Setting Off

March 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

All MMOs have them.  For some players they define the nature of any given chosen race, whilst for others they’re a just a speedbump before getting to the meat of the game.  There can be one of them, or many of them.  Quite often, they’re all a player will see of a particular game, and all MMOs have them.

But I suppose the biggest question for me is:

What is a starter zone *for*?

Now, I freely admit to being somewhat oblivious when it comes to official forums.  I recently, in my role of guild officer, posted a recruiting message thingy on Rift’s official forums, and that left me feeling rather strange in my tummy.

Part of me felt a little brave and excited, having entered the lion’s den.  Another part of me felt a little soiled; instead of lurking rarely (and laughing at all the misguided fools and their patently ridiculous wittering on) I was choosing to actively participate in proceedings.  But I digress.

I’ve been aware of some consternation and complaint that there is only one starter zone per faction in Rift, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t care.  In fact, I quite welcome it.

I remember Warhammer Online’s multiple starting zones.  One for each race in each faction.  They were lovely zones, oozing with character, and part of a very strong game concept.  Which, of course, fell apart when players got involved; pretty soon, the dwarf and elf zones were abandoned after the initial surge of players, and everyone just moved to the Empire for levelling purposes because that’s where everyone else was.

Age of Conan went for the complete opposite, with one multi-layered, highly engineered zone that had both multiplayer and solo elements, with the solo side a fantastic story that would have worked well in many single player games.  Of course, it was a shame that the rest of the game was nowhere nearly as well detailed in terms of quests and story, and that the fantastic solo quest line just seemed to make players think in solo rather than group terms.

Now we have Rift.  Most of my play has been on the Defiant side, but I did complete the Guardian side during one of the later Beta events, and to be perfectly honest, I have no problem with there being just one starter zone.

The Defiant starter zone is cool.  There’s a part of me that loves an “escape from an apocalyptic future by using time-travel to change the past” storyline, and it made me all squiffy and special.  Due to the nature of the story line, I’m not surprised there’s just the one.  Sorry Kelari and Bahmi players, your racial starter zones were gobbled up by the big narsties on their way here.  Yes, I’m being all Eth-ist and assuming they’d hold out longest.  Or something.

Ultimately, I don’t care whose homeland it is.  Because the important thing is what that starter zone is *for*.

To my mind, starter zones are there for three main reasons (in no particular order);

  • To teach the basics of the game
  • To try and turn interested tourists into long-term residents
  • To establish the background story for the game

Anything after that is pure gravy because, ultimately, it’s the zone I’ll spend least amount of time in.  Even counting the repetition required by the judicious and willful addition of alts, it’s *still* the zone I’ll spend least amount of time in.

All that I care about is that the starter zone fulfils the above three objectives.  I want to have the game grab my attention, I want the game world to intrigue me, and I want to know how to play the game by the time I get out of that starter zone a few short hours later.

Ultimately, I’d much rather game developers didn’t spend time creating six or so starting zones when two will do, because that’s time that could have been spent on later level zones, or instances, or PvP zones; not something that will be completed and forgotten about in a couple of hours.

Cheers,
Hawley.

The Joy of Artifacts

March 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

When I first encountered Artifacts in Rift I was, in all truthfulness, a little south of skeptical.

And no, Skeptical is not a town in Essex.  (It’s in Dorset.  And just south of there is Decidedly Antagonistic).

I’d first encountered the concept of right clicking on a non-specific glowy/sparkly thing in Everquest 2, and I think that’s what coloured me regarding it.

I only played Everquest 2 for a couple of months, and got a character to around level 20.  I’ll limit myself to a quick gripe here, because I know that Everquest 2 has a dedicated and loyal following, but it felt to me that there were loads of great ideas that had been badly implemented.  Or implemented in such a way as to make them Not Fun.  In some cases, Really Not Fun.

One of the memories I have is of running around, right-clicking on anything that didn’t move, and the non-specific glowy/sparklies came up with things like flowers, and butterflies.  I then put them in a small collection.  Small collections then were added together to make large collections.  And then you got some sort of reward.

But the reward seemed so pointless, because I just couldn’t get a red butterfly.  I had so many yellow butterflies that I could have ground up plenty of yellow butterflies and used their blood to paint a further few butterflies red, but it seems that there wasn’t to be any forgery on that scale.

