RIFT: A rogue and her duck

gob2My gaming focus has shifted (not exclusively) to RIFT over the last couple of days, as I attempt to at least get out of Goboro Reef, if not get through the expansion. Part of my current frustration is in the higher health pools of enemies and how long it’s taking to burn through them. There’s a delicate balance between making a mob too easy and too frustrating with the whole time-to-kill, and I do not envy devs in trying to strike that balance while considering the enormous range of builds and gear load-outs.

Anyway, since this is RIFT, I was experimenting a lot with alternative builds. It’s still one of the most brilliant aspects of the game. I was using a hybrid Ranger/Sabo build so that I had a good tanky pet while tossing bombs and charges at foes, but while that worked to keep me safe, my DPS was lacking big-time.

I shifted to a full saboteur build and was looking at how to place those last 15 talent points to get some heals and survivability going on. A 10/5 split between riftstalker and tactician gave me a few nice options, but even so I was throwing 10 straight bombs and charge bundles at enemies — and that wasn’t enough to get them even past 40%.

However, this experimenting did shine a light on a lovely level 61 talent which took the riftstalker’s DPS penalty away for using the guardian mode. With that talent and just a few points into riftstalker, any of my characters would have vastly improved survivability. So I took that idea and applied it to my bladedancer build and have been loving it. The bladedancer does have enough DPS to get quicker kills, constant means of health regeneration, and now a higher health pool and more armor thanks to guardian mode.

I’m definitely looking forward to Update 3.2 for many reasons. The wardrobe improvements are a huge blessing for this game, and I’ll look forward to unlocking more pieces and spending more time putting together outfits.

I’m even more intrigued by the improvements to Instant Adventures. I don’t do a lot of IAs right now, but my thinking is that whenever the new calling comes out this year, I’ll probably level a character exclusively through IAs now that I’ve seen the quest content. Getting to play around in Hammerknell in IA mode sounds pretty cool!

I was slightly tempted to buy the new squirrelicorn mount from April Fool’s Day — which is really just a squirrel mount with an ice cream cone stuck on its head — but the 4500 credits price tag quickly shied me away. I’m almost at the point where I can buy another package of REX with my money, which will bring me up to 1900 credits for a small spending spree.

Anyway, here’s to hoping I can bust out of Goboro tonight!

Watching kids play teaches me a lot about games

transmOver at Mama Needs Mana, she talks about her struggles with figuring out the right amount of “screen time” for her son every day. In this day and age, it’s something that pretty much every parent has to deal with, as there’s TV, video games, mobile devices, and the like out there.

I do not judge other parents’ decisions on this, but as for our family, we allow the kids around 45 minutes of TV in the morning while the parents get ready, and that’s it for the day. Video games are a very occasional treat and we haven’t caved to get them tablets yet. I’m not worried that they’ll be slow to pick this stuff up, because kids adapt so quickly to tech that it’s scary. But it’s great right now to just let them be kids in a multimedia-free environment, develop their motor and social skills, and get exercise.

One of the things I really enjoy doing is simply watching how my three play. Sometimes they do their own thing, but often they group together and entertain themselves with very little prompting on my part. As an adult who still likes to play — although my “play” is mostly video game-related — it’s fascinating to observe how unstructured play occurs. Here are a few notes:

  • Kids love to tell stories: Pretty much everything they do is narrated by them, particularly when they’re playing with action figures or other humanoid toys. In their heads, they’re spinning an epic tale which then has to be spoken out loud to become fact and to communicate to the others what’s going on.
  • Kids mimic what they’ve experienced: Our kids will often enact scenes (copied or made up) of their favorite TV shows, but will also play roles such as doctor, parents, teacher, and so on. My daughter loves to be bossy and put herself in the lead in most situations, especially when she comes over and firmly delivers instructions to me while she gives me an eye exam.
  • Simple can sometimes be the best: The most popular toy in our house for three days running was a normal air-inflated balloon. Egads, they went bananas for this thing like they’d never seen one before, playing all sorts of “keep it up in the air!” and “you can’t get it!” games. Today it’s hand-sized bouncy balls. Later on it might be a box or their toy bucket that they’ll empty out and pretend is a submarine.
  • I can set the mood and watch as their imaginations run away with it: When I play with them, I will try to create a fun situation or scenario and then see what they do with it. We have a “pirate cave” in a closet under the stairs that I painted, tiled, and strung up with Christmas lights. Once in a while I’ll tell them that the cave is open for business, and they’ll bring their “treasures” in and have a blast with flashlights as they talk about being the best pirates on the seven seas. Or I’ll throw blankets over some chairs, get the flashlights, and tell them it’s time for a campout. The important thing is to quickly hand over control to them to let them develop the story and direct the action.
  • It’s very physical: While my kids will take breaks to quietly build something or read a book, most of their play time is a frenzy of kenetic motion. It’s just part of their age group (2-5) and the need to run, jump, crawl, roll, tackle, dance, throw, and so on. For adults in the same indoor area, there’s a huge tendency to want to tell them to stop, but we try not to do that unless they’re getting too out of control. Kids need to move — and moving is good for them. Plus, I feel bad for them being couped up inside during the winter months.
  • There are surprising opportunities to teach: Playing isn’t mindless; my kids are often thinking a lot about what they’re doing. It’s not uncommon for them to run up and ask if a plane can really do such-and-such, or what the name of this animal is, or how to fix something they just broke. I think I spend about half of my waking hours constantly explaining all sorts of little things, even as they play, which is OK because they actually remember a lot of it. I also try to emulate and teach them how to interact with each other and with other kids — that you can be gentle while roughhousing, that you can be a peacemaker in situations where two people want the same toy, and that my youngest always looks up to his older brother as his role model and how important it is to acknowledge that.

