Is Chromie the face of World of Warcraft?

A half-decade ago, if you had asked me who or what was the face of World of Warcraft, I might have said “murlocs” or “Chris Metzen.” But that answer has changed in recent years,  and it’s not doughy J. Allen Brack. No, weirdly enough, Blizzard’s really latched onto Chromie as its key figure.

Like a lot of Blizzard things, it started as a bit of a joke — a giant time traveling dragon who just so happened to choose a cute-as-a-button gnome for its disguise — and then made it more and more canon. Chromie kept popping up in the game anywhere time shenanigans happened, and soon enough, she was appearing elsewhere.

When Blizzard made the stunning announcement of World of Warcraft Classic a couple of years ago, it was Chromie’s face that players saw at the start of the announcement trailer. And now with Patch 9.0, the cheeky gnome is up in everyone’s face as they go to her to beseech “Chromie Time” for their leveling journey.

What amuses me is that it’s always seemed like Blizzard really hated gnomes. They had them in WoW, sure, but always as the butt of a abuse or a joke. Chromie — despite not being a real gnome — seems to signal a change in this. Huge hulking kings, growling orcs, wishy-washy banshees all took a step back to let Chromie come to the forefront.

And I’m totally fine with that, because I like it when a game shows that it doesn’t have to be super-duper serious all the time. I like the idea of mighty power being compacted down into a small and unassuming form. And I like it because gnomes are amazing and should be the only race in the game.

Maybe it’s time to make Chromie the new warchief? She couldn’t do worse than anyone else that has sat on that throne.

4 video game sequels that let me down

As a gamer, there are few things worse than greatly anticipating a release that ultimately lets you down. But one of those few things worse is when that title is a sequel to a game that you love dearly.

Because then you’ve gone from being overjoyed that you’re about to get the next chapter to follow up a game that you’ve had a great time with. You want more! You want to see improvements but also more of the same spirit! And so you follow its development closely for months or years and you circle its release date on the calendar.

And then it’s just a let-down. Either it’s a stinker or it’s barely adequate — a shadow of the great experience you enjoyed before.

I was thinking of this the other day and several examples quickly jumped to my mind:

Majesty 2

As you well know, the original Majesty may well be my favorite RTS of all time. I love its clever design and the way it oozes personality with its graphics and voice acting. But the sequel was so disappointing because it seemed to fail to understand what made the first game great. The design was so-so and the characters and look of the land became incredibly generic as the title shifted to 3D. Such a waste.

Chrono Cross

Now I actually like Chrono Cross as its own game. It was a beautiful PlayStation RPG with a classic soundtrack and a lot of innovative ideas. But as a sequel to Chrono Trigger, it was such a let-down because its story had only vague connections to the first game, no time travel, and a very muddled narrative.

Dungeon Warfare 2

The first Dungeon Warfare was such an amazingly fun tower defense game that incorporated Dungeon Keeper-like mechanics. I was thrilled to see the second arrive, looking much like the first. But man, I could never get into it. It plays a little different, and that little difference is enough to sour me on it. It just didn’t click with me like the first game, and the poor performance it has on my phone didn’t help any.

Mass Effect 3

The first game was great and the second Mass Effect was a stone-cold BioWare classic. So why wouldn’t I be there on day one to play the third game? Unfortunately, this one lost my interest about halfway through. It simply wasn’t as compelling as the previous installments, and if the internet’s testimony is any indication, I wasn’t missing much by pressing on to the end.

What are some game sequels that let you down?

Why does fall always put me in the mood for serious gaming?

Is there any season that we end up talking about more in the internet than autumn? We’re all really vocal about our changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and move toward the big holiday corridor. I mean, as I write this, I’m listening to falling rain, sipping on pumpkin spice coffee, and looking at the leaves on the tree outside of my office change into brilliant yellows.

While fall might not be my most favorite season (which tends to change year to year), I’ve always noticed how there’s this effect it has on my desire to want to play games. As in, once fall really kicks in weather-wise, I feel a huge urge to hunker down and get my MMOs on. It always feels like the perfect time of year to get cozy with gaming.

