Cat people in MMOs

I am not a cat person. If you have to place me in a category, whatever is opposite of “cat person” is where you should assign my fate. Cats have never fascinated me or drawn drooling “awwws” from my lips or inspired me to write poems about them and claim that one is my spirit guide. And that’s fine, the world has room for diversity and I’m generally live-and-let-live with cats, even if I don’t understand their popularity.

And they are popular, especially in MMOs, where playable cat-people are far more likely to be an option than, say, a playable dog-person (oddly, World of Warcraft is one of the very rare games that has the latter without the former, Druid forms aside). And despite what you might think, not all cat-people are alike. Some are the basic “slap a cat head on a human body, add a tail, and call it a day” model (such as Star Trek Online’s Caitians and SWTOR’s Cathar). Other than giving your person a feline slant, you really aren’t going out on a limb with those kinds of picks.

FFXIVs Miqo’te are a textbook example of trying to make an animal-themed race that is as non-offensive to our eyes as possible. They’re… cute. They’re designed to be as cute and barely cat-like as possible, with slightly different hairlines, teeny tiny pointed canines, and widdle pointy ears. They’re the option for players who are tired of humans but also still want to be a human with only minor cosmetic differences.

Guild Wars 2, for better and for worse, went whole cat hog with its Charr. Technically it’s supposed to be more of a beast character, an amalgrim of various animals, but if we’re honest, that mix is about 90% cat and 10% “assorted.” The designers definitely tried for something different than a svelte human with fur, giving the Charr a larger frame with a distinctive hunch, backward knee joints, and long claws and snouts. When you play a Charr — probably to admire how well this race’s helmets fit — you have no illusions that you’re a hulking brute of a cat. You’re a tiger monster amid a sea of soft bellies.

I also have been contemplating Elder Scrolls Online’s Khajiit. Visually, there’s an astounding range of looks that capture many types of cats instead of just one basic template. I don’t often see “lion” cat-people in MMOs, but I do here — and not just lions, but tigers, pumas, and other predatory felines.

Maybe for some, cat-people are an expression of how much they love the look of their own pets, and maybe for others, these races harken to this fantasy of being a stealthy, quick, and ferocious apex predator. At least we’re not seeing the same-old, same-old boilerplate variants between games as we do, say, Elves.

LeChuck’s Revenge: Jailbreak!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Could it get any worse than this? Guybrush is stripped of all of his nonsense inventory and thrown in jail by Governor Phatt while the feared zombie pirate LeChuck is on his way to enact revenge. It’s even in the title of the game! What will Guybrush do?

Break out, of course.

This isn’t too difficult, as anyone who has a passing familiarity with Pirates of the Caribbean knows that the dog will give up those keys for a good bone. Man, I miss that ride. Fun times at Disney.

Before he leaves, Guybrush picks up his inventory (in a manilla envelope) and a banana and organ grinder (in a gorilla envelope). I really appreciate any and all dad jokes put into this game.

Even though Guybrush is a wanted man, he’s not going to leave the island without the map piece that he needs. To get to it, he’ll need an invitation to Elaine’s Mardi Gras party, and to get that, he’ll need to engage in some fixed gambling. Does this pirate know no bounds? Seems not.

The last thing Guybrush needs to do — for now — on this island is to obtain three important books because… plot. Fortunately, there’s a library, and it’s stocked with so many funny titles that it makes me question the sanity of the game designer who wrote them. At least one completely breaks the fourth wall of the game, but I’m fine with that.

Little touch I loved: Every time you ask the normally harsh librarian to get you a book, she scoots to the back room on her chair with this giant grin on her face like she’s a kid. C’mon, we all did that.

The last book is on Gov. Phatt’s gigantic belly, and Guybrush has to do some Indiana Jones-like measuring (including tearing pages out of a book) to swap them out. That was pretty clever.

Probably my only other (small) complaint about this game is that the sea voyages — done via map — take way too long. I have to spend at least a couple of minutes staring at a line zig-zagging here and there before we get to our next destination…

…which is Booty Island! Nice place, Booty Island.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis came out around this time, so Monkey Island 2 has a little bit of cross-promotion going on. Two great games come together! And for a third Indy reference, nearby is Kate Capsize, a sly reference to Kate Crapshaw, the actress who played Willie in the second movie.

This souvenir shop contains a lot of weird and interesting items, and it’s entirely possible to get lost for about 10 minutes checking all of them out. Guybrush buys a few important items here, including a mirror that Polly there is preening herself in.

