It’s just this game, y’know?

January 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

There have been quite a number of brews consumed in the Household Hawley this last week.

Some of those lovely cups of tea have been consumed because (I hear) the human body requires a certain amount of liquid every day or suffer something known as “dehydration”; a lovely cup of tea sounds like the perfect antidote.

Other lovely cups of tea, those blessed brews, have been spent in deep cogitation.  I wish I could say that it was the sort of deep cogitation that results in the sort of thinking that solves third world debt, or brings peace to the world, but it wasn’t.

I was pondering what to do about my MMO habit.

There are a number of reasons for this.  First, it allows me to drink a quite phenomenal amount of tea.  Second is that my preference for subscription MMOs means a certain outlay each month.  Third is the fact that it would be nice to go on holiday at some point this year, and have the cash to really have a good time.

Goodbye Fallen Earth and Eve Online.  You are both great games, but you both need more care and feeding than I can afford to give you right now.  I need a game I can pick-up and play, and just as importantly put down and leave.  Both of you need more than just a few hours a week to get the most enjoyment out of, the most game out of.  You’re both filled with fantastic game goo, but my life is too busy to put in the time required to advance through the game.

It’s not you, it’s me.

World of Warcraft, for all its faults, does at least let me put it down and leave it for a few days without me feeling like I’m missing out (apart from those dailies, that is).  And yes, it’s *easy*.  I know everything I need to know about it in moments, the normal mobs are so easy they might as well just queue up to give me their lunch money, and sometimes I feel like the only reason I’m playing is the raiding with my mates.

That, and World of Warcraft can be farmed to death whilst watching films or telly-o-vision.  Yes, it’s *that* easy I can play it with most of my headbrain focused on something else.

One could say that the catalyst for a lot of this tea-based thinking has been the hype-machine that is Rift, and to a certain extent that’s a fair statement.

Now, at this point I feel it’s only fair to say that I dislike beta gaming for a number of reasons.  Yes, it’s *free* gaming, and yes, it’s a great way to have a look at a game and decide if it’s worth shelling out for.

But it’s also gaming to a countdown (that pre-release character wipe), and I find that players tend to play differently during a beta than they will on a live server.  Maybe it’s because everyone there knows that none of it matters in the long run, so we might as well all get on and have fun.  Maybe it’s just that beta players are nicer, or that the percentage of idiots is higher on a live server, but I find that leaving the utopian playerbase of the beta who play to the spirit of the game is soul-destroying when I have to go back to the jerks who are playing to the letter now that the game is for keeps.

Yet, after pre-ordering Rift, I did get an invite to Beta 5, and I did try it out.

If anything, I tried it out a little too much.  I wanted to try a few of the different souls out, but I didn’t want to be bored of the starter zones before the game had released.  Same went for trying out all of the classes or all of the souls.  I created a few characters, tried out a couple of souls that I ordinarily wouldn’t, finished the starter zones for one character each on the Defiant and Guardian sides, and explored a little on the Defiant side, which included the closing of a few rifts and the thwarting of a few invasions.

I was not offended by the starter zones.

Boy, that’s a statement there, isn’t it?  “I was not offended”.  It’s almost (but not quite) as bad as damning it with faint praise, but the truth is that there was nothing offensive in the starter zones.  Nothing screamed at me; “Abort! Abort!”; there were no game mechanics that looked like they were really going to ruin my day a few weeks ago.  They were well put together, didn’t have any obvious gaffes, had quests leading me by the nose through the zone, and introduced me to the world rather nicely.

I think a lot of us forget that starter zones aren’t just the start to a game, and that games designers have a duty to those players who are just starting their first MMO to provide them with an introductory tutorial that is inclusive and welcoming, rather than harsh and bewildering.  It’s not about the old lags, it’s about the fresh blood coming in.

As a result, it’s going to look like a lot of other starter zones for a lot of other games (in exactly the same way that all table-top role-playing games have a “What is role-playing?” chapter at the front of the rules, that all of us long-term players moan about having to skip).  But then again, it’s not like us seasoned MMO veterans are going to be there for long, is it?

I would much rather the developers spent much of their time ensuring that the areas of the game where I will be spending much of my time are fun, interesting and original than spending all of their time creating an all-singing, all dancing starter zone that I’ll be done with after a couple of hours.  Age of Conan’s starter zone was amazingly well done, but leaving it was an anti-climax.

Likewise, there are no “new” quests that I could see.  Hardly surprising, really.  Collecting stuff, delivering stuff, killing monsties, assassinating “persons of interest”; as it’s really hard thinking of something that doesn’t boil down to one of those four concepts, complaining that the quests are same-old same-old would be a step too far even for hypocrite me.

So it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t seem at all different to the current crop of MMOs to the casual observer.  Especially if that casual observer spent a couple of hours, and didn’t get past the starter zone.  It didn’t seem much different to me.

There were a couple of things that niggled in the back of my headbrain, and it was the good sort of niggling that makes me want to investigate more.

I just like the game.  It’s not the sum of its parts, and it’s not the individual parts that make me like it.  I could start attempting to quantify why I like it, but all I would be doing is repeating a lot of what can be found already on the joyful meeting of minds that is the internets.  I’ll just say things like lovely artwork, world design, and the rifts themselves are wonderful, and intriguing enough to make me willing to fork out the money.

It made me smile as I played, and I like that.  I was happy to fire it up and start playing, and I needed more than a little self-control to put it away and not ruin my fun at launch.

Part of me still wonders if I’m making the right choice.  From what I have seen, Rift does look to be a very good game, and quite possibly the best fantasy-based MMO that I’ve played.  Yet there is still a part of me that wonders if deciding to play is the best thing to do; that part that reminds me of all those hours, days, months, years that I’ll be “throwing away” by choosing to start a new game, and leave existing characters in existing games.