Probably a lot of this has to do with nostalgia for falls of the past. Historically, a whole lot of MMO and expansion launches happened in the fall, so my brain definitely remembers Septembers and Octobers of opening up new games with great fondness.

Another big factor is simply the weather. I get outside year-round, don’t get me wrong, but when the weather turns crisp and blustery, it’s not like I really want to go hang out on my deck and read books any more. The weather starts to push me more indoors, and there’s a very cozy feeling to curling up with a good book or game when you can hear the wind howling or the leaves rustling outside of your window.

I’m definitely looking at a very packed fall schedule, too. Shadowlands is coming out in a few weeks, and Torchlight III before that. Toss in fall festivals and Lord of the Rings Online’s Update 28, and I’ll have my hands full going into November.

In any case, welcome fall! May your comforts help to take the edge off of an edgy year and bring me another season of relaxing and enjoyable gaming.

Sunday Serenade: Rudedog, Roxette, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“I Gotta Woman” by Rudedog — A great remix with a toe-tapping beat.

“Living on the Edge” by Shandi — This may be the most ’80s ’80s song I’ve never heard before this year. Dang catchy.

“Listen to Your Heart (Live)” by Roxette — Totally forgot about this great song. Loved getting to know it again, especially in a live version.

“Back to You” by Robin Knaak — Smooth and catchy, perfect for a fall afternoon!

Why I don’t want to hop into your Discord guild chat

Is it just me, or does every single MMO guild out there have a Discord and put that right out to its members as the first thing they see when they join? I’m not saying that as some old fuddy-duddy who is astounded at technology — I know Discord’s been around for years now and I’ve used it on several occasions — I’m just observing that it seems like this is the de facto standard for guilds these days. You have a guild, you must have a Discord.

Which is fine, but here’s the thing: I don’t usually want to join your Discord channel, and I always feel like there’s some (positive) peer pressure that’s always pushing me in this direction.

So why haven’t I embraced Discord with all the man hugs that I am able to bring to bear? For starters, I intentionally keep my social media interactions to a small, reasonable amount. I do Twitter, I do Facebook, and that’s about all I want or need in my hobbies or jobs. It’s adequate for the task, and anything above that will end up sucking away time that I would rather spend doing something productive.

Because staying on top of social media can be exhausting if you let it take over. It can be a part-time job. And when I have dipped into Discord on varying occasions, I see how quickly all the channels fill up with chatter. I know it would require me to regularly rotate through them to see whatever everyone’s talking about. It’s not usually information that I need, so I don’t pursue it.

Another reason is that as a game-hopper and a member of several guilds, that ends up being a lot of Discord channels. It’s useful for the guilds in many respects, but not useful for me. If I want to talk with people in that guild, I’ll do so while I’m in the game world itself. That’s kind of why I joined that guild in the first place.

My final reason is that I always feel that the pressure to head over to Discord — usually “suggested” to me by officers in the game chat — is to engage in voice chat. I’m…. no. That’s just not something I want to do. Unless I’m in a dedicated gaming group or running something fiendishly complex with a party, there’s no need to be piping in other voices into my ear. Some people talk too much, some people are too annoying, and all of them take away from me listening to music or TV or a podcast, which is what I usually do during gaming.

Again, I don’t hate Discord. It has its purpose and it’s really well-designed for that. But for me as a gaming individual, I very rarely engage with it or feel any sort of pressing need to do so.

No dogs in the console contest

It’s always a very weird feeling to not be riding a certain hype train as it comes rumbling past with many of your friends on board going “Choo-choo!” And this fall we’re seeing the mother of all trains — two trains, in fact — belching smoke and roaring toward November, when both the latest Xbox and PlayStation are being released.

And from my vantage point on the side of the tracks, people are really psyched. Maybe they need something to celebrate this year, and this is a pretty Big Deal. I get it, and I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade. If that’s your thing, then I hope it’ll be a very exciting November indeed.

