We so need to be done with MMORPG factions as they stand

One of the unfortunate effect of video games falling into lazy trope wells in development is that they start to carbon-copy and dilute interesting ideas into the realm of the bland. Take factions, for example.

Aligning yourself with a faction — or factions, plural — could be a really fascinating part of your game experience. You could start out without being aligned to any of them, and as you learn more about them, you could pledge allegiance to one or more and engage in overt and covert activities to support them.

Or you could just pick a “red” or “blue” side at launch from the two sides that the developers present, which means practically nothing more than the color of your character’s hair to you. You’re picking a side with no context or personal experience, just because the devs figured that PvP needs an “us vs. them” setup. If it’s a fancy MMO, it gets three sides, not two.

I’m seriously tired of this. I think a whole lot of players couldn’t care less about their factions. Every year at BlizzCon, cries of “For the alliance!” and “For the horde!” sound a whole lot weaker than the year previous. That’s because even die-hard fans know that it doesn’t really *mean* anything. Horde has been bad and then good and then bad again. Alliance has done the same. Both sides have been allies and then heated enemies and then allies depending on whatever nonsensical story beat is being played out.

I just don’t think that devs picking our sides for us in MMOs is effective, especially at character creation. Factions could be realized in exciting ways, especially in a developing game world. Imagine if one month while you’re playing a game and a new faction emerges after rumors have been spreading. People debate this faction’s intentions, and there’s a scramble to work for or against it — or even to investigate its workings and sell that knowledge to the highest bidder.

Players could be double-agents between factions. Players could be empowered to create factions that are a level higher than guilds. Factions could offer real stigma and consequences if you ally with one of them. Factions could even be destroyed, creating yet more memories of players recalling past regimes.

I don’t think we can water down factions any more, but studios certainly could seize upon the idea and build them up into something useful, engaging, and more complicated than an Orc shouting at a Human or a Klingon getting all testy with a Vulcan.

The Curse of Monkey Island: Hair demons and demon chickens

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As I’ve noted in the Monkey Island series, Guybrush is — for an affable guy — very much capable of playing mean tricks on people and stealing everything not nailed down. I guess that’s the pirate life! In his pursuit to secure a crew, he douses a comb with lice to get a stuffy guy out of a barber chair. Said stuffy guy ends up completely bald, but hey, that’s what wigs are for.

Guybrush steals some scissors from the barbershop and hacks his way into the island interior, where karma catches up with him and he’s eaten by a snake. Of course, this being a LucasArts game, you can’t actually die, so this is merely a setback — and an opportunity to loot the stuff in the snake’s belly!

As the saying goes, “from the innards of a snake to the quicksand!” And so our pirate’s series of tragedies continues — all the more tragic for the loss of his inventory. Considering that there was a full breakfast in that snake, I’m a little bummed to lose it.

Lunch is next on the agenda, and for that there is nowhere finer than Captain’ Blondebeard! Here, Guybrush has a hilarious encounter with a twice-dead Manny from Grim Fandango. LucasArts, everyone!

As Guybrush assembles the last of his crew, a different bunch of pirates find LeChuck’s boots floating in the sea. Retrieving them, the old zombie pirate comes back from the extra-dead — again!

While attempting to secure a vessel of his own, Guybrush is — to his not-so-great horror — tarred and feathered by a roving band of pirate monkeys. My son particularly liked this part.

This becomes a very roundabout way to get below decks, as Guybrush goes back to town, freaks out the restaurant owner (who thinks he’s a devil chicken), gets knocked out, and then put into a pot for some reason.

Anyway, the “captain” of the ship is a big ape. Make of that what you will.

WoW Classic: Through the Dark Portal once more…

Last week was our family vacation, which was perfectly timed for weather but not so much for MMO releases. I had to resign myself that the only time I was going to get to play was late at night after the family had gone to sleep — which was fine, although it did mean that I missed the initial marathon crush through the Dark Portal.

