Posted in Music, Ultima Online

Battle Bards Episode 84: Ultima


Need a podcast with a world sampler? Look no further than this episode, where co-hosts from the USA, Switzerland, and New Zealand join forces to discuss the Ultima Online games — and yes, there’s more than just one! Scott AKA Mylin subs in for Steff this week as the Battle Bards explore three Ultima titles and the fantastic music behind each.

Episode 84 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Stones” from Ultima Online and “The Hero’s Call” from Ultima Forever)
  • “Cove” from Ultima Online
  • “Hail, Lady of Britannia” from Ultima Forever
  • “Misty Forest” from Ultima X
  • “Buccanneer’s Den” from Ultima Online
  • “Despise the Light, Live in Shadows” from Ultima Forever
  • “Townlife” from Ultima X
  • “Rule City” from Ultima X
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Explore (Day 2)” from Skyrim, “Cable Car” from No One Lives Forever, and “Cold Steel Coffin” from NieR
  • Outro (feat. “Victory” from Ultima Online)
Posted in Age of Conan, Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, DC Universe Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EverQuest, Global Agenda, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, RIFT, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, Vindictus, World of Warcraft

2010: Looking Back

As much as I love retrospective posts and Top X Lists of the Year, I suppose it’s almost time to tuck those away for another 364 days.  January 1st always hits me like a wall of normalcy after the hectic month that was December.  Once tomorrow rolls in, it’s back to normal schedules and normal objectives and no awesome holidays until President’s Day (party central!).

So instead of getting bummed about the 1st, I wanted to take a couple minutes to look back at 2010.  While it may have not been much for MMOs, I thought it was a pretty exciting year — announcements, betas, getting back into old games, and so on.  I actually played a lot of MMOs this year, including:

  • World of Warcraft: I wrapped up my interest in this game early on in the year, and was finally able to say goodbye.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: I got back into LOTRO in February and have had an utter blast getting a character up in high levels, being part of a terrific kinship, and participating in many non-combat events.
  • Global Agenda: Played it for about a week, it’s decent for what it is, but it’s not for me.
  • Star Trek Online: Despite numerous hiccups on Cryptic’s part, I’ve enjoyed STO off and on during the year, and have spent about 100 hours in-game so far.
  • Ultima Online: Finally got a taste of this classic MMO for a few days — nothing compelling, but cool to be able to say I was there.
  • Anarchy Online: Spent a few weeks revisiting this title and my memories from back in the day.
  • Allods Online: I liked the beta, but the launch cash shop ruckus turned me off of it.
  • Age of Conan: Yeah, spent a couple days going through the newbie zone.  Decent game, but I didn’t feel like sticking it out.
  • DCUO: Played a very little bit of the beta, thought it looked really nice but I wasn’t too thrilled about the consoleish feel.
  • City of Heroes: Returned for a couple weeks with the intention of seeing the Going Rogue launch, but a once-familiar staple of my gaming life felt really drab and meandering, so I quit.
  • DDO: Enjoyed it off and on, but ultimately it lost its grip on me and I let it go with a teary farewell.
  • EverQuest II Extended: Went through the intro zone and generally liked it, but was turned off by the graphics and the bizarre pricing plan.
  • Guild Wars: Been playing through the campaigns for the Hall of Monuments calculator, and although I haven’t been in-game for a month or so, I have plans to return.
  • Rift: Got into the beta, and have been slowly won over by this gorgeous and pretty dang fun title.
  • Star Wars Galaxies: Played it for a couple weeks for a column, liked it so-so but it just got me itching for The Old Republic after a while.  Cool space combat, tho.
  • Vindictus: Tried the opening level, it felt way too much like a mindless click-fest and quit.

Whew, in retrospect, that’s a LOT!  And I’m not including all of my off-line gaming, including Mass Effect 2 (awesome), Back to the Future: The Game, Borderlands, Secret of Monkey Island, Dragon Age Origins, Torchlight and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

On the homefront, it’s been pretty crazy too: classes, work, family life.  Back in April my daughter was born, a daughter who’s now standing up and holding her own in play sessions with her one-year-old brother.  Being a dad is better than any game out there, which is why MMOs don’t stand a chance if they’re awake.

In February, I was hired by Massively to be a columnist and contributing editor, and in a way, it was a perfect fit.  I’ve always wanted to be a part of the games industry in some way, and writing about it comes naturally.  The folks over there are just terrific, and we’ve had a great year of covering the news and talking about the games we love.  I don’t know how you feel about the site, but I can testify to the real passion that everyone there has for MMOs.  It’s not a job, it’s being paid for what we were going to talk about anyway.  Well, okay, on days I don’t want to write, it’s certainly more job-like than others, but all in all I consider myself a very fortunate guy who has two jobs he really likes to do.

