Battle Bards Episode 110: Acoustic guitar

The Battle Bards are quite familiar with the power of the strummed guitar and lute, knowing that such simple instruments can bring down walls, devastate armies, and dethrone monarchs. But on their off days, acoustic guitars are simply pleasurable to hear and are sprinkled throughout many a-MMO’s soundtrack. It’s six-stringed serenity in the 110th episode of this podcast!

Episode 110 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Sunlight of Morning” from Aion, “The Fringes (Daytime)” from FFXIV, and “Hills of the Shire” from LOTRO)
  • “Auf zu neuen Welten” from Drakensang
  • “Firelight” from TERA
  • “Lisbon” from Uncharted Waters Online
  • “Aughaire and Angmar” from LOTRO
  • “Dion Theme” from Lineage II
  • “Pre-Alpha 4” from Shroud of the Avatar
  • “Breeze Island” from Ragnarok 2
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener comments: Rafael12104
  • Jukebox picks: Retro Game Audio, “Emerald Falls” from Revelation Online, and “Main Theme” from Spyro’s Adventure
  • Outro
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Try It Tuesday: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

I don’t get Animal Crossing. Never have, probably never will.

If you were anywhere on mobile last week, you probably saw that Nintendo finally released its long-awaited Animal Crossing Pocket Camp as a free-to-play title. It quickly became THE hot game download of the week, and roped me in out of curiosity more than an actual desire to play it.

I never really connected with this series. I played the original on Gamecube back in the day, spending more time puzzling out why any of this was supposed to be enjoyable than actually enjoying it. It was a glorified task simulator with sickeningly cutesie graphics and some very bossy animals. I messed around with it for a few days, changed the Gamecube clock to make different stuff happen in-game, and quickly moved on.

But perhaps, I thought, this time would be different? Everyone seems to go bananas for this series, and when you lay out some of its features on paper, they line up pretty closely to game elements that I enjoy. Housing. Life simulation. Um… a laid-back mellow vibe. I guess that’s it.

From what I can tell, Pocket Camp is a pretty bare-bones version of Animal Crossing (which wasn’t THAT deep to begin with) coupled with an online element and F2P microtrans. You are sort of building up a campsite — which has a large wooden floor and no walls, for some reason — and to make best friends with animals by throwing gifts at them left and right. In reality, the animals are a fence, turning your useless apples and cod into useful crafting “rewards” like cotton and perfume. Then you craft items to attract more animals, pretty up your campsite, make money, and… yeah, that’s about all I see there. The game does hint at being able to throw parties and do some other things with amenities, but to tell the truth, it kind of lost me after the second session.

There’s just not enough meat on the bones here. I’ll go through grind and do silly activities if I feel like they’re worthwhile to progression, but here it just all feels like meaningless busywork. After one round of shaking down trees for fruit, catching bugs, and fishing, I could see the future of doing this a million times and not finding that terribly compelling. I wasn’t thrilled with how many transition screens existed and how many times I had to keep clicking on prompts to make things happen, such as visiting friends’ campsites and crafting.

Another significant issue is that, like with previous versions, I really cannot get into the art design. The human characters in particular look like creepy Raggedy Ann dolls that scream to me that this game is meant for those ages six and under.

In the end, Pocket Camp made me yearn for a game that did a lot of this just way, way better — Stardew Valley. There is a lot of points of comparison between the two, but Stardew’s pixelart is easier to get into, its farming system offers a great core gameplay loop, and there’s a far bigger town full of residents to get involved with. Now why isn’t THAT on mobile already?

MMOs and the peer pressure effect

Here’s a weird thought I had the other day: What if WildStar was, er, wildly popular right now? Same game, same patches, nothing different from Carbine’s end, but what if there was a much larger and more prominent community about it these days? If everyone was talking about it, if it was getting more coverage on Twitch and YouTube — how would that change things?

In other words, if nothing was different about the MMORPG itself other than increase activity and numbers with its community, how much — if at all — would that persuade you to play it or return to it?

At least for myself, I think it would matter a lot.

The “community question” is one that you see a lot in general MMO discussions when people are asking about certain titles or looking for recommendations. Players generally not only want an MMO that matches their playstyle, but one that sports an active community. Nobody wants to get seriously time invested in a dying game (real or perceived), and conversely, a lot of people want to belong to a surging movement. It’s exciting to be part of trendy games and to share in that excitement with others who are talking and playing. We want to be uplifted about our involvement and feel as though this game could last forever.

In all of the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve noticed — and felt — the pull to certain games when a lot of us are talking about them, when there’s big movement happening (launches, patches, events, expansions), and when the game’s popularity is on the rise. The games change and rotate with a few remaining pretty consistent in the top five. But that positive peer pressure exists and it’s a real factor in influencing players’ decision to jump into a title or not.

