Adventures in Organizing Part II

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Another entry into my publicly boring but personally interesting journey to becoming better organized! Unbuckle your seatbelts, my friends, because it’s going to be one dull as dirt ride!

So after going on the other week about my great four-point organization system, I started to feel like that was probably two, if not three, points too many. I’ve been enjoying getting into the groove of getting stuff done and feeling less stressed now that more of my life is coming under the umbrella of organization (versus “sure hope I remember it!” that my brain cannot do as well any more). But the tools weren’t quite there yet.

It felt a little redundant to have both a weekly to-do list and Evernote handling my long-range projects and dates. So I started doing research (ie, googling) applications that could handle tasks, dates, and syncing between devices. Oh, and also it had to be free or pretty cheap, because I am not hopping on board the whole “renting programs for money” train.

What popped up in a few places was Wunderlist, a clean organizer that works in browser, desktop, and mobile devices. It’s nothing extremely fancy, but it is well done. You can schedule tasks for specific dates and also set them to repeat (daily, weekly, yearly, custom, etc.), which I found to be helpful for many things I need to remember yearly and monthly. You can also have the program email you and notify you of tasks, although I disabled most of that because it got really annoying to have all of those popping up at me when I already have Wunderlist pulled up on my computer.

After a couple of days of evaluating it and finding it pleasing, I went ahead and put everything into Wunderlist. All my to dos, all of my dates, everything going out a year from now. That way I can wake up, look at my list for the day, and get a plan going. For a guy who has had problems procrastinating with big projects or annoying little ones, I find that if I put it on the list, it gets done. And I’m thrilling to that.

I think in a way, tools like Wunderlist are allowing me to become my own boss. I function well when someone tells me, “Here, do this,” and I do it. Freeform motivation is less helpful. I don’t like wasting a day or putting off the jobs that need doing, and this is combating that in my life.

Can MMO desert zones ever be cool?

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Hope you like sand, because you’re in for a lot of it!

The other day an unnamed party and I were recording an unnamed podcast in while we were discussing the music that played in MMORPG desert zones. I can neither confirm nor deny that you will hear this conversation in the future, but boy did it trigger a few nasty memories. In Syp’s hierarchy of most-disliked video game biomes, the list goes:

  1. Volcano & lava zones
  2. Desert zones
  3. Jungle zones

There are different aspects I hate about each, but what sets desert areas apart is simply how boring most of them are. There’s only so much you can do with a desert, since its very definition means “lacking anything cool.” Developers probably can’t be blamed for dumping the desert area design on the interns, because the their toolbag is pretty limited here. Cacti? Sand? Scorpions jumping up out at you from the ground? A tan rock? A brown rock? Spiders? The one token oasis? TAN. BROWN. BROWN. TAN.

Yawn.

I guess I can’t blame MMO devs for working deserts in — after all, it’s easiest to draw upon actual earth biomes for inspiration, and deserts are pretty prevalent on our planet. But can they ever do anything neat with them? I doubt it. At least, I can’t say that I recall any that have made me go, “Ooh, that’s cool, I want to spend a whole bunch of time questing here!” No, usually I feel like I’m being punished for some unknown crime that dogs me from game to game.

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Now of course, I’m mostly speaking of a classical desert that seems to be the go-to type for video games. When devs aren’t being totally lazy by creating zones with a whole lot of nothing in them, they attempt to emulate two popular desert concepts.

There’s the Egyptian motif, with pyramids, more green (thanks, Nile!), large statues, and all of that ancient world feel. It’s not a terrible theme, and it’s probably the one desert type that I will gladly tolerate. I kind of regret that I never got to see Warhammer Online’s Land of the Dead, which was (from what I understood) old Egypt meets undead horror. Often this gets paired with the Indiana Jones/archaeology flavor.

Then there’s the Arabian Nights collection, the enjoyment of which depends on how much you like that source material. Me? Not really. I don’t like the architecture, the over-reliance on camels, and genies who have never really granted me the wishes I wanted in video games.

My preferred desert, although it is rarely labeled as such, is the western Utah badlands design. Lots of picturesque rocks, a wild west feel, deep canyons, and the like. Maybe it’s the addition of a wider color palette — especially those dusky reds — that helps make it a more enjoyable desert.