Pretty soon I just stopped bothering.  All my bags were filled with random butterflies and flowers, and so for the sake of my own sanity, I just stopped.  It was Not Fun.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered myself just north of Pleasantly Surprised (it’s near the Yorkshire Moors) with regard to the Artifacts and Collections of Rift.  The items are entertaining, and strange, and reference a surprising amount of lore without ramming it down my throat.  Some are small, such as the two item collection found within one part of Meridian, others have a good few items, whilst some artifacts can go in more than one collection.

Artifacts can come from a variety of sources.  Most pop up as non-specific glowy/sparklies dotted around the landscape.  Others appear as part of the random tat to be found on a freshly lootable corpse.  Others have appeared as part of the reward for closing a rift.

Some of them are zone-specific, others more generalised.  And some are decidedly weird.  No, I’m not sure why I felt the need to collect troll toe-nails, but luckily it’s only a three artifact set, and that’s handed in now.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying them so much.  The largest part of it is that Trion have managed to trigger my largely dormant collector gene, most probably due to using it as a way of bringing a little more of the character and lore of a zone to light.

It’s a little bit of flair, and Trion seem pretty good at not just polish, but adding flair.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Fantastic

February 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Posted in General | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I think it’s fair to say I had an astonishing amount of fun in Rift since the headstart began last Thursday.

I quested, ran rifts, and even took part in an instance run through the low level Defiant instance of Iron Tomb.

Cleric Hawley has managed to attain the heady heights of level 17.

I know, there are players who will already have hit the level cap.  No, I’m not one of them, and to be perfectly honest I don’t care.  I raced through Cataclysm’s questing/levelling content with one eye on the clock, and it was nowhere near as much fun as it could have been.

With that lesson learned, I’ve been pootling along at my own pace, and that has meant that logging in to play has been fun from the start of the session, through to the end.

After all of my soul-based experimentation (or, perhaps; “soul searching”?), I have gone with Sentinel>Warden>Inquisitor, with priority in that order.  I know, I said I was going Cabalist, but with that third soul choice in front of me (only this time for realz) I still couldn’t make that final decision, so I decided to use a coin-toss-based decision making technique.

Are you aware of it?  The theory goes like this; it’s not letting the coin-toss decide, it’s using the coin to bring forth an emotional response which is the subconscious decision.  So, if the coin lands and you think; “Great!”, then that’s the choice to go with.  If it lands and your first thought is: “Best of three?”, then go with the other choice.

The coin was tossed, it landed Cabalist side up, and my first, instinctive thought was: “Best of three?”

Inquisitor it was (And I’ve already started collecting other souls.  No, I shall not dishonour my ancestors!  I *shall* get them all!  I just know that I need a “normal” set of souls that I’ll use in most circumstances).

I’ve not regretted it, to be honest.  Whilst all of the healing souls have some punchy fun to them, the damage and frequency isn’t as high as it could be; Inquisitor, being an offensive soul, is a nail-driver by comparison.

That means that I can go and have fun with rifts and invasions by healing until enough people are there that healing isn’t so necessary, and then go and chuck out some ranged pain in the latter stages.

And the rifts and invasions were just as much fun as they were in beta.  I’d worried that they wouldn’t appear with the same frequency or be toned down for launch, but they weren’t.  They were just as frequent, and frequently awesome.  One of my highlights was being in one rift where we players were just about holding our own against an equal level set of planar beasties; an invasion force appeared from the rift that was five levels above us, and promptly massacred us all.

It was fast, quick, and brutal; it was also awesome how the monsties appeared *in formation*.  It *was* an invasion.

It also meant that rifts aren’t a pinata, there to just give out sweeties to players coming along for a whack.  They’re a challenge, and a fun one at that.

They also remind me of all the fun points of mass PvP, with none of the bad.  There is the chaos, the confusion, the simple desire to win, but without the “kill the healer first” attitude and the attendant requirement to spend most of my time as some sort of speed-bump.

The questing was also fun.  It wasn’t particularly taxing, being more of what you would expect; kill stuff, gather stuff, talk to stuff, deliver stuff.  But just because something is familiar doesn’t mean an effort shouldn’t be made, and it’s nice to see that Trion have made an effort.

