How LOTRO could zazz up its housing system

At some point this year — I think — Lord of the Rings Online will be adding Rohan housing to the game, which will be the first new housing type since the premium Belfalas mansions arrived a few years ago.

CM Jerry Snook confirmed this in an interview back in April when he said, “So, we’re going to be looking at new housing probably right after the expansion, in which case we’re looking at Rohan housing around the time before Rohan comes to the legendary servers.” He later went on to specificy that “that won’t be the last housing. I know the players are looking for housing all over the place.”

As someone who has been drooling over Rohan housing ever since that expansion showed us the architecture and interiors of the horse-lords, I’m ecstatic over this. I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I’ll be moving my little Hobbit out of a hole and into a cozy rustic log cabin of sorts. And while I’m really glad to hear that SSG is working on different regions of housing (because that will be a money maker for them), what I’d also like to hear are any significant improvements on the housing system itself.

We all full well know that LOTRO’s housing is functional yet hobbled by the hook system. While we did get more flexibility where to put items in a patch a while back, most players (myself included) agree that there are far too few house hooks available. That results in homes that either have everything really spread out or rooms where all the stuff is clumped together in one part and then really empty everywhere else. We know that from the premium house that it is possible to design homes with many more hooks than the standard small and large homes, but it doesn’t seem like a technical hurdle that SSG wants to overcome.

Beyond that, I would dearly love to see more functionality for LOTRO’s homes, period. Perhaps I got really spoiled by WildStar’s housing (OK, I totally got spoiled), since now I expect homes to not only offer me the ability to shape looks but also to be interactive. There are a few useful objects that you can plop down in your LOTRO home — such as a teleporting keg or an item that pays out in crafting mats — but “few” is the operative word here. Once you get your home set up, the only reason you’re ever given to return is to put the odd piece of quest reward decor up or perhaps because you’re throwing a party or something.

Yet there are hints that LOTRO’s neighborhoods could be a lot more. At Halloween time, there’s a mission to go around trick-or-treating at various homes by installing and clicking on candy trays. It’s a small thing, but I was happy to see the game do SOMEthing with the normally dead neighborhoods. It’s just too bad that more festivals and events can’t work in something like this too.

So how to zazz up the housing? In addition to more hooks and more functional and interactive items, I’d suggest decoration contests, player vendor stalls that they could set up in their front yards, a collectible music jukebox (instead of the one set of installed songs for each home), customizable lighting, tools for social events, and perhaps even items that would serve as periodic quest triggers that SSG could use to encourage us to return home once in a while.

Maybe even if the more a home is decorated, the better a lasting rested buff we get when we log out there? Just spitballing here, but there are possibilities. I really liked what WildStar did in getting us to visit and rate other players’ homes, that’s something I’d like to see here.

Anyway, Rohan housing is nice, but I’m not going to stop wanting something deeper until we get it or the game shuts down.

DDO: Volcano spelunking and Slave Leia outfits

It’s been a while since I did a write-up on one of our Dungeons and Dragons Online group runs, so why not? For a recent run, we elected to do one of the game’s newer adventure packs — White Plume Mountain — even though the pen-and-paper module was published way back in 1979. Maybe it took us that long to forget that spelunking under an active volcano might not be the brightest of ideas…

What I like about these more recent adventures is that you can plainly see how the dev team has moved past the warehouse-and-sewer-and-dull cave phase that it was in for a while there. This cave system seemed a lot more interesting to me, with moody colors and often water underfoot. Pretty!

Early on, this particular room nearly triggered a full wipe for our group. Up above was a series of bridges that were super-slippery, and unless your character had an insanely high balance skill, you were going down into a trap-laden room. Four out of six of us got chopped to bits, and the recovery took a while. We need a term for when you have one or two group members hauling soul stones around looking for a rez shrine, like “ghost train” or something cool like that.

In one room, we descended down into a pit, fought some manticores, and then I figured that pulling the lever in the corner was a good idea. It was not a good idea. It was a bad idea, as evidenced by the wall of water that crashed down to drown us all… in about four inches of standing water by the end of it. Kind of a weird trap, is all I’m saying.

Every so often we encountered these talking wall tiles. They were strange. I could have done without them in my life.

You could see the older PnP design of this quest on the map, as it wasn’t quite as “tight” in its layout as SSG usually does. Basically, we had to make our way through three sections of this trident, beat a boss at the end, and then take a portal back to the middle of the next one. There were some pretty awesome setpieces, such as an NPC ambush, a hungry crab in a room full of scalding water, and an irate vampire.

For my money, this tunnel was the coolest. For the full dizzying effect, you have to see it in motion as it rotates while you crawl through it.

“Ha ha,” my group said. “Healer, go attack that crab boss!”

Then I did. I am amazing. Not smart, but I’ll accept “an inspirational hero to the masses.”