But then again, if this game is better, and leads to more fun than I am currently having, then I’m more than happy to move on; if it was numerically quantifiable, I can’t help thinking that many of the gamers that would quite happily cut their own grannies for gear that’s only a few ilevel points better than their current gear would trample aforementioned grannies in their rush to be at the head of the levelling curve.

Besides, with the pre-order subscription offer it’s half the price of other games.  This helps my bank balance with saving up for holiday spends, as well as the dawning realisation that it will soon be time for my pc base unit to be replaced.  Mmm, new pc…

Cheers,
Hawley.

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Is In The Detail

January 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I am known, on occasion, to actively aid and abet in the perpetration of Live Role-Playing events.

Part of that aid has been involved in world-building, which is something I particularly enjoy.  Creating worlds with an appropriate set of (consistent) metaphysics, coming up with races, cultures, countries and inventing histories to tie it all together; it appeals to a number of different aspects of my personality.

The sheer joy of creation appeals to the frustrated writer in me, the creation of worlds appeals to the control freak in me, whilst the ability to play ultimate power in the universe appeals to the rampant egomaniac in me.

One of the unexpected side-effects of all this writing has been picking up a passing knowledge of game theory and popular cultural theory.  Most of the time it’s practical experience; seeing what happens when players get hold of, and run off with, your lovingly crafted world background is a learning experience.

At times it’s a chastening experience; watching players take something I’ve created and do something I didn’t intend, taking it and making it so much more whilst still remaining true to the spirit and the letter just makes me feel much smaller and a lot less smarter than I think I am.

At other times, it feels like no-one can be bothered to take the time or effort to read even the bullet-pointed highlights of the lovingly crafted, highly detailed, multi-page document I’ve created.  Otherwise, they’d not be playing *like that*…

And I’m not even going to think about when something really unexpected occurs.

Of course, there are always certain design choices when it comes to creating a world.  Do I want a very black and white world of good and evil, or do I want multiple shades of the same grey?  Do I want high action, low diplomacy, or a bit of a mix?

One of the really fun things to do is to play with established tropes within the chosen genre.

Which is where Rift comes in.

Having watched the various teaser videos, read some of the website, and checked out some of the beginning quests, I’m hardly an expert on Rift’s world, but from what I’ve seen, I quite like.

It’s quite surprisingly difficult to escape elves and dwarfs when creating a fantasy world.  Thanks to Tolkein, most people expect to see a world containing tall thin posh chaps with pointy ears, and short dumpy blokes that are more beard than anything else.  The third member of the Tolkein Triumvirate is the Orc, but strangely enough most people don’t care so much for brutish, ugly and ultra-violent.

So there’s no surprise to find Elves and Dwarfs amongst the Guardian races.  They’re not just a staple of the genre, though.  They are a symbol, a signifier that the faction they support are the good guys. After all, these guys might not get on with each other, but they both hate orcs and fight Sauron!

Add in some occidental-looking humans, and we have the races for the Guardian faction.  And they all look like occidental fantasy races, which automatically makes the Guardians look like the good guys.  They’re the Free Peoples, the Alliance.  They can’t be bad, can they?

There is a certain amount of opposition amongst the races of the Defiants, and not just as a result of their opposition to the Guardian culture and philosophy.

Whilst the Mathosian humans are occidental, the Defiant’s Eth humans have a distinctly Arabic-oriental feel to them.  With darker skin and *very* sharp beards, never mind imagery on the official site that shows robes and scimitars, they have a Arabian Nights vibe that’s quite intriguingly different.  Just seeing the imagery makes me look at the humble human in a refreshing way; maybe there is more to the eye than plain old vanilla human.

For all those elf-haters out there, the Defiant have their own elven race.  Like I said earlier, it’s hard to escape elves when designing a game world; people complain, and some will automatically decide your game is wrrrrrrubbish *just* because there are no elves.

Having two sets of elves does not mean your game world is twice as good, however.  But then again, just like the Eth and the Bahmi (more on them in a moment) the Defiant’s elves, or Kelari, are darker skinned; this time shades of purple rather than a more “realistic” skin hue.  The Bahmi (I can’t help pronouncing that as “Barmy”, which is most probably not intended by Trion.  Sorry) have more of a Genie-from-the-bottle (or “Djinni” if you’re one of the cool kids) vibe going on, which ties them nicely to the Eth in more ways than one.

Just by looking at them, I can’t help making value judgements on who the good guys are, and who is a nasty gang of cut-throat villains.  After all, we’re brought up with entertainment media that positively needs good guys and bad guys to fight, and we both root for, and follow, the exploits of the good guys as we consume that media.

The official website is very kind in helping me decide who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, by setting out the races of each faction on a handy, colour-coded background.  Look at the Guardians, with their greeny-blue shaded background.  Yes, blue is cool, calm, it’s safe, and Trion have even blended it with green, which is safe, a “Go!” colour.  Now look at the Defiants.  Burgundy blending to mostly red.  Danger!  Blood!  Stop!

I don’t even need to read the blurb, as that page is telling me all I need to know in mere moments, with six images and two backgrounds.  But just in case I wasn’t sure, Trion have handily named their factions to help me out.  The Guardians (“a person who protects or defends something” according to OxfordDictionaries.com) *must* be the good guys, whist the Defiants (“defiance”, according to OxfordDictionaries.com, means “open resistance; bold disobedience”) *must* be the bad guys.  Easy, when you think about it.