Try-It Tuesday: Starmourn

When it comes to the fringe world of MUDs, Iron Realms is a current powerhouse, containing several popular titles that have endured even as online players have mostly forgotten that text-based MMOs are an actual thing. The studio’s newest title, Starmourn, just released into open beta this winter and caught my attention due to its sci-fi nature and promises of engineers and hoverboards. I’ve only ever lightly tried MUDs, so I figured it was time for another go with as modern of a title as I could access.

I’ll say this for MUDs — they always seem much more concerned with getting you into the headspace of your character during the creation process than most MMORPGs. I often lament how bare bones and boring character creators are in MMOs compared to pen-and-paper RPGs, but at least Starmourn has a slew of options and encourages you to visualize your looks in your imagination rather than giving you a picture to go with it. The details go so far as to descriptive skin and eye color, although I was disappointed not to get more in the way of background and traits. I went with a Jin Engineer with a smoky skin tone in the hopes that one day I would get probes, hoverboards, and other fun toys.

Unfortunately for blogging, MUDs are not very photogenic. It’s a bunch of reading, for the most part, and by and large I enjoyed what I experienced here. The different colors of text separated quest text, other players’ presences, general descriptives, location directions, items, and so on. I think you get more used to parsing this as you play, but I found that it was a bit of an eyesore at first, especially when you got to a new area and the text kept scrolling as events unfolded. I don’t want to be speed-reading, worried that I’ll end up dead because I’m on paragraph 4 while my character is being lasered in paragraph 10.

The other problem I had with the text is that the main box is far too wide, making my eyes travel too far left and right to be comfortable. After a couple of hours playing, my eyes grew fatigued from this. Perhaps there were options to resize the center frame, but I didn’t see it.

One very nice touch was that Starmourn includes a lot of hypertext links, allowing me to bypass typing every last thing out and clicking on options when presented as well as directions on the mini-map.

So this is the general layout here, with the minimap on the upper left, character sheet ont he lower left, main screen and options in the middle, and on the right descriptions of items in the room and quests.

Starmourn started out with my character crash-landing on a planet and then falling in with a group of scoundrels while slavers came to attack the area. It’s all an extended tutorial of do this, do that, and you definitely won’t die, but I still thought it was more interesting than your standard MMO “go kill the first five mobs and return with their ears” quest. Following this, we took off and I got a confusing spaceship tutorial — and yes, the spaceships kind of move in real time, although not very fast. Plus you have to keep using various text commands that I was sure I was not going to remember, so I hoped that there would be shortcuts in the future if I got my own craft.

Eventually the game dumped me out in a large city area, and here’s where my interest started to flag. Probably one of the worst things that RPGs can do to me at the start is go “Here’s a big town, now poke around and feel lost and directionless as you’re trying to learn the game!” I sat on a bench, I stood up from a bench, I had a long chat with an AI information broker, and I took a shuttle from one part of the city to the other, all while whatever immersion the tutorial had created started to dissipate.

I have a feeling that I’ve played visual games for too long at this point in my life. I would have had a lot more patience (not to mention fascination) with a MUD like this in the 1980s or 90s, but getting over the learning hump would take a bit of a push that I’m not willing to put in right now. Still, it was interesting and made me applaud the fact that devs are still creating these kinds of games today, so check this out if it sounds interesting to you!

DDO: Tomb raider

Lara Croft doesn’t have anything on this Gnome with a repeating crossbow, an energy cannon arm, and a robotic dog who jumps headfirst into danger. Although she does have two guns, so I guess there’s that.

Anyway, lots more Necropolis questing this week — I think there are about 22 in total, with four boasting epic versions. It’s going to keep me busy for the better part of a month, so I’m trying not to waste any time. Next up was Tomb of the Immortal Heart, a library-themed dungeon with lots of hidden alcoves and ridiculously easy to slay bad guys.

The CR level keeps jumping up and down on me depending on the quest, and I’m not always the best in figuring out if I should select epic difficulty level or keep it at normal. I didn’t see that this was was just level 5, so of course I blitzed through it. Still, that’s one more that’s down and buried, pardon the pun.

