Posted in Gaming Goals

Syp’s gaming goals for December 2020

November 2020 in review

  • By and large, this month was a prep month for World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands, followed by a week of actually playing the new expansion. I finished getting three characters to level 50 and geared them up with the pre-expansion event.
  • One goal that I was happy to achieve was to wrap up Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings Online on my progression server Minstrel. The new “storied tales” version of the Helm’s Deep fight was much improved over the old epic battles.
  • Apart from that, the only other series gaming I did this month was to invest a few hours into the opening of Octopath Traveler. It’s a very attractive JRPG in a lot of ways and I’m looking forward to exploring more of it.
  • The only retro gaming sessions I did was to wrap up a short series on Maniac Mansion for next spring. It was… fine? It was fine. Fine.

December 2020’s gaming goals

  • I’ve cleared my schedule this month to focus on one and just one thing: Going through World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. At the pace I’m going, I’m estimating about a week, more or less, per zone, so at the least I want to cap out at 60 and get through all the first four leveling zones by the end of the month. Anything past that — crafting, covenants, gearing, dungeons, Maw, Torghast — is a bonus.
  • So that just leaves some side gaming during my lunch break. I want to continue journeying through Octopath Traveler, for sure. I also want to start in on a retro gaming series playing through 1994’s Mystic Towers, which is one of my missed opportunities that I’m looking to rectify.
  • I’m still internally debating which side MMO project I want to tackle for January, so I’m just going to continue to have that discussion with myself until I announce it with next month’s gaming goals post.
Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade: Snowboard Kids, Suzanne Vega, 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… 

“Board Shop” from Snowboard Kids — A really relaxing VGM piece that apparently has a lot of nostalgic value for some N64 kiddos.

“Lay Down Your Crown” by Sweetmates — That bass + drum combo is so very listenable.

“Without You” by Supermans Feinde — I came for the xylophone, I stayed for the beat.

“Can’t Behave” by Bolier and Rob Styles — A poppy little earworm, this one.

“Dance Monkey” by Tones and I — Disturbingly catchy song and just a plain disturbing video.

“Left of Center” by Suzanne Vega — Time for a little Pretty in Pink soundtrack!

“Everybody Dance” by Cedric Gervais — I was on the fence about this one, as I believe it could’ve been punched up more. Still, I enjoyed listening to it, so here it goes.

“Faded” by Besomorph and Coopex — This is the kind of song that gives you a groove to slide right into and enjoy for the duration.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Putting a tidy bow on LOTRO

As I was looking at December plans, I wanted to wrap up LOTRO in November with as neat and as tidy a bow as possible before putting it back on the shelf for a while. It’s time, I think, to take a good long break, at least until the next update.

But before that could happen, there were projects to be done! The first was to get all of the fall festival cosmetics and pets that I wanted form this year’s event. The outfits were surprisingly good this year, so I had to save up a lot of tokens to get those. Oh, and also the wings, which apparently this game has now? They’re not *great* wings, mind you, but any options other than capes is always desirable for me.

With that done, I made it my mission to power through and wrap up Helm’s Deep on the progression server. This was a task that I’d been slowly trudging through for months now without any end in sight. But it’s amazing what a few lengthy dedicated sessions can achieve, especially if you numb the boredom with a movie on in the background.

I mean, Rohan isn’t boring, per se, but it is very, very, very, very long. Maybe it didn’t feel that long when we first got it, but I swear, these LOTRO designers got take-home bonus pay if they managed to cross certain high thresholds of quests-per-zone. Have you ever tried to power through, say, 300 quests? It’s the online equivalent of trying to plow your way through the defensive line of an NFL team. By yourself.

I’ve written before that, at this juncture, Lord of the Rings Online is simply too quest dense for its good and that it might be a better idea to take a cue from SWTOR and jettison all of the side missions in favor of just the main arc.

But that would also throw out a lot of good stuff that’s getting smothered in the noise, so an alternative idea would be to give every zone a “quest budget” that would be used to corral a smaller number of the better-done missions into keeping and excise the rest.

In any case, one change that LOTRO did make that I enjoyed this past week was the option to skip epic battles entirely and go through “storied tales” of Helm’s Deep. They were actually far more enjoyable — and far less time-consuming — than the old epic battles, and I give the developers praise for making this available.

