Try-It Tuesdays: Ninelives

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To help keep burnout at bay and also to expand my horizons, every once in a while I want to make a point of trying a new game — MMO or otherwise — and jot down a few thoughts on it.

Today’s game is one that I’ve had on my to-play pile for a while now: Ninelives. From what I’ve heard, it’s basically an MMORPG in the making minus the “massively” part. And “multiplayer” (for now). Probably “online” too, although I did have to log into it and it has a cash shop. It’s an MMO in feel but completely devoid of a mark of any other player. And it kind of looks really intriguing, with a different take on fantasy that’s being created by two guys over in Japan. So why not give it a shot?

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There aren’t exactly a ton of character creation options (this is still alpha, after all, although it’s a free download). There’s human, goblin, orc, and the vampiric nightbreed (apparently they killed a holy deer, according to the description). I elected for a one-eyed orc, because look how awesome he is!

Note the very familiar hotbar/healthbar setup. Control scheme is similar to most MMOs as well.

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What isn’t as similar is the fact that the game kind of just starts with the bare minimum of a prologue and absolutely no introductory quests. I just see a sinking boat (mine?) and a lot of dead soldiers. So with nothing else to do, I start following a path until I get to this alien-looking sign.

True story: While I was writing this, a creature started attacking my orc. Before I could alt-tab back, my orc had already engaged and auto-attacked it to death. Guess the game doesn’t need me.

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My first quest-giver is a mostly-dead guy. The graphics here are a little chunky but I think the art design helps to compensate for that. And I am really loving the minimalistic UI, apart from the lack of a mini-map. The soldier wants me to deliver a letter from a nearby crate to a fellow knight. No problem, ’tis why I trained for ten years at martial combat, to be a letter-carrier.

Fought some gnolls, got a sword. Ohhh yeah. Now I’m packing pain. Anyone want a piece of me and my duck tattoo?

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A little further on is a gnoll cave — sounds like a good place to find a certain stolen letter. Sure enough, there’s a huge chest in here with it tucked neatly inside. Ninelives managed to surprise me, because while I was looting and squinting at the insanely tiny icons, a nearby wall fell down and a carrion eater lunged out at me. Slightly tough fight; I had to use a potion because I forgot to heal up beforehand.

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The fairly linear path led me to the “city” of Crimson Crest. By this point, the game started to feel isolating. Maybe it was the low draw distance that made the world look like it was shrouded in PlayStation 1 fog, or perhaps the complete lack of a chat window, combat text, voice-overs, or anything to make me feel like I wasn’t running through a graveyard.

In Ninelives’ favor, the fantasy Victorian look grows on me. Reminds me a lot of Arcanum.

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Take a break at the local vampire watering hole!

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I really hope that this is a pet shop and not some sort of weird grocery store.

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It’s just so strange to me how Ninelives has the obvious structure for an MMO — albeit one with a different fantasy flavor — and yet it’s empty save for just you. Kind of like some apocalypse happened.

It’s intriguing, but after an hour or so, I can’t see myself investing a lot of time as it is. If there were more people or better stories, sure. Then again, it’s in alpha. Anything can happen between now and a full release.

Battle Bards Episode 77: Spirit of Adventure 2

Steff has decreed the return of spirit of adventure — and so it shall be! In the second part of this theme, the Battle Bards explore adventurous and inspirational MMO tunes. Are we out of ideas or overflowing with incredible tracks? It’s definitely the latter, so grab your hiking stick and join us as we venture out into the great yonder!

Episode 77 show notes

  • Intro (feat. “Gahren Plains” from Vanguard and “Tullan” from ArchLord)
  • “Ship of Destiny” from TERA
  • “Make Zone BGM” from Lime Odyssey
  • “A Grand Adventure” from WildStar
  • “Freedom Wind” from Aura Kingdom
  • “Albrassia Field” from Ragnarok 2
  • “Halas” from EverQuest Online Adventures
  • “Sailing Icy Seas” from World of Warcraft
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Menu” from Overwatch, “Wings” from Xenogears, and “Animated” from Zombies Corporate Life
  • Outro

Listen to episode 77 now!

Music Mondays: Vanguard

Welcome to Music Mondays here at Bio Break! The idea is to pick a game or franchise every week — MMO, retro, or otherwise — and post a quick and dirty mix of my favorite tracks.

Going to start with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. My fellow Battle Bards didn’t really take a shine to this OST the way I did, but hey, their loss:) I always thought it was a charming fantasy soundtrack that exuded the beauty of this now-dead land.

Brightwood Dells is a neat forest piece — a little haunting, a little magical, and (in my opinion) memorable. Very synthy, which is something you get with this soundtrack, but I don’t mind.

Music for sneaking around a school of magic? Great atmosphere with this one.

With a title like “bamboo forest” I would have expected a lot more eastern-style sound, but instead it’s a rather pretty, pensive track that mixes the two hemispheres together. The deep “THRUM” sounds are quite interesting.

We simply don’t have enough grotto music in our lives.

Lots of parts and transitions here, but by far my favorite is the flute/percussion duo that emerges after a minute or so. I’m still whistling it.

