World of Warcraft: A singing fish named Murray

I don’t go overboard with screenshotting World of Warcraft these days, but I do take pictures when I get a neat angle, see something different, or want to remember a particular moment. I kick myself that I never saved my screenshot folders from MMOs of the past. Silly Syp.

So here is an assortment of snaps from Draenor and the Gilneas starting zone!

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Big ogre and I are not off to a good start in the friendship department. My, what large nipples you have! The better to stun you with, my dear!

w2I has ship. I particularly liked how this was framed against the gorgeous Shadowmoon Valley night sky.

w3Dang, I am in love. Please do not tell my wife.

Why can’t we make characters that look like this? The hat, that type of sword… it hits the spot for me, it does.

w4Help! She’s going to shoot me with square bullets while these two dogs give me disagreeable looks!

w5Gilneas is such an awesome region. Feels a shame we move through it so fast and that stunning buildings such as this cathedral are only used lightly.

Also? I think that this fawn is going to mug me.

w6How did the deer get the best of me? It’s a mastermind, I tells ya!

w7Every time I’m sent up to this tree on a quest, I have to stop for a screenshot. Simply too pretty, especially with the rain falling.

w8Blizzard totally missed an opportunity to have this fish suddenly start singing to me, possibly about an unrequited love with a murloc on the shoals.

Riding the long MMO tail

longtailGenerally — generally — MMOs that launch follow a similar patten in terms of population:

  • Strong boost at launch (stronger depending on the game and hype and IP, of course)
  • Growth for a few months as it’s the new hotness
  • Tapering off
  • Decline as the year goes on, with spikes for expansions or business model shifts
  • Then a long, steady, gradual decline after a few years

That last bit is the MMO tail, when a game has passed the point of being one of the big dogs in the room to a workhorse of a title. Doesn’t mean it’s bad — not at all; many MMOs keep getting better with age, patches, and expansions.

But there are definitely downsides to riding that tail as a gamer. You’re playing a game that isn’t being talked about much any longer. Hope for a renaissance fades away. New player influx goes from a stream to a trickle. And you start wondering — as much as you try not to — how many more years this game has left in it.

Not every MMO follows that same pattern or shares the length of that tail. Ultima Online and EverQuest, for example, are still going and even had expansions last year. But it’s a different experience to play those games rather than, say, Blade & Soul, Guild Wars 2, or FFXIV right now. The wider community all but ignores those games while the active community is very defined and insular.

When you’re riding that tail, there is an undercurrent in the existing community of sadness, of a desire for a return to the days of high-profile greatness. It’s definitely like this in LOTRO right now. On one hand, it’s not a ghost town; Landroval is hopping, people still love the game, and folks even still blog about it. There are player events, chatter, and it recently got a mini-expansion of sorts. It’s even on the cusp of heading into Mordor.

Yet there’s no denying that LOTRO is past being on of the, say, top five most popular and talked-about MMOs to play. It was only a few years ago that we were getting huge expansions, that people flocked to this game, and that it held that darling status that is now passed on to other games. Nine years is a great run for a game, and it would’ve been silly to assume that the party would last forever. So we’re now in the long tail phase — and have been for a couple of years.

As I mentioned, playing in the long tail era is kind of like sticking in the past while the future is here! and amazing! It’s grappling with that constant wish for a return to former glory. There’s a lot of nostalgic reminiscing in the community and talk of days past. There’s also the uncertainty of knowing how much longer a game has in it or how often the dev team is going to create substantial content for it.

It’s not all sadness and inner montages, of course. The long tail has its advantages, starting with it representing an MMO that is seasoned and chock-full of stuff to see and do. If there’s enough of a dedicated community sticking around, it can even feel populated and full of life for a long time to come. Knowing that the game won’t be on the receiving end of controversy and huge design shifts and other stumbling blocks of newer titles is a comforting thing.

Right now as there are few massive games coming out for this genre, players are taking more time than ever to revisit older titles to see — and rediscover — what they hold. I’ve been watching in the blogosphere the delight of these experiences, the reminder that there is a wealth of MMOs out there already that can be plundered if you get your eyes off the future once in a while. Lots of long tails out there, twitching for adventure.