In other DDO character news, my Artificer lucked out with a 100 roll on her weekly gold dice. That got her this outfit, which I’m calling Slave Leia because… I mean, just look at it. She looks chilly. I’m going to have to buy her a long winter coat soon.

Sunday Serenade: Teen Wolf, Albion Online, Castlevania, Hearthstone

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…

“Win in the End” by Mark Safan — These kind of blandly stated, wildly optimistic rock anthems is why I love 1980s movie songs like this one. What do you want to do? Ah. You want to win in the end. Good to know.

“Unison” by x1rox — Again, I love happy dance music, and that’s pretty much what this is from start to finish. My workout MP3 player is full of tracks like this.

“Main Theme” from Albion Online — This is a… perfectly adequate MMO main theme. Epic, action-packed, yadda yadda. But when you consider that this is the BEST track on the whole released album, then it gets kind of sad.

“Slash” from Castlevania DXC — This series is always delivering awesome gothic rock tunes, and this was the first time I ever heard this little gem. Now I can’t get it out of my head.

“Rastakhan’s Rumble Trailer” from Hearthstone — I was listening through the catchy and cheeky Hearthstone trailers, and this one above all the rest caught my heart. This team has a lot of fun making these.

“Intro” from Yo! Joe! — I have no idea what this Amiga game is, but its music seems to pop up a lot on people’s favorite tunes. I think this intro is a slow burner, but by the end I was grooving fully on it.

“Young Hearts” by Commuter — I always felt this was an underrated ’80s movie anthem. We just watched Karate Kid the other night and I was reminded how much I liked it.

59 online games to keep your eyes on

I spent some time over the past weekend updating the “Keeping My Eyes On” widget on the right-hand side of the blog. As a reminder, this is primarily a quick source of Twitter links of various upcoming, early access, or recently launched MMOs and other titles that I want to keep tabs on. I post it publicly because I figure it might interest others, but if not, no worries.

Here’s the current list and what’s going on with each title right now:

  • Amazon’s New World – Wrapped up early alpha testing in May, going back to the drawing board on some features
  • Amazon’s Lord of the Rings – Recently announced to be in collaboration with Leyou Tech in China
  • Antaria Online – Early access, cute little game
  • Ascent: Infinite Realm – Gone really quiet ever since April
  • Ashes of Creation – Still pumping out infrequent dev updates, seems to be gaining momentum
  • Astellia – Decent word of mouth, should be launching this summer
  • Blue Protocol – New MMO in development in Japan, hard to follow since Japanese language
  • Broke Protocol – Goofy Minecraft-looking city life simulator, still in early development
  • Camelot Unchained – PvP MMO in beta
  • Caravan Stories – PS4-only MMO launching sometime this summer, looks totes adorbs
  • Children of Ur  – Merged forces with Eleven for this Glitch remake
  • Children of Morta – Single-player Diablo type that has really impressive word of mouth
  • Chronicles of Elyria – I have no idea what this project is doing other than wasting money. Huge ideas, lackluster output.
  • City of Titans – Superhero MMO that’s putting out dev blogs but is running far, far behind its original schedule
  • Crowfall – PvP MMO that’s coming along, but it really needs to get out there sooner rather than later, I feel
  • Cryptic’s Magic MMO – No new news on this after its original announcement
  • Dogma Eternal Night – Vampire MMO project that went dark since October 2017. Going to take it off the list.
  • Dreadlands – Turn-based post-apoc strategy game. Looks interesting enough to follow.
  • Dual Universe – Deep into Alpha 2 testing, space sim
  • Edengrad – Post-apoc MMO that got an injection of cash to continue development
  • Eleven – Hasn’t really said anything since the Children of Ur merger
  • Endless Trials – Endgame pixelart MMO that got put on hold
  • Forsaken Legends – Small indie MMO that’s been put on hold, I’m still holding out hope on it though
  • Fractured – In early alpha, nothing to speak of yet
  • FreeSO – Sims Online emulator, still coming along
  • Gran Skrea Online – Been in early access for a year, has a wee bit of positive word of mouth
  • Identity – Life sim that’s focusing on a town center module right now
  • Legends of Aria – Launching very soon
  • Lost Ark – Still waiting to hear details if/when this is coming to the west
  • Mad World – Grimdark MMO that’s considering crowdfunding
  • Mankind Reborn – Scifi MMO, been quiet since March
  • Moonlight Blade – Still in a holding pattern to see if it’s going to make the journey to the west
  • Oath – Really pretty-looking new indie fantasy MMO on the scene, been quiet this summer
  • Pantheon – That team is still plugging away, lots of folks have their hopes set on this one
  • Peria Chronicles – Doing some sort of closed beta testing but no word on a western version
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 – Coming out next year, huzzah!
  • Population Zero – Scifi MMO that’s doing… stuff. Hard to tell what since it’s in another language.
  • Project C – This scifi title has my attention, but I need more details and info about it
  • Project Genom – Barely hanging on at this point
  • Project Gorgon – Really, really needs to launch and gain some marketing momentum
  • Project TL – I think this is the Lineage 3 game. Not a lot of news on it right now.
  • The Repopulation – New owners have done some work on it, but public interest and momentum is about zilch right now
  • ReWorld – Make your own MMO MMO, beta coming soon
  • Saga of Lucimia – Very hardcore, in closed alpha
  • SamuTale – Been very quiet this year
  • Seconds from Silence – Open world moddable MMO that was just announced
  • Seed – Sandbox MMO
  • Shadow’s Kiss – Vampire MMO that’s still truckin’ along
  • Ship of Heroes – Superhero MMO, making good progress, should have a character builder this year
  • Space Haven – Spaceship colony sim (a la Rimworld), looks fantastic
  • Starbase – Robots… in… SPAAAACE
  • Star Citizen – Another game that needs to launch to stay relevant. Getting tired of even thinking about this one.
  • Tale of Toast – Been way too quiet for over a year
  • Torchlight Frontiers – MMOARPG, should launch in 2019, very very excited about this one
  • The Warhorn – Village sim in early access
  • Wild West Online – A big hot mess of a project(s)
  • WoW Classic – Never heard of this one…
  • Valiance Online – Superhero MMO that’s falling into last place with slow development
  • Zeal – Dark action RPG that looked kind of interesting, just finished pre-alpha