Tomb of the Shadow Guard is another one of those DDO quests that I’ll be more than happy to never repeat. Basically, it’s Swimming: The Quest. What we have here is a very, very long dungeon in which large parts are entirely underwater and require traversing. The twisty passages, Z axis, and murky water all contribute to a disorienting effect, and it’s only the largely linear nature of the dungeon and the advice to “follow the light plants” that kept me from being lost there forever. Just felt like a lot of pointless swimming, and I’m not a big fan of swimming in MMOs.

I was initially frustrated by Tomb of the Blighted, as all of its water is filled with this horrible blight rot debuff that continually lowers stats until you’re powerless and dead. But then I figured out the chief mechanic at play here, which was to use vials of blessed water to de-corrupt strengthened roots, cleanse myself, and cleanse a series of urns around this large square hallway. It was slow going, especially with the zombies who die and spew out an even nastier skeleton to fight, but once I got the pace down, it went very smoothly. And I give the quest designers props for a clever mechanic, so all in all, it’s one of the better dungeons that I’ve run in the Necropolis.

If we were to grade dungeons on atmosphere, Tomb of the Crimson Heart would get high marks. The hazy red miasma lends a gooshy Halloween feel to this fairly straight-forward instance. The goal here is to find three runes (embedded into random decorative skulls), open a final door, defeat a mummy boss. I probably took this dungeon at too low a level, because everything was dying if I just glared at them hard enough. At least now I have a month’s supply of toilet paper on hand.

Tomb of the Shadow Lord clearly discriminates against solo players, because it’s one of those instances where a party member or two needs to stay behind to activate certain levers. The workaround for soloing is using pets and hirelings as stand-ins — you have to drag them over to a spot, command them in a firm tone to “STAY!”, run to the door, and then click their “use” buttons at the same time and hope you got it right.

Fun fact: It is ENTIRELY possible to lock yourself in a room in this instance from which there is no escape. Not that I did this and had to exit out and restart the dungeon. Nope. Not at all.

LOTRO: The idiocy of Elves knows no bounds

Unlike the fall and winter festivals in LOTRO, I have little interest in participating in the spring celebration. It’s simply not as well designed, and the key features — the hedge maze and shrew stomp — lean more toward “frustrating” than “fun” on my scale. Factor in the lack of really desirable cosmetics, mounts, or housing items, and I am more than willing to skip this every year.

However, I heard that SSG added a new questline for 2019, so I acquiesced enough to at least run that. New story is new story, right? And this one seemed slightly promising at first, as three herbalists from Gondor come to work… which ends up being a lot of lounging around and drinking. There is one responsible one in the bunch, but the other two don’t listen to her at all. Anyway, the story quickly switches over to an eavesdropping Elf — one of that race’s many sterling qualities — who butts in to moan and whine about the extinction of a special elf-flower that used to be found all over Middle-earth. The tragic — dreadfully so! — event drove two Elf brothers apart because nothing is more dramatic in the elf world than anything to do with flowers.

Things went from an eye-rolling “the elves are going on and on about flowers AGAIN?” to true groaning when it’s revealed that this incredibly precious and deeply lamented flower is…

A sunflower. Yup. You know, those things that SSG stuck all over the Shire one day this past year to the bewilderment and even annoyance of players? Like the whole region suddenly contracted a plague of tall edible flowers. Well now with this quest I smell conspiracy to commit retcon in the writers’ room! Either SSG had the forethought to get sunflowers in for the quest to come, or the studio is getting in a joke at the expense of rankled players. I mean, with this quest, the sunflowers are now canon, so they’re there for good.

It’s also ridiculous and not at all flattering for the elves to be completely ignorant of the sunflower’s existence in the Shire. I mean, if these two guys were so in love with this one particular plant, you’d think they would have asked around a bit. Perhaps paid to put some pictures on the side of milk cartons: “Have you seen this flower?”

Elves and flowers are always a dangerously stupid mix, and this quest is perhaps the pinnacle of proving such.

10 upcoming MMOs I am anticipating

Every once in a while I like to take stock of what’s on the way for MMORPGs and do a gut check — what am I excited about? What am I anticipating? I’ll be honest by saying that there’s little that has me visibly vibrating with joy the way that I used to for some of the old AAA-budget titles, but I am quietly thrilled at the thought of getting to play the following titles. So here are the top 10 MMOs (titles confirmed, not rumored, to be in development) that I’m looking forward to playing — some day.