Without wishing to provide any spoilers, I went from the sublime (creepy, nasty, surprisingly vicious plotline for an MMO) to the ridiculous (if Monty Python made MMOs, it would be this set of quests, just with more Spam.).  Yes, I enjoyed both sets of quests.  Maybe it’s new-game gloss, but the comedy was a nice touch, especially coming so soon after the darker, more vicious questline before it.

And continuing the theme of null-spoil, I also went into Iron Tomb.  That’s the name of the level 15 to 22 instance in Freemarch, the Defiant low-level zone.  I’m not going to go through it with an in-depth guide, because:

No doubt there are guides available on the internets already, and have been for weeks
The group I went in with went in blind, and doing so only enhanced our enjoyment.

I can see what Trion were aiming for in their design of Iron Tomb; a simple dungeon that provides training in how instanced grouping works.  But also one that was still interesting, and fun to play through without requiring some form of formulaic solution to each boss fight.  To use the more jaded terminology of the veteran, there are tank’n’spank encounters, requirements for target priority, some puzzlework and the odd moment of fast-burn.

And for all that, it was one of the most fun instance runs I’ve had since early World of Warcraft, when I and a group of friends took about seven hours to clear all of Stratholme with none of us having been in there before.

All in all, it took us two hours, which was lucky because we had given ourselves a two-hour time limit.  Our intention was to go in, see what the place was like, and come back in over the next few days a little more enlightened.

At times, we were performing the more extreme forms of scientific research as seen in films such as Lost In Space and Event Horizon.  Yes, we went up to the weird goopy thing and shoved our arms in it.  Figuratively.

When facing one boss encounter for the first time, and sensing a trap, there was some discussion over TeamSpeak about what we should do.  My advice was simple; Go in, trigger the “trap”, die gloriously in the name of Science! and then come back a little more battered but a lot more wise, and have a serious go.

Which we promptly did.  A couple of times.  Such fun.

But it was more than just the instance.  Because I went in with a group of guildmates who were more interested in a fun time exploring than with obsessing over a tokens and trez, we got to have a great atmosphere, with fun discussions about what we were looking for, what we were doing, and how we would proceed.  Spoiler alert; I shall be laughing about the question; “How dangerous can a rock be?” for a long time.

To show how much we were about the fun, it’s fair to say we were a sub-optimal group formation.  One Warrior tank, one Rogue DPS, three Clerics.  One healer/dps, the others more heal than dps (including me).  We suffered in the fast-burn stages, but there was not even a thought about swapping someone out.  We’d started together, we finished it together.

In these days of LFD and speed runs, it was a long-overdue reminder about how much fun instancing can be.

And in best clock-ticking-down tradition, we finished with mere minutes to spare.  Fantastic.  All quests within the instance bar one finished (due to an unfortunate de-rezzing of a corpse) and all bosses downed.  And I gained a level and a half whilst we were in there.  From half way through level 15 to just into level 17.

The trez was pure gravy.

It might well be looking at Rift whilst wearing some extremely headstart-tinted rose-gloss glasses, but the fun I’ve had this last weekend really, really reminded me of why I play MMOs.  Fun exploration (both from character skills and game exploration), to casual public grouping in rifts, to running around dungeons chatting about what buffs and debuffs we can throw out.

And that’s not even everything I did in game.  I’m trying to reign my enthusiasm in, because I enjoy a hagiographic puff piece as much as the next grumpy, cynical old fart (which is not very much), but I think it’s fair to say that if Rift doesn’t continue in such a fun, exciting, well-designed fashion, I shall cry a river of real man-tears over what could have been.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Internet Hotness

February 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

A short while ago, I decided to see if I could get Shaman Herewerd through the magic 10,000dps barrier with the gear he had.  He was quite comfortably in the 8,500dps region, and without major gear upgrades, all I could think of was to change the way that I prioritised the use of my skills.

That meant research on the internet.

This is because I would rather go to somewhere like [insert website of choice here] where someone else has spent a good few hours smacking training dummies and working out the numbers, than go and smack training dummies for a few hours myself only to come to the same conclusions.

Numbers are good like that; you have to be specifically trained to make them lie.

So, armed with someone else’s numbers and someone else’s opinion, I was able to take a shortcut, and with a short amount of research, trial and error I was able to gain an extra 2,000dps, thereby hiting the 10,000dps mark (just).