So I just had a one-Gnome moment of glory as I ascended the same ramp that I did with another Gnome Warlock back in 2007. It was time to leave one era behind and enter another.

Happily, the queue wasn’t abnormally long (30 minutes) and I experienced no transition difficulties crossing the threshold into Outland. My guildies gave me the heads-up that everything was more or less going smoothly, with about half of the population electing to jump into dungeons to power-level via instancing.

The first night wasn’t quite the utter mess I was expecting. Layers and player spread helped to keep things less ridiculous, and I gradually quested my way through that last half-level to 60. We joked about expecting guildies to have hit level 70 an hour after the launch, and I greatly looked forward to all of the gear upgrades. My outfit was sadly, sadly lacking. I didn’t even have an epic mount!

I had a few laughs when a couple guildies logged in and then tried to get a group together for old world content. Absolutely NO ONE was biting. Read the room.

I did get a blue drop on my very first kill — but alas, it was a 2H sword. Good for auctioning.

Deaths happened that first night thanks to an insane respawn rate that kept new mobs popping on top of our heads. They came almost as fast as we killed them — great for quests, bad for survival. And the return of Mr. Fel Reaver certainly didn’t help any!

While hitting 60 and getting some great gear upgrades was a highlight of the first night, the lowlight was a DDoS attack that kicked a lot of us — myself included — off of the server and triggered issues with play.

All in all, it was actually a whole lot of fun. It’s been a very long while since I’ve done Burning Crusade anything, and while I wouldn’t choose it at all in retail from the expansion choices, in Classic, it’s a wonderful relief to be playing a focused expansion that’s packed full of fun and progression.

And along came Palia to charm us all

Among the communities of the MMO fallen, blazing torches are still borne aloft for WildStar, Landmark, and Free Realms. So it was not surprising to see such a warm reception for last week’s news of a brand-new MMORPG that looks to encapsulate elements of all three of those games.

I speak, of course, of Palia. I was on vacation when the announcement of this “community sim massively multiplayer” game, and even as remote as I was, I noticed that it was everywhere on Twitter and in the news. It’s not every day that you get the word of a big new MMO being made, especially one from industry alums who want to make something more than just your stripped-down combat machine.

The basic gist, as far as I can ascertain, is that Palia is looking to incorporate a bit of crafting sims and farming/town life sims in an MMO environment. More of a “wide array of activities” approach than a combat specialized one. And that’s a great idea, because boy are we sick of the same-old, same-old. The mention of an evolving community storyline is VERY intriguing, as I feel that MMO studios gave up on this a while back.

And while the concept is enough to grab my interest, the presentation took my interest and propelled it into the hyposphere. It’s got WildStar-style housing (eeeeee) and a Landmark/Breath of the Wild “cozy” graphical style. The whole world looks colorful and lush. It’s one of those games that I didn’t know how much I needed it until it was announced.

Of course, it’s a ways off. Pre-alpha testing this summer is the word, so probably another couple of years at earliest. But I am really thrilled to see another major player enter the MMORPG scene, especially with such a cool mix of ideas and visuals.

Finding warm fuzzies in WoW Classic’s Stockades

I know I should be posting on Outland this week, but the truth is that it’s a vacation week for me, so I had to pre-write some stuff. I’ll get to Burning Crusade adventures soon enough, but today I wanted to share about how it’s been going leveling up a Draenei Shaman in the pre-patch period.

And the word is… very good indeed. I’m no leveling racer like some I’ve seen, but the weeks flew by as I looked forward to seeing this character develop. The faster leveling pace is such a welcome addition, and I’ve been focused on hunting down Stormwind reputation quests so I can get that horse mount at Exalted.

Another difference this time around is that I’ve been running a lot more dungeons. Of course, everyone and their brother was leveling up a Draenei (or Blood Elf, over on Horde side), so there was a lot of interest in dungeons. Fast XP and good loot. Without the LFG tool, I’ve had to delve into the global LFG chat channel, but it’s treated me fairly well so far.