The 2021 plans sound good, but whatever content they have coming seems like it’s a way off, so taking a break now wouldn’t set me back any. I need to recharge my interest and revisit it fresh next year.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Forward my mail to Shadowlands, thank you

Whenever a World of Warcraft expansion launches, it kind of feels like everyone around you is sprinting as fast as they can and guzzling down all of the new content like a starving nomad. I’ve really never seen the appeal of the rush, unless you hate the leveling process and want to get into the routine of the new endgame. For me, that will come soon enough.

Instead, my mental state when I sat down on Monday with Shadowlands (about three hours after it launched, mind you) was of someone who wanted to taste every bite and relish every drop of the newness of it. It’s the first expansion that any of my characters from this account are experiencing from the start, and so this is very much a day that’s been months in the planning for me. This feels like the “real” start to my journey — and I don’t want to scramble through.

Instead, I slowed down to listen to all of the scripted NPC lines and read the full quest text, even when it was for mundane quests. I’m taking my Druid through this and anticipate at least a month, maybe more, of gradually getting to 60 and through all of the zone stories while pursuing whatever side objectives that I desire.

The introduction to Shadowlands is — let’s be frank here — kind of underwhelming for the subject matter. I mean, we’re heading into the deeply mysterious afterlife of this fantasy world… and the first hour is spent in a rocky and dreary hellscape that might be any number of other zones from the game. The Maw shouldn’t have been our first stop, is what I’m saying. It’s fine, it’s adequate, but the prologue here fails to impress the power of the Jailor or the stakes at hand.

In fact, it only started to get interesting for me when I got to the new city hub of Oribos. It’s a weirdly stark place, especially after the life and bustle of Dalaran and Boralus, but at least it’s laid out in a helpful fashion. The shape of this afterlife system started to take form for me here, and it’s certainly interesting what Blizzard is trying to do with it while trying hard not to touch on the sides of real-world religions.

After a tour of the city, it was off to Bastion and the proper start of the expansion. Real quests, real rewards, side objectives, pet battles, the works. It’s a good idea to lead with a “pretty” zone here, washing out the taste of the Maw, and Bastion certainly is a looker — especially if you like pastels and dreamy, vaguely Greco-Roman designs.

For a launch night experience, I can’t recall a better one in terms of game performance. There was no queue, no bugs, no lag, and no issues that I encountered. That’s not to say that these all didn’t exist, just not for me. Our guild was uncharacteristically quiet, but I figured that everyone had their head down as they leveled and didn’t want to stop to chat too much.

Anyway, while everyone is running, I be strolling along. Here’s hoping that Shadowlands ends up being a better place to spend two years at the cap than BFA! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Posted in Retro Gaming, Star Wars: The Old Republic

KOTOR: Korriban and Kashyyyk

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Welcome to Korriban, where it’s always Sith O’Clock and the teachers are quick to dole out electrocution if they get the wrong answers! Well, we gotta get through this planet at any rate, even though I have never been fond of Korriban (in any of the games) or the Sith. Both Sith and Jedi philosophy irk me for different reasons, and I’d rather stay out of it altogether.

It’s kind of funny to see how basic the graphics are here in comparison to the vastly more elaborate spaces and architecture of SWTOR’s Korriban. Both aren’t places I really enjoy visiting, though, so I guess there is that consistency.

Everyone on this planet is completely Sith crazy, reveling in the cruel things they do. One guy memorably makes a trio of potential students stand a vigil for days even though he has no intention of ever letting them inside the academy.

Everyone loves to do all these midair jumps and spins if they’re Jedi. That seems like a responsible thing to do when you’re holding a weapon that can cut through blasthead doors like it’s butter.

I took a break from that and jetted over to Kashyyyk. I think this right here is the most memorable planet in KOTOR and a personal favorite. I love seeing the homeland of the (corporately oppressed) Wookiees, and the treetop platforms and relaxing music put me right at ease. It’s a nice place to be, kind of a super-sized Ewok village. It reminds me of an MMO zone, in a good way.

It’s not a peaceful place, however. Big Z totes a lot of baggage in with him, what with being branded a “madclaw” for fighting against the slavers. His younger brother is now chieftan and has made a devil’s pact with the Czerka Corp to stay in power. That’s gotta change.

Like Taris, Kashyyyk has an “upstairs” and a less-friendly “downstairs” — the latter here being called the Shadowlands. It’s a little less visually appealing and more rough-and-tumble, but we can take it. As a side note, I always found the brief cutscene of the elevator lowering the party to the floor to be one of the most stunning of the game for some reason.

