Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Farewell, Princess

From picsofcelebrities.com.
(Yes, that's a real website.)

...you were my favorite Skywalker.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Other News...

...I'm likely the last person in the gamer universe to notice the cleverly-integrated-into-the-comic reveal that the face of Overwatch, Tracer, is gay.*

From Blizzard. And Polygon.

Here's the Polygon post on the subject.

I personally think it's a great idea, not strictly from a representation PoV, but also from a story angle. Having perused the comic itself, it just simply fits with the story. And Tracer herself, really. Not so much as a surprise (in my mind) as a feeling that everything clicks.

Which is as it should be.

*Or at the very least, bi.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bye Bye Turbine

Yes, that's right. Standing Stones Games, a new independent studio, has purchased both Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online from Turbine.

I guess that means that Warner Brothers won't be involved (directly) with either game's future.

Here's the release found on LOTRO.com.

As for what this means in the future, I guess we'll find out. But one thing is certain: corporate WB won't be dictating layoffs to the LOTRO staff. Of course, that means that if LOTRO doesn't continue with a decent revenue stream it'll have a direct impact to the staffing (small businesses feel that more acutely than large ones), but political shenanigans from WB corporate won't have a direct impact on the game(s).

I'm going to have to figure out what's up with my new "premier membership" or whatever it is. I suspect that since I'd bought some Turbine Points months and months ago to get some milestones (I was tired of taking upwards of 1/2 hour to ride from Rivendell to Forochel) that I suddenly got bumped up into a middle level tier where I have a lot more character slots per server. I'll see what other surprises await me going forward.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh look, another seasonal event!

I'm having flashbacks.

I just saw the YouTube clip for Overwatch's Winter Wonderland event, and I felt pulled in a couple of different directions.

It was a fun little clip, down to the Widowmaker part, but it felt like a mashup of Wildstar and WoW, wrapped up in a little bow provided by Blizzard.

The WoW part, not a surprise. After all, it is a fellow property of Blizzard's. But Wildstar? Well, it was just cartoonish and goofy enough to fit in the Wildstar universe, even though it's a completely different game. And Wildstar, like WoW, doesn't take itself entirely seriously. Finally, while Wildstar's graphics are rougher and far more Western influenced than Overwatch's, it does have a similar feel to the color and art design.

Or perhaps it's just me, having imbibed a bit tonight.

Friday, December 9, 2016

You'd Think I'd Know Better, Part XXVIII

Sometimes, it's better to just come right out and admit it.

I got smashed by a boss that's 29 levels lower than me.

You'd think that I'd know better, particularly since I've had this happen before with instance and heroic bosses (old SWTOR 4 man heroics and Age of Conan 6 person heroics), but nooo... I don't learn.

This is what I prefer to call The WoW Effect, where in WoW a non-raid boss simply stops being a threat once you get, oh, 15 levels or so higher than that boss. As any one of my top level WoW toons, I used to crash the low level instances I never got a chance to pop up on the LFG menu, such as Scholomance or Stratholme.* On Neve and Tomakan, I farmed Magister's Terrace until I finally got Exalted with the Shattered Sun. As Azshandra on L90, I farmed the Pit of Saron until that blasted Battered Hilt dropped so I could do the Quel'delar quest line.

But try to do that sort of thing with other MMOs, and you're likely to run into trouble.

There's a boss in the upper 20s area of Conall's Valley in Age of Conan that I've yet to beat. He's a Ymirish General, and in spite of the major level difference (I'm presently L56 and he is L28), he simply hits too hard for my Barbarian to take him out. I don't have any damage mitigation that a tank does, so I get the full effect of this Ymir's hits. Sorry, Charlie, but AoC doesn't allow me to simply outlevel a boss to the point where his hits don't cause damage. Regular enemies can still hit --at a greatly reduced rate-- but bosses don't get that treatment.

The thing is, I've known about the Age of Conan boss limitation for (primarily) solo players for a while now. But I wasn't expecting a similar situation on LOTRO.