Of course, I didn’t just take the nice faceless man off the internet’s word for it.  As well as research, there was trial and error.  That testing, allowed me to form my own opinion.

Of course, it was perfectly ok for me to do that; I was just searching for information with which to base my own research on, using it to come to my own conclusions.  I was in no way just looking for something to copy.

No, definitely not, no.  Not at all.

Because if I had, if I’d just been looking for the latest Internet Hotness, if I was just taking what the internet said was Teh Bestet and not using my own noggin, then I would be at the wrongest end of the Wrong, Wronger, Wrongest Scale, and would most likely find myself in the same MMO Gaming Hell as those who buy accounts off ebay, buy gold from disreputable internet firms, and play in beta tests *and never submit bug reports*.

I suppose the big question isn’t whether or not using the internet to try and improve our game is cheating, but whether or not we allow others to take away our right to play in the way that we want to.

It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while now, and something that I will no doubt be pondering for some time to come.

Ysharros, she-queen of Stylish Corpse, wrote an entertainingly enlightening piece on World of Warcraft’s Tol Barad.  Whilst reading through her recommendations for aspiring victors, the part that resonated most with me was this particularly wonderfully written passage:

“VII. Go counter-clockwise — that’ll totally fox ‘em! Okay, I’m (mostly) joking on this one. But you never know. As it stands, everyone knows the general direction of battle is clockwise, and I’m not sure that’s really a strategy.”

It reminds me very much of; “They came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way.”; I’m not sure that Wellington was just being all cool and hip when he tripped that one off in 1815, and things haven’t changed as far as most MMO players are concerned.

So it’s not just grabbing talent specs or gear setups from the internet; we also play in certain ways when given a choice.  The way that “everyone knows”, with the heavy implication that only noobs don’t.

But I suppose the thing that really got me thinking about this was me attempting to go raiding in World of Warcraft.  It was only a few raids, but there was quite a lot of preparation.

There was going on Youtube (other video sharing websites are available.  Possibly.  I don’t know really, I’m just trying to be fair) and watching videos of the various bosses, what they do and how they can be defeated.

There was reading strategies from various internet sites such as WoWWiki (now I *know* other such websites exist.  You can check them out too), and then there was checking the guild’s website to see if anything particular to our guild’s attempts had been posted.

And this was all before turning up at whichever boss was to be our sacrificial altar, and hurling ourselves at it.

Of course, the reason for studying all of those strategy guides was so that we didn’t have to find out what abilities and phases a boss has at the sharp end; it means less time spent wiping on the boss to learn how to defeat that boss.

But it also highlighted how scripted the World of Warcraft bosses are.  If we deviated from the plan, we died.  If someone was slightly off game, we died.  If someone forgot what their role in the operation was, we died.  There wasn’t much give, there wasn’t much slack.  There was no place for thinking outside the box.

There was just the following of the plan.

I’m sure there was a gentler time, a more beautiful time, when raiders would go out raiding and not have to follow such a strict strategy.  That individual raiders could mess up, but the raid team could recover.  When it was an individual’s skill that mattered far more than just their ability to follow a list of instructions.

And no, I’m not talking about when a raid team is so over-geared for the instance that they hardly need to bother.  I’m talking about when the raid instance was still a challenge for those involved.

Now it seems to me that players are more than willing to point out when things are going wrong, and that it’s *all your fault*.  Because *you are doing it wrong*.

*Thicky*.

I like to think of it as one of the joys of PUGging, but it doesn’t just end there.

A few posts ago, I commented about Sage-Mage and his amazing advice.  Well, Sage-Mage isn’t the only know-it-all, flinging out advice like a monkey-poo-flinger, expecting everyone else to be the sort of thicky-thicky-dullards who would not only need his advice, but thank him for it.

PUGging has loads of them, because MMO gaming is full of them.

Even I, at times, have given out advice.  I would like to think that my advice was clear, concise, and cogent, but I’m also pretty sure that all of us monkey-advice-flingers tend to think the same about the advice we’re flinging; clear, concise, cogent.

And, no doubt, they’re pretty sure that their advice is being flung at noobs that *require* said advice, because if they weren’t noobs, they patently wouldn’t *need* said advice.  Good, experienced players already play in a good, experienced way that needs no advice.

