Saturday, November 29, 2014

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Message, Spock?"

One of the best things that can happen in LOTRO is an impromptu concert in Bree:

Yes, the mini-Reds are in among the crowd.

I watched my kids having a blast listening to the concert while they tried to stump me with the toons the band was playing.  (One of the tunes was Birthday by The Beatles, but I'm old enough to remember THAT one.)  This is one of those moments in LOTRO where you just wonder why this has never been appropriated for other MMOs; it brings the world to life in a unique and vivid way.

Five minutes after this screen shot, I had my answer.  A troll came running into the midst of the concert, trying his best to disrupt it.*

I shook my head; I could only imagine what would happen if people tried to do this in a game where trolling is far more frequent.

Oh wait, we do.

The irony about this is that the Serenity Now Funeral Raid highlights the best and worst parts of MMOs. You have a community getting together to honor one of their own, and you have the community being ripped apart by people who have no sense of respect.

MMOs need more community building, but it also can't be forced.  Forced community building goes over about as well as forcing people into dailies just so they can gear up to raid.** Players have to want to get together to do cool things in-game, in a public space, for the culture to change. A friend who used to play MMOs was a member of The Bards of Azeroth (Wyrmrest Accord), who would put on poetry readings in Thunder Bluff. A friend of Navimie's married her real life fiance in-game in 2013. When the old tree form was going away just prior to Cataclysm, there was an impromptu Farewell to the Trees parade.

A spark is needed, but will has to be behind it. The willingness and desire to make a difference, and to keep trying.

Unless all that people want out of MMOs is to kill things. That's fine, of course, but MMOs could be so much more. Why settle?

*It didn't work; everyone put him on ignore.

**See: Mists of Pandaria.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sounds on a Thanksgiving

"Don't let him aggro!"

"I've got this."

"Stay with him, I can heal you!"

"Don't run away, stay in the area!"

"Aaaaaa!!!  We were so close!!!"

"Are you out of fire oil?"

"I'm putting my shield spikes on, wait a sec."

These sounds of a LOTRO instance were brought to you by the Mini-Reds, who are attempting to three-man a six-person instance in LOTRO, the Great Barrow Maze.

Postscript:  "Dude, I'm gonna go to the Prancing Pony and make my toon drink SOOOO much!"  (That was after a marathon 45 minute game of Star Fluxx.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Pretend Nobody Else Exists...

There are a lot of things Blizzard does right with WoW. Even the most ardent WoW hater has to concede that in general Blizzard doesn't release a buggy product when a WoW patch/expac comes through.* WoW also gives enough people what they want that they still dominate the MMO market, and they shamelessly steal ideas from other games and give it their own unique twist.

But there is one aspect to WoW that Blizzard has done poorly in, and it concerns how the US and European servers are configured.  Namely, that you'd never guess that the other one exists.

All of the other MMOs I've played in have at least given you the ability to create a toon on every server the game has, but WoW for some reason won't allow you to do that on European and U.S. servers.  You get one or the other, and that's it. A long long time ago, I saw the announcement of cross-server grouping as a way to finally get a chance to play with some of my blogger friends over in Europe, but I was quickly disillusioned when I realized that the US and European servers still don't seem to know the other exists.

This kind of turns the wonderful love fest of the Looking for Group documentary on its head, since I can see that Europeans play WoW via the blogs, Tumblrs, podcasts, and fan made art/videos, but I can't play with them without purchasing the game again for the EU region.

I bring this up because other games, such as LOTRO and SWTOR will let you play on European servers. Age of Conan consolidated all of their servers this past year as well.  GW2 is a bit closer to the WoW model in that you're locked into the server you start with --and creating a toon on a European server means your license gets transferred to the EU region-- but it still lets you select a European server from the start.

My kids have LOTRO toons across several servers, and they've often commented to me on people occasionally speaking in French on Gen Chat.** I recently rolled up a new Smugger on a European server in SWTOR, and I can attest how connected you feel seeing guild recruiting ads saying "we are an all Polish guild" or "we're an all Russian guild". Or that you'll see someone let loose some British slang in Gen Chat. You get that sense of togetherness, the feeling that people all over the world are hanging out in Coruscant with you right now, without having to leave the game at all.

And really, the lag for the European SWTOR servers is only slightly worse than the lag for the West Coast US server that I typically play on.

I understand that there are license issues at play here, but it still seems odd that this restriction is still in place a decade later, particularly when the world has shrunk with the advent of new social media and the explosion of smart phones and tablets. It just seems a relic of the past, when the most exotic location a fellow player might be from is Buffalo.

*Design flaws, yes, but bugs are minor compared to most other AAA software releases. Having spent time in software QA back in the 90s, I've occasionally wondered just how much pull the software QA team at Blizzard has. Typically software QA is a small speed bump to the rest of the release train, and even if the QA people are screaming that something isn't ready for release the software will ship regardless.

**Which they find incredibly cool that they're playing a game at the same time someone in France is.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The More Things Change....

