doing much of is dungeons. I will probably start weaving those in, just to get some better gear and have a change of pace, but that also means I’ll need to set up a Resto spec. Which is fine, I like to heal, but I’m not going to level a healer again. That’s an even longer road, and I like my Balance set too much.

Now that I feel like I’m definitely back into WoW, I need to do a lot of reading to catch up on the Shadowlands pre-patch changes that are coming and maneuver to be ready for the expansion. As much as is possible while juggling several other MMOs, of course.

Sunday Serenade: Splatterhouse, Super Mario 64, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“The Lay of Lyndelby” from LOTRO — This Hobbit town track had everyone raving about it when it debuted with Update 26.

“Beginning Theme 2” from One Way Heroics — A bouncy and fun track that caught my attention and kept it for the whole ride.

“Why I’m Here” by Oleander — The second this starts playing, it’s hard not to go, “Yup, that’s ’90s rock right there. And good rock, at that.”

“Eye to Eye” from A Goofy Movie — Kids movies these days wish they had soundtracks this good.

“Cold Ain’t For Me” by Oceans — A quasi-country song that rises or falls solely on its instrumental. It’s on this side of decent.

“Final Boss” from Splatterhouse — Most final boss themes are grand and tension-filled, but not really that fun to listen to as standalone music. This one is darkly catchy, and I like how it underplays rather than overplays.

“File Select” from Super Mario 64 — I never really played this game, so this track is pretty new to me. It’s very appealing and tranquil.

“Medical Center” from Lego Island — This one’s got a bit of an earworm quality to it. Kind of relaxing, too.

“Thinking About You” by Ocie Elliott — Sad. Sweet. Perfect.

Is it futile to play RIFT in the Gamigo era?

First of all, a shout-out to my Twitter friend Kristen, who’s been talking about her return to RIFT so much lately that it planted a seed in my head that wouldn’t go away until I did the same. I really haven’t played since spring 2018, back when Trion Worlds was still calling the shots and the RIFT Prime server excited us for a good month or so there with the promise of progression and tougher content.

Then Gamigo took over and I lost the heart to go back. Last year, I despaired about the future of RIFT, not necessarily because I hated the new owners on reputation alone, but because Gamigo’s shown so little desire to invest development and promotion into this game. It’s essentially put RIFT into maintenance mode, tossing it the occasional small patch or battle pass season, but that’s it. The game’s been frozen in development to pretty much how Trion left it two years ago.

So here’s the uncomfortable question of the hour: Is it really futile to go back to this game? Barring a miracle or maybe another change of hands, the best future we can hope for RIFT is that it simply stays online. Without seeing active development or promotion, RIFT’s not going to do much to get people back, so it’s going to have to exist on loyal players who can settle for the current state of affairs and maybe the odd duck like me who comes back.

While I admit that there’s a pretty big red flag fluttering over RIFT, at least it’s continued for two years now under Gamigo, so there’s some hope that it’ll do so for the foreseeable future. And when I logged in to scratch that curious itch, I was delighted to slip back into all of the goodness this MMO has to offer. It was like coming back to an old and familiar friend and catching up over the course of an afternoon. I even had minion missions waiting to complete — waiting for two years now. Those are some patient minions.

I was also heartened by how much chatter I saw on the chat channels. There were several of us lowbies returning to the game and excitedly making contact with others out there, and I started feeling my way to a guild while going through the old Guardian tutorial once more. Yes, I started over, and yes, with a Dwarf Rogue. I’m going Tactician, at least for now, and just seeing where this all leads.

Maybe it’s not the most risk-adverse move for long-term contentment, but you never know if any MMO is going to be here tomorrow. Sometimes you have to enjoy the experience you have today and get out of the groupthink mindset that only the most popular and active MMORPGs are the ones worth playing.

Elder Scrolls Online’s SHACK OF DEATH

Here’s a general MMO adventuring pro-tip: Sooner or later, you’re going to come across the dwelling of a cannibal and/or serial killer. When this happens, don’t be surprised. Take in the view of the almost comical piles of skeletons and bones, snap a few pictures if you must, and then carefully back away while resisting the urge to grab a souvenir. Hanging out there is just begging to get added to the “collection.” And trust me, no matter how bad you think your life is right now, it’s going to get a little bit worse when someone else is wearing your skin as a human suit.

And welcome back to another fun sojourn through Elder Scrolls Online, where even your winter wonderland is plagued by cultists, killers, madmen, vampires, and a lot of drunk vikings. One of my friends said that he’s felt let down by Greymoor, which is generally seen as “fine” but “not near the insanely popular heights of Skyrim.”

Me? I’m OK with it so far. I was never as enamored with Skyrim as it seems like most all gamers are, so I guess I’m seeing Greymoor as just another solid ESO zone. I’m still in the above-ground portion of it, working on side quests and doing a fair amount of antiquing on the side.