In observing all of these things and more, I’m seeing trends that carry right on to the video games that we big people play. We do love to tell stories, we are sometimes fascinated by simple and addictive elements, we learn, we mimic, and we engage our imaginations.

I’m reminded of a seminar that I went to many years ago where an elderly youth pastor was talking about the importance of gameplay and how we shouldn’t dismiss or marginalize it, but to use it purposefully and see its positive benefits. Games bring people together, boost self-esteem, and can be fantastic teaching moments.

The Secret Adventures: Thought and memory (Savage Coast #9)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

thoughtStrangers from a strange land (investigation mission)

  • Wow, I’ve been doing so many action missions that I almost forgot what investigation missions were like!
  • Red delivers an important piece of backstory. A thousand years ago, invaders from the south (the Mayans) came to the island and tried to awaken the evil that lived under the mountain. The Wabanaki fought back and almost lost if it wasn’t for Vikings coming across the sea with Excalibur. Or somesuch. Anyway, they left and took the sword with them, but apparently they also imbued powerful magic in the stones of the island.
  • Red’s map indicates that there are several of these important stones — and that they’re all in Blue Mountain. That’s right, this Savage Coast mission is actually a Blue Mountain one in disguise. Time to zone hop!
  • Make no mistake, it’s a lot of running around a zone that, for most people, will be completely new to them when they get this quest. At each rune, two ravens come down and say cryptic things, starting off with “I’m thought, he’s memory. You can have that one for free.”
  • Well, they also tell the story of the thousand-year-old war between the Vikings and the worshippers of the dark sun. I guess these are Viking spirits in bird form? TSW needs a study guide.
  • After a while, the runestones come with riddles that must be solved (or else trigger a nasty little fight). Fun riddles, Viking-themed, nothing difficult.
  • The ravens make mention of Loki being among the good guys, although he tricked them and then headed south to find out more. Geary says that he’s been spotted on the island multiple times since, although the sword is still AFK. This will be important for an upcoming test, class.
  • I never noticed before that when you’re in the Ash Forest, your screen picks up flecks of ash around the edges. Neat detail.
  • So the first time through the game, the whole storyline of the island being a battleground for this war 1,000 years prior kind of escaped me in a flood of other details.

beauDawning of an Endless Night (story mission, tiers 8-11)

  • With all of Savage Coast done (yipee!), all that’s left here is to blitz through the main storyline. Zip back to the beginning and go to a mysterious house I’ve been avoiding thus far.
  • In the basement is a door that opens on a tunnel with Beaumont standing at the other end. He magically causes a cave-in and summons a filth guardian to fight me. And I’m not doing too bad against it, either, when John Wolf appears, kills it, and patronizes me for trying to fight it. Seriously dude? I HAD IT. Go back to your front porch and leave the real work to the bee people.
  • Wolf says that Beaumont is in search of an ancient artifact that’s controlling the fog, the artifact that will control the island. He also suggests I go talk to the folks over at the Academy. Fine with me!
  • Annabel, Carter, and Montag admit that the Academy got ahold of this artifact — a weapon — but had no idea how dangerous it was. It got stolen right out from under their noses, and only a top-secret Illuminati vault under the school might have more ideas about how that happened.
  • The vault is apparently under one of the other school buildings, so I head on in and retrieve the same eight symbols that I keep finding all over the place. There’s a cleverly hidden trap door, too, that rewards the patient observer.
  • Who changes the light bulbs for these top secret underground vaults that not even the headmaster knows about?
  • Beaumont shows up again, this time wielding Excalibur. He’s more than a little annoyed with me, but knows that the bees will resurrect me, so he casts a spell to stall me instead.
  • Beau, dude, you have the absolute worst taste in clothing. I am not so much afraid of you as I am curious what Salvation Army mumu store you’ve been shopping at.
  • The vault is a suitably freaky place to be trapped — it’s filled with dessicated caretakers who love to make bizarre sounds and won’t attack unless attacked (giving me a rare opportunity for up-close screenshots). I love that TSW knows that freaking you out means sometimes not attacking but making you feel that any moment hell might rain down on you.
  • Down among the stacks I find a book that looks like the Necronomicon from Evil Dead that talks about Beamont visiting the island in 1881 looking for something in the Blue Mountain mine.
  • I escape through a hidden doorway and Kirsten Geary berates me for messing up so bad. It’s not my fault! Blame the cutscene! WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING AT ME THIS IS MY FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB.