I kind of think that this is a shame, that games should be played and enjoyed for what they are, as we do outside of the MMO genre. But that’s the “massively” at play, and it’s a double-edged sword for our genre. It’s the inescapable factor of the community that’s intertwined with the games and the culture of this hobby. It’s terrific and also frustrating when it doesn’t swing toward games that you think deserve the spotlight. It can feel thrilling when it pushes a game to the top, and it can be terrifying when it cascades a game into oblivion.

I mean, look at the late great Marvel Heroes. It had a marvelous peak in popularity around 2015 and even into early 2016 with so much going for it, but then it lost that momentum and the positive peer pressure fell away and dissipated. Just about nobody was talking about it this year, probably because Gazillion was busy shooting itself in the foot and licensing issues and other nastiness going on behind the scenes. The school of fish darted away, leaving a few stragglers behind while everyone else went to seek more lucrative gaming grounds.

It’s hard not to be affected by this peer pressure, especially when it comes to wanting to play games that have been abandoned or are nowhere near the zenith of the popularity that they once were. It’s really odd playing DDO these days, because outside of a very small and tight-knit community, nobody is talking about it. I remember how it was scorching hot in 2009 when the whole free-to-play thing happened and how DDO had its 15 minutes or so in the spotlight as an MMO that a lot of people played and took seriously.

But that’s how the life cycle of MMOs go, and barring unexpected surprises (of both the good and bad variety), there’s a pretty predictable pattern.

Secret World Legends: The Swarm wants you

I’m getting into a pretty good stride with Secret World Legends progression in Tokyo. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I make sure to log in every day to do at least one mission (if not two or three, depending on how quick they go). I definitely feel that I’m on track to finish up the whole zone by the end of December, and that’s a-ok with me. Not having to fiddle with AEGIS has made this whole place about 50% less annoying, although there still is a noticeable increase in difficulty in the types of quests and mob attacks. At least it’s pretty cool to explore.

This picture never fails to crack me up while still making me wonder what the what is going on with this demon’s obsession with the foul-mouthed Illuminati boss.

Anyway, last week we had a nice quality-of-life patch that honestly did improve the quality of life around SWL. I’m starting to feel better and better about the switch over to this new game, especially now that we’ve seen Funcom pick up the pace of support and development once again.

There was a lot of nice extras in the patch, although the primary feature was the new anima allocation system. This was nothing short of a major gear overhaul, taking the individual roles of different gear pieces away and giving control of their ratio to the players. On the fly, we can now adjust the healing, DPS, and tanking power of our gear — and for no cost to adjust. That is absolutely fantastic and relieves a lot of stress in collecting exactly the right type of gear. Now we just have to concentrate on pips and quality levels, as well as signets and glyphs.

I tinkered around with this, deciding on a 20/20/60 ratio of heal/tank/dps. I know it’s on the low side for damage, but I like to survive things, and after testing it out a bit, I’m killing fast enough to be acceptable.

I don’t think I ever noticed these creatures crawling all over the towers before. Guess I never looked up!

I had totally forgotten about the Hive quest. Yes, it’s another chain of text adventures, but those are kind of brilliant for this game and incredibly creepy to boot, so I don’t mind a redux. And the whole concept of the Swarm — a mysterious collection of bee-powered individuals who didn’t choose a faction and were imprisoned indefinitely in the Hive until they broke out — fascinates me. They’re downright unnerving and yet sympathetic. For the record, I didn’t turn the info for the quest into the Templars. I think I’ve decided that if I’m ever given a choice to break with my faction and go with the Swarm, I’ll do it. We bees have to stick together — that’s how the honey is made.

I sure hope we get more Hive/Swarm stories in season two! It’s definitely one of the more interesting loose ends that the story writers have set up.

44 upcoming MMOs I’m keeping an eye on

Every so often I realize that there is a certain game I haven’t heard about in a while or have forgotten about, and then I have that flash of “oh yeahhh, I should stay up to date on that!” and do some quick research on what’s been going on with it. Usually, I’ll dig up a news story or two from it.

But I was getting tired of constantly forgetting which games I wanted to track, and so I began to make a list — primarily of upcoming online games and MMOs — and put it on the right-hand side of the site here with links to each of the games’ respective Twitter feeds for fast reference. This is mostly for me, but as the list started to grow, I thought that it might be worth sharing, if nothing else than to point out that there are a lot of titles in development and some odd little lesser-known ones worth keeping an eye on.

So here goes, 44 MMOs that I’m tracking. Note that I’m not equally interested in all of them, just that I want to keep tabs on them to see how they shape up between now and launch.