Do racial variants add much value to MMOs?

Last week we got the word that Lord of the Rings Online has a new race in the pipeline — the Stout Axe Dwarves (which, as someone noted on Twitter, can pretty much refer to all of Lord of the Rings’ Dwarves). We know that this race will have a new starting area, be a little taller than the current Dwarves in the game, and offer a female option (a first for LOTRO — at least from the player’s side). We can presume that they will have different racials and animations.

Almost as soon as this race was announced, I started to hear familiar rumblings from some quarters asking the question of whether this actually added value to the game. Is it just a cheap cash grab? The easiest way to add a race in a game hemmed in by lore? And where oh where are my playable Ents already?

Playable racial variants seem to be a minor trend among MMOs lately. DDO has several of them (such as Deep Gnome and Aasimar Scourge), LOTRO brought in the High Elves back in 2017, and World of Warcraft of course has been going whole-hog with allied races ever since the pre-Battle for Azeroth patch.

When a new race isn’t completely new at all, but rather a reskin or an old race spruced up and given a few new minor abilities, is that really enough to warrant an inclusion? It’s not a flashpoint for controversy, but I’ve seen people taking sides on this. Some love them, and some see them as only slightly better than pointless.

Yes, they may be cash grabs and easy ways to get “new” races in the game from a development perspective, but I do think that racial variants offer value to MMORPGs — because they matter to some players. Making characters in MMOs are all about choice and personal expression, who you want to “be” in this virtual world. The more options, the better. I think it’s as simple as that. If it makes some people really happy to have them, then what skin off your nose is it to have it in the game, even if you don’t play it? There are lots of races I don’t play, but (other than Elves) I don’t begrudge their inclusion.

In World of Warcraft, I’ve considered allied races as a rather tantalizing carrot worth chasing, and I’ve gotten a rush over the past few weeks as I’ve unlocked two new ones (Kul Tiran Humans and Dark Iron Dwarves) as well as a minor Night Elf variant. I might well never play any of them, but there’s a satisfying feeling to having them as a future option if I want to try one out. And any excuse to roll up an alt is a win in my book!

As for the Stout Axe Dwarves, I’m betting that LOTRO is going to do the same thing as it did with Mordor and include them in the pricier editions of this fall’s expansion as well as sell them a la carté. That means we won’t be seeing as many of them in the game, but the allure of having a female dwarf is going to send some players in a happy frenzy to roll one up. It also helps to keep this MMO in the spotlight, and that’s definitely a good thing for 2019.

City of Heroes: Welcome to Nova Praetoria!

Last week our City of Heroes group assembled once more, this time for adventures in Nova Praetoria. That’s actually an area/expansion that I hadn’t ever encountered in the MMO to date, as it came out when I was on a break from the game.

Unlike the “blueside” content of the Heroes and the “redside” content of the Villains, “goldside” exists in an interesting state of limbo that was a fascinating direction for the game with Going Rogue came out in 2010. Giving players the ability to switch allegiances and explore the more murky grey areas of comic book superheroes provided a much-needed third angle to the title — and one that I don’t see any of the upcoming superhero MMORPGs addressing.