They are already Doing It Right™.

I sometimes wonder if the only way to play correctly, to be seen to be Doing It Right™ is to follow the sage advice freely available on the internet.

Well, it’s certainly easier.  It was easier for me to start off with someone else’s hard work, than it was to do all that hard work myself.

There is also the opportunity to devolve oneself of all responsibility, should things go wrong.  It’s not *my* fault, it’s this lousy talent spec/gear set I got from the internet.  I was just *testing* it out.

Yet I suppose the ultimate irony is that all this theory-crafting, all the strategy guides, all the nasty-cheaty websites that tell us which monsters drop certain gear and the easy ways to complete quests are a sign of a healthy, happy community.

Players who are happy about their game want to tell the world, and the internet lets them.  Heck, I’m happy with my hobby; I love MMOs, so that’s why I blog about them (as opposed to blogging about cheese, or doric columns, or any one of a myriad things that I quite like, but just make me happy, as opposed to Happy).

Quite often it’s a healthy community that makes us want to play in the most optimal way.  Sub-optimal is great for characters in a novel.  To be honest, every novel I’ve read which had Captain Awesome as the protagonist has not been a favourite read.  I want sub-optimal in my heroes; I want to see characters strive for success, I don’t want it to be guaranteed from the first page.

Lord of the Rings, source for so many fantasty backrounds in books and films as well as those of the MMOs we play, has a sub-optimal hero.  Short, fat, big hairy feet; at first glance, Frodo is hardly the poster-hobbit for death-ninja missions (or even holidays) to Mount Doom.

Yet when it comes right down to it, I don’t think of playing sub-optimal.  I might have once (such blissfully naïve days), but not any more.  Sub-optimal doesn’t just lead to not being able to see or do everything you might want.  No, it leads to something far worse.

The censure of our peers.

There is no winning and losing within an MMO.  But there is winning when other players are in awe of us and losing when they think we’re nothing more than a noob.  I sometimes think that “Noob” is the greatest insult to an MMO player, and quite a lot more insulting than any of the more pithy Anglo-Saxon-based insults the English language is home to.  At other times, I’m sure it is.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why seeking guidance from the internet is so enticing, and so popular.  Take the most optional build for your class from the internet.  You might well end up a clone of everyone else with the same class, but at least you won’t look like a noob.

Same goes for following the traditional methods of levelling, of instancing, of PvPing, of raiding.  Innovation is something that devs get involved in; as a player, shut up and follow the established rule.  Show yourself to be a dangerous anarchist with your own opinions, and show yourself to be a noob.

Noob!

Cheers,
Hawley.

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.

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.

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.

Is Cataclysm World of Warcraft’s Last Hurrah?

December 31, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The next year or so looks like it could be a period of change for MMO game-play.

Admittedly, I’m not the person to come to when it’s news about MMOs that you’re after.  I am barely capable of venturing an opinion in print, never mind backing it up with cold, hard facts based on proper research.

I’m a shoddy researcher.  When it comes to MMOs, I’d rather be playing than poring over the publisher’s website for hidden nuggets of information.  But, just like any good consumer, I don’t like getting stung by a retailer.

So I do a little research.  Not enough to feel that I can news-blog, but enough that I can feel comfortable partaking in the whole consumer/vendor relationship.

Currently, my research has involves going to an MMOs website and watching the trailers, after which I’ll skim down the “News” section and see if there are any articles that catch my eye.  Finally, I’ll see if there are any funky-looking screenies.  Loves a good screenie, does I.

Where does all this tie in with that title up there?  The contentious one, squatting like some particularly gargoyle-like gargoyle?

Well, virtually every site I’ve seen really, really wants to tell me that their game is Next Generation.

“Next Generation” isn’t, it seems, just a Star Trek thing.  As with all jargon, it’s a fantastically woolly term, that marketing men probably hope means all things to all men.

To myself, and when applied to MMO gaming, it means a significant advance in game-play.

That doesn’t mean a particular game was the first to include a particular element, and is no guarantee of innovation.  And to muddy the waters, there are those games that seem to straddle the generational divide, being a perfect refinement of the previous generation, yet including many elements of the new generation.

I’m not going to sit here, and profess my beliefs on how many generations there have been within the MMO genre, and I’m not going to state which games have heralded a new generation.