rogueRogue Agent (action mission)

  • The Labyrinth calls me up and tells me to come home to NYC for my promotion. Considering that this is tier 1 of 6, I’m guessing it’s going to be more work and less celebration (unless tier 4 is “get punch” and tier 5 is “get jiggy with it”).
  • No sooner do I get to NYC does the Labyrinth send me to Seoul to track down a Templar agent who’s stolen something from the Dragons. Y’know, you could have just told me that over the phone earlier.
  • In Seoul, the rogue agent spots me and a merry footchase ensues deep into Agartha. It’s pretty bland and very linear, with the very occasional fight against other factions’ agents.
  • But the interesting thing is that it finally dumps me out into a completely new area that we only see for this one mission: Shambala in the Himalayan Mountains. The Labyrinth tells me that it’s a place of great and mysterious power, but the Council of Venice kicked the factions out of it for fighting over it so much.
  • I get into a scrap with three enemies at once, but by now I’m so dang good that I don’t even break a sweat. Then it’s off to hide the artifact from everyone but the Illuminati’s computer AI, who says that not even my superiors can be trusted with it.
  • And that’s it for Savage Coast! Time to hit up Blue Mountain and upgrade my gear!

It’s a good day — three new soundtracks!

icostI was pretty psyched to discover not one, not two, but three new online game soundtracks are out this week in the Amazon MP3 store (and presumably elsewhere as well):

  • Elite: Dangerous: 86 tracks! This one doesn’t come out until tomorrow, however.
  • Infinite Crisis: This release was a complete surprise, but 28 tracks, I’m not knocking it.
  • Izanagi Online: Mobile MMO releasing this month, 20 tracks.

As always, these will be listed along with any other links to MMO music (free and paid) on the Bio Break MMO Music page.

LOTRO: A return to the Shire

musicYou know how it is with growing older — sometimes you want to go back and revisit your youth, to see if you can recapture some of what made the places you used to frequent so special. Of course, that’s a great way to be disillusioned as well, but it doesn’t stop us from doing it.

This week is the 7th anniversary of my LOTRO kinship, the Lonely Mountain Band. To cap off festivities, there was a concert and a special guest speaker at Ales & Tales last night. That was enough encouragement for me to return to the place of my character’s youth, the Shire.

outfitMan, I have not been back to the Shire in what feels like ages. After months in Rohan and Gondor, it feels like a completely different world to return to a place where pie-tasting, mail-running, and player concerts are the norm. It’s great to see that it’s still a place where players congregate in large numbers.

I took advantage of the moment to whip up a new outfit, as I had become a little bored with my current wardrobe.  I worked with a piece — eastenmet armor — that had frustrated me in the past, but I think I got a combination that came out looking good. I like the high collar and how it all goes with the campaign backpack. I think I might even be looking at the outfit I’ll be wearing through the end of the game.

Speaking of finishers, I am happy to report that I finally wrapped up Update 15, including the epic storyline, and can add LOTRO to the list of games where I have a capped character waiting for the next big update (which, for this game, will be sometime this month).

I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the coming year, but my heart and love for this game will always be way back in the beginning, back in the Shire. I doubt we’ll ever experience a place like that again in this game.

Battle Bards Episode 48: Back to the ’90s

Ultima_Online_coverDid you know that the Battle Bards have a time machine? Well they do, and this week they’re setting it all the way back to the 1990s! With the help of guest host Scott (Ramblings of a MMO Gamer Guy), the crew examines music from an oft-overlooked era of MMO gaming (and soundtracks). Just because it’s older doesn’t mean it’s ancient!

Episode 48 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme” from Neverwinter Nights AOL and “Excalibur” from Asheron’s Call)
  • “Bard Guild” from EverQuest
  • “Dungeon” from The Realm Online
  • “Minoc” from Ultima Online
  • “Main Theme” from Nexus
  • “Neriak” from EverQuest
  • “Main Theme” from Meridian 59
  • “Nebula” from Rubies of Eventide
  • What did we like the best?
  • Mail From Tadamichi (Quiet Life and In Memories)
  • Outro (featuring “Age of Heroes” from Dark Sun Online)

Listen to episode 48 now!