Still, if given a choice between a desert zone and anywhere else (save Volcano Land), I won’t give my exit from the desert a second thought. Luke Skywalker couldn’t wait to leave Tatooine, after all, and I don’t blame him.

Can MMO desert zones ever be cool? Can’t see it happening. Include it so that you have the whole earth collection if you must, but you’ve got a massive uphill climb to ever getting me to gush about such an area.

Syp’s four-point organizational system

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As fall gets rolling here, I’m finally feeling as if my new(ish) organization system is starting to click into place. It’s been a process trying to figure out how to best balance all of my goals, daily activities, kids’ schedules, projects, and whatnot, and after some experimentation and refinement, I’ve come upon a system that works pretty well for me.

I call it Syp’s Four-Point system, because I use four elements to help structure my day.

Point One: Routine

Routine isn’t actually bad — If every day was completely different, my life would be chaos and I’d spend most of my time trying to adjust to whatever was happening. Instead, I rely on a personal routine from wake up to bedtime that takes care of most mundane or repeatable tasks. Exercise, writing, going here, going there, family time, play time, most of what I do outside of work is handled by the capital-R Routine.

Sure, some days veer off from that, and that’s OK, but this keeps me on track.

Point Two: Evernote

As I mentioned before, I use Evernote’s synced notepad between computers and my phone to track dates. Basically, anything further out than a week gets put into here, including important dates, reminders to do something on particular dates, tasks that repeat on a monthly or biweekly schedule, reminders to get my wife flowers/notes, notes about interesting things happening on a date, and so on. Sometimes this contains to-do items, particularly when they’re important. I check this when I first wake up to make sure I’m not forgetting something about the day and then update it as need be.

Right now, my Evernote calendar stretches through next June, to give you an idea of how far out I’ve been scheduling dates.

Point Three: My work task list

So I’ve always had a list of to-do items at work next to my computer, but it never seemed to go well. It was just a big lump of chores and I’d procrastinate on about half of them, kicking the can to the next week.

It’s a small change, but now at the start of my church week (Sunday), I make a list of every day through Friday and then assign tasks to specific days. This way I can spread out the harder or more time-consuming tasks and remind myself to make progress on some work projects. It’s kind of like my quest log, in MMO parlance, and it’s been working so very well for me thus far. I’ve stopped making excuses about tasks and gotten invested in wiping clean a slate for that day before I leave.

Point Four: Phone reminders

My phone helps me when it comes to sending myself reminders on the spot (“set a reminder for 6:30 p.m., put screwdriver kit in the car”) and in setting recurring alarms so that I don’t forget to pick up the kids from school (we have kids in two schools right now, each on different schedules). I know it sounds silly, but this helps a lot when I’m talking to someone and they ask me to do something, and I can just take my phone out and set a reminder right then and there so I don’t forget later on.

This all may sound cumbersome or overly complex, but it actually isn’t. I’ve been kicking butt and getting stuff done over the past two months because of it, and I enjoy not feeling like I’m forgetting something, or falling behind, or scrambling at the last minute. Just wanted to share it with you.

And if you’re looking for other ideas for personal organization, Liore has a few words she’d like to say about bullet journaling (I tried it and it was too time-consuming for me, but it could be great for you!).

Could Amazon be working on an MMORPG?

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One of the dates that you’re going to want to writ into your calendar is September 29. That’s when Amazon Games Studio will be hosting its unboxing event in which the fresh-faced studio will share “some of the PC games Amazon’s been working on.”

The relatively new studio has been shrouded in secrecy for over a year now, lending itself to all manner of speculation about its projects. The question of personal relevance is, is Amazon Games Studio working on a genuine MMO or an MMO-but-not-in-name?

Here’s a quick bullet point list of what we know so far:

  • The studio is focused on making PC titles
  • “Multiple AAA PC games”
  • “New community-driven game experiences”
  • Some games developed in-house, some collaborative
  • It’s looking to integrate Twitch (which Amazon owns) and Amazon Web Services (cloud)
  • Projects are being worked at its two studio locations
  • Has already created three small titles and its own game engine and multiplayer game service (Gamelift)
  • Perhaps most tellingly, the company has snapped up several MMO developers, particularly from ArenaNet, including Colin Johanson, Eric Flannum, and Jeff Grubb

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The pieces are there, and with multiple games set to be revealed, I think the chances are good that we’ll see at least something in the vicinity of an MMO. A real, proper, full-fledged MMORPG? Maybe a 50-50 proposition, but if so, it won’t be called an MMO due to how it’s a dirty acronym these days and AGS will want to look like a forward-reaching studio.

Maybe my interest is heightened in this because we’re seeing so little new titles come out of traditional MMO studios that I’m very open to a new company entering this space and bringing some new ideas with it.

I keep asking myself, what is so attractive and interesting about Amazon that it has called this talent to it? Other than a steady paycheck and probably free Prime shipping, that is.

Bogged down in Star Trek Online

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Got to say, Star Trek Online is starting to lose me. What was a thrilling ride a month or two ago has now transformed into a dull slog through the Delta Rising expansion. From what I can tell, Cryptic had the budget for about seven good missions and then tried to stretch it to 20 or so with filler.

A lot of filler.

A LOT of filler.

Nothing kills my enthusiasm more than to be assigned yet another “go patrol these four or five star systems to boost the Federation’s repuation” mission. I know that none of those matter, none will have any good stories, and all of them will be 100% in space. The funny thing about Star Trek Online is that whenever the game starts tilting to only doing space or only doing ground missions, then it starts to capsize. It needs to juggle between the two, adding in a good dose of story to keep things balanced and interesting.

And while I wouldn’t normally grouse too much about difficult fights, I take exception to these dull patrol missions being so long due to slugging it out with huge fleets of ships.

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Before the Delta quadrant, I felt like my ship was powerful and I had a purpose. Now I keep getting smashed by the Vaadwuar Furniture Collection and meander from one side of the map to the other with a string of pointless missions. Almost makes me miss Neelix stories. Almost.

Sure, I could skip it all and just move ahead to the next episode series, but there’s that stubborn part of me that wants to see it through and would feel annoyed to have unfinished missions at my back.

So all I do if I log on is admire the combat spell effects and hope that I can finish the expansion before my will to play completely evaporates.

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At least there was this weird shuttle racing mission once. Racing against nothing in particular, but it was still kind of cool.

Top 10 Bio Break’s most-posted categories

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As a blog, Bio Break has been trucking along since late 2008. That doesn’t seem very long ago in my mind, but looking at a calendar, I realize that we’ll be hitting the 10th anniversary of this blog before too long. With that much time passed and thousands of posts under my belt, I thought it might be interesting to look at my categories and see which have garnered the most attention over the past 8.5 years. So here are the top 10 categories for Bio Break to date:

1. Lord of the Rings Online (411 posts)

Far and away the number one, aside from the “general” category (which I’m not including in this list). It’s not surprising, considering how many years I played LOTRO regularly, covered it for Massively, and pretty much turned this into a LOTRO fan site. Last LOTRO post was back in July.

2. Picture of the Day (299 posts)

This is a dump category if I want to share some random picture — my own or, more likely, someone else’s — that amuses me or seems cool. I enjoy flipping back through this category, personally. Last picture, September 2nd.

3. Star Wars: The Old Republic (291 posts)

This was a gimme, too — I was huge into SWTOR for a while there, including the long lead-up to the launch (which had already started back in 2008/9). Nice to be able to see my journeys from the start with the same character I play today. Last post, September.

4. Nostalgia Lane (283 posts, plus Retro Gaming’s 109 posts)

This is a weird one to place because Nostalgia Lane used to be my catch-all for any old-school video game discussion, including my playthroughs. A while back I split off the playthroughs into the Retro Gaming category, so I guess combined they’re the number two spot. Last post, April.

5. Quote of the Day (276 posts)

I used to use this category a lot more, particularly in pointing out cool things others say, but ever since I started doing the MMO blogosphere Global Chat roundup for Massively OP, I tend to save the good quotes for there. Last post, July.

6. Guild Wars (247 posts)

I’m not super-obsessed about creating scads of categories for each individual game, so sometimes I’ll just have multiple games in a franchise under the same category — such as Guild Wars 1 and 2 in this one. I definitely talked more about 2, especially during the two-plus years I was playing. Obviously slowed down since then. Last post, June.

7. World of Warcraft (241 posts)

The funny thing is that this category would have been much, much higher on the list if I’d been blogging since 2004. However, since I wasn’t really playing very much from 2008 to 2015, it hasn’t been the largest category on the site. Starting to pick up steam now, particularly with this year’s sessions. Last post, September.

8. The Secret World (235 posts)

Another personal favorite MMO of mine and one that is rich for posts (although not for hits off of those posts, but oh well, I like talking about the game). Going back through the missions and blogging about them in more detail definitely boosted this counter. Last post, August.

9. WildStar (169 posts)

I’m still in a sabbatical from the game, more or less, but it was post gold for a while, with lots of cool pictures and adventures to share (not to mention housing!). Hopefully I’ll return soon. Last post, September.

10. RIFT (168 posts)

Ha — RIFT got knocked down by a single post to the tenth spot! At least it made the list. Should be climbing higher now, too, since I’m back in it and having a great time (plus, an expansion is on its way for this fall). Last post, September.

Bold position: I hate dailies

I’ve heard it said that Blizzard was the MMO studio that came up with the idea for daily quests. I can’t recall any that did so previously, but making absolute statements like that with game development is a good way to set yourself up for looking foolish when someone else comes up with an example from a game you never heard of. Anyway, I certainly never heard of dailies before then.

So let’s cast our minds back to 2007 and the debut of The Burning Legion. As much as some players hold vanilla WoW up as a great era — and there was a special feel to the time, to be sure — it had a lot of unfriendly issues that kept the game from being as enjoyable as it could’ve been. One of those was the lack of quests as you started to move up in levels. Blizzard did a great job front-loading WoW at launch with plenty of quests to get you leveling, and people were falling over themselves at the time in praise for this type of mission delivery system. But the mid- and upper levels were sparse with available quests and the concept of hubs didn’t really come until TBC.

Unless you wanted to grind mobs, you would have to hunt down the rare quests in the world once you were in your 40s and 50s. For me, this initially meant following a very detailed walkthrough (first printed, then incorporated into the game as a mod, and then finally stolen outright by Blizzard for use in its UI). This walkthrough figured out the most optimal path to collecting and completing quests as you zig-zagged around the world. The long and the short of it was that we as players were initially fed well on quests and then subsequently starved. By the time Burning Crusade came out, we were ravenous.

So here comes the first expansion and with it an avalanche of quests. Quests here, quests there, quest hubs, quests from animal poo, etc. I used to be so excited when my character finally got to level 58 because then I could go to Outlands and level through quests without stressing about where to go. It’s funny to me now how Outlands is seen as an outdated, painful place to visit.

But what to do when you got done with the zones? That’s when Blizzard had the bright idea (ahem) of incorporating daily quests. These were a series of quests scattered around the place that you could complete once a day. Over and over and over again. They didn’t change, but they were lucrative for gold generation, and so a lot of folks — myself included — regularly ran them.

The problem was, of course, that no matter how good of a quest any of these might be (and they weren’t that stunning to being with), by the third or fourth time you were sick of doing them, yet without much else to do solo, you kept running them (plus, gold!). The only consolation is that you got really, really good at doing them efficiently and as quickly as possible.

Daily quests might have advanced a little since then, perhaps pulled from a rotating pool of quests to stave off boredom, but for the most part they stagnated almost as quickly as they came on the scene. You’re not getting any new story with them, so all they became are meaningless tasks — chores, really. Have you cleaned your room today? Have you taken out the trash? Have you done your dailies?

MMOs seized upon the idea of dailies as a way for players to gradually earn some really good reward. Bio Break readers recently saw me go through a month of dailies in Star Trek Online to get a “free” T6 escort. And those dailies weren’t done at all because they were fun or compelling, but because the reward was great enough to overcome my reluctance to grind quests. And that’s how most dailies operate.

And because dailies are disposable, forgettable quests, they don’t offer real story worth a darn. So for the narrative-addicted folks like me, they’re not appealing at all. I logged onto WildStar the other day and went to the new zone, scooting around to hoover up quests, and was dismayed how many of them had “daily” attached. Meaningless. And the worst thing is that even if you do them, they come right back. You can’t ever fully check off that quest from the map, because the exclamation point (or whatever symbol a game has for “GET QUEST HERE!”) will return the next day. It’s frustrating to those of us who like to clean up an area before moving on.

So there’s my bold position for the day: I hate dailies. If MMOs can’t truly think of anything better or more interesting to do with them, they need to jettison them entirely.