Down here we come upon the last remaining recruitable character of the game, Jolee. I *love* Jolee, because he’s the first character I ever encountered in Star Wars who was a “grey” Jedi — neither light nor dark. As someone who got very tired of both extremes, it was refreshing to quest with this guy who wasn’t bowing to the Sith or Jedi at every turn.

Eventually I help Big Z’s family to be restored to their honor and fight against the Czerka slavers, which is as happy of an ending as one could hope.

Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Mechagnome marvels

When this post is published, Shadowlands will be here, but as I write this, it’s the week beforehand and I’m a little antsy and in need of a good distraction. With my Shaman leveled to 50, I decided to tinker around on my little Mechagnome Warlock, Pneumosa.

Character creation was fine, and while I appreciated choices about her various parts, I kinda wished that there were more. A whole lot more. For example, you don’t get a choice of what type of artificial feet to have or whether any of your limbs are natural. I think I did my best, and I really enjoyed her beehive hairdo.

One of the nice perks of allied races is that they skip over the tutorial and start right at level 10. So with an eye on eventually going through all of the expansions on alts, I started her in on Cataclysm (old world) content. That felt just fine for me, nothing too demanding, just one zone of quests at a time.

Of course, I happened to pick one place — Duskwood — that was being slammed with max-level scourge mobs. 100% of the deaths I suffered were at the hands of skeletons and flying dragons, and I was a little miffed that they weren’t at least scaled down so that lowbies doing the quests could try to fight back.

Happily, once outside of the hub, it was a lot more peaceful and I could kill spiders and werewolves in peace. I’m speccing her as affliction, at least for now, because while I do want a felguard pet, demonology’s lengthy cast times make combat an agonizing experience. I’d rather just pop insta-DoTs on bad guys and get on with my business.

What I’m really loving are the Mechagnome racials. The newer allied races seem to have much more fun racials as a whole, but this right here is the best set yet that I’ve encountered. For starters, she has the ability to instantly cast two holographic decoys — which is amazingly useful and a lot of fun to watch. Then she’s got a couple of nice automatic abilities: a self-heal upon dipping below 20% and a stat boost that increases the longer she’s in combat.

Mechagnomes are also amazingly suited for crafting, with the ability to pick locks, use every profession tool, and function as an anvil, fire, and forge. I don’t have plans right now to use her for crafting, but that certainly opens the doors for the future if I do change my mind.

The tabard, mount, and heritage armor also have delightful steampunk theming, so now I have incentive to get her to 50 to at least unlock it for my whole account.

Posted in Gaming Goals

MMORPG projects on deck for 2021

One thing that I’ve really enjoyed this year was getting my entertainment more organized, mostly in the form of making lists. When you’re pulled in many directions and lack the time to go in all of them, it does help to make a list of books, TV shows, movies, and games that I would, at some point, like to engage with — and then prioritize them. The list means that I won’t forget about them but that they’ll be there when I am seeking new options.

I’m anticipating that, for the most part, the rest of 2020 will be spent playing Shadowlands in World of Warcraft. But there’s always the new year to come with plenty of time ahead. And I know that I will want to diversify my MMO gaming to keep from going hardcore burnout in WoW, so I’ve been making a list of some projects that I might want to consider at some point in 2021.

In that respect, I’m going to try a different approach to MMO juggling than before. The idea is that every month I’ll have an “anchor MMO” that I’ll play (a regular game that I’m playing indefinitely until I’m bored or burned out with it) and then a “project MMO” to focus on for that month and just that month (with a time limit set to it). Some of the projects that I’m considering include:

  • Playing through the entirety of a DDO expansion (I have four I still haven’t done?) from start to finish.
  • Getting my SWTOR Sniper through the base game and maybe one expansion past that.
  • Giving Wizard101 another go.
  • Getting my World of Warcraft Classic character to level 50.
  • Starting a new character in Fallout 76 to see what the leveling changes feel like from the ground up.
  • Checking out The Division 2 after hearing really strong word-of-mouth.
  • Going through a whole ARPG journey from start to the endgame (Path of Exile, Diablo III, or Torchlight III).
  • Trying out the Return of Reckoning WAR server.
  • Heading back into EverQuest II for a while.
  • Leveling up a City of Heroes character through story missions.
  • Finish the Greymoor expansion in Elder Scrolls Online.