I'd been watching the news about the release of Warlords*, and it seems to be a bit more difficult than the usual launch troubles.  There's the initial chokepoint of having everyone click on a single NPC to access the Warlords content, but between that and the rush of people to get in there was nothing unusual.  But then you throw in a strong DDoS attack, and you've got a real mess.

I saw some of the net traffic charts and it seems they're originating from China, which kind of puts the kibosh on any conspiracy theories concerning GamerGate, but that also makes me wonder whether the DDoS attacks that happened shortly before I unsubbed were actually a test run before the main event.

Personally, I don't think much of a Chinese hacker DDoS attempt against a game launch, because there's nothing critical there to be concerned about. It's akin to a bunch of pigeons crapping on chess tables out in the park: you shoo them away, you clean up the mess, and you can go play. There's no real reason for it other than to simply be an asshat, in spite of what Lizard Squad says about "improving server farms" in their DDoS attack on Sony's Playstation Network and phoning in bomb threats on a Sony exec's plane.

The servers will go back up and people will start playing again, so unless we see a repeat in the next week or so, the DDoS didn't really have any lasting damage.

Go play, people.

*I still think of the old Atari game Warlords when I type that, and WoD means "World of Darkness" from White Wolf Publishing for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hanging out With The Beautiful People, Part 2

In my neverending quest to be 1-2 years away from being trendy, I finally broke down and bought Guild Wars 2.

(What, you thought I was going to talk about Dragon Age: Origins? Okay, I could, since I'm finally playing a Bioware Fantasy RPG for the first time since Baldur's Gate II, but that's beside the point.)

It had been over a year since I last played around with the game on a free weekend, but I'd been thinking pretty hard about what should replace WoW* as my main fantasy MMO. Age of Conan is too grindy for me to use it as my main (although it is great in spurts of a week or two at a time), and while I like what Neverwinter is doing I'm constantly screwing up with my keyboard commands when I play the game.**

I can't justify another subscription for the time being, so that eliminates The Elder Scrolls Online. I've already outlined my opinions of Aion in two previous posts, and I've pretty much left LOTRO to the kids***, so what remained was ArenaNet's pride and joy.

Shouldn't he be in a Dr. Pepper Ten commercial?

I still have issues with all of the beautiful people around, but I've come around to liking the quest system there.  While the "heart" system for quests is a bit head scratching at times, particularly when you're not expecting to read about "hearts" in an MMO (other than stabbing an enemy in the heart), but it does do a good job of moving you throughout a region without tying you down to a specific story.

The story questlines are reminiscent of Age of Conan, where they're triggered once you get to a certain level.  The difference is that Age of Conan's entire starting zone (Tortage) is filled with both regular quests and your personal storyline's quests, whereas GW2 has you wait until the correct level (L10, I believe) until you can start up that storyline.

Also, much like Age of Conan, GW2 is very unforgiving when you attack an enemy a couple of levels higher than you. If you get three regular enemy on you and they're about 1-2 levels higher, you'd better hope that there's another player nearby to assist.

And that's the thing that surprises me the most about GW2, even this long after it dropped: people still come out of the woodwork for the (plentiful) group events.  There's no need to call out for LFG; people magically appear and assist.

If this sort of behavior had been around in Wrath, Blizzard probably wouldn't have done away with almost all group quests in Cataclysm.


SWTOR has spoiled me on questline interaction and cutscenes.  GW2 (and Neverwinter) don't have the lip movements in alignment with the spoken words, and that is more annoying than I expected. But one thing that GW2 is ahead of the curve on is "scout" method of pushing a player deeper into a zone.  It's very clever, and while I expected it to be very "gamey", it turns out that I really do like the methodology.

"So you've been out here for days, and you still look immaculate?"
"Well, you're not exactly caked in mud either."
"Good point. Must be my magnetic personality."

It may be a simple conceit, but I do like the Renaissance/Age of Reason look to the gear. So many RPGs and MMOs are firmly based in the Dark Ages or High Middle Ages, and when something comes along that bucks the trend, it feels like a breath of fresh air.


Am I going to keep playing GW2?

Yes. I've already played GW2 more than I have Skyrim, so I don't see why not. While it might not completely take the place of WoW in my current game listings, it more than stands on its own.

*I keep getting bombarded with e-mails from Blizzard to Azshandra, saying she has a free week in Azeroth and that she should come and check out the game again. The similarities to a timeshare sales pitch aside, It's starting to make me wonder if my Rogue has indeed gone Rogue on me. I might want to scan my bank statements a bit more carefully in case she's been partying with my gold or something.

**I feel like a stereotypical keyboard turner when I play Neverwinter, and I hate that. In spite of those limitations, I do have a Cleric up to L22 or so, and I intend to keep playing it on a low key basis until I get at least one toon to max level. Since I tend to play MMOs solo, however, I don't know how much group content I'll be doing on Neverwinter, as I dislike not being able to pull my weight. And with a Cleric, you can bet that any drop off in healing would be noticed by everyone.

***That's not to say that LOTRO is for kids, but more that my kids play LOTRO enough that I've taken to thinking it as "their game". Plus, the color scheme for the UI still drives me nuts; I must be borderline colorblind or something.