However, as I’m watching this, I’m ruminating on why I simply stopped being excited and/or interested in console gaming. After all, that was most of my gaming childhood — the Atari 2600 and NES and SNES in particular. The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 got me through college and my early bachelor years. But after that, I couldn’t get into gaming from the couch any more. Computers were more interesting and offered the types of games like RTS, CRPGs, and MMOs that consoles generally eschewed. I didn’t want to be splurging tons of money on expensive consoles and games on top of getting new PCs and titles for that, so at some point, I declared my allegiance for the PC and didn’t look back.

I have bought consoles over the years since, namely the Wii and the Switch. I expected to get some good fun out of the Switch, but in our house, all it serves is to keep my four kids occupied playing Super Smash Bros or Minecraft Dungeons. I got a game for my birthday that I haven’t even opened for it yet.

Buying the SNES Classic was probably the last time I was as excited about a console as I’m seeing people are for the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 right now. But I think that if I’m going to drop money on hardware this year, it’s probably going to be for a new graphics card.

Have MMOs given up on a seasonal cycle for weather?

…stares at the wildstar picture up there, sighing in memory. you really were too pretty for words, wildstar. too pretty for this world…

Wait, sorry, Where am I? In a new post draft? OK, let me get my thoughts together here.

Weather! There’s a thought. Actually, what I was wondering the other day is where are all of these MMOs that we’re supposed to have that make good on the promise of delivering actual yearly seasons to the environments?

I mean, there are some games that certainly do work in weather effects. You might get some snowfall (with no accumulation), some rainstorms and puddles, some fog, and in Fallout 76, radioactive storms. Those are really cool, mind you, and do a lot to change up the look a given zone, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m speaking of this grand feature that so many studios claimed to be developing for their MMOs, only to drop it along the way. I’m speaking of giving us actual spring, summer, autumn, winter seasons for each zone, kind of like the way we have day/night cycles. This always sounds so impressive when it’s slapped onto a future feature list, yet it almost never gets made.

Why is that? If we’re trying to strive to create virtual worlds (in theory), then we would want to model or gamify seasons to help increase the immersion and visual variety. But this is very rare in practice.

I poked around trying to find a list of games that actually did this sort of thing, and only came up with a handful of possible examples, most notably Asheron’s Call and Ryzom. Black Desert does trigger snow during winter in some cities. Some games reskin for winter, such as Anthem and Star Wars Galaxies. But actual seasons that affect the game world isn’t really a thing in MMOs. And that’s a shame.

I mean, I can definitely see why it’s a feature that gets dropped. It would be difficult to put into your game and would increase the graphical requirements, and it could have some negative impact on certain quests or landmarks if they, say, suddenly ended up buried in snow or leaves.

But I still think that this would be so cool, to watch a world spring back to life after winter, bloom into summer, then turn brilliant colors in autumn, and get coated with snow. I wouldn’t want that to mirror the real world timeline, but maybe shift through seasons one per week, kind of how like Sims 4’s Seasons pack does. What do you think?

Pet Peeve: The plague of misleading mobile gaming ads

Hands up if you’ve seen an advertisement for a mobile game that looks similar to the graphic above. The Flash-looking ad tends to show someone who is trapped in a precarious situation or trying to get to treasure that can only be achieved my manipulating the on-screen elements in a specific way. It’s an intriguing-looking puzzle, and the ad usually is animated and will show the puzzle failing while daring the viewer to download the game and do better.

And when said game is actually downloaded, it has absolutely nothing in common with those ads. It’s a completely different game, or a different type of puzzle game.

I’ve seen a lot of misleading gaming ads — anyone remember the hilarious run of Evony’s “Play Me, My Lord” a decade or so ago? — but this specific type of ad has been popping up on mobile, Facebook, and all sorts of other places for a while now. I keep bumping into it, and as a result, it’s become a major pet peeve of mine.

It’s not that it’s such a blatant bait-and-switch that is easily uncovered the second you actually go see what the real game looks like. It’s that these ads actually depict what might make for a pretty interesting game.