World of Warcraft: Monkey business

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There’s a story behind this monkey, of course.

So I’m doing a dungeon run in World of Warcraft and this hunter is talking about how he’s new to the game and doesn’t know where to find pets to tame. The expected answer of flinging one’s arms wide and shouting “EVERYWHEEEERE” in your best Gary Oldman voice wasn’t given, but instead the group leader mentioned a few interesting rares around the world, including a monkey with a fez hat.

My ears perked up. Monkeys + clothing accessories always = good times. My hunter had been running with the same ghost wolf pet for the better part of a decade, mostly due to how difficult it was to obtain (which has since been completely trivialized, of course). So I figured her pet stable could use some expanding, and why not track down this odd monkey?

A Wowhead search showed that this was a rare spawn in the Swamp of Sorrows that appeared every three to five hours. I flew my hunter there and set up camp on the spot, leaving the game open while I did other things. I kept checking in and either saw a lot of empty nothingness or other hunters flitting down to see if they could ninja it first. One guy had out like a bazillion (five) pets, maybe to try to confuse me. I responded by bursting into dance, because that’s my response to most types of confrontation.

Anyway, on Friday night I was putting the kids to bed and I came downstairs to see that, wonder of wonder, the monkey was there — as was a Horde hunter running up to him as fast as he could. I jammed on the tame key and beat the literal Troll to the punch. Huzzah! The monkey was mine and I did a victory dance (because that’s my response to victorious moments) while the Troll said some probably disparaging comments about my mother.

So now I have this monkey and I couldn’t be more pleased. We will have grand adventures together in Legion, I am sure.

Quest for Glory II: Desert touchdown

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

We’re going to be taking a break from the King’s Quest run to return to another Sierra series, Quest for Glory. I’ve been intrigued by these adventure/RPG hybrids ever since learning of their existence — and I have four more of them to play through!

Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire takes us back to 1990. Since this game didn’t have a later graphical overhaul like the first one did, it’s going to look like we’re taking a step back in visual quality. It’s still better than the early Sierra games, of course.

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Ahh… nothing like passive-aggressive guilt trip screens from PC games of yore. For the record, I paid for my copy of this game, so I’m sure that money is going to trickle down to the original musicians and “hard-working professionals” who made it.

Before starting the game proper, I loaded up the introduction credits. The game starts right where the first Quest for Glory left off, with the unnamed hero riding on a magic carpet with his good cat friends. The Quest for Glory series likes to theme its games according to regions and regional myths, so we’re leaving behind Germany/Europe-land and going straight into Arabian Nights. NOT my favorite type of fantasy, nor am I a fan of deserts, but I’ll suck it up for you, the readers.

Oh, and as the credits progress, the starship Enterprise knocks the flying carpet out of space:

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Because while Quest for Glory has a big problem with you pirating the game, it has no compunctions whatsoever against using others’ intellectual property for kicks and giggles. This makes the second Star Trek reference in these games that I’ve spotted — I think someone is a fan.

We land in a big ol’ city, whereupon the cats magically change my clothes so that I look like Prince Ali from Aladdin. Fabulous he. Time to strike out for fame, glory… and money!

Instead of rolling up a new character, I decide to try one of Quest for Glory’s much-vaunted features: the ability to import a character from the previous games. I didn’t even remember that I had saved my save file from 2014, but there it was, sitting in a specially made directory. Way to go, 2014 Syp! You’re awesome!

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And wouldn’t you know, it worked. Huh. Would you look at that.

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Say hello once more to Syp, the master thief. Niiice stats, buddy. At least, I hope they are. I really don’t know. That 5 in dodge is going to save my bacon, I can tell.

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Even though we just landed in Shapeir, Abdulla and the cats have set up a new inn. I’m guessing this will be my headquarters for my adventures, which is another nice touch about these games. Makes you feel like you have a “home,” in a sense.

Abdulla is a little concerned about the disappearance of his friend and wings that my way, since I’m the hero and all that. I have to re-aquaint myself with the text parser, since that makes an unfortunate return here. My kingdom for mouse-only!

First things first: Before we leave the inn, we need to turn on the clowns.

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Yes, this is an actual menu option. According to a quick Google search, turning this on makes silly stuff happen on occasion. Well, more silly than normal for these games, I assume.

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If you’re new to these games, it’s important to keep in mind that Quest for Glory II is very much 50% adventure game and 50% RPG. So while you’re solving puzzles and all that, you also need to be working on your stats, grinding mobs, and getting sweet, sweet loot.

Turns out that I can’t even BUY loot in this town, since my Spielberg money isn’t any good here. Need to find a money changer!

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This is… not as easy as it sounds. Unlike the first game’s major hub, Shapeir is intentionally laid out in a confusing manner, presumably for those nasty pirates who didn’t make photocopies of the map as well. So there’s lot of pseudo-3D walking through halls and getting very much turned around. I’m starting to get a headache here, game.

Think I’m whining unnecessarily? Here’s the actual map of the city:

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Because it’s more important to get revenge on hypothetical pirates than to please our actual customers! Did ants make this city or something?