And it’s not surprising I’d think that.  For most of my life, I’ve been institutionalised into thinking that way.  First in the family, where resistance and disobedience mean going to bed with no supper, to school where they mean detentions, to work where it means having increased leisure potential.  And I’ve also been brought up to respect those who protect or defend; the emergency services, the Armed Forces.

Add in those bastions of goodnes and light, the elves and dwarfs, and the deal is done.  If I want to play good guys, I *must* choose Guardian.  If I want to play a bad guy, I *must* play a Defiant.

They are, after all, rebelling against authority.  They don’t look like I do.  And that Bahmi looks quite a lot like an orc, if I squint a bit and turn my head a bit.  They’re at least big and brutish, so that’s close enough.

Yet, just as I’m feeling a little cheated, a little digging into the lore goes a long way.  The Guardians might well be the “Chosen” of Telara’s gods, but their movie voice-overs are done by someone who sounds a little too close to The Kurgan, and that, my dear reader, was not a nice chap.

Likewise, their religious nature seems quite bigoted.  Religious bigotry is never pretty, and never good.  And whilst the desire to be “Powerful” is rarely pretty, the Defiant’s quest for scientific knowledge is progressive, forward-thinking; it is modern.

So whilst the imagery used by Trion points to the Guardians as good guys and the Defiants as bad , their background lore suggests that the opposite may be truer in the long run.

I quite like that.  Having two shades of grey will hopefully mean a more equal spread of players between the two factions, which could only be good for the game.  Of course, it could also be really bad, as there are some players out there who like black and white; who want to be in the whiter-than-white faction, or the blacker-than-black of Team Evil.

Ah well.  Can’t please everyone.

Cheers,
Hawley.

[Stood In The Fire]

January 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Posted in General | 7 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Just this weekend, I became the recipient of the achievement: Stood In The Fire.  My window into the World of Warcraft gained that sort of special tinge of red that screams; “Your video card is borked!” and just as my headbrain was processing the concept of borked video card, the screen turned orange and I was given the opportunity to press the “Release” button.

I also gained the aforementioned achievement.

Well, at least it meant no requirement for a new video card, but a few things were put into stark relief for me, enough to warrant a rambling post.  One that looks and reads exactly like this one, in fact.

Let me lead off with this; I did not feel like I’d achieved anything.  I didn’t know what was going on, and only found out once the achievement had hit.  Subsequent research at WoWWiki did not make me feel any more like an achiever.  I had just happened to be in the zone when an appropriate number of 1s and 0s hit the appropriate combination.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The random nature of the event didn’t make me feel special, or lucky, or even particularly grateful.  I didn’t feel the need to run out and buy a lottery ticket, and being the sort that’s still somewhat bemused by achievements I’m still somewhat wondering about it.

Why is it an achievement?  All I achieved was having to release and then res.  I was actually in the Twilight Highlands, in the process of killing Warlord Halthor, so it’s not like I was aiming to get it.

If it has achieved anything, I suppose it’s defined “Hubris” for me.  Whilst killing Warlord Halthor is required for the daily rep-quest, I’d actually completed that quest about half an hour before.  And, having solo’d the big elite blokey once, decided to show off and kill him again (as well as all of his mates).  Then, during my third solo attempt, the drrrrrrrrrrrrrrragin struck.

So it’s not as if I could have escaped, by perhaps hearthing out.  I was in combat.  By the way, *is* there an achievement for *avoiding* getting ganked by the random event?

After ressing, I got to spend a few minutes ho-humming  whilst waiting for all the flames to disappear and the mobs to return so I could finish my dailies and move on.  At which point, zone life continued as normal, and as if nothing had happened.

In fact, the only thing that had changed was me being slightly disappointed about the nature of the whole thing.

When I first saw the links as they appeared in Guild Chat, I thought it might be an achievement as the result of a the culmination of a quest chain.  Follow the quest through, see Deathwing at the end, have him kill you.  The achievement equivalent of “My parents went to Azeroth and all I got was this damn t-shirt”.  That sort of thing.  I didn’t realise it was *just* a random event.

Having discovered how the achievement is gained, I’m at a loss about the name.  “Stood in the Fire” implies that I had a choice; that there were places where the fire was not, and that I had made the wrong, or unlucky, choice.  I shall chalk it down to me not having the same sense of humour as Blizzard developers (again).

And most of all, I didn’t feel like my game had been enriched by the whole experience.  I hadn’t done anything special, and there was nothing I could do about it.

It had all just happened to me.  There was no rhyme nor reason.  There was no opportunity to participate, no choice of what to do.  It just was, in the same way that volcanoes erupt, or that tornadoes strike.

And afterwards, there was nothing.  No opportunity for revenge, no opportunity to partake in something.  It was as if a volcano appeared, erupted, and then disappeared taking the disaster with it.  Five minutes after the event had occurred, it was as if it had never happened, and I didn’t do a thing apart from sit there and wait.

You might be wondering about the “thrown into stark relief” comment I made earlier?

Well, that would be with regard to Rift.  Rift is all about the rifts, one might say.  Random events that spawn mobs, whole gangs of them.  Invasion-level gangs, one could say.

They open at random, and even (according to the marketing) can even happen on top of a player-character if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the difference between Stood in the Fire and a rift opening is?

Well, that’s the stark relief bit.  I didn’t enjoy it in World of Warcraft, so what’s going to make me enjoy it in Rift?

I would hope that rifts in Rift have a bit more warning, allowing the player the chance to decide whether or not to get involved, even if it’s just the sound of stampeding hordes approaching; an opportunity to hitch skirts and run, if you will.  I’m also hoping that Rift will allow me something that my encounter with Deathwing did not; some revenge.