My main reason is that it would completely destroy a rather fun but thoroughly geeky discussion/argument that’s perfect for drunken evenings in the pub.  And I’d probably get it all wrong.

For all that, I can’t help looking at these trailers, at the hype, and think that the behemoths looming on the horizon might actually be the real deal when it comes to advancing the genre as a whole.

From all the hype gushing out, I can see two elements that, for me at least, signify the advancement of the genre.

First is the pre-eminence of story, and the personalisation of that story.  In the past, story has been on the grand scale, with players partaking in the grand story by taking and completing quests, but without any of it being of any real impact.  No story mattered (or even could matter) overmuch because the game world would be reset in ten minutes time.

In the future, story might well be freed from being tied to questing; I would imagine questing won’t be removed, or even sidelined, but unscheduled events occurring in and around the player, as well as content specifically for the created character, are making story important in its own right, rather than as something tied to a chunk of xp and some trez.

Both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic seem to have this as a core part of their game design.  Having monsters actively participate in naughtiness, rather than hang around waiting for a player to enter their aggro range, is one of the exciting elements of Guild Wars 2.  And both games have spoken about having a tailored story for each class, resulting in a different game for every player.

Yikes, that’s exciting.

And whilst I think that, thanks to its marketing campaign, Rift is placing itself firmly in the “Ultimate Refinement Of This Generation” camp rather than “Herald Of The Next Generation” spearhead (that’s what happens when you keep saying you’re much better than the other guy.  Sorry.  Try saying that you’re just *that* good, standing by yourself.  You’d probably get my money then.  Oh, who am I kidding; you *would* get my money then), I can’t help getting excited by all this rift malarkey.

Rifts opening, monsties barging through, taking over an area, and having to be forcibly removed?  That’s just pure gaming jam, that is.  That’s “to be spread on toast, thickly” levels of nice.  In fact, it’s so nice it’s noice.

It makes the world feel like a world; what was supposed to make poor, doomed Horizons such a great game (Horizons is one of the few games that I wish had lived up to all of its aspirations.  It would have been so wonderful) was a changing game world, where player actions made a difference to the landscape.

Anything that aids immersion is good, in my book.  A more interesting world to game in, one that changes due to player action, is something that really makes me excited.  The Secret World’s attention to detail, with The Test (I’ve taken it twice now, and came up Templar both times.  There is a part of me that is vaguely worried that I’m becoming increasingly reactionary as I grow older) the Kingsmouth website, and even the zombie invasion of Kingsmouth trailer all serves to make the game world more immersive, and therefore compelling.

Suddenly the revamped levelling experience, the comparatively heavy use of cutscenes, and the nifty use of phasing seems less exciting than it used to.  Of course, it’s always hard for something that exists, that is currently available and has been experienced, to compare favourably with the fevered wish-dreams of this particular geek.  Of course a game in development is going to be amazing; they all are, especially when viewed through a Greener-Grass Filter.

But I can’t help wondering if Cataclysm is the last time that World of Warcraft will be the big fella; the one everyone looks to when an opinion is needed.  It’s hardly surprising, seeing as it’s now six years old.  I’m pretty sure that in MMO years, that’s older than most pyramids.

And seeing as World of Warcraft is very much of *this* generation of MMOs, it’s hard for it to be a part of the *next* generation as well.  The way that the game has been put together would make it hard to modify into the all-singing, all-dancing promises of dynamic worlds with dynamic events; it would probably be easier to just create a new game.  Quite possibly with a working title of something like, oh, I don’t know…  “Titan”?

Add in the seductive promises of enhanced story-telling (in a fourth pillar stylee), and it’s highly likely that, in a year or so’s time, we’ll be looking at World of Warcraft in the same way that we looked at the original Everquest shortly after Azeroth opened its doors:

As a bit tired, old fashioned, and worn around the edges; like those grand old fleapit cinemas filled with faded glory that we all abandoned shortly after the new multi-plex cinemas started appearing.

It’s a shame, but it’s also part of the natural order of things.  Old games get replaced with new games, in some sort of electronic evolutionary chain.  World of Warcraft will most likely be at least seven years old before all these shiny new temptresses sashay onto the shelves anyway, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy what World of Warcraft does best.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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