The instance in question is The Tomb of Elendil in Annuminas** that I've had in my quest queue for a long time now. I'm starting Part III of the Epic Questline, and so when I reached Tinnudir to talk to a certain Ranger, I figured I really ought to do something about that questline. I'd read up on it and knew that the final boss takes forever and a day to beat down if you attempt it solo, so I figured my L69 Champion could handle it, as it's an instance for L40.

Well, the first thing I discovered is that yes, if enough mobs beat on you that you can die to them in the instance. If you've done the instance, the first main room straight ahead I got rid of one mob, then attempted to take out a single elite by the door.

That was my first mistake.

That elite runs into the middle of the room and then aggros everything left in the room on me. With about a half dozen DoTs on me plus about 15 enemies, I died fairly quickly. I respawned and reentered the instance, then spent about 5 minutes slowly beating up the individual mobs before tackling that elite again.

I shook my head, grumbled something, and continued onward.

Taking note of any of that type of elite throughout the rest of the dungeon crawl really slowed down my progression into the tomb, and made this instance into a full clear. I wasn't taking any chances, so that turned what I felt would be 1/2 hour run to the final boss into an hour, including resting to heal up and recharge my Power bar.

I reached the ending of the instance, which the questline said to find the maguffin, and I stealthed on over (I'm an Elf and can pull that off without being a Burglar) and kept trying to click on the maguffin.

No dice.

I unstealthed and let the intro to the final boss fight begin. "So much for being clever", I thought.

Then the final boss started hitting and drawing adds.

I went from full health to 50% in nothing flat, and I started cursing up a blue streak as I realized I was NOT going to be able to take this boss out.

The youngest mini-Red wandered over, looked over my shoulder, and said "Ooo... That's bad."

I unclenched the mouse and massaged my right hand. I hadn't realized I'd had the thing in a death grip. "No kidding. I'd figured that being 29 levels higher than this thing would be enough, but I guess not."

"Well, that explains the cussing."

"Gee, thanks."

At least my wife wasn't around, otherwise she'd think that I'd come down with a sudden case of Tourettes Syndrome.


Games such as LOTRO still surprise me, even though I've been playing MMOs for over seven years now. A lot of times they're good surprises, such as finding a twist in a storyline that really sucks you in, or the background scenery looking so majestic all by itself. But this, this is one of the nasty surprises. It's a kick in the pants that says, "You don't know everything, so you'd better stay cautious."

I'd better remember that about life, too.

*There was one memorable LFG run into Blackrock Depths that began in the intro area, and everybody decided to stick together to do a full run of the place. It took us about 1.5 to 2 hours, but it was an incredibly fun ride.

**For the Tolkien fanatics, yeah I know, Elendil isn't buried there. And yes, I know where he's actually buried (it's provided in Unfinished Tales). That is even referenced in the questline, so the devs definitely did their homework putting this in place.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"She has the heart of a dwarf, I will tell you that!"

At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namarie! He said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.

`Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, `and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

It took a little over three months, but I finally finished the Mines of Moria (+ Lothlorien + Southern Mirkwood) expansion for LOTRO.

While the original LOTRO storyline, Shadows of Angmar, took a long time to really get going*, Mines of Moria starts off with a bang and then slows down into a long slog through darkness and the claustrophobic Khazad-dum.

Do not disturb the water.

Once again, hitting the L60 level cap meant that the story picks up in a way that plays to the strengths of Tolkien's creation. Interactions between Dwarves and Elves, the monumental task of actually cleansing the Mines (and what lies in the deep places of the world, as Gandalf called it), the complex nature of the Dwarves, and the omnipresent threat of Sauron all contribute to a well designed story.

Down there, you can see the camp fires of orcs.

While my few paragraphs are mostly spoiler-free, I will mention the obvious: the Fellowship's passage through Moria isn't referenced at all --after all, the Iron Garrison would have had no knowledge that the Fellowship went through the Mines-- until a PC reference is presented in Nud-Melek.

