What World of Warcraft housing could look like

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I’m pretty resigned to the fact that Blizzard isn’t going to change its mind on player housing in World of Warcraft. Definitely not for this expansion, at least, and probably not for the foreseeable future. The studio has a perfect out: It just has to point at garrisons, say how hated they were in the end, and boom. Illogical argument made, no need to listen to rebuttals.

I don’t want to argue for why this game should have housing (although it really should, especially in light of Elder Scrolls Online making it a major feature of this spring’s update). Instead, I want to speculate on what housing in WoW could look like if Blizzard stopped being stubborn about it and embraced the concept.

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Honestly, I think it could be terrific, because housing would play to two of World of Warcraft’s greatest strengths: its top-notch art team and its active and creative community. While I’m not overly fond of Suramar City as a questing area, it is a wonderfully detailed place to explore. I’m finding myself fascinated with all of the little houses and shops, because at least the devs got to play with interior decorations and housing design — and it looked like they had a great time.

These places look cozy, detailed, and welcoming. The decor looks functional and aesthetically pleasing, and I can only imagine getting to move and place these things around. Even in very small spaces — and most of these houses aren’t large at all — the team has been able to do a whole lot with them, making each living space look inhabited and personalized.

Open world housing wouldn’t work in WoW, but small instanced housing and apartments would fit in fine without having to rearrange the cities. Players could pick their favorite style of architecture by town and move in to a place that suits their style the best. Decor could join loot, quest, and vendor tables — and even be a tempting carrot to rerunning old dungeons and old world content just to get new rewards. It would be transmog on steroids.

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I wouldn’t demand that houses hold a lot of functionality, although I wouldn’t complain if there was a bit, either. Actually, I would think that the housing and pet system could synergize well, with players able to unleash their favorite two or three pets in their home and enjoy seeing them romp, slither, or flutter around, giving a touch of life to the place.

Want to go even further? What if significant NPCs that you helped or forged friendships with would occasionally come over to visit while you were home? Just to pop in and say howdy, thanks for all you did, etc.

As social spaces, housing always holds plenty of potential. Giving players a personalized space to roleplay, to hold meetings, or to throw parties are some of the tried-and-true benefits of housing in MMOs… and that would be the same here.

Some ideas from garrisons could carry over, such as the music rolls and the hearthstone to your own pad.

It could be done great, and in a game that already has toys, pet battles, transmog, garrisons, farms, and other stabs at giving players tools for creativity and cultivation, it wouldn’t feel out of place at all. Maybe it’ll never happen, but it won’t stop me from imagining what this game could be with housing in it.

Finding a purpose for my Amazon Echo

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One of the presents we got this past Christmas was a surprise Amazon Echo. It wasn’t even something on my radar to get/look at/envy/wish list. But apparently it’s the Hot New Thing that a lot of people have, so we set it up in our kitchen and have been trying to find a purpose for it ever since.

Issues of voluntarily bugging your own home aside (as Alexa is always listening for her activation word), I still don’t quite get the device. It’s still more of a novelty than a useful tool, having yet to jump that gap. My tablet used to exist more on the novelty side for a long time until it finally found its niche in my life, so we’ll see what happens here.

So what is the Echo? It’s a tube that’s an audio-activated computer coupled with a booming speaker. It listens for prompts that start with the word “Alexa” and then provides feedback or music based on that. You can ask it to play songs, give you the weather, deliver a news briefing, answer questions, set timers, and so on.

The thing is that I use this so infrequently when I’m in the kitchen, which is kind of a shame because I probably spend about an hour there every day cooking dinner, making lunches, and helping the kids with homework. The news briefing is nice, particularly because you can customize it to include certain segments. The music… is not so great.

The problem is that Echo is fully tied into the Amazon ecosystem, so while it can access music that I’ve purchased through Amazon, it won’t touch iTunes or my computer’s hard drive. So I can’t have it play the exact music I want to hear, and I can’t set it up with Spotify without a Spotify premium account, and so on. It just doesn’t have the best array of radio stations or access to music. I can upload 250 songs to Amazon’s cloud drive for free, but the next step past that is $25 or so to get 250,000 song storage for a year. I’m not about to spend money to upload music just for a year.

I could use the Echo as a bluetooth speaker for my phone, which has the music that I want. But I already had a bluetooth speaker and if I’m going to use the Echo for music, I’d want it to be fully voice activated (versus having to take out my phone, turn on bluetooth, and play my music).

Other features of the Echo, such as accessing smart gadgets (which our house has none), are not needed at all. My commute is five minutes down the road; I don’t really need Alexa to tell me traffic conditions. The various apps that you can load seem more gimmicky than not, although I haven’t explored these fully. I haven’t tried having it access Audible to read my books, but I probably won’t do that because I don’t always want my kids to hear some of the words in them (I usually wear headphones if I’m doing chores and book-listening).