If my game time is going to be arbitrarily and summarily affected, then I want to be able to get involved in the aftermath.  I want to be able to get in there and smack something in the face about it.  I want to be able to turn that negative moment into *good game*.  Because the game is based around such things, I’m hoping that Rift has ensured that its random encounters are filled to brimming with good game goo.

That hope for Rift is mirrored by wonder at Blizzard.  Are they attempting to patch into some sort of retro-based MMO cool, with their own Sleeper?

Well, whatever the reason, I think I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Trion have implemented random events more than I will be looking forward to participating in one of Blizzard’s.

Cheers,
Herewerd.

Raid Ready

January 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Having beaten various rep-vendors with the stick of give-me-your-honoured-and-revered-gear-now, and then beaten the resulting set of melee damage gear with the gems-and-enchants stick to try and eke out every last droplet of damage, I was about as raid ready as Shaman Herewerd could be.

I even decided to put Avalanche on the two blue axes that Shaman Herewerd uses.  It was a tad expensive for something that will hopefully be replaced soon enough, but at the end of the day, damage is damage and plenty is needed.  (Even if the most obvious effect is looking like a small, spherical snowstorm with hooves and tentacles.  Yes, as soon as I can find a way to switch off the enchantment’s effects, I will.  My screen is covered in swirling snowflakes.  It’s embarrassing.)

Keeping a close eye on Recount showed that my damage per second had jumped by about 1,500 points, which in practical terms means normal, surface-world mobs of the same level are easy meat.  Them and all their adds…

In a way, it’s a shame when the outside world becomes less of a challenge, more of a larder.

Anyhoo, I was about as raid-ready as I could get, without extensive Heroic PUG runs for drops and points.

A couple of the community’s officers had also stood up for me, both in helping me to get gems and enchantments sorted, general advice regarding gearing and stats, and then making sure that the rest of the officers didn’t forget that I was now at the point where I could commence raiding.  Which, when you see the callous disregard evinced by so many of the inhabitants of the World that is Warcraft, is really nice; being a part of a community.

Even so, I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the more compelling reasons for why I was chosen was because, in ‘Clysm, it seems that interrupts are the new black; not only was I the only Shaman player who could make it, but no Rogues could make it either.  Hey, I’m not complaining about that.  I wanted to go raiding, and if the random intersection caused by class/ability requirements with the vagaries of player signups is the only reason I get to go gives me the opportunity, I won’t spurn it.  A winning personality and a sunny disposition can only take me so far, especially in a progressive raid team.

It was still nice to go raiding, and it was a reminder about how different raiding in World of Warcraft is to instancing.  Or should that be wake-up call?

The raid team is still working its way through Blackrock Descent, and I got to join in with the process of learning how to take down Maloriak.

Of course, my role was simple; deal damage, and interrupt his Arcane Storm channelled ability, as it seems designed to eat raids.

Well, it was messy, for quite a few attempts.  In all, we spent just shy of 4 hours trying to drop Maloriak, although that wasn’t all one attempt.  There were many.  Many, many attempts.  Some were failures due to wipes, some were intentionally reset by ourselves, some were resets due to us running out of time and hitting the enrage timer.

I also think it’s fair to say that the first attempt’s failure was my mistake.  Unfortunately, I’m one of those disgusting individuals that learns by doing and experiencing, rather than from watching videos or reading notes.  But the upshot is that I do learn quickly, and as a result the first few attempts saw me diligently (on the whole) interrupting, whilst learning what was going on well enough to be able to start doing some damage.

Damage was, admittedly, poor to begin with.  Despite raid buffs, flask and fud it was barely higher than it is unbuffed and unfed.  However, repeated attempts meant that I was able to grow more comfortable with the interrupting, and being more comfortable with one role, I was able to devote more attention to the other.

Slowly, as the raid got further along the fight, my dps rose, until our final attempt saw me at an almost respectable level of damage output.  All that, and interruptions too…

All in all, it was a fun night, and one I had enjoyed regardless of the number of attempts to bring down one boss.  Yes, even when it was all going wrong and it was wipe after wipe, I was still enjoying it.  For me, gaming has always been about the challenge, not about success or failure.

The icing on the cake was that, with time running out, Maloriak was downed.  Even sweeter, out of two items he dropped one was a mail chest ideal for melee dps, so that was me, emerging from the depths of the raid instance, clutching some shiny trez in my sweaty palms.

Cheers,
Hawley.

The Tyranny of Dailies

January 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I wasn’t playing World of Warcraft when Daily Quests were introduced.

I was in the middle of one of my frequent breaks from the game, but many of my friends were playing, and they all told me that Dailies were fantastic; they were lucrative, fun, and a great thing to occupy the time between instances and raids.

Gone was meaningless grinding or farming; Dailies were the way of the future.

I felt like such a party pooper when I restarted World of Warcraft, saw my first dailies, tried a few of them, grunted in a similar way to my “I’ve probably just woken up, so until I’ve had a lovely cup of tea I’m not going to be impressed by anything to do with you” sort of way, and then went back to farming nodes and having fun my own way.

Yes, they’re useful for farming rep and cash, but there’s something about the fact that you can only do so many of them per day, and you can only do them once each per day, that really annoys me.  If I want to get something done, I want to get it done now; if I’m going to pull a plaster off, I’ll rip it off in one move, rather than a quarter of an inch a day, every day for 3 months.

And they’re so disgustingly “hardcore” in nature.  I think this is one of the few things that really, really annoys me about them so much.