  1. AdventureQuest 3D
  2. Amazon’s New World
  3. Ascent: Infinite Realm
  4. Ashes of Creation
  5. Broke Protocol
  6. Camelot Unchained
  7. Caravan Stories
  8. Chronicles of Elyria
  9. Closers Online
  10. City of Titans
  11. Crowfall
  12. Cryptic’s Magic MMO
  13. Cyberpunk 2077
  14. Dogma Eternal Night
  15. Dragon of Legend
  16. Dual Universe
  17. Eden Falling
  18. Edengrad
  19. Forsaken Legends
  20. Fractured
  21. Freeman Star’s Edge
  22. Global Adventures
  23. Harry Potter Wizards Unite
  24. Identity
  25. Legends of Aria
  26. Lost Ark
  27. Pantheon
  28. Peria Chronicles
  29. Project Genom
  30. Project Gorgon
  31. Project TL
  32. Saga of Lucimia
  33. Sea of Thieves
  34. Ship of Heroes
  35. Shroud of the Avatar
  36. Soulworker Online
  37. Star Citizen
  38. Stash
  39. Survived By
  40. Tale of Toast
  41. Wild West Online
  42. Worlds Adrift
  43. WoW Classic
  44. Valiance Online

DDO: Optional objectives

Moving into the Marketplace to quest in Dungeons and Dragons Online has been great. I’ve been averaging a mission or two every night, which I usually do first thing when I sit down to game. It’s a great, breezy way to settle into relaxation while at the same time being a mostly new experience to me. At least, it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten most of these missions if they did exist back in the day.

What I’ve become really fascinated with is DDO’s propensity to add optional objectives in missions. As the name implies, they don’t have to be done, but if you can manage the extra challenge, then you’ll get a better XP reward at the end. What I’m finding is that many of these objectives can change the flow of the mission — drastically or subtlely — and even present the element of choice.

For example, in one mission in the Sharn Syndicate chain, I had the optional objective to keep a brother of the barkeep alive. I did my very best, losing him only on the last part of the fight. Because this happened, I not only missed out on a bit of XP, but the ending of the quest changed. The remaining brother mourned his fallen sibling, and the DM narrated the death to me in detail. I genuinely felt bad that I wasn’t able to save him — although there’s always a repeat run, I guess.

In another mission, stealth was of the essence, and I had the option to bash down doors and go in crossbows blazing or find a hidden switch to access the room. The search for the switch took time, but it gave me the element of surprise and the satisfaction of doing things the harder way for better rewards.

Perhaps the most interesting optional objective I saw lately was when I was being taken on a tour through a bank vault. There were deposit boxes all over the place, and right as I was going to break them open to see what’s what, I saw the mission tracker tell me that I could get extra XP if I elected not to succumb to that most basic reflex of RPG adventurers and leave the containers alone.

That was agonizing. I really, really wanted to break them open then, all the more so that I was being told — or at least advised — not to. I resisted the temptation and got the objective, although now it bothers me thinking of what some of those containers might have offered if I had gone on a smash-and-grab spree all the same.

I really do applaud this approach to mission execution. The scripting and optional objectives of DDO quests make the story feel more immediate and the choices more real. Wouldn’t mind seeing that in other MMOs, to be honest.

Probably my proudest moment from this past week was beating “Proof is in the Poison,” which turned out to be an extreme challenge dungeon (DDO’s words). Very long, very twisty-turny, and very difficult. Must’ve killed around 200 mobs as I was skipping over acid, desperately trying to heal myself, and searching for keys in this place. But hey, I conquered it, and when I did I felt that rush of accomplishment and pride.

Makeup: My MMO kryptonite

The other day, a slightly ridiculous tweet from Black Desert Online prompted the staff at Massively OP into a frenzy of discussion over makeup and why there is just no way that the picture on the right there is a girl without makeup.

But as we discussed this around the office, I confessed that makeup is, to some extent, my MMO kryptonite. As a player who almost exclusively picks a female character, I’m often stymied when I come to the makeup screen. It’s equally bad in games like The Sims 4.

I just don’t know what to do, I really don’t. Eye shadow, mascara, blush, lip gloss, lipstick, foundation, concealer, eyebrow highlighting, cheek implants… I am absolutely clueless when it comes to picking any of these. I know that if I start messing around with them, then chances are I’ll end up with a raccoon-faced emo raver despite any intentions to the contrary. My best bet is usually to select “Thanks but no thanks” to every makeup option and move on.

This is most likely because I’ve never had a proper education regarding makeup in real life. My need for such information has been minimal, aside from getting the stuff caked on my face for a few high school plays. I’m always in a kind of awe at all of the techniques I see women use to “put their face on,” as they call it. It’s like they’re painting a self-portrait without any hesitation, whereas I keep thinking that if I ever ended up in a 1980s-style body swap movie with the opposite gender, I would probably end up looking like Pennywise or a coal miner if I tried anything.

It’s only a very little bit frustrating when my lack of knowledge hits the MMO character creation page. I generally like sassy and fun-looking characters, and I feel like I’m slightly missing out on making my toons all that they could be. Fortunately, it’s not like your default female face looks like a bedraggled woman who just got out of bed after cramming a pillow against her face for eight hours. MMOs are pretty generous when it comes to making you look good despite your ignorance.

Maybe there’s a market for makeup experts to come in and explain all of this to clueless players. Probably a very, very limited market, but still.