I’d hate for this device to become a paperweight, so I’m still looking for its purpose. If it could access all of my music, that would be a huge benefit — I would love to be able to turn on my tunes on demand. As it is, I’m still looking.

World of Warcraft: Seeking new goals

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The other day my tortoise-like progress through Legion was rewarded in an achievement explosion, as I finally finished up Broken Isles Pathfinder (part 1 of 16). I’d been crawling toward this for a while now, dutifully doing the Suramar quests while giving Blizzard shifty eyes about all of the Elves while doing so. But now it’s done and my Death Knight is, basically, all ready for 7.2 and the further progression of the new zone and the hope to one day regain flying. My moose, she wants to be free from the bonds of earth!

As happy as I am to reach this spot, I also am suffering the usual loss of motivation that a project goal provides. It’s the “what do I do NOW?” moment of crisis that MMO players know all too well, particularly from when they hit the max level.

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I don’t feel bored with the game or itching to move on, plus there’s always that ticking subscription. I’d like to be working on something, toward something as we continue to wait for 7.2, and there certainly is no shortage of options. But what are the best ones? What would be the most fun and beneficial to pursue? I don’t want to only be doing my daily world quests and then logging out every day. That way lies burnout, sure as anything.

I’m starting to draw up a list and doing some research into this, but right now I have a few possibilities that emerge at the forefront:

  • Come up with a list of micro-goals, such as getting certain toys and transmog pieces, and then crossing those off one by one. I also need to level cooking more, so that’s something. I’d consider crafting, but I have two maxed out gathering skills, and that’s money in the bank.
  • Roll up a brand-new character. I did actually create a Gnome Priest, Syperia, because I can’t recall ever playing a Priest past level 20 or so. I don’t know if I have the heart for a full leveling journey again, though. There aren’t any classes that are screaming for me to play them that I don’t already have at 100.
  • Work on an alt. The most likely candidate right now is my Warlock, Syperstar, who has only just begun her Broken Isles questing. The question here is whether I can get into a rotation that feels natural, because after the smoothness of my Unholy DK, the Demo Warlock feels janky and awkward as all get out.
  • Start pursuing Mythics to gear up more. I’ve been dragging my feet on Mythics, but they are always a possibility and really the only way to gear up past getting into a regular raid group (which is never going to happen).
  • Do the 7.1 Suramar questline. There are still quests to be done, after all.

I do have three WoW tokens in my bags right now, so if I did drop my subscription to wait for future patches, I’d have an easy way back in. But I’m not quite there. I love my guild, like the general experience, but it’s definitely strange to have hit this goal after a long journey. In any case, there are plenty of other games and other projects left unresolved, so I’m not super-motivated to fill all available time in WoW. I just would like a direction for now.

Battle Bards Episode 90: Wizard101

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Expecto MMOsium! The Battle Bards have donned their robes and taken to casting nasty spells on each other with their wands, all in the spirit of today’s soundtrack — Wizard101. This surprisingly expansive kid MMORPG visits a wide range of genres and has a score to match. But was the experience magical or mundane?

Episode 90 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Grizzleheim 2”)
  • “Avalon – High/Abbey Road”
  • “Polaris – Ballet Theme”
  • “Avalon – Main Theme”
  • “Wysteria – Pickswick Academy”
  • “Marleybone – Theme 1”
  • “Darkmoor – Main Theme”
  • “Wintertusk – Austrilund”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Bulls Eye” from Club Penguin, “Top of the World” from Eagle Flight, and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” from The Witcher 3
  • Outro (feat. “Polaris – Bad Ballet Theme”)

Try-It Tuesday: ARK Survival Evolved

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Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something new (to me) for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!

“I’m being attacked by a dinosaur… and I just pooped myself.”

So sayeth the Chronicles of Syp: ARK Newbie. For this week’s exploration into a new game, I went with a title that I had been eyeing for a while and which was gifted to me by a friend over Christmas. ARK: Survival Evolved is this stupid-popular dino sandbox that everyone seems to be playing, so why not me?

I’ve never been one for survival games, for various small and petty reasons. Oh, I get them and I do objectively approve of the format. But there’s something about the actual gameplay that takes a good long while to click. Maybe it’s the personal server format, as I’d much prefer an official MMO shard than a huge list of a bazillion options.

Anyway, let’s get going in ARK!

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I had a remarkably tough time getting the game up and running properly. Lots of latency and lag, so I spent a half-hour updating drivers, tweaking settings, and trying to figure out how best to take pictures. Fraps caused no end of crashes, so in the end I went with a windowed mode.

I went totally blind into ARK to see how intuitively I could pick it up. It wasn’t too tough, once I figured out that punching would get me tree stuff, E would get me ground stuff, and dodos were a vastly higher level than myself.

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I logged onto MJ’s MOP server, although I think I was alone at the time. She has this huge fortress set up as a sort of dino pen, with dozens of different types of dinos just waiting patiently in rows to be ridden. Naturally and inexplicably, there was a T-Rex with glasses. I think I’m going to need an explanation on this one.