2010 wasn’t perfect — I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to (although I made a small dent), I let a few projects slip that I wish I would’ve been better about, and I know that dividing my writing interests have hurt Bio Break in some ways.  But you have to take the bad with the good, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with how it ended up.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft

GuestBloggerMania’10: Dealing with MMO Burnout

Today’s guest post is from Professor Beej, who isn’t actually a professor of anything, but a wonderfully-themed superhero.

Dealing with MMO Burnout by Professor Beej

I love MMOs.  Love love love them.  In the past twelve years, I’ve played superhero MMOs, science fiction MMOs, Triple-A titles, and Free-to-Play disasters.  The ones I’ve stuck with the longest have been Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and World of Warcraft.

I never really felt the need to take a break from UO or SWG.  However, when WoW came along, and I put in an equivalent amount of time as I did before, I found myself burning out on the game.  No matter how much I loved it or wanted to play, I just couldn’t find the motivation to care anymore.

Being the overthinker that I am, I came to the conclusion that my burnout comes because I am playing the game wrong.

I didn’t burn out in UO because I only logged on when there was something I wanted to do: PvP.  It was always changing (because it wasn’t instanced), and there was always something new to learn.  In Star Wars Galaxies, I didn’t burn out because I was hologrinding a Jedi.  The professions I had to train and master were constantly new and different, and once I became a Jedi, there was a ton more for me to do.

But I approached WoW differently.  I rush all of my characters to max level, and then run the same instances over and over again until I stop having fun, then I cancel my account for a while.  I burn out on the same content.  Even PvP in WoW is a grind of doing the same objectives repeatedly to get the gear one needs to compete…at running the same content.

So you see my conundrum.

Luckily, I noticed the rut I was constantly falling back into, and I found a way to it.  I realized that setting small goals for myself was the only way I would be able to enjoy the game again.  Sure, “gearing up for PvP” is a goal, but it’s so open-ended that I didn’t enjoy the road to get there.  “Getting 4-piece gladiator set bonus” is a lot easier to work toward.

So I learned that to keep me interested in MMOs, even theme park MMOs like WoW that lead players by the hand through content, I need to set myself goals that are easily attainable and that mean something to me.

My most recent MMO goals include:

  • Getting Exalted reputation with The Argent Dawn in WoW to get the title “Beej the Argent Crusader.”
  • Getting to level 26 in Star Wars Galaxies so my fledgling Jedi could get his first lightsaber.
  • Get fully equipped in Wrathful Gladiator gear in WoW.
  • Getting enough favor in Dungeons & Dragons Online to avoid having to buy 32-point characters from the store.

Now, these are not game-changing goals.  They are not end-game goals that require countless hours of dedication to achieve.  They are goals that are attainable through relatively normal gameplay.  I never really have to go out of my way to work on them.  I might have to set some time aside and work on specific tasks to make sure I reach the eventual outcome before the game goes offline, but these small goals are done as a kind of self-imposed quest as I go about my business in game.

The more I breadcrumb myself along, the more I find that I enjoy myself.  Sure, having long-term goals is great.  That gigantic capital ship in EVE or DDO? Dream away.  You want to kill the Lich King 25-person Heroic? Work toward that.

Look forward to whatever you have to look forward to, but I implore you not to be like me.  Don’t look forward to the end of the game to the exclusion of actually playing it.  Don’t become so focused on something you might never actually get and forget that, for all the grandeur and epicness, you’re still playing a game.

MMOs are so huge, so expansive, that if players cannot find small, everyday goals to work toward that they almost invariably become lost.  By breaking the game down into digestible chunks, the overall experience becomes much more enjoyable without the player ever losing sight of the big goals at the end.  Bite-sizing content also helps alleviate burnout because when I get tired of working DDO favor or WoW Honor/reputation, I can give it a rest, take a break, and enjoy one of the other sections of the game.  That way, I’m still having fun and the developers still get my $15 a month.  It’s win-win.

What about y’all?  What do you do to prevent burning out on your favorite MMO?

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Ultima Online

Journey to the Stars

Hm, I haven’t done a “what the heck am I up to in MMOs?” post lately, which should probably be rectified.  One of the reasons I haven’t is mostly because little interesting has happened on my end.  I log on, play a little, accomplish this or that, and log off.

I’ve also been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2, a title that I saved for a time that I needed a bit of “oomph” in my play rotation.  As always, I’m loving on BioWare during this whole thing, it’s a lot of fun (although a little too “shootery” for my taste and a great return to the Mass Effect universe.  I’m playing the “nice guy” on the first run through (as I suspect many people do), but huggy-wuvy Shepard isn’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped.  I’d be cool to see a BioWare game that didn’t go between good and evil (or good and ruthless), but between two other interesting polar opposites — crazy and logical, believer and skeptic, fanboy and hater.

