Join the MMO blogging revolution! Catch the gaming fever! Something something inspirational!

This summer is — you have no idea — crazy busy for me. More so than any other summer I’ve experienced up to this point in my life, and it’s probably not going to slow down for a while. So while I have no time or energy to devote to running any sort of community event, it’s very gratifying to see Belghast crank up Blaugust once more.

This “festival of blogging” that starts up in August is a way to encourage, promote, and mentor gaming and MMO bloggers — especially new or lapsed ones that need some encouragement in getting into the groove of (semi-)regular blogging.

According to Belghast, “What I propose is a month of mildly structured posting and developing a strong mentorship community among those of us who are still out there doing it on a regular basis.  Lets help grow that next generation of bloggers and help them get started in a journey that honestly has meant more to me than I can adequately put into words.”

There are awards to be gained and mentorship to be had. I am signing up as a mentor to offer advice and help, such as I have to give. I do want to spend the month of August doing regular features on all of the participants of Blaugust, both new and veteran. It’s good to be reminded that we don’t blog in a vacuum. He’s even scheduled weekly themes for us to talk about, so I guess I need to pay attention to that or else suffer his notorious (non-existent) ire.

If you’re interested in starting up a gaming blog, want to dust your old one off, or need a push by the community, then head on over to read the full details and sign up for the Blaugust Reborn adventure. And for those of you who are experienced bloggers, why not agree to be a mentor?

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Battle Bards Episode 124: Old MMOs, new music

It’s a catch-all, catch-up episode for the Battle Bards as they dig through new soundtrack releases from MMORPGs that they’ve covered in the past! You may be prepared for an eclectic and enjoyable mix of music — but there is no way that you can steel yourself for the raw and heartfelt confessions that take place on this show.

Episode 124 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Tiragarde Tavern” from World of Warcraft, “Never Look Back” from EVE Online, and “Mellow” from RuneScape)
  • “The River Running” from Lord of the Rings Online
  • “The Last Train to Cairo” from The Secret World
  • “Old Wisdom Tree” from Black Desert
  • “The Inquest” from Guild Wars 2
  • “Temple of Erlik (Night Version)” from Age of Conan
  • “The Ruby Sea” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “Summerset Theme” from Elder Scrolls Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “A Town Unlike Any Other” from Darkside Detective, “Main Menu” from StarCraft, “Main Theme” from Viridi
  • Outro (“Empyrea Leisure Dome” from Wizard101)

The Sims 4: All of this costs HOW much?

When my computer’s hard drive barfed back in May and I had to reload everything onto a new one, I had forgotten at the time to reinstall The Sims 4. It wasn’t until the recent Seasons expansion patch that I even remembered that I had it, at which moment I went, “Oh YEAH, that would totally hit the spot!” and I returned to the evil lair that is EA Origin to get it.

It actually does hit the spot, especially for those evenings when I want a very casual house-building experience. Hey, MMOs, I’d be building houses in you if more of you would just have them, you know. The other interesting thing about The Sims 4 in our household is that it’s kind of a party experience. When I boot it up, all of the kids rush over and start telling me what characters to make and how to decorate and a thousand other backseat commands. We have one household that was built by committee and it is the goofiest thing ever.

So when I installed it, I figured that I might for the very first time in my life splurge on an expansion pack or something. I knew that The Sims franchise was infamous for how many expansions it pumped out to keep milking money from its fans, but I had never been in so deep as to feel the allure there. But I figured, hey, the older expansions had to be cheaper now, so why not?

HAHAHA Syp you’re so naive. This is EA we’re talking about. If someone at EA mentions a sale or discount, a marketing person is sacrificed on an altar next to the snack machine.

At least through Origin, nothing looks to be on sale unless I buy three different tiers of expansions together and get $20 off. That’s right, The Sims 4 has TIERS of expansions. There are five full-fledged expansion packs ($40 a pop), six game packs ($20 each), and 14 “stuff” packs ($10 each). So if I purchased them all separately, not including the core game, I’d be looking at $460 to patch up the game with everything.

$460. That is insane.

Now true, not everyone wants all of these expansions and packs, so you’re going to pick and choose what interests you. And there is that bundle deal where you can get one from each tier (three total) for $50. So say you get five of the $50 bundles ($250), then you’d be left with one game pack ($20) and 9 stuff packs ($90), bringing it to a slightly more reasonable but still expensive $360.

Maybe there are better deals out there. I know that EA jealously guards The Sims franchise, so it doesn’t appear on GOG or Steam. But there’s no way that I’m going to spend that kind of cash on a game unless it’s the only game I’m playing — and I’m paying for that piecemeal.

This all said, I’m not going to buy anything right now. This is becoming the Summer of Trying Other Games Out for me. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played so many non-MMOs, and I’m finding the variety enjoyable. If, say, I get to August and I’m cruising around in Sims 4 fairly regularly, sure, I might consider buying one of the bundles after doing some research as to which is the best one. I hear Get Together is a pretty great pack, although everyone seems to be really liking Seasons right now.