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Another of the pesky things that I don’t like about survival games is how quickly you start going downhill at the start, since you’re naked and defenseless and all. The game was barking at me that I was too cold… then too hot… then really thirsty… then I kept fainting for no reason that I could understand. I started scarfing down all the berries I could find, since those are good two-for-one food/water options, but it didn’t seem to do much good.

By this time, my kids had awoken from their naps and crowded around the computer, providing both an audience and color commentary for my adventures. I truly wish I had recorded some of their quotes, because their exasperation and observations were occasionally flat-out hilarious. Pretty much, they wanted me to punch everything to see what would happen (spoiler: I would end up getting eaten).

We made it a priority to figure out how to craft clothes, which required fiber — that had to be itchy. After a while, we made a shirt and pants, which had us standing up and bellowing, “WE MADE PANTS! PAAAAAANTS!” while my wife took video for future blackmail. I don’t care, woman. I made PANTS.

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As I said, I didn’t encounter anyone playing, but I did find this lady who was apparently part of the foundation of a small fort. Briefly, I contemplated cannibalism — its necessity in a harsh survival situation, the morality of consuming flesh of another — and then saw my kids were there and that I probably couldn’t eat her anyway.

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Up a hill, we found this decked-out dino who, according to the descriptive text, belonged to another player. I stole it (thanks E button!) because if I get a chance to dinojack, I’m going to dinojack.

Unfortunately, this was the slowest stinking dinosaur ever born, because all it would do was plod slowly through the bushes. I couldn’t stand it after a while and abandoned it, and with it, my dreams as a dino wrangler.

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Then we transitioned into the part of our session that would later be called “The 101 deaths of Daddy.” Daddy was bitten, chomped, squeezed, and poisoned by more hostile wildlife than he could recall. One of the more bizarre moments was when we were wading through waist-high water and then a trio of 75-foot-tall dinos suddenly lurched out of the water and one-shotted me. It happened so fast and so unexpectedly that there was no time for a screenshot. Instead, here’s a picture of a megapiranha, a fish that is surprisingly meek when being punched in its face by a mostly naked stranger.

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We wanted to go to what I was calling the “giant green nightlight” that dominated the skyline, but between the beach and the inner island was a valley full of all sorts of nasty critters, including titanboas. Titanboas have a diet that is Syp-based.

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We made a few runs for it but couldn’t quite make it before being dino chow. I guess you’re supposed to stay on the beach until you’re a road warrior.

See, this is what happens when I play sandboxes like this. I know you’re supposed to buckle down and forage, craft, and survive. Me? I just view it as a box of amusements and little tales. I should buckle down and learn it properly, and maybe one day I will. Until then, we’ll always have that time that I was being chased and attacked by a dinosaur while pooping in fear.

Star Trek Online: Interstellar dodgeball champs

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The last mission of the Yesterday’s War arc (so far, at least), Terminal Expanse sends me to investigate the Sphere Builders who are setting up interstellar dodgeball championships… or messing up the timelines of multiple universes or somesuch. I choose the dodgeball theory. I mean, look at that thing!

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This is where we start butting heads (or rubbing shoulders) with the JJ-verse, or the “Kelvin Timeline,” as Star Trek has chosen to awkwardly name it.

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I am… not a fan of the JJ-verse Connies. They look like they’re trying to compensate for something with those muscle car fins. Just a very off-balance design.

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The interiors I can get behind, however. They still look very Star Trekky, and in a bolder and more high-tech way than we got on, say, Voyager. I beam aboard the Yorktown to visit the sole JJ-verse movie character that the game could secure, some one-liner blue shirt from Star Trek Into Darkness. But at least he has freaky eyes!

Actually, good for this actor. I mean, imagine you got a bit part in one Star Trek movie and wasn’t included in the next one — and then you get a call from the online game that wants to put you in a starring role in a mission with voice work. It’s a heck of a consolation prize.

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Say what you will, but Star Trek Online is second to NONE when it comes to capturing the intense thrills of using tiny fire extinguishers on localized blazes.

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We beam over to the rather sparse and unimpressive interior of the giant sphere and do what we do best — plant bombs all over the place and try not to think about why Starfleet is so very good at such things.

Plot cutscenes intervene again, with the Envoy talking to the Builders and reminding me of why I completely tuned out of Star Trek Enterprise in season 2. The whole “temporal cold war” storyline was as muddled as it was dull, and STO doesn’t do itself any favors trying to reheat that arc here.

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Space dodgeball evolves into MechaFireBall!

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With the Sphere blowned up but good, Daniels gets another time-makeover and Science Officer 0718 gets a few final lines before being ushered back stage at Cryptic Studios. I’m hoping we get to meet the huge-eyed OBGYN doctor from the first movie next!