I was really delighted to see that my old friend Rigurt returned. His quest chain in Elsweyr was among the highlights, and I’m glad that the writers brought him back for another ambassadorial adventure. The guy is such a goofball mix of dense and enthusiastic that he reminds me of Park and Recreation’s Andy. He also gets some of the best lines of any quest dialogue.

Plus, this is the only quest I’ve played in ESO where I’m frantically chasing a fish that’s high on mushrooms.

As for my new bow-wielding lifestyle, it’s functional but still not that magical rotation that will suddenly transform ESO into a normal-feeling MMO combat system. I’m killing at a nice pace, but it’s not necessarily fun or snappy enough that I run out of my way to go fight. Actually, I’ve noticed that you really don’t kill as many mobs in ESO than in most MMOs. I can appreciate that, at least.

Chrono Trigger: The rainbow shell connection

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

At various locations in 600 AD, the Crono Crew kept bumping into this “legendary explorer” named Toma who was trying to find some sort of rainbow shell. If it has all the colors, it must be the best thing ever — or so goes Final Fantasy Logic. But Toma apparently died on his adventures, and in 1000 AD his ghost is hanging around to give clues for the trio to finish his great journey.

Toma’s directions takes the crew to an island, where a weird discovery is made: Apparently this place is the old Tyranno Lair from 65 million BC that (somehow) survived. I thought it blew up. More the fool me.

Then again, more fool the developers, because they obviously didn’t think this through. Not only would no structure be left standing from 65 million years of decay and erosion, but the whole place is still lit and populated by dinos just… waiting for someone to fight them. Waiting for 65 million years. I honestly felt *bad* for them.

Too heavy to lift, the rainbow shell is left in the possession of King Guardia in 600 AD for “future generations” to enjoy.

Apparently, those future generations misplaced the rainbow shell, getting Marle’s dad — the current king — into deep trouble. That no-good chancellor is throwing another trial, this time to frame the king for getting rid of this heirloom. The Crono Crew races to find the shell in the castle and prove that the king is innocent.

Indeed, the shell is found in the basement. Square did a great job with the pacing of this quest, cutting back and forth between the trial upstairs and the frantic (if easy-as-anything) race in the basement.

The way to the trial room blocked, Marle takes an unorthodox approach and smashes her way in through the gorgeous stained glass window.

Turns out that, yup, it was definitely a frame-up. The chancellor was a descendant of the fake chancellor from 600 AD and out for some old fashioned revenge. This goes about as well for him as it did for his ancestor the first time.

After the battle and the king’s exoneration, there’s a really touching reunion between father and daughter. Marle apologizes for going off half-cocked on adventures and the king shares his wife’s final dying words and gives Marle permission to continue traveling with the Crono Crew. All in all, it’s one of the better (and easier!) quests in the late game, and a great way to tie a bow on some of the story threads early on in Chrono Trigger.

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.

Top Tens: Favorite Atari 2600 box art

Welcome to a new feature here on Bio Break — Top Tens! Every so often, I’ll be churning out a listicle that covers something of interest to me that I’d like to share with you. Today’s topic: The coolest box art that the Atari 2600 ever produced.

1. Berzerk — I don’t know about you, but I’d totally go see this movie, read this book, and/or buy this breakfast cereal.

2. Defender — This one always struck my imagination for a few reasons. First, that weird late ’70s/early ’80s fashion and hair. Second, the way a lot of book and game covers in the 80s featured elements that overlapped and bled into each other. But third, because this art forces you to look from the perspective of the soon-to-be kidnapped people on the ground. It’s a story in itself.

3. River Raid — I always adored Activision’s minimalistic Atari 2600 covers. There was always movement, action, and those trademark rainbow stripes. This one may be my favorite of them all.

4. Missile Command – Dang, could they have put more onto this cover? It’s like you’ve got Rebel Joe over there, calmly taking out nukes while his computer is exploding and a holocaust is happening over to the right there.

5. Adventure – This reminds me of every cheesy elemntery school textbook I used to own. That late ’70s fantasy look is very distinct but also holds a lot of personality.

6. Pitfall — OK, one more Activision cover, because Pitfall is a dang classic. I think they crammed in every obstacle and objective into this fantastic 3-D piece of art. I kind of want it for my room.

7. Cosmic Ark – This one gets cited a lot as a great piece of video game cover art. I like the complex model and how this looks like it might be the cover to an ’80s glam rock album.

8. Star Raiders – Putting the viewer in a first-person perspective works well here, especially to get the imagination cranking.

9. Robot Tank – Shh… it’s another Activision one, although this cover has a much different art style (but the same rainbow stripes!). I loved scifi illustrations like this.