When I first saw these types of ads, I did make the effort to look up the game, because I thought it seemed to good to be true that a company was hand-crafting different levels of puzzles like this. I hoped it would’ve been real, even so. But no, it’s not. The games that these ads promote are almost always dumb match-3 trash that can churn out a million levels in rapid succession.

So why do these ads exist even after we’ve seen through the veil? There’s a lot out there on this particular phenomenon, and it all boils down to one actual truth: Bold lies pay off. It gets attention and eyeballs on a product, and if a percentage of those people lied to stick around to play, then you convert them even though you lied to them.

I’m not that up on advertising rules and laws, but this does seem to be a type of advertising that is forbidden in many other areas. Companies are prohibited from flat-out advertising one product or service and delivering a completely different one. Why is this different? Maybe not so much regulation or oversight, I don’t know.

At least one company noticed that these fake ads looked pretty cool — and actually made a real game from them called Hero Rescue. So I guess if you say a lie long enough, it becomes true?

Still annoys me that these ads exist, though.

Promptapalooza 2020: What is your earliest memory related to one of your core fandoms?

I grew up in the 1980s, and as a result, I was exposed to a lot of the classic pop culture franchises we still follow today. But the first time I can really remember diving in deep was the release of 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

At that time, I was, what, seven years old? A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back came out when I was much too young, but by 1983, I was aware of those movies and was so excited when the Return of the Jedi phenomenon hit.

It was the first time that I can recall really getting swept up into some big movie event. The day my aunt took me to see it, I burned my hand on a cooling iron and had to slather it in aloe vera while I went to the theater. But the movie? I loved it. I cheered on Luke when he fought the rancor, I was bouncing in my seat when the space battle happened, and I even liked the Ewoks before the internet was invented to tell me that they were uncool.

That one movie rippled out and became my obsession for a good year. I read the novelization on the school bus. I got a Jabba the Hutt watch for my birthday and wore it with pride. I played with so many of the toys — including an Ewok Village that I got for Christmas — and slept in Return of the Jedi sheets.

It’s a special movie that has a special place in my heart — and I still think it’s one of the best Star Wars movies to date, even better than Empire.

So your turn: What is your earliest memory related to one of your core fandoms?

And when you’re done with answering that, why not head on over to visit Glittering Girly Gwent Gaming, a blog by two girls who love Gwent: The Witcher Card Game.

Microsoft Flight Simulator — stop making me want you

You have to believe me — Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 wasn’t even close to being on my radar until last week, when it started popping up in my feeds as various sites gave previews of the upcoming title. In my head, it didn’t seem to be a game I’d even be interested in. The brand’s always been associated with “technical flight sim” for people who love a bajillion dials and have those elaborate sim control setups in their office.

Me? I’ve got a joystick that’s been gathering dust for a year now.

But all it took was one article and one video to completely suck me in and turn me into a lunatic who can’t seem to stop thinking about this game. I didn’t realize it was so pretty — or so user friendly to those of us who just want to, you know, fly without having to go through a 52-point checklist.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that this is exactly the type of game for me. I’m the kind of nerd who definitely will just sit down with Google Earth and zoom in and out of the globe to look at the terrain and see what an eagle’s eye view of the world looks like. Exploring via flight is a joy in MMOs, and if someone wants to give me the whole planet? I’ve got to see that.

What I’m hearing is that it’s really impressive how the game takes the satellite maps of the world and works to recreate the non-handcrafted portions with 3D algorithms. It’s literally a game where you can go anywhere and see anything, as long as it’s from the air.

We actually had the 1982 version of Microsoft Flight Simulator (above) on our IBM PC. For a kid who was seven or eight years old, I had no hope of being able to actually play this in any useful way. It was too complicated, and all I could figure out was how to throttle up and creatively crash the plane into control towers. But the thought of getting to fly in a (probably pseudo-) 3D world was intriguing even then. I mean, it was 1982. 3D, even simulated, wasn’t something that was in video games.

So I’ve definitely marked my calendar for August 18th and the launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. I think it’ll be a great game to share with the kids, too. But maybe I shouldn’t show them… they’ll try to take over my computer even more than they are now.