To get anything from dailies, you *have* to log in each day and do them.  Even if that’s *all* you do when logged in.  They punish the weak and feeble who choose to do something else, because usually the main rewards, those sexy, big, pant-tightening rewards from any chosen rep faction can only be achieved through that daily grind.  Every day missed is another two days waiting, and there is no catching up.

At the moment, I’m trying to limit myself to the Cooking daily.  Whilst I can applaud the use of wearing Tabards to gain rep when in instances and dungeons for most of the rep factions in ‘Clysm, I find it really disheartening that I have to do the daily cooking quests to be able gain the cooking currency to buy recipes to first of all level up, and then to allow me to go raiding without handing over a honking great pile of cash on the auction house.

Ach, it’s a minor gripe at best but I suppose that, to me, they’re one of those things where the game really feels like a grind, and my dislike of repetition doesn’t help.  To me, each instance or raid run feels different, whereas each time I do a daily, it feels just the same as yesterday…

Cheers,
Hawley.

Money Money Money

January 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I drafted a post yesterday, and was very close to publishing it.  Then, like all true slackers, I decided to get a quick bit of daily questing done before the massing hoi-poloi logged on, and it was whilst I was logged on that I realised yesterday’s post was just a bit too woolly.

Cue the decision for a re-write, and a bit more effort in thought, with the addition of a downsizing of potential slack (don’t you just love management-speak?).

In yesterday’s proto-post, I had decided that in-game cash was not something I cared about enough, when compared to the potential for in-game experience.

The catalyst was the purchase from the auction house of a Dragonkiller Tunic.  Recently, they’ve been available for approximately 10,000 gold on the alliance auction house.  I’m pretty sure that there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • They’re a useful item for getting geared up for heroics or raiding,
  • They require three Chaos Orbs, which are Bind on Pickup and can only be rolled on by crafters, and only drop in instances.

This means that they’re highly desirable, and a bit of a seller’s market as it’s not like I can collect the Chaos Orbs myself, or even buy them from the auction house.  Add in the usual hike in inflation that comes with a new expansion, and there we go; 10,000 gold for the asking.

I saw one for less than 8,000 gold on Sunday, and that was what got me thinking.  First of all, I’ve made well over 8,000 gold since ‘Clysm’s launch, most of that being me selling what I’ve farmed on the auction house.  At first it was silly amounts, but those prices have dropped over time.

At the same time, I’ve been wondering what it is that I’m actually saving this money for.  It means alts can get an easier ride, but alts can make their own money whilst levelling, easily enough to get them all the skills they’ll need to get to level 85.

Now, I could have asked a guildmember to make a Dragonkiller Tunic for me, with me providing all the materials to get there, but that leaves me waiting for them to get lucky enough to get all three Chaos Orbs, and them having to run enough PUGs to get them.  Which might well not be much fun for them.  Even so, I’d have preferred to throw the golds at them, and part of me feels bad for that.

Simple question time: Is in-game cash better or worse than the potential for in-game experiences?

That Dragonkiller Tunic is the potential for in-game experiences, as it will get me much closer to raid-ready.  Add in the fact that throwing the in-game cash at the problem means getting raid-ready now, as opposed to waiting a few weeks, and then still being behind the rest of the guild due to them hitting newer content.

So, with the flood-gate opened, I blew more cash on those enchantments I couldn’t blag from the guild bank.  And then tidied gear up with gems and what-have-you.  All in all, it was quite cathartic really, and I ended up very close to the point where I was raid-ready.

Wow Heroes, in its impersonal and arbitrary way, says I only need a little more to get me going, as I joked to a mate last night.

I suppose what really made the decision for me was wondering what, exactly, was I going to need all that cash for.

The amount of in-game cash I’ve been making more than covers repair costs, and because I don’t have any crafting characters, it’s not like I need to pay for any materials.  All my characters do is gather materials, so they make money rather nicely.  All of the big cash-sink skills have been bought by Shaman Herewerd, barring super-speedy mount riding, and that’s because Shaman Herewerd doesn’t have a super-speedy mount to ride (and I’ve kept that much cash ready in case I find one).

The guild I’m in has potion makers enough to keep me in raiding flasks, and I can gather everything needed for them.  Cooking has been maxed out, and I’ve got all the recipes I need for now.

So, after gearing up to a raid-ready standard, I don’t have much need for cash.  I think.

Of course, I could be missing plenty of uses for cash, but apart from vanity, I can’t think of much else.

And whilst I can be just as vain as the next player, it seems that vanity purchases are now the domain of the cash-store.  Well, it makes quite a lot of sense; selling items which give an in-game advantage gives too much of an impression that application of money is more important than application of skill when it comes to success.

But satisfying the needs of vanity?  It seems perfectly acceptable to charge real money when a player wants to stand out from among his peers.  So what used to be an in-game cash sink is now an opportunity to sell a fancy mount, a pet, or a set of cool duds to wear in game.

Scratch one more way to blow all that in-game cash.  There are still vanity items to be bought, but there just isn’t the same level of choice in most games any more.

There we go.  Slightly more thought through than yesterday, and I hope a bit more interesting as a result.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Inertia

January 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Rift has a lot to answer for.

Since it pinged on my gamedar, something has been percolating in the back of that strange thing I like to think of as my headbrain, and it’s only been poked and prodded by various blogs I’ve read and conversations that I’ve had regarding Rift.

Much of what I’ve read on blogs has boiled down to the author advising the reader to play Rift, or to avoid it like the plague.

Similarly, conversations I’ve had with people regarding Rift have been, at their most basic and pared down, statements of “Rift is made of Win and Kittens”, and “I think Rift smells of poo and wee”.

The same could be said of The Secret World, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  When they get closer to release, I’m sure there will be similar posts, and similar conversations.