In fact, I had a terrific time the other night in Stockades, of all places. I jumped in on a group that was forming up — a regular group, not one of those boosts-for-gold dealies — and we all had a great time roaming this prison. Everyone was friendly, chatty, and mutually supportive. It’s the kind of run that I’ve missed and the kind of run that makes you want to brave LFG more often.

It’s not been an isolated experience, either. By and large, the Classic community that I’ve seen is on the helpful and friendly side. One night I joined up with two others to knock out a few tough quests in Redridge, and that was another positive social experience that paid out in both memories and smiles.

I’ve got a long way to go on this Shaman, but not quite as long as the path I trod with my Warlock over the last half-year. It’s also a nice change of pace to have a melee fighter after being a spellcaster for so long. Sometimes you just want to smack stuff around, you know?

Does Blizzard secretly hate WoW Classic?

I’ve long harbored a deep suspicion that Blizzard actually resents WoW Classic. As much as a corporation can be ascribed an anthropomorphic quality like that. I don’t have any solid proof, mind you, but some days I really wonder about this.

It’s not as if Blizzard was eager to get the WoW Classic train chugging along to begin with. We all remember the sheer hubris and arrogance of “You think you do, but you don’t” from the studio when asked about the demand for a legacy server. And while I’m quite sure that Blizz loves the bank vaults of money that it got for Classic to date, it’s come at a cost to the studio’s pride.

Again, if one can ascribe qualities to a company.

The studio didn’t want to do Classic initially, but clear demand for it pressured it to do that anyway, and now that it’s successful, it’s a constant reminder of how wrong Blizzard was in this area. So with every phase and the rollout of Burning Crusade Classic, I can imagine it’s being done with gritted teeth and deep-rooted annoyance in some quarters.

Then there’s the observation that Blizzard doesn’t really want to spend all that much time communicating with players about Classic. We got a spurt of this at BlizzCon — when the three devs weren’t aimlessly reminiscing about their own past game sessions — but it’s infrequent at best. The latter half of WoW Classic’s initial run was met with near-silence from Blizzard entirely other than the studio confirming phase release dates.

What I’m saying is that Blizzard doesn’t seem excited to talk about Classic or engage with the Classic community, other than to get players’ money from it. And if my imagination can be so daring, I would say that this is due to how embarrassing it is to have so much enthusiasm about this product compared to the sheer wall of apathy that WoW players have with retail these days. There’s Stuff To Do, of course, but it hasn’t captured the excitement that an expansion from 2007 has. That’s really got to burn.

So I wonder. I wonder if Blizzard hates Classic and resents it for doing so well. This is, after all, not a studio that’s used to humbling itself and coming down off of its perch as the infallible gaming pope.

The Curse of Monkey Island: Banjo dueling

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Now that Guybrush has accidentally cursed his love Elaine into becoming a solid gold statue, he’s got a new mission in life: Get that smart and sassy redhead uncursed ASAP!

And by “ASAP” I mean “after wandering around a lot of silly areas doing a whole lot of foolishness.” I’m down for that. Guybrush is on Puerto Pello, a chicken-infested island. Chickens are pretty funny by themselves, so that’s a good choice.

And those wanderings are going to have to include stealing Elaine back from some pirates who figured that a giant thing of gold was worth a few bucks.

Man, I can’t get over how amazingly good this art looks! When you want to turn every location into your desktop wallpaper, you know the team did a good job.

Anyway, in the swamp Guybrush once again encounters Murray the skull. He’s been planted on a pike by some voodoo kids, and while he talks a big game of terrorizing everyone, he’s really bored out of his, erm, skull.

So the fortune teller from the first two games returns to lay out Guybrush’s goals: To get Elaine back and to lift the curse by replacing the bad ring with a good one. She suggests heading to Blood Island for that ring, but warns Guybrush that he’ll die if he goes there, so it’s going to be a wash. And to get to this island, he’ll need a map, a ship, and a crew.