King’s Quest IV part 8: Thriller night

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(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest IV. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Magical fruit attained, it’s time to scope out Pandora’s Lunchbox. For this, Rosella wanders blithely into a grove of friendly-looking trees…

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…and immediately gets crushed to death. The game informs me that I’ve been a “real sap,” because King’s Quest IV was written by someone from the 1940s. Have some respect, man! That poor girl’s guts have been smooshed into a gooey red paste, and you’re making puns that no kid in this generation or the last three would recognize.

But you know what this means? Mean trees vs. a girl with an axe. It’s time to get CHOPPIN’.

axe

For the love of Pete, c’mon! So instead of actually hurting these murderous trees, Rosella takes her axe and waves it around in the air like she’s putting on some sort of pageant routine. And the trees are somehow so impressed by this that they leave her alone. GAH.

cave

Yes, I have some questions about this screen. Was the cave always like this and the witch moved in because it was thematically appropriate, or did she carve out this goofy grinning skull to match her mood?

ouch

Inside the cave, the witches grab Rosella and boil her alive. The above post-death screenshot is actually disturbing in how they staged it. At least the narrator is there for a sad stab at black humor: “You knew you needed a hot bath, but not THIS hot!” Har har.

This part is a little tough. The three witches are blind but can see using a glass eye they keep passing around. So while one chases Rosella, the other two keep juggling the eye. Rosella has to dodge the chaser and grab the eye without getting grabbed herself. This sends the witches to their knees, pleading for the eye back in exchange for a scarab.

scarab

Yeah, I am NOT falling for that. Nice try, though.

night

The game then informs me that night has fallen, so I’m assuming that at least half of my allotted 24 hours is up. Get a move on, Rosella!

zombies

Zombies start popping out of the graves like it’s feeding time, but Rosella’s newly acquired scarab somehow repels them. Hey, it’s useful!

baby

Hands up if you think that blindly pursuing the sound of a crying baby in a haunted house at night is a smart move. Rosella has her hand up. Of course she does.

Even though there’s a baby’s room with a rocking cradle and an eerie lullaby playing, the baby isn’t there. Naturally, the next step is to grab a shovel and go dig up graves to see if we can find any tiny corpses.

No, I’m not joking.

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The gravestones are actually pretty amusing, along the lines of Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

rattle

Whew, one rattle but no small bones. Still, grave robbing, everyone!

The rattle does the trick: By dropping it in the moving bassinet, it apparently calms the ghost baby down and Rosella can leave before the game makes her adopt a spectral infant. Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Of course, the second she walks out of the room, another ghost pops up — this one an old fart with a lot of chains rattling behind him. Going to be a loooong night, people.

King’s Quest IV part 7: Kris Kross will make ya jump jump

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(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest IV. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

So Rosella, apprentice of Evil Inc., has two pressing quests and a ticking 24-hour deadline. She’s still got to get the magical fruit for her father, who — as you may recall — is dying of congested heart failure in a completely different realm. Here, dad, some fructose. That’ll cure ya. Rosella also needs to get Pandora’s Box for the evil fairy just because she has a hard time saying “no” to villains.

Let’s get that fruit first, shall we?

To do that, Rosella needs to return to the waterfall and brave the pitch-black cave with the troll once again. Sure, she’s got a lantern, but instead of shining any useful light, all it seems to do is be a beacon to the troll saying, “Free dinner and/or mate here!”

That is to say that I saw this screen a LOT:

fr2

I may hate this troll more than I’ve ever hated any video game character. Well, not Navi from Zelda. Or Elves. But that troll is UP THERE.

As if getting chased by a troll who can run faster than you and pop out of nowhere in the darkness isn’t maxing out your fun quotient for the day, Rosella must also find an exact spot — in the dark, mind you — to lay down a board and cross a chasm. Chances are you’ll fall and Rosella will say, and I quote, “Oh my goodness! A chasm!” before smashing all of her bones on the floor. I guess this was a family-friendly game, so she probably wasn’t allowed to use her limited assortment of curse words while plummeting to her death, but still. That quote is just silly.

Honestly, the game really isn’t being fair at all here. If you can’t see anything in the dark, even with the lantern, then the only way to make it is through excessive save scumming and incremental progress. This is the least satisfying way to play an adventure game ever.

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Hey, it’s the Swamp of Sorrow! I wonder if Atreyu’s horse is still down there in the muck somewhere, regretting his life choices. Anyone else find it hilarious that a movie horse got depressed and then eaten by a swamp?

fr4

Can I say how really weird the narrator is in King’s Quest IV? It’s nowhere near as snarky and fun as the one in the Space Quest series, but it’s still trying to be slightly humorous while maintaining a formal tone. It doesn’t really work. “You contemplate this final information?” Who writes like that?

Also, why can’t Rosella just swim here? You know, above the muck? She’s demonstrated that she’s a very good swimmer in this game, actually.

No, actually what you have to do is to jump across the little patches of dry land here. And since this isn’t a platformer, the only way to do that is — yes — to type “jump.” Over and over. 16 times, in fact. Each way. And I am not joking in the slightest. Jump jump jump jump jump jump jump…

fr5

Naturally, there’s a cobra guarding the magic fruit tree. Rosella busts out some tunes and makes a groupie of the snake. I try hard not to think about when the girl had the time to become that good at playing the flute and just grab the fruit and run…

…er, jump jump jump jump jump jump…

…dark cavern, fall into chasm…

True story: It was here that I realized I forgot to grab the board back at the island. You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you. I had to go back, jump sixteen times to get it, sixteen times back, just for that board.

…walk in dark, lay down board…

…evade troll, save, reload, save, reload…

So much fun, you guys. So much fun.

LOTRO: Fallen city, fallen enthusiasm

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Welcome to Osgiliath, population to about half the entire army of Mordor, six allied NPCs, and me. The fallen city is undeniably a major set piece of the Gondor experience, although I can’t say that I was particularly looking forward to going in there. You can partially chalk that up to my general dislike of navigating cities in game, but in this case it’s also because picking my way through the ruins of a town under the perpetual gloom of cloud cover wasn’t my idea of a jaunty time.

Remember when we used to run pies in the Shire while rainbows winked at us overhead?

But the epic story said that I needed to head into Osgiliath, so into Osgiliath I went. And boy were my instincts correct: This is a nasty, nasty area. The mob density is outright ludicrous in places, with plenty of super-powered mobs roaming around in addition to camps of normal ones. In addition, the fallen rubble has made navigation a pain, as getting from point A to B might not be as straight-forward as it looks. Finally, the quest hub — a meager few good guys hiding in a sewer — doesn’t have a milestone or stable for easy return.

os2

I’ve spent a couple of miserable sessions making my way through this city, thinking dour thoughts about the developers during it. Okay, I’ll admit that thematically, it’s all spot-on. This city should be overrun and it would be silly if we could just charge in there like a one-man army and slaughter everyone. But just because it fits the setting doesn’t make it enjoyable to play in.

I actually pulled out my landscape soldier to provide some additional firepower so that I could get through these mobs in something like a normal clip. More than once I had to flee from elite roving adds that wandered into aggro radius. Let’s just say that Mordor’s cardio program is paying dividends, because these guys would sprint a good half-mile over jagged rubble with nary a pause.

Perhaps some of my disgruntlement is the fact that I’m not tracking the story as well as I have in the past. I’m here… for some reason. Looking for Faramir, I think? Making a blow for the good guys, trying to trip up foes so they don’t get to Minas Tirith sooner than they will. Mostly, I’m just eager to get out of here. I hate the feeling of being stuck in a zone that’s more work than pleasure to get through.

Maybe I need to buckle down, suck it up, and get through it in one marathon session. I have no idea how much longer I have, but if the story keeps me in here much longer, I might start to regret coming back to LOTRO for this catch-up plan.

OH! And happy birthday, LOTRO! Whining aside, it’s been a heck of a ride so far, and nine years is a great accomplishment for an MMO.

The Secret Adventures: To hell and back (City of the Sun God #1)

(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

A City Born in Blood (action mission)

And so we come to the second of Egypt’s two zones, City of the Sun God. It’s also, by far, my least favorite adventure zone in the game. Oh, it’s not terrible, but it’s not that likable either. It does the job of communicating Aten as a terrible threat and making the desert sun fairly ominous, but this comes at the expense of personality and relatability. City of the Sun God isn’t a place of civilization (as is all of the other zones we visit), nor is it that populated with living NPCs. It’s certainly an interesting idea to have a squadron of talking — but completely motionless — statues as the good guys, but boy was that an uphill storytelling challenge. And one I think that Funcom didn’t quite master.

Anyway, I have a long, long way to go to get through this area, especially with all of the new issue content, so let’s start our adventures by listning to Ptahmose give himself a pity party about failing his “children” (the aforementioned statues) and how the forces of Aten are on the rise and the good guys may be outnumbered this time. At least I’m here to do something about it instead of sitting on a suitcase. Man, I miss the Dannys and Wolfs and Boones of the old zones. At least they got into it with evil.

To be fair, I’ve never given this zone a full chance. During my first playthrough, I ended up skipping most of CotSG in favor of hitting Transylvania early (I looped back long after, but didn’t complete all of the missions even then). So some of this stuff will be new to me and I’ll be experiencing it start to end this time around.

OK, so here’s a straight-forward “kill all ghouls” mission. There’s some rescuing Marya along the way, who then lead me to some shackled golems. This is where the mission gets fun: You can free the golems and follow them as they pound the crud out of more ghouls. And you can free as maaaaaany golems as you want. I think I had about seven stampeding around by the mission’s end, pwning ghouls left and right. I really wanted to keep them.

As a post-script, Geary made me laugh when she put down Ptahmose’s “sob story.” Always good for a cynical jab, that woman.

corpse

Funeral Pyre (side mission)

At the end of the previous mission, there’s a jinn ember that can be used to, y’know, light corpses on fire. Most normal people would look at that, go “huh,” and then walk away. Not my girl. No, she’s all for corpse-lighting, because The Secret World is nothing if not anxious to get you playing with corpses every chance you get. Finish this game and there’s nothing that mortician school could throw at you that you’re not already desensitized to.

Big pile o’ corpses at the end, too! Thank you, Funcom, for making me wish that my character carried around an industrial-sized drum of hand sanitizer for such moments.

claw

Dust Devils (action mission)

Stick-in-the-mud Ptahmose is super grumpy about all of the people traipsing through this supposedly secret valley. Now there are demons pouring in from the hell dimension at the invitation of the Black Pharoah. Where are the Ghostbusters when you need them?

Without a proton pack t my disposal, I’m going to have to do things the old-fashioned way — bullets and harsh glares. I use a not-so-secret passage to head over to where all of the hell breaches are happening. It’s not pretty, but in this landscape it isn’t really hurting anything either.

After kicking a few crawling demons to the ground, I leap through a rift and into the hell dimension itself. It’s like a world that’s been baked a little too long and has never seen anything green grow. Also, there’s a Jamba Juice.

I go up to all of the Jinn that are creating these stable rifts, tap them politely on their shoulders, and then ask them to stop. Well, I don’t so much do that as I run in guns blazing, tossing down elemental turrets left and right, but the attitude is much the same. With that done, I create a portal home and escape in the nick of time before I have to spend an eternity playing hide-and-seek with demonic bullies.

Also, how epic is this shot:

pose

Love it.

locusts

Bug Hunt (side mission)

Again, I’m glad that these locusts aren’t the Ak’ab, but they also aren’t that thrilling as a foe or enemy faction. Big bugs — this is so common in MMOs that one wonders what’s in all of the water.

I wish I had a great story to tell about this mission, but no, it’s just a lot of killing bugs and their hives. I did take the time to examine the locust models and admire how squirm-inducing their mouth-areas are, though.