That’s all too much to do at once or even by slicing up the month into a million slivers, but if I was only playing two games a day, I could give a project a good chunk of time (at least 30-40 hours during that month). So we will see how the new year goes, but I’m really warming up to this concept.

Posted in Music

Serenade Sunday: Subnautica, Stealth, 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… 

“Salutations” from Subnautica — Some gloriously atmospheric music for a title that sucks you in from the get-go.

“Flying in the Sky” from Super Robot Wars F — Just some heart-pumping PlayStation music for your new week!

“No Man’s Land” by Stela Cole — Well-written, well sung.

“Dancing in the Corner” by Roxy Tones — My preferred place to dance, too. A good mellow song for a mellow day.

“Every Morning” by Noel Holler — A funky little remix.

“Age of Discovery Theme” from Star Trek Online — STO is not known for its good music, but every so often it hits one out of the park — and here’s a good example. I think it’s even better than Discovery’s TV theme.

“Howlin'” by Stealth — A unique-sounding song that doesn’t pull punches. Excellent stuff.

Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Countdown to Shadowlands

We’re pretty much here, right on the cusp of Shadowlands, and it’s a strange feeling. It’s been a longer wait than most, but also not as difficult of a wait considering all that there was to do with Patch 9.0. And at least we got the pre-expansion event two weeks beforehand, giving us some busy work and an injection of hype.

From what I could understand, the event pretty much took place in three parts. There was a series of daily quests and rare bosses to kill in Icecrown, there was a weekly boss in Eastern Plaguelands, and there’s the zombie infection thing that I kind of feel we’re all past at this point.

Honestly, it all ended up really underwhelming me. It was nice to see Icecrown repurposed for this event, and I’m all for the community getting together to kick butt as a kind of guided party. But the activities themselves weren’t that interesting (especially the “waiting for 20 minutes between bosses” part), and I couldn’t get that much worked up over the rewards. I mean, in just a couple of days, we’re replacing most of this gear with quest rewards anyway, so why kill ourselves trying to get 110 purples?

Another downside was the giant beast known as Lag, which kept popping up at the least welcome moments. All in all, I kind of got out of this event what I wanted to in the first night and then left it alone after that.

Instead, I’ve been devoting this week to finishing up leveling my Shaman and doing some LOTRO stuff before Shadowlands launches.

As for the launch itself, I’m excited, but I’m not going to take the day off and isolate myself from my family. There’s seriously never any rush with these expansions, unless you really like hitting the drop-off at the end of the current content and find yourself staring into the abyss while counting down the days until the next patch.

I’ll just be happy to be adventuring in new lands, to progress my characters some more, and to engage in the current expansion’s crafting. There’s going to be a whole lot to do in December, and I’m all for it.

Posted in General

How fidgeting helps to bring MMO worlds to life

The next time you log into an MMO, do this simple experiment: Don’t do anything and simply observe your character. Chances are that unless you play a very old MMO, your character’s going to be moving — swaying, rolling shoulders, shifting feet, and performing a set series of small emotes.

We fidget, in other words. Or our characters do, at least.

It didn’t always used to be this way. If you go back to older RPGs and platformers, you’ll find characters that are absolutely stock-still when they come to a rest. In fact, we all thought it was so novel when Commander Keen’s developers programmed idle animations for when we stopped telling him what to do.

Idle animations or fidgeting actually does have purpose, even if it’s not something you normally think about. For one thing, it keeps your character from looking and feeling unnatural. After all, nobody in real life is completely still unless they’re dead, and having a character that moves just a bit makes it relatable.

For another thing, fidgeting gives a character some degree of ambient personality. World of Warcraft does a whole lot with idle fidgeting, perhaps more than other MMOs (seriously, no character is this game ever stops moving if you step back and observe), but most of it does a lot to convey energy, power, readiness, likability, and so on.

I love that some MMOs have allowed for an extra degree of customization with stances and idle animations. Elder Scrolls Online even lets you collect special stances for your character, which is a fantastic idea that should be explored more. I do wish that players had the ability to slot one or two custom idle animations for their character to do without express command — such as a rogue cleaning her nails with a dagger or a bard plucking a few strings of her lute.

Fidgeting, as small as it may be, helps to make these game worlds come alive. I’m glad we have it.