Geocaching: Quarter back play

Now that my children are old enough to take on small expeditions, I’ve been introducing them to geocaching over the past couple of months. We had so much fun on our first outing, in fact, that I ponied up for a $25 yearly subscription to get the premium version of the app. I highly recommend that, by the way, because many of the best geocaches are hidden for all but premium members.

I also introduced my youth group to geocaching as an unstructured event. After showing them the basics, they picked our next adventure, and we found ourselves finding all sorts of interesting places all over town. In the span of two hours, we discovered secret paths that cut through small forests, climbed a tree in a fruitless search for a cache that wasn’t there, encountered a whole lot of suburban wildlife, hiked over train tracks, and trekked through a cemetery.

As one of my teens later put it, the appeal wasn’t in what tiny little trinkets we got out of the caches, it was in the stories of the journeys that we went on. It was like being guided to cool spots by strangers, some of whom went to a lot of trouble to set up some neat geocaches.

Four really cool ones stuck out at us:

  1. There was one that we spent hunting for a half-hour, focusing on the key word of “attractive.” We thought it meant good-looking, but there was nothing pretty there. Eventually we found a hidden metal tube with a magnet that was “attracted” to the underside of a metal scaffold.
  2. Someone took a lot of time to put together a coffin-shaped geocache in a cemetery that had a giant thumb pop up out of it when you opened it (“thumbs up!” was written on the lid).
  3. As part of a leftover Halloween cache, someone placed a mannequin’s head deep into a thicket. Creepy as all get out, let me tell you.
  4. Our absolute favorite, however, was a “Quarter Back” cache. This one was an actual newspaper vending machine that someone had painted with the geocache logo and placed off of a business’ parking lot. You put in a quarter to open it, but you got the quarter back (hence the name). Inside was a huge cache with more trinkets than I’ve ever seen in one of these.

Geocaching isn’t an activity that I have a lot of time for these days, but it is a great “once in a while” or “oh I have 10 minutes of spare time” or “we’ve got to hang out here a while, what do we do?” filler, especially in a populated area. While we don’t always find our caches, the journeys that we go on more than make up for the disappointment. And that’s something I want to keep doing for a while to come.

Chrono Trigger: A fun day at the fair

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Chrono Trigger! It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite RPGs (and I’m certainly not alone in this), and I still very much enjoy playing it even over two decades since it first released. It’s so well designed with a great story, incredible music, and a sheer fun factor that rides high all the way through. Even though I played it last year, I wanted to give the now-improved Steam version a shot for a true Retro Gaming series (as I’ve never done that before) and to do a few things, such as all of the game’s side quests (as I’ve never done those before). No more introduction, let’s get going!

What still impresses me after all these years is how Chrono Trigger does the exact opposite of how most JRPGs start. Usually there’s some immediate threat, a village gets burned down, hero vows to save stuff, and we’re off. Instead of that, CT delivers a slow, satisfying experience of… a day at the fair. It’s actually brilliant. It teaches you a lot about the game, ties in to some time travel elements later on, advances the plot, and gets you familiar enough with the world so that you actually start to care about it. And it does all of this casually, allowing the player to go as fast or slow through it as possible.

It’s 1000 A.D. in a fantasy world that’s somewhere around the Industrial Revolution in terms of development (well, there are gadgets and fridges and so on). You start out as Crono, a spikey-haired lad who’s woken up by his mother and told to behave as he heads off to the festival to celebrate the country’s 1,000th birthday. He also wants to check in with his best friend Lucca and see her latest invention. Again, you have freedom to explore the town and even head into the nearby forest for some early fights/grinding, but little of it is necessary. I appreciate “just for fun” options that are in this game.

Speaking of, I thought I’d quickly list everything that you can do at the the fair:

  • Bump into Marle, a strange tomboy with a strange pendant, and go on a date with her
  • Buy gear and potions from vendors
  • Bet on the outcome of a footrace (I never win this)
  • Play a minigame to hit a bell at the top of a pole (I almost never win this, either)
  • Go into the Tent of Horrors and play three tough minigames. These do pay out in items that then appear in your home, making this as close to a housing feature as this game has.
  • Challenge a man to a drinking contest
  • Dance at a prehistoric party
  • Return a lost kitty to her owner
  • Fight a singing robot named GATO (which is my preferred method for gaining festival points, since you’re also getting XP and levels)
  • Go watch Lucca’s invention demonstration

I am the very very sweetest! Also, I just drank my body weight in “soda,” so I’m pretty sure I’m dying right now.

What was so cool about this festival is that most players going through it the first time had no idea that it was actually preparing them for the game and even setting up some story beats to come in the future. It was especially trippy to realize that your actions would have consequences down the road, although it was mostly for flavor. I liked it, even still. And for the record, I try to do all of the “good” things for the trial later on. Well, most of them. I do eat the guy’s lunch because it’s an easy way to heal up between fights.

Does GATO’s stomach have a pokeball in it? Seems rather before its time.