A view of the First Hall.

Lumping in Lothlorien into the Mines of Moria expansion as an additional zone to explore --similar to how The Firelands was added to WoW's Cataclysm expansion-- made perfect sense. I'd argue that while Lothlorien is larger in scope than The Firelands, it does serve a purpose as a spot for daily quests. Lothlorien also represents a spacing mechanism before the Epic Questline pushes on into Southern Mirkwood.

Across the Nanduhirion lies Lothlorien.

Again, Southern Mirkwood is an entirely new zone, much larger in scope than Lothlorien, but has fewer daily quests. It is primarily an end zone, allowing people to prep for end game fellowship quests and raids. Storywise, it is not only an End Zone for the Epic Questline, it provides an explanation for those who are familiar with the journey of The Fellowship: how is the Fellowship able to slip south along the Anduin River undetected by the obvious nearby presence of Dol Guldur and Orcs from Moria?

Even a sunny day can't drive away the gloom of Mirkwood,
in the shadow of Dol Guldur.

I remember reading in World Chat several days ago about how people liked Moria and Mirkwood at first, but after toiling in this zone for a long time without new content (sound familiar, WoW fans?) the expac began to really wear on people. I can see that happening, because it can be difficult to deal with the gloom of Southern Mirkwood --not to mention the Mines itself-- without needing to go periodically visit Bree or The Shire to enjoy the clear skies and happy faces of the NPCs.** Part of what made Shadows of Angmar better than the Mines of Moria is that the last half of the Epic Questline wasn't stuck solely in Angmar and Forochel***, but you traveled all over: Evendim, Bree, Ered Luin, North Downs, Lone Lands, Trollshaws, and Eregion. The nature of an expac is to focus on the new areas, but an expac such as the Mines of Moria is very limited in scope: you can't have the Epic Questline travel all over, because the action is all in Moria and its immediate surrounding areas. The Iron Garrison hails from Erebor and the Iron Hills, both areas far outside the scope of LOTRO.

Lothlorien is a pleasant diversion, but I miss the
sounds of Lake Nenuial in Evendim.

The timing of the Frodo's journey works against the Mines of Moria. Shadows of Angmar's latter half fits in rather neatly into the gap between when the Council of Elrond happened and the Fellowship exited Moria. As I'd previously mentioned, the travel involved in Shadows of Angmar isn't realistic (and neither is Turbine's condensing of Middle-earth into MMO sized chunks), but it does allow at least some time for the story to play itself out. The Mines of Moria doesn't have that luxury, as it has to fit into a much tighter time frame, so the game can't really afford to send you gallivanting across the length and breadth of Eriador.

At the end of the Epic Questline, I could really feel the atmosphere of Southern Mirkwood really wearing me down. And while I knew it was happening, I still wanted to push on to reach the end. The Epic Questline's end was a bit abrupt, but there were about 8+ Epilogues to fill in the gaps as to what happened after the final fight. I consider a few of them --and if you've played them you know which ones they are-- to be the true endings of this part of the story, leaving you feeling bittersweet about the whole thing.

Celeborn put it very well.

In a way, the ending of the Epic Questline in Southern Mirkwood surprised me a bit. There was a heavy reliance upon skirmishes to fill in the gaps, which is a departure from Shadows of Angmar. I don't think I minded too much, but it felt like there was an attempt to cut a few corners when it wasn't strictly necessary. SoA's endings weren't skirmishes, but they were instances you could relive via the Reflecting Pools around Eriador. In that respect, they felt more... well... personal than "just" a skirmish.

Having reached the end of the Mines of Moria expac, I know I've got another long slog ahead, this time to grind deeds so that I can start exploring into the lead-in to the Riders of Rohan expac, which I've been led to believe is the Cataclysm of LOTRO: the expac that broke the game.

We'll see about that, but I've got some time before I can find out.

Maybe I should wander Caras Galadon like the Fