Blaugust returns!

blaugustTomorrow marks the return of Belghast’s annual blogger event, Blaugust. Started a few years ago, Blaugust was Bel’s way of encouraging the blogging community to commit to 31 days of blog posts, kind of like how NaNoWriMo does earlier on in the summer. I think it’s a fine idea, since it’s completely voluntary and serves as great motivation to those wanting to get back on the blogging horse or those open to a fun experiment.

I’m down for it, of course. I don’t usually blog on the weekend, but I think I could prep a couple of posts to cover those days. It’s been a little quieter than normal here at Bio Break as of late, mostly because I’m going through two intense weeks of work — last week was our summer teen mission trip and this week is the church’s VBS. As a result, I’ve had very little time to write, nevermind catch up on reading the hundreds of blog posts in my reader.

So I’m looking forward to things calming down (relatively). I would like to get back to Star Trek 25th Anniversary at some point too, but that’s way down on the priority list at the moment.

Anyway, good luck to my fellow… Blaugustinians (?). May the writing bug bite you in a tender location and inspire you to ever-greater word counts.

2015: The year expansions became the MMO heroes

heartA couple of weeks ago, Murf Versus had a popular post about how MMOs “forgot to expansion.” He pointed to (last year’s) Warlords of Draenor and how it’s been floundering in mediocrity, the PR flubs over Guild Wars 2’s pre-purchase deal, and Destiny’s Taken King pricing

“I don’t know about you folks,” he wrote, “but it seems strange to have these three high profile games have so many problems with their expansions.”

I’ve been chewing on that post for a week or so now because a lot of it’s had to do with somewhat recent news. While all three of those certainly didn’t help the industry, two (GW2 and Destiny) were issues with the marketing and pricing, and not the actual content of the expansion. To be sure, the stories didn’t help the product and were poisonous for the moment, but I guarantee both issues will be forgotten come this fall. Warlords can stand and fall on its own merit, for all I care right now.

Not to be a knee-jerk contrarian, but I’ve been increasingly vocal that 2015 is the year that expansions are going to do tremendous good for MMOs. They almost have to, in a vacuum of actual big-name new MMO launches. This is the year that older MMOs have the space to grow and get both old and new players to give them a shot. And nothing beckons so hard for an established MMO as an expansion (save perhaps for a business model shift, which puts WildStar into play in a couple of months).

Right now we don’t have a massive number of expansions in play, but each one is poised to be rather significant. Let’s run down the list:

Heavensward

The first major expansion release of 2015 is a couple of weeks old right now and it’s been a dominant topic in the MMO community. FFXIV is still on the rise, even being a sub-only game, and while we have no idea how many people are currently playing, Square-Enix is certainly not shy in bandying around “millions” as an indicator.

What’s more, Heavensward appears to be a genuinely great addition to the game. It’s doing what an expansion should do: generate tremendous amounts of hype for the product, add tons more story, expand the game’s landscape, and throw in more classes (jobs). It had June more or less all to itself and even stood up to World of Warcraft’s same-day patch — and came out on top.

Heart of Thorns

ArenaNet handled the pre-purchase announcement poorly, I think many of us would agree, but it’s recovered nicely by offering a free character slot and by the simple effect of time washing away the heightened emotion of the moment.

Heart of Thorns isn’t the kind of expansion for me, but at least it’s an expansion, period, and Guild Wars 2 really needed one of those. The studio is going to milk this expansion for all its worth during the beta and pre-launch period, getting as many eyeballs as possible to turn back to GW2. It’s pricey, to be sure, but I would think that dedicated players would realize that they haven’t had to pay for playable content since buying the original box and thus rationalize the higher cost.

Knights of the Fallen Empire

The 2015 expansion trifecta rounds to SWTOR’s next big expansion. BioWare’s looking to top what it’s done in the past with its feature and content expansions by using this opportunity to overhaul the game entire — and at the same time make a compelling case for why players should treat SWTOR as a subscription game, period.

Knights of the Fallen Empire could be a relaunch of SWTOR — SWTOR 2.0, it’s being called — with instant level 60s, a jump forward in the timeline, a whole new storyline, an overhaul to the flashpoint/operations system, and monthly episodic content coming in 2016. It’s ambitious and perhaps what SWTOR needs after a few years of release, but then again WoW: Cataclysm attempted to shake things up and flopped pretty badly in the execution. I’m excited about it, but we’ll see.

And more (and less)

Past those, we’ll most likely be hearing about the next World of Warcraft expansion at BlizzCon, the announcement of which will send players out of their minds and cause instant forgiveness to a studio that’s become notorious for content droughts. I’m also willing to bet that RIFT will at least announce its third expansion by year’s end, if not get a beta going.

Not every studio is gung-ho for expansions. CCP, Turbine, and Daybreak have each in their own way distanced themselves from the expansion model, more or less preferring smaller monthly/quarterly updates to the big package.

Still, if at the end of this year we look back at the biggest successes of the year and see expansions as king, it could make a lot of studios rethink the risk/cost/benefit factors of doing them in the future.

Progress Quest isn’t all there is to MMOs

Tobold is “floored” that I enjoy and yearn to play multiple MMOs, although this is nothing new here on Bio Break (the enjoying and yearning, I have no idea how often Tobold identifies with flooring).

His thoughts and questions on juggling multiple MMOs aren’t bad, and in fact are ones that I have been mulling as of late here, but there is one quote that I’d like to address because I think it deserves a response:

“In one game 20 hours per week results in some sort of progress. Split over many games, nothing much is happening.”

Two thoughts:

(1) Slow progress is still progress, especially when you focus on a single character and aren’t trying to rush or get raid-geared. The tortoise eventually crossed the finish line of that race, no matter what the hare did, after all. Even a year after WildStar released and I took a break and played several alts, I still am creeping up on the level cap in that game with my level 47 Engineer. It feels like a fallacy to assume that everyone plays at the same pace; some are much faster than you and some much slower. It’s OK to go at your own speed.

(2) To me, at least, “progress” isn’t the be-all, end-all of why I play MMOs. Goals are great and measuring progress can be satisfying, I don’t deny (and I participate in that too). But to me, the experience of playing is more important — the stories, the human connections, the observations, the fun-in-the-moment. After all, one’s “progress” will eventually be cancelled out by quitting or a game shutting down. That’s inevitable. But experiences and memories that are generated from those games last much longer. The latter is what I’m invested in.

It’s why I never feel like it’s a waste to try new MMOs (or retro games, for that matter), to sample older ones, or to leave games after an extended stay. Usually I take away something, even if it’s a post on Bio Break or a newfound perspective on the genre.

Why is it hard playing new MMOs?

collectionDespite my rather untrue reputation of playing dozens of MMOs all of the time — and somehow writing, working, and helping to raise a family even so — the truth is that I tend to have a couple comfort MMOs that I dive into on a regular basis and then a scattering of other titles that go from one-shot curiosities to every-so-often loads.

But for a while now I’ve been struggling with a frustration over why it’s hard for me to, say, just load up an MMO I haven’t played before (or in a long while, or much at all) and go for it. Because I can’t. I try, I stretch myself, I make vows to expand my boundaries, and then I inevitably go back to the handful of titles that I’ve played for a while yet. It’s frustrating because I know that there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I really haven’t experienced, and I would always like to have a broader base of experience. But there’s a block in there, maybe a few of them, and this post is my effort to try to put a finger on why it’s harder to swap between MMOs than it was playing console games.

I guess for starters there’s the fact that every MMO has its own control scheme and UI setup, and no two are exactly alike. Oh, there are plenty that are similar, but the same? I haven’t seen it. This one game has double-jumping and the other game barely allows your feet to clear the ground. One game allows rebinding your keys while the other doesn’t. One has a less responsive chat window than the other. One has the dorky running animations, one has the combat lag, and one has the instant mount summons. One is tab-target combat and the other is all about twitch action.

Differences are fine, but when you’re bouncing between games, you have to mentally shift between what they are and attempt to get your finger memory to where it needs to be. That’s not a problem when you’re primarily playing one MMO. It starts to stack up when you add more games to the mix. MMOs are too complex sometimes with all of these nuances and features when you’re trying to shift between them.

Speaking of remembering, does anyone else have a good system for keeping track of dozens of logins and passwords? That’s a factor, too.

There’s the financial barrier as well. If it’s a sub-only game, well, I have to make a rather big call as to whether or not I’m going to tack on another bill to my card every month. If it’s F2P, I have to figure out how much I’ll be penalized for playing without paying and see if it’ll cross the threshold of unbearable or not.

When I play more than one MMO during an evening, I notice that it takes me a few minutes of in-game play to make the psychological transition between the previous game and the new. During that time, I’m resenting the new game because my “feel factor” is still on the one I just came from.

Jumping into new MMOs also requires a lot of learning, more so if the game has significantly different systems than other titles. If an MMO has been out for years and years, then you’re playing catch-up with a mountain of combat that vets have long since become accustomed to.

I also have a hard time playing a game in the moment — playing it for its own sake right then and there. If it’s an MMO, I can’t help but think about my future in the game and if I’m going to actually be spending more time here. And if my internal answer is, “I can’t see going the full distance” then my mind starts throwing up roadblocks to letting me enjoy even a partial distance.

This all isn’t a problem that I can see MMO studios wanting to solve, by the way. Studios would vastly prefer that I make their game a permanent home and welcome any obstacles from jumping ship — however temporarily — to other games. There’s always an ongoing effort to establish brand loyalty and get players to plant roots.

Don’t mind me and all of my brain-flotsam today. Just thinking out loud here. Wishing that it was easier to game hop than it is. Maybe realizing that this is just how I’m wired and to enjoy what I enjoy without feeling like I’m being left out of the fun of othe games I’m not playing.