So let’s talk about Crono Trigger’s combat. It’s a blend of turn-based and real-time, keeping the pace of battle flowing while players queue up choices. At the beginning it’s pretty simple, but eventually you get regular attacks, “tech” attacks, and magic spells — and then some of these can be combined with other character’s moves to do even more impressive skills. I love it.

But the best, seriously the BEST, part of all of this is that Crono Trigger doesn’t have a random encounter system. Enemies appear on screen (although sometimes they pop out of the environment) and can be avoided or engaged as you wish. Coming from the nonsense that was Final Fantasy’s random encounters, this was such a blessing and continues to be today. You feel like you’re coming to fights on your terms, not the game’s.

Ugh, I hate this particular minigame. You get an important item from it later in the game, but I absolutely stink at doing this rapid “Simon says” interaction.

World of Warcraft: On standby for Patch 8.0

Don’t fear the darkness, fear my shoulderpads!

I think I’ve arrived at a good place for the big expansion reset in World of Warcraft. No last-minute leveling or frantic goal-reaching for me. Instead, I’ve figured out my roster of characters going forward and have gotten them each to a place where they’re ready for Patch 8.0. Right now, this roster is:

  • Death Knight Syppy (above), which I would consider my “main” through all of Legion and going into BFA
  • Hunter Syppi, casual Gnome adventurer with an affinity for attack squirrels
  • Warlock Lilaca, my sole Horde character who will take me through content on that side

Additionally, I have plans for two allied races when I unlock them:

  • Kul Tiran Druid, because how can you not want to make one of these?
  • Dark Iron Dwarf Priest, as I kind of dig their looks and want to try out Disc

That right there is way more than enough to keep me occupied over the next two years. But what about the next month? Word is that the pre-expansion patch should drop soon, and when it does, we’ll be dealing with two major changes.

First up will be all of the class adjustments. I won’t lie, I’m particularly interested to see how some of these shake out. In particular, I would love for Demonology to be a fun and viable spec again. Some of those new summons look pretty awesome, so my fingers are crossed.

There’s also the pre-expansion scenario as a prelude for Battle for Azeroth. We’ll be losing our artifact weapons too, and I’ll need to do this on all three characters. I think that I’ll have enough time with a whole month. Hopefully Blizzard will also be bringing some sort of world event like it did with the pre-Legion invasions. That was pretty neat.

Otherwise, I’ll just be biding my time until August 14th, making money and running the occasional world quest for goods. I think that when 8.0 hits, we’ll lose the ability to make money from our companions, so that will be a huge ding to my money making. Will world quests also see the gold gains erased? I hope not.

What are your plans from now until Battle for Azeroth’s launch?

How MMO quest design helped to improve my work habits

A couple of years ago, I made a concerted effort to become a lot more organized in my life. Mere routine and memory weren’t enough to keep track of everything I needed or wanted to do, and with two jobs and a family, stuff was getting missed. Probably my number one challenge in my professional life has been to carry through on ideas, and when I get too spread out, project execution started to falter.

While I tried bullet journals and custom lists, what really helped put me on track was getting a task list organizer program called Wunderlist that could sync up between my computers and devices. Being able to schedule tasks and have them repeat helped to take an overwhelming amount of things to do and divide them up somewhat.

But it wasn’t enough. There were days that I’d wake up, check my task list, and see 40 or 50 to-do items on them. It was an absurd amount at times and often I’d have to prioritize and reschedule things that could be done at a later date. Having too many tasks paralyzed me and I was always tempted to take the easier jobs and ignore the harder ones.

That’s when I took a cue from MMORPGs. While some players bemoan “checklist task-based gameplay,” as I’ve seen the term, I find it immensely helpful while pursuing certain goals and storylines. Plus, it’s always been so satisfying to me to check those quest markers off and know that if I followed the list, I would eventually get to the destination I desired.

That design informed how I approach most of my work days. Once I’m up and going, I’ll open up my task list and scan through the day. If it’s too much, I’ll see what can be moved to another day. Then I’ll write down a list on a notecard next to my computer, prioritizing my goals from what needs to be done first to the last. Generally I try to put my biggest projects up at the top, because you want to get those done as soon as possible and not leave them for later (and risk procrastination).

After I do that, my decision-making process is over, and I go into MMO questing mode. The paper informs me what I’ll be doing next, and barring any new developments, that’s what I do. I don’t avoid tasks on that list, I don’t reorder them, I just work from top to bottom as efficiently as I can.

By the end of most of my work days, the list is done and I’ve managed to plow through a whole ton of jobs. Sometimes these are partial steps toward a much larger goal that I’m gradually working toward (for example, for three weeks running, every day I had “15 minutes of office packing” to prepare for a repainting/recarpeting effort).

And not every task is strictly work-related. One of my goals is to do something romantic for my wife every day. Doesn’t always have to be huge, but I want to make sure I’m working on our relationship and putting love into action daily. Or I’ve split the household cleaning into five days’ worth, putting one or two rooms as an objective each day.

I’m still busy every day, but you know what? Things get done. Stuff gets missed a lot less now. And I usually end up with a nice amount of free time in the evenings to spend with family and on other fun things. So thank you, MMO quest checklists, for helping my life a little bit.