As for LOTRO, I’m flipping every week or so between my captain and my burglar.  I think I generally like the burglar more to play — lots more melee abilities — but the cappy is higher in levels and on the verge of Moria.  I’m really disillusioned that the captain doesn’t have much of a viable pet line; Leader of Men is, by all reports, half-baked and not as useful in groups.  Both of them are wading through a lot of virtue grinds, which does nothing to make me excited for the game, but I try to mix it up with quests, skirmishes and events so I’m not totally beating my head against a wall.

I’ve been enjoying the Wednesday evening DDO group with Massively, although probably not as much as I could be.  I’m usually really exhausted on Wednesday evenings and not so much in a social mood, and with DDO I get the feeling that I should be all in or nothing with it — coming back to the game just once a week leaves me feeling disassociated with it.

I am planning on resubbing to STO, probably sometime next week after a quick vacation, mostly just for an off-night bout of fun.  I’m interested to see what they’ve done with the game since launch, and I miss the space combat.

Finally, for my Game Archaeologist column, I need to get into Ultima Online at some point in the next week or two and give it a good go.  I’m both excited and apprehensive about it — a lot of these older titles I never set foot in, so it’ll be cool to see them, but I’m worried that I’m too stuck in a “modern” MMO mindset that I won’t be able to enjoy what they have to offer.

Posted in Ultima Online

New Column: The Game Archaeologist

I’m pretty excited to announce a new column I’ve pitched to Massively called The Gaming Archaeologist.  The idea behind it is that we as a community tend to focus on the “newer” or higher-profile MMOs while older titles get left in the corner.  So to rectify that, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a different classic MMO each month, and give it a little love while discovering it for myself.

The plan is to give one week to the game’s history, one week to interview past and present players of the game, and one week of my own impressions.  It’s going to be a really interesting personal journey to go through all of these titles.

This month’s featured game is Ultima Online, and you can read the first article here!

Posted in Ultima Online

Obvious Retort

“UO… it’s got a very core player base, and not a small one,” Tim Cotten told Gamasutra. “Many of the new MMOs that come out never reach our current levels. We have 27-odd servers – it’s still a very healthy MMO.”

27 servers?  Seriously?  That’s, what, one per player?

Posted in City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft

Lego Theory

lego_relativityAlthough I bowed out of City of Heroes recently due to a shortage of time and too many other games to play, I won’t deny a bit of standing ovation here for their latest “issue” (content patch), which includes the vaunted Architect system that allows players to create their own missions and bad guys for other players to experience.  It’s one of those hit-yourself-on-the-head, why-didn’t-they-do-this-sooner features.  It has helped me form what I call the Lego Theory.

The Lego Theory works thus: players are incredibly creative, as evidenced by how they’re always trying to push the boundaries of MMORPGs and do things with the system that the devs never intended.  So why not harness that creativity by giving players the tools to create content — the “Legos”?

For sure, this isn’t the first time that a MMORPG has thought or done this.  Sims Online was all about giving players tools to create — it just had no gameplay behind it.  LOTRO has the music system and housing that allow players to be incredibly creative within predefined limits.  Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online and other games have allowed players to create entire towns.  In Shadowbane, Age of Conan, Anarchy Online and CoH, player bases could even be attacked and conquered/destroyed by the enemy.  A Tale in the Desert gave players huge amounts of leeway to experiment with the tools at their disposal to create.

Yet some games — such as our resident big daddy World of Warcraft — don’t buy into Lego Theory at all (Blizzard devs have gone from indifferent to near-hostile anytime someone brings up the question of player housing).  The problem here is that once you give a player tools to create something that can be viewed and experienced by others, you then have to police it.  And WoW and other games along those lines want to control the whole experience as much as possible.  You’re playing their game, their way.  Yet even in these games, you may witness players using whatever they have on hand to create their own content — through emotes, role-playing, machinima and fluff items.

People are endlessly creative, and whether or not it hurts developers’ egos to recognize that, they will always strive to find a way to express creativity to others.  So why not give them the tools to do so?  There’s a simple reason why, five years later, City of Heroes’ character creator is still lauded as one of the best around, because it’s all about Lego Theory — lots of tools to make a unique vision.  Because Lego Theory is on the flip side of rigidly-defined combat simulators, it’s had a rough go at making headway in many MMOs… but where it has peeked its head, it’s been enthusiastically embraced.

Why not more, then?  Why spend so much energy trying to hold back your players, to make them play a certain way and only that way, when you could be all judo-like and use their strengths against themselves?  Is it ego?  Is it the effort of policing?  Are we too stuck in the mold?