Going forward with gaming plans for 2015

With the standard disclaimer that plans are made to be broken and Syp’s whims are often prone to change depending on the day, here are some of my plans and thoughts about what I’m gaming now and what I’d like to be gaming for the rest of the year.

WildStar

I’m still working my way up to level 50 and the final batch of zones, but at my pace it will take me most of the summer to get there. I anticipate dropping my subscription when free-to-play happens, but not my interest. Still having a great time with this second go-round and there are so many things I want to do with my housing plot.

Marvel Heroes

I have tons of goals in this game but no overarching goal, if that makes sense. Squirrel Girl is the character I’ve chosen to gear out as good as I can get her, but everyone else is just there to enjoy. I picked up Emma Frost last night and am looking forward to trying her out tonight (Big 10 + Midtown Monday = hopefully crazy fast leveling).

The Secret World

Right now my lowbie project is on the backburner (ready to be picked up at any time, of course) while my main character is simply redoing Orochi Tower floors once or twice a week to see if she can catch ’em all eventually. I don’t anticipate massive play time in TSW until the next issue comes out, but it’s nice that it’s still there.

Lord of the Rings Online

Haven’t re-installed this on my new computer. Became so burned out on it that I knew I needed some serious distance, even with the new summer patch coming along soon.

Villagers and Heroes

Would like to dip into this every week or so, to at least get a better feel for it and start crafting my way through it. It’s there as a sample title at least for when my appetite demands it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

It’s weird — the announcement of the fall’s expansion has me incredibly excited, yet I do not really want to play the game until it lands. I don’t have any goals or levels or solo content left for my Operative and I don’t want to speed-level a new character up. So I’ll wait for Fallen Empire and concentrate on other titles in the meantime.

Skyforge

Yeah, I guess I’ll load this up when it goes live. It was fun enough in a mindless Neverwinter action combat sort of way. Not sure if I’ll be bugged by its apparent narrative weakness or it’s weird character models.

Shroud of the Avatar

After spending a couple of days with it, I felt that it was best to just wait until episode 1 launches this year and then giving it a full go. Active community or no right now, it bugs me to play beta.

Anarchy Online

I really, really need to load the new graphics engine and see what there is to see here. I anticipate a day or two of tourism followed by my usual drop-off in interest, but I owe AO enough to at least see what it’s been doing.

Other games, other possibilities

It’s great to see everyone so thrilled about Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion, but I really don’t ever think I’ll be able to get over my apathy toward the franchise and the style to play it. ArcheAge… well, it’s on my computer whenever I feel like trying it. Neverwinter might be a “come back someday” title, especially since I didn’t get much into playing the warlock class. World of Warcraft always beckons, but just when I think nostalgia is going to get me to sub up, I look at garrisons, blanch, and go do something else.

The summer of cycling

BicycleNearly two months in, and I’m still biking on a regular basis. For me, this is a personal milestone of fitness, the longest run of exercise I’ve done since I was a kid. And I even look forward to it every day, which is not something I was able to say about my stints on the exercise bike and those Wii sports games I did for a bit.

After extensive scouting of the surrounding three or four miles around my home, I’ve figured out two good 45-minute routes that have decent sidewalks and aren’t plagued with sharp hills. This was trickier than I first realized, since so many of the streets in our fairly packed suburban city don’t have sidewalks at all. And because this is Detroit, drivers care not one whit for looking out for cyclists and thus I am not biking on a street if I can help it.

One sign of getting into all of this is that I’ve been gradually buying various accessories — new gym shorts, a new helmet, biking sunglasses (faux-kleys, I call them, since they were $8), and even a small pink MP3 player that I’ve loaded with mostly techno and fast BPM tunes. Yesterday for Father’s Day I was given the go-ahead to pick up a new bike too, a much lighter hybrid one to go along with my heavy-duty mountain bike.

I took the new bike down to one of our nicer parks for a ride last night, which ended up not being as enjoyable as I’d hoped. It was way too muggy, for starters, and trying to get a feel for a new bike while riding an unfamiliar course was stressful.

Sometimes getting out there is hard — I don’t have a lot of energy that day or the first couple of miles really hurts my thighs as I push up hills. But sooner or later I end up in this zone where my mind switches off and I’m just biking and listening to music and feeling like I could go on for a long time.

Weight loss-wise, it’s helped although it hasn’t been a stark transformation. I think I’ve lost around 15 pounds from early May (coupled with getting back to a strict low-carb diet). I feel… tighter, I guess is the word I use. A little more trim. I read that cycling uses a lot more than your leg muscles for a good core workout, so I’ll take it. In any case, I’m not totally embarassed when I see myself biking in store windows.

In other biking news (because you’re so starved for it, I know), I’ve taken the training wheels off my kids’ bikes and am trying to teach them how to ride properly. It’s been challenging. They don’t like to fall and I don’t blame them, so it ends up being a lot of encouragement to try again and me hunched over, running, while I hold their seats.