Now, it might have taken a good few weeks for the accidental collision of neurons to knock into each other enough for it to get to the cognital spark stage, and a good few more to even get close to that hallowed state of being known to most as *an idea*, but I think I am finally getting a clue.

Of course, what makes the slow, almost tectonic drift of consciousness all the more entertaining is the fact that part of my job deals with overcoming inertia.  No, I don’t mean overcoming inertia in a really cool Scientific Breakthroughs in Perpetual Motion sort of way, but in overcoming the sedentary nature of people, and training them in Something New.

Something New can quite often seem to be The Worst Thing In The World.  Part of that is drummed into us with the normally sensible statement; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Amongst sage pieces of advice, that is one of my favourites, and usually one I try to live by.  However, if someone hadn’t decided that the abacus could do with a bit of fixing, neither of us (that would mean me, the author, and you, dear reader, of this blog) would be here right now.  We’d probably be poring over the cool new abacus you’d have bought with teflon-coated rods and tungsten beads.

Or something.

So I suppose the statement would better be served by adding the phrase “if you happen to be congenitally stupid” to the end.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it if you happen to be congenitally stupid”.  See, that’s working for me right now.

After all, every three years or so, I decide to *fix* my perfectly working pc by upgrading it a lot.  And, being only *mostly* stupid, it generally goes fine.  Without me *fixing* it, I’d still be using my first pc, and wondering why everyone else gets to play the cool new games whilst I’m still playing Gunship and Commander Keen.

According to the hype, it’s wanting to fix the current crop of MMO games that has brought rise to Rift.  From the Rift FAQ:

“Who is Trion Worlds?

Trion Worlds is the publisher and developer of server-based dynamic online games and original entertainment for the connected world. With a mission to revolutionize interactive entertainment by combining the best elements of online, gaming, and traditional media, Trion has built a technology platform that provides groundbreaking new capabilities and is currently focused on developing and publishing compelling content.”

I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like “It’s broke; we’re fixing it” to me.  I don’t have a problem with that, but others might.

Because most MMO players are only going to have the time, the inclination, or the money to play just one MMO.

Add into the mix that *any* fantasy-based MMO with a graphical user interface (or GOOEY, as the cool techie kids call it) and the possibility to *chat* to other players through a text interface is going to be immediately declared/dismissed as a WoW-clone, there’s going to be a lot of inertia that Trion have to overcome.

I’m going to use World of Warcraft as my indicator here, but I’m pretty sure that you could use the name of any existing MMO in its place.

World of Warcraft (or game of choice) is easy.  It’s comfortable.  It’s where all our friends are.  It’s where all life is.

It’s easy because we know how the game thinks, because we know how the skills work, what the classes do, what the mobs are like, how the combat and crafting works, and on the off-chance that we need or want a bit of help there’s an Imperial Internet’s (it’s a way of measuring information, similar to an Imperial Mile, but with more URLs) worth of websites just waiting for us.

It’s comfortable because anywhere up to the last six years have been spent playing it.  We’re used to that GOOEY thing, and how it responds.  Of course it’s the most responsive, or the best engineered; it’s the one we’re most used to and therefore we can react to its little vagaries and pecadillos best.  But then again, it’s also had six years of work on it, so of course it’s going to be better than anything used by the new kid.

It’s social.  All our mates play, and they’re quite possibly friends we’ve only ever known through the game.  Leaving the game might well mean losing them as friends, and starting a new game means having to make new friends.  World of Warcraft players are all in a gang.  When two meet, there is instant conversation without having to resort to the weather.  Will that happen with any Johnny-Come-Lately MMO?

It’s where all life is.  For six years, off and on, World of Warcraft has welcomed us in.  That’s six years of nostalgia, war stories, boasting, and memories.  Leaving all of that behind is hard; so hard, that most of us will have bounced back in after a period away because we bumped into a mate who was still playing, and all that history just yoinked us back in.

That’s the Inertia, and it calls to us, soothes us, and keeps us all snuggly and warm in the embrace of our favourite games.  Trion worlds need to overcome that inertia, and I really wish them luck.

When I decided that I’d only get Rift if my mates did, I was letting that same inertia dictate my actions.  However, I’m ornery, so as soon as that accidental collision had fully achieved its potential by becoming *an idea*, I pre-ordered Rift.

It will cost me the price of admission to see if Trion really have created something better, but if they have then I’ve not lost much.

Those friendships, those memories; I won’t be throwing them away, they’ll always be there.  And if Rift is being developed by the congenitally stupid?  Well, I’ll be a little bit poorer, but also a little bit wiser.  And I’ll just appreciate my MMOs just that little bit more as a result.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Sisyphean Gearing

January 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I currently feel like a one-man farming machine.

The answer to why is simple; it’s all part of getting everything ready to start raiding.

Of course, the important part of that last statement is the use of the word; “start”.  Sometimes it really feels like the mountain that Yawning Angel refers to in his latest post.  At other times, it feels like the part of Sisyphus will be played by Mr Hawley Poppet for this expansion.

Why Sisyphus?  Well, as our erstwhile rock-roller is pushing his boulder to the top of the hill only to have it slip and roll down, so it feels with getting raiding gear.  You struggle to the gear requirement to enter a raiding tier, only to find that the raid group has already moved on, and you need to gear to the next tier.  Or suddenly the mountain has changed completely, in the case of a new expansion.

It also feels like gearing up for raids is the new levelling (which was the new purple, before it became the new black which was the old black, but now the new black).  Levelling is not the beast it used to be, and without wishing to immediately leap for the term “devalued”, it’s hard to find a term that encompasses what has happened to the levelling game.