Just getting to Nova Praetoria was a bizarre experience of going through The Underground — a network of sewers and subway tunnels that I had never seen before either. Along the way, I bumped into these grotesque cyborgs that raised all sorts of questions that I had no time to explore. All I knew was that this wasn’t your mama’s Clockwork any longer.

Since I had never been in Nova Praetoria and was only passingly familiar with it from press releases, in my head it was some sort of modern Roman Empire, complete with pillars and columns and coliseums. I guess I was making too many assumptions on the name alone, because the zone — a series of connected islands — is like a cleaned-up Miami. Tropical, high-tech, water, nice beachfront properties, the works.

Again, we weren’t there for a huge tour or backstory, so I’m going to have to do some reading up on all of this later, but I know I’m missing out on a lot. Bree told us during our missions that there were two competing factions (Resistance and Loyalists) in this region and that each had two sides to them (Warden, Crusader, Responsibility, Power), so players had a choice of four groups with which to ally through various choices made during quests. All very interesting.

But hey, we were there to PARTY, not to join sides! It’s not a City of Heroes group night without a bunch of weirdos assembling to go through the emote list and try to amuse everyone else. Say what you will about this game, but CoH had great dance moves. Not as many as, say, Fallen Earth, but the robot and pop routines were great.

Apparently Nova Praetoria is ruled over by Emperor Cole, who honestly sounds like a great guy. I’ll vote for him, if voting is an option for emperors! Look at how he’s keeping that tentacle alien away!

As for our missions, they were pretty much a series of runs through either spotless stainless steel rooms or a near-endless subway tunnel packed with mobs. One of our teammates had earth control, and we gave him no end of grief for how much his powers kept obscuring, well, everything.

See, this is one of my small but persistent pet peeves about City of Heroes, and that’s the fact that some powersets are simply more obtrusive on the play experience than others. Throwing stalagmites everywhere or making your group all blaze with nonstop fire or giving us those whiny, whiny bubbles may have helped to win the fight — but was it really worth the bother?

This poor dismissed soldier minion ended up collapsing in the most gruesome way possible. All I can imagine are the sounds that his spine made in those final moments.

Anyway, it was a pretty good run — we were all chatty on discord, ended up gelling as a fighting unit, and I got a couple of levels and a new power for my time.

Blaugust 2019: Beating writer’s block with a flurry of ideas

This week’s Blaugust 2019 theme deals with topic generation — in other words, how to keep coming up with new ideas to write about. That can be a really tricky thing, especially for writers starting out. After you get done with that initial batch of posts that have been sitting in your head… then what next? How do you keep on coming up with ideas, especially when you worry that it’s all been done and said before?

I’ve seen this happen to so many bloggers, where there’s a strong, excited start and then a quick drop-off into complete silence. That’s not just a blogging thing, that’s a writing thing. Writing takes a lot of time and effort and discipline, and you can’t just keep going based on that initial enthusiasm. You have to build up your “writing muscles” and develop a good schedule and pattern to help you go the distance.

For me, one of the most important aspects of this is to always be thinking of new ideas to write about. Back when I started my first gaming blog WAAAGH! in 2008, I initially thought I’d be writing three times a week. By the second day, I was going daily and sometimes two or three posts a day for a good long while. I felt like I had uncorked a bottled-up flood of things I wanted to write about because I was passionate about MMORPG gaming, and I had to get it on the screen.

But it’s been over a decade now and that initial enthusiasm has dimmed. What’s replaced it is an ongoing interest in sharing my perspectives and journeys and opinions. A long time ago, I got away from the habit of sitting down every morning to think of what to write for that day’s post, because that more often than not bit me in the butt with a complete lack of ideas. Instead, I started writing ahead and making a habit of creating quick post drafts with various ideas that I had no time right then to write about. Nowadays, I’m usually writing a full week ahead with a note on my scheduler to finish up any remaining posts for the next week on the Friday previous — and it’s honestly not that hard.

We come up with ideas all the time, but the problem is that they usually pop in our head when we aren’t right in front of our computers at the optimal time to write. We figure that we’ll remember them later when we do have that time… and then we totally forget them. A mountain of ideas, all forgotten. Unless, of course, you develop that habit to write down small prompts for yourself to address later.

You see someone else write on a post that you’d like to address? Drop that link into an otherwise blank post draft and save it! You read something in the gaming news that gives you a notion? Quick, grab your phone, load the WordPress app or zip an email to yourself, and jot down a short phrase about it.

Probably one of the best idea generation times for me is while I’m playing games. I have trained myself to always be thinking about potential blog posts when I’m going through my gaming sessions, and I will not hesitate to tab out and start up a temporary post if I have a particular experience or a topic comes to mind.

It’s not magic, it’s just a skill that you develop, and it really does help you avoid any future writer’s block. In fact, some days you might bemoan having way too much to write about!