10. E.T. – Yes, everyone loves to bag on this game, but it’s a fantastic illustrated cover with a lot of things to spot and a sense of movement and power.

Nostalgia Lane: Myst

When I went off to college in 1994, computer technology was lurching ahead at crazy speeds. We went from toting around bulky laptops with no modem whatsoever to experiencing internet in our dorm rooms and the huge storage of zip drives. One of the biggest revolution points of the mid-1990s definitely had to be the CD-ROM, which helped put an end to those boxes with 15 floppy discs. The huge storage capacity on a single CD (well, for the time) was a boon for game makers, who in turn went nuts making games with tons of detailed graphics and soundtracks.

Most likely no game benefited more greatly from the CD-ROM invasion than Myst, which sold like a billion copies and was the most successful PC game before The Sims arrived in 2000. What’s weird about it is that Myst is, at its core, a rather stripped-down adventure game. It’s barely an adventure game, it’s more like a puzzle game with theming. Players wandered all over a deserted island to solve puzzles in the hopes of uncovering a backstory about two bickering brothers. There’s… very little narrative here. It’s just a lot of exploration.

The reason why Myst hit it big was that it was juicy eye candy to everyone who wanted to show off their CD-ROM and believe in the power of M U L T I M E D I A. Today, it looks as fake as most ’90s CGI looks, but in 1993, this was a pretty world in comparison to most video game settings. People loved getting immersed into this world and didn’t mind spending hours and hours trying to figure out the puzzles. I guess when it’s a nice place to be, you’ll put up with anything.

So here’s the thing: This may be the first Nostalgia Lane article I’ve written where I really didn’t care about the game in question. The Myst bug never bit me; I couldn’t see the attraction, and I still can’t today. I’d rather play adventure games with far more storytelling and world building than what this had.

But I’m including it because there was a good six months or so when everyone at my college was hooked on Myst — if they could get their hands on a CD-ROM drive. It made its way into our dorm room and transformed a lot of my friends into evangelicals proclaiming the great word of Atrus. I tried it out a few times, it was OK, but I rather would have spent time playing Command and Conquer or X-Com. I guess if you play adventure games despite puzzles instead of for them, then Myst wasn’t for you.

iPhone games I’ve been playing: Disney Sorcerer’s Arena and Endless Cards

I don’t even want to TALK about my mobile gaming backlog, because it’s ridiculously huge and not likely to be tackled by me during my lifetime. Maybe my grandson’s. The thing is, in the rare moments when I do whip out my phone or iPad to play a game, I want something simple, mindless, and not requiring a lot of effort to learn. New game discovery just isn’t high up on my priority list; I usually gravitate toward old and tested staples.

That said, there are two new (to me) games I’ve been enjoying lately that I wanted to share, with the first being Disney Sorcerer’s Arena. This is, I realized, a Disneyfied version of Dungeon Boss, an old favorite of mine that involved slowly collecting and building up a team of heroes to run dungeon gauntlets. In this game, the big changes are that every character is from some Disney or Pixar animated film and that it’s more like stationary battles on a field rather than running through an instance.

Like Dungeon Boss, Sorcerer’s Arena is monetized within an inch of its life as it tries to get you to spend money on everything from seasonal passes to lockboxes to character tokens. Yet if you ignore all that — and I’m very good at ignoring F2P crud — there’s a somewhat entertaining and relaxing free game here. I particularly like the animations and design, as well as an emphasis on strategy. You can have the game automate battles, but I find that I’ll do much better if I manually pick targets and spells.

It’s also kind of amusing to see this weird mix-and-matching of all of Disney’s properties under one roof. Jack Skellington fighting Elsa, Gaston squaring off against Trigger from Robin Hood, that sort of thing. I’ve pretty much only been playing this for about 15 minutes in the morning while doing my exercise biking, but it’s proven a nice distraction.

The game I really wanted to recommend to you, however, is Endless Cards. This one set me back an entire dollar, and I have to say that it was worth every one of the 100 pennies I spent. It’s a minimalistic, cleverly designed game where you try to navigate a character through a field of cards to grab as much gold and survive as many fights as you can before dying. Gear and food help with armor and health, while enemies subtract from armor first and health second when you cross paths. There are the occasional items to get, store, and use as well.

What I love here is that (a) the games are pretty quick (quicker if you can’t survive long), (b) there’s a lot of strategy in picking paths and prioritizing cards, and (c) that by unlocking special cards and new characters, you get to change the rules of the game. One character, for example, affects gravity, so any cards touched will cause others to fall up or down instead of remaining in place.

The gold gathered can be spent on new cards and characters, and I hope that the devs continue to support this with even more additions in the future. It’s a perfect solitaire fix for the RPG nerd in me, and I think it deserves some more love than it’s currently getting.