It’s a lot quicker, for a start.  With xp requirements being slashed, with quest rewards (in terms of xp gain and materiel) being improved, there is no longer the requirement to spend months levelling a character to maximum level.  It’s now weeks, and that’s if you’re a slacker like me.

Nothing you gain while levelling means anything, either; none of the rep, none of the gear, none of it.  It’s only what you gain after attaining that maximum level that matters, because that’s the rep that allows you to get the gear that allows you to go first into Heroics, then into raids.

Even the money you gain whilst levelling means little.  The amount is paltry compared to the sums that can be made whilst at maximum level, from the gold substituted for xp in quest rewards, to selling phat purple lewts on the auction house.

So if levelling has been lessened in importance, where is the game that *was* levelling?

It’s simple.  It’s now gearing for raid.

I admit that I’ve not been attempting to gear up in the same way that I gorged on levelling from 80 to 85, but that’s largely because levelling solo is an awful lot easier and quicker than attempting to gear up from jumping in and out of Heroics.  It’s also a lot more gratifying; without having to rely on the vagaries of PUGs and randomised loot tables, I am relying on my own skill and gaming time.

But it’s taking a longer time for me to get my gear to a point where I won’t embarrass myself in a raid environment than it did for me to level through 4 zones and 5 levels.  And I’m a slooooow leveller.

I suppose that’s a symptom of the modern MMO.  Gone are the days where it was as important to have a good and fun levelling game as it was to have something to do when the levelling was over.  Levelling used to be a part of the social side of gaming; now, it’s something done as quickly as possible, and alone because levelling with someone else is only going to be slower.

It’s even got to the stage where Blizzard have removed the requirement to group whilst levelling.  The only times I grouped during ‘Clysm’s open play was when a named mob needed doing over, and there was a queue.  The grouping wasn’t a necessity due to the challenge of the mob.  It was to cut down on having to queue for respawns, and the truth was revealed in how fast the group disbanded after the mob’s messy demise.

Once we’ve started to gear up, suddenly we’re outstripping same- and similar-levelled mobs.  Shaman Herewerd has gone from having to actively fight mobs, to pressing five (maybe six, if the mob is particularly recalcitrant) keys in a particular order before the mob is dead.

A few week’s time, it will probably be down to two or three key-presses.

It does make it easier to go farming.  I don’t have to worry about having to slow down much between herb and ore resource nodes, but there is a little part of me that feels saddened that the world outside Heroic and Raid Instances becomes a hazy shadow, compared to the bright, vivid world of challenge within.

At the same time, there’s always that lure of more exciting gameplay to keep me going.  It’s the challenges that make me want to continue playing, and without that I’d probably get bored.  Stagnant game-play is not fun, and logging on to do the same set of things by rote is the surest way to get me logging off, for good.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Fair The Of Fun The All

January 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

You know, I hate it when a game hits my gaming radar.  It awakens the beast within me that is my MMO Tourist, and suddenly I absolutely *have* to get hold of the game when it launches.

I have to be there, shouting angrily at the game client because it’s just not patching fast enough, and bemoaning the size of the queue to log in and create my first character.

Ah, launch day fun.

Don’t worry, I’m still more than aware of the Lesson of Aion, but deep down I’m still more than happy that I can still look forward to a game coming out.  That I can look forward to the release of a game, and look forward to the possibilities that it presents rather than just look back at all the “fails”.

It’s just nice to know that the optimist in me isn’t dead yet, despite the slings and arrows occasionally hefted at it by my inner cynic, and life in general.

So, in the spirit of optimism, here are the games I am looking forward to:

Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Okay, so it’s not Star Wars: Just Like The Movies.  I love the Galactic Civil War period, and whilst I can understand Bioware deciding they wanted a setting where they could feel free to tell the stories they wanted to without having to fight The Lucasarts Man, there are a few things that will always be true:
Stormtrooper armour is cool.  X-wings are cool.  Death Stars are cool.
There is also the fact that, at times, Knights of the Old Republic felt a bit like A N Other science fiction story with a vague Star Wars skin (the races, creatures and planets) and light-sabres.  There, I said it.  Go on, burn me at the stake for being a Sith.
Having said that, Bioware have pulled out some trailers that really caught me up due to a whole shovel-load of Star Wars-ness, so if the game-play has been built with the same shovel, it could be a fabulous game.

The Secret World.
Whenever I think of this game, I get a tingly feeling in my tummy.  It’s very similar to the tingly feelings in my tummy that I usually get when in the presence of Star Wars, Lego, Star Wars Lego, and Tea.
I’m even following Mr Tornquist on that Twitter thing, just in case he lets anything slip about the game.  Or he just wants to get hold of me, and offer me a beta test.
Yes. I want it so badly, I would even go for the beta test of this game.  That is how much I want it.  Squamous and rugose things just do it for me, as does the fact that this is a contemporary horror setting.  That’s new for me, as far as MMO playing goes, and I look forward to it.
In fact, I’m wondering if one of the reasons I got the Indie Horror pack from the Steam sale was because I was subconsciously hoping that The Secret World would pop a hole in the time/space continuuuuuum and come through with the other games.
It didn’t, in case you were wondering.

Rift.
Yeah, I’m such a hypocrite.  I say I won’t touch it unless all my friends play it, yet here I am looking forward to it.  Why?  Well, I want to see it do well, and it has piqued my interest.  I like games that take a little more effort to play, even if I might not have the time I need in order to play them well.  Or a lot.  I’d say I wasn’t interested in checking out the beta, and have done in the past, but the sad truth is that when a good friend of mine asked if I’d like to peek over his shoulder, I took him up like a shot.  What I saw was impressive for a game yet to be released, and it was fun seeing the differing souls, and how they compared to existing MMO classes from a broad spectrum of games.  I still worry that it’s a methodone rather than a new crack all of its own, but the walls are crumbling and I’ll most probably have pre-ordered it before the week is out.  Sometimes I hate my lack of willpower.  I keep rehearsing that old “It’s purely for research purposes” chestnut.