I’m always a sucker for cartoony art styles in video games where landscapes and architecture is exaggerated and all wonky, like we see here in the town of Puerto Pollo. It’s what I think of as the “Dr. Suess style,” if that makes sense.

Man, I cannot get over how wonderful this art style is. It even makes casual thieving and plundering of some poor actor’s prop room a fun activity.

Excuse me, I’ll just be rolling in the aisles here as this game lampoons pretentious theater productions. About time someone rewrote Shakespeare! And called it… ‘SPEARE! Guybrush is not impressed.

“Break a peg-leg!” he tells them.

At the pirate barbers — of course pirates need a good hairstyling now and then! — Guybrush accidentally overshares about the giant diamond ring, its location, and the fact that his girlfriend is a solid gold statue. Way to go, dude.

Well, it’s a barbershop full of barbershop quartet-singing pirates. Guybrush tries to join by offering up a commercial jingle for Silver’s Long Johns (“They breathe!”), but the lead guy entreats him: “You must now take an oath before man and God to never sing in public again.”

Guybrush does get his first member of the crew — for a boat he has yet to procure — by challenging Edward Van Helgen to a banjo duel. It’s a bit of a Simon Sez minigame (not my favorite), but I did get a laugh at how Guybrush finally wins by outright shooting Van Helgen’s banjo to pieces.

Battle Bards Episode 194: No Man’s Sky

Battle Bards Episode 197: A royal affair Battle Bards

No Man’s Sky is a Cinderella story, a turnaround from a project that failed on its promises to exceeding them. But what about its soundtrack? In this episode, the Battle Bards examine this “experimental” score and grapple with how it fits with space exploration theme.

Episode 194 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “I’ve Seen Things,” “Blueprint for a Slow Machine,” and “Escaping the Dark Side”)
  • “Heliosphere”
  • “Outlier”
  • “The Lost Traveler”
  • “Asimov”
  • “The Journey”
  • “World of Wonders”
  • “Escape Velocity”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from Outriders, “The Last Artificer” from In Other Waters, and “Track 2” from Bomb Jack
  • Outro (feat. “The Sacrifice”)

Syp’s gaming goals for June 2021

May 2021 in review

  • Like most months, this one didn’t exactly play out to plan, but like most months, that’s totally fine. It was a busy month with a lot of projects and a week of vacation, so I wasn’t expecting to be all over the field.
  • When the pre-patch for WoW Classic’s Burning Crusade hit in the middle of May, I was pretty much 100% concentrated on leveling up a brand-new Draenei Shammy. There was no way I’d be able to get her to 58 by today, but I made some good progress. I also worked on getting her Stormwind reputation up so I could use horses instead of elekk for a mount.
  • I kind of abandoned LOTRO (bad me) but spent a few sessions starting to work my way through Dungeons and Dragons Online’s Fables of the Feywild expansion. That was pretty fun, although I certainly didn’t get anywhere close to being done with it.
  • The only other experience of note was wrapping up Curse of Monkey Island for retro gaming!

June 2021’s gaming goals

  • I’m not even going to kid myself: It’s going to be a month dominated by The Burning Crusade. Which is fine — I’m pumped about it and roaring to go in this next phase of Classic. I’m going to alternate days between my Warlock and Shammy. I want to get my Shaman to Outland, and I would love to see some good progress on my Warlock in both leveling and her Outland engineering.
  • My Lord of the Rings Online to-dos are piling up, especially as Update 30 arrives. I would like to get War of the Three Peaks questing done. We’ll see how that goes.
  • There’s the new Elder Scrolls Online expansion, of course, but I’ve got a ways to go before I run out of content to need to buy that. It might be a nice treat for later in the year.
  • I have downloaded a bunch of mobile MMOs to try out for an article, so that’s on my radar.
  • And I’m starting a playthrough series on West of Loathing, which I’m excited to go through again!