  1. Project Gorgon: Sure, I can play it now (and might well do so soon), but I have been craving the stability of a full-fledged release without any hint of a wipe after that. It’s shaping up well and has so much potential for hundreds of hours of fun in it.
  2. Torchlight Frontiers: After playing the alpha, I am reasonably confident that this will be a relaxing, 30-minutes-a-day MMO with a lot of replayability and features that are up my alley (such as cosmetics and housing). I just hope that the monetization scheme doesn’t fly off the rails as PWE is wont to do at points.
  3. Dual Universe: I definitely have a craving for a good PvE space sim that is going unfulfilled these days, and DU seems like the most promising of the bunch that will launch in my lifetime. I hope it builds up solid word-of-mouth over time, because I don’t think it’s going to be a day one smash hit.
  4. Ashes of Creation: Depending on the day and communication from the studio, I can either be excited or worried about this title. It’s a mixture of both, but I’m still holding onto hope that this will be an MMO that caters to all types — including my carebear homebuddy self.
  5. City of Titans/Valiance Online/Ship of Heroes: Still going to lump all three of these upcoming superhero MMOs together until one pulls away from the pack and looks like a frontrunner. Just would love a great superhero experience right now and am glad that at least there are several of them to give us the best odds of a solid launch.
  6. Pantheon: So yeah, I’ve been coming around on this title. Used to cast shade at it, now I’m kind of impressed as to the hard work and possibilities of this title. Hope we see it sooner rather than later, to be honest.
  7. Dreadlands: New title for this kind of list, but I think that there’s a lot of potential in a post-apoc MMO-ish title in which you get to control a group that’s exploring the wasteland. It’s definitely a setting that appeals strongly to me.
  8. Star Citizen: Sure, I’ll give it a whirl. Might have to do it in an alpha state, since who knows when this will release. But some people seem to be having a lot of fun with what’s there, and I’m willing to look past the crazy community and overambitious studio to try it out.
  9. Fractured: Been quietly cheering on this very-indie MMO, especially as it will offer a pure PvE experience for those who want it. Not as keen about the isometric viewpoint, but oh well. Can’t have everything.
  10. Peria Chronicles: I continue to hope that this game will head to the west sooner or later, and if it does, I’ll be first in line to try it.

LeChuck’s Revenge: The practicalities of revenge-oriented voodoo

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Here’s one problem that I have with Monkey Island 2’s early game: Guybrush comes off as kind of a jerk to pretty much everyone. I have an issue with that, because he’s this genial guy in the first game who only pranks those who deserve it or hurts others accidentally (like leaving poor Herman behind).

In this game? He’s kind of ruining everyone’s lives left and right in his quest to obtain the necessary elements for a voodoo curse. He steals poor Wally’s monocle (it can be given back, but Guybrush needs it for an objective), he gets an innocent chef fired — and takes his job(!), and he cuts loose some hotel guy’s pet just to steal past him. And if Guybrush addresses any of these actions, it’s always in a goofy “tee hee” voice. I actually don’t like any of that. He’s a pirate, to be sure, but he’s a likable pirate. This makes him less so.

See, being mean to Largo LeGrande is something I can get behind. The bully has it coming.

And he (Largo) also wears women’s unmentionables. Ahem. Anyway, this means that Guybrush has the four essential ingredients to get a curse going, so curse him we shall!

The voodoo lady fashions a useful doll, which Guybrush then takes and uses to torment LaGrande until he agrees to leave the island (there’s no returning the money, though, since Largo spent it). Unfortunately during this confrontation, Guybrush shows Largo the still-living beard of LeChuck that he’s been keeping ever since his fight in the previous game (huh?). Largo steals it and vows to use it to resurrect LeChuck as a zombie.

…which he totally does. So we’ve gone from Ghost LeChuck to Zombie LeChuck. Not a great improvement, and Guybrush knows that he’s pretty dead either way. The voodoo lady tells him that his only hope is to assemble the four lost map pieces to Big Whoop and find the location, which will also put him out of range of LeChuck forever. Sounds like a framework for the rest of the plot!

Guybrush sets out for his first destination, Phatt Island, where he quickly discovers that he’s a very wanted man (I love the fake moustache on the wanted poster).

There’s very little subtlety here with Governor Phatt. Because he’s fat, you see? And drinks constantly from food hoses? And has flies buzzing around him? Just like all us fat people, I guess. Probably the grossest detail I saw was a water hose nearby, presumably to wash him down.

Anyway, Phatt wants to collect on a bounty put on Guybrush by LeChuck. Sensible, I suppose. And that means our hero is heading off to jail — and a fate worse than death and ghost and resurrection.