There we go.  There are only three games, but that’s because I’m the sort of person who hates looking ahead, and seeing the interminably long wait before a game is released.  I’m an instant gratification sort, so for the sake of my own sanity I tend to keep my blinkers on, and only try and notice games when they’re just about to be released.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Analysis Paralysis

January 8, 2011 at 10:30 am | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I’m pretty sure that, in marketing terms, the Hype Star that is Rift has now cleared the planet.  Pretty soon, Hype Moff Tarkin will declare in his suitably laissez-faire yet utterly sinister manner; “You may fire when ready”.

As with all much-hyped games, every press release, every statement, every scrap of information is dissected down the most minute level, and details of both the staggered release dates and the various pre-order offers have been similarly dissected and placed under the microscope.

So, in the grandest Hawley traditions, I’m not going to bother doing that myself.  Syp over at Bio Break has a particularly fine analysis of the pre-orders, and I’d probably just copy and paste his post rather than sit down and spend the time and effort creating my own.

Of course, that would probably lead to a course of events that start with accusations of plagiarism, and end all angrily and litigious, which of course Syp would win; his lawyers, being all brash and American, would completely destroy any modest, self-effacing British lawyers I could afford.

So instead, I’m going to gloss over my slacking, and instead hark back to those halcyon days when deciding to play a game meant going to one’s favoured software retailer, picking up a large, shiny box, and exchanging a large stack of filthy lucre for the priviledge of walking out of the retail establishment with aforementioned shiny box without the requirement to run from the blaring alarms and attendant rozzers.

That was a period of time when the most difficult choice I had was in deciding to pick up the World of Warcraft box with the big picture of the Orc head on the front, or the Night Elf head.  That was a surprisingly difficult decision, with far-reaching consequences, I assure you.

I miss those days.  You chose your retailer through customer loyalty, or price of purchase.  And it didn’t matter how you chose to purchase your game, other than requiring that the retailer (whether bricks and mortar, or online) actually had the game *in stock*, or was able to get it to you *in time for launch day*.

I remember when the waters were muddied somewhat by the more common appearance of the mighty Collector’s Edition.  Striding through retail channels like the giant behemoth of fandom it is, it sought to crush all opposition through having a box that was large enough to make astronomers think that an unscheduled eclipse of the sun was occurring, and was crammed to the brim with musical scores, maps, hardcover art books, and enough sundry paraphernalia to require the hiring of a team of street urchins to carry it home, lest it cause back injuries.

Then, it was all about the game; buy game, play game.

Nowadays, I wonder if the Min-Maxing starts now, as there is plenty of opportunity to min-max my way through the various offers available.  It’s crazy, especially when there are separate offers for each retailer.

Even the mighty Collector’s Edition is no longer the apex predator in the gaming jungle, as the newer, slicker, fancier Digital Collector’s Edition rears it’s head; no art books, no music cds, but far better and more in-game items, without the need to leave the giant-sized box in the back garden like some sort of sinister obelisk, with the attendant need to shoo off the occasional family of monkeys that start dancing around it.  And worshipping it.

And those in-game items are making more and more of an impact.  Gone is the level playing field on launch day.  Now we’re getting longer and longer headstart periods, more in-game items, and less of them are purely cosmetic.

It’s not a case of browsing through the internet and finding a price that works; now the truly dedicated can set up a spreadsheet showing all the various options, their cost versus benefit ratios, and then *really* hit the ground running.

With specific reference to Rift, if I was to crumble completely and embarrassingly (I’m pretty sure that both of my regular readers are fully expecting me to purchase Rift, and are no doubt ready with their “You have no willpower” t-shirt and mug collections.  They can be so accusational, yet annoyingly correct about me), I’d go for the Digital Collector’s Edition.

Digital means less physical evidence of a bad purchasing decision; witness my Aion steelbook case, sat lonely, neglected on the shelf.  Witness the various dents that prove it’s useful ability to act as a target whenever something hard needs throwing in a fit of pique.  It also means spending extra money on in-game items (oh, just like spending money in a Free To Play game for in-game items, such as Lord of the Rings Online.  Yes, that *is* the sound of the Hypocrite Alarm going off) that will make a big difference in the game, namely the extra bag space and the mount.

The genius, however, is the Founder’s subscription price.  Sheer, utter genius.  Lifetime subscriptions are a scary amount of cash; I was too late to Lord of the Rings Online to get a lifetime offer off the bat, and at £150 they were a lot to pay before deciding that it was a game I wanted to play for over a year.

No-one wants to feel forced to play a game to get their money’s worth…

But offering a rather savage discount, and in a “this is the only time you’ll get this offer” way, makes me think of subbing up for a six-month stretch because that amount happens to be the amount I pay for my mobile ‘phone.  For just one month’s subscription, not six.

Hell, at that price, I can log in, look at the scenery, and log out again and I will *still* feel like I’ve got my money’s worth for that month.

Part of me misses the days when, regardless of game imbalances, we all started an MMO equal.  We all had the opportunity to start the game on the same day, with the same in-game equipment, with the same opportunities.

The rest of me realises that this is the nature of game, not just MMO, but game marketing nowadays, and that in-game item sweetners are here, and here to stay.  Especially when they’re given out with the *standard* edition of a game.

Make the most, says I.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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