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Finally — FINALLY — I find the money changer, Dinarzad. Not only do I trade in my 223 coins from the previous game (thanks 2014 Syp!) but when I make the secret sign of the thief to her, she mentions that she has a job for me tomorrow night. I’m going to need tools, however. Should probably go shopping or something.

Presenting the all-new, all-star Bio Break blogroll!

Overhauling my blogroll has been something on my to-do list for a long time now, and I’m ashamed to say that other than adding a few links here and there, I haven’t taken the time to do proper maintenance on it in over a year. Thus past due, I got busy with the process of bringing it up to par.

What’s there on the right-hand side of the blog is now the most up-to-date version of the blogroll that I can muster. To get it into shape, I did the following:

  • Went through all of my old links and weeded out any blogs that were either defunct, duplicates, or dormant (my criteria for this was “hasn’t posted since May”).
  • Added all of the new NBI 2016 blogs.
  • Kept an eye on my RSS feed to add back in a few blogs that had gone dormant in the past, got removed from my blogroll, but since had revived.
  • Went to several of my friends’ blogs and scoured their blogrolls for sites that are active and I didn’t know about.

For the most part, I try to keep the blogroll focused on sites that discuss MMOs, whether individual games or in general. Here’s my current list — let me know if you think you should be on it or if I missed anyone! And definitely check out these blogs, because there’s so many great writers out there waiting to be discovered. I wouldn’t say that this is the *definitive* MMO blog list, but it’s definitely a good overview of current writers in the field.

Early access bites games in the butt, period.

I have made no secret that I am not a fan of this “era of early access” that we seem to be in, both in MMOs and general gaming. It’s starting to bite games in the butt and I think that studios are blind to the damage it’s causing in their pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Let me first say that my feelings on the matter are not directed toward the trend of increased open development and communication on behalf of the studios. I actually think that’s pretty great and I’ve been enjoying seeing the studios more open about the development process and fostering a stronger community through it.

But this early access thing? It’s gone from being a sporadic fad to having its own section on Steam, which means it’s now entrenched and The Way Things Are Done. And I can’t see anything but more negative than positive arising from it.

My main beef with early access can be summed up in four points:

  1. It’s letting the judgey crowd in way, way too early, which means that people will formulate opinions (that are very hard to change) and share testimonies based on the game in its most incomplete state. It’s not good word-of-mouth for the title, is what I’m saying.
  2. It’s a blatant attempt for studios to get a payday for a product that is still in the making, which is ridiculous. I used to think that paying to get into a beta was silly, but now we’re past the looking glass into a truly bizarre wonderland. Propped up by these sales, studios have less financial incentive to get a good product done in a reasonable time frame.
  3. It’s absolutely stealing any excitement and publicity from the game’s eventual release. You hear that “early access is the new launch” and it’s totally true. We make a big deal when a game hits early access, but when that game eventually crosses the barrier to an official release, no one will care. It’ll be old news, an old game, and the studio will lose a valuable opportunity to sell the game to a wider audience than early adopters.
  4. It’s pressuring interested players into making a decision to either play the game now in an incomplete state or to get left behind waiting for launch as others play and talk about it.

Of course, there are always exceptions to point to, and I won’t deny that games like Minecraft and ARK have benefited greatly by letting audiences into the alpha, pre-alpha, early access, or whatever you’re calling it. Project Gorgon has built solid word-of-mouth by keeping its (non-paid) alpha open to all.

But every other day we’re getting notices of early access, as if this is the golden ticket to ensuring a success, and it’s going to end poorly, mark my words. Look at Landmark, for example. Now, there’s a lot of reasons why Landmark is completely bombing right now, but the fact that Daybreak pushed it out the door of early access years ago really didn’t help. People who were possibly interested in the game checked it out for a month and then, upon finding a buggy and incomplete game, wandered away, ne’er to return. The launch, when it came, was about as exciting as trying to light soggy fireworks. It was a non-event followed by savage Steam reviews (again, other factors such as the backlash about EverQuest Next must be considered here).

I’m also starting to develop an eye condition due to how many times I’ve been rolling mine over Shroud of the Avatar. If you haven’t heard — or don’t really follow the title — this spiritual successor will be sort-of-but-not-really launching next month with Release 32. Character and data persistence is going to be turned on with no further wipes planned and the game is already taking money, so this is launch in any sense of the definition except for the fact that the game is not in a launch state. It’s still early access. It’s still alpha or whatever.

So Portalarium is trying to make a big deal out of the launch while throwing its hands up and going, “Whoa WHOA this isn’t launch! Don’t say it’s launch! Don’t treat it as launch! But get excited about it!” and general confusion over it reigns supreme. Once again, early access has made a muddled mess out of what used to be the clear-cut lines dividing an online game’s testing period and its launch state. It’s ridiculous because early access can also be the new “you can’t criticize this, it’s still in beta!” argument we used to see. Oh sure, the game is sort-of launched, but you can’t lob criticisms at it, it’s still in development don’t you know?

Silliness.

Studios, stop trying to make a fast buck on early adopters. Have your limited alpha tests, sure. Build that community. But don’t flip the switch for a launch — no matter what you call it — until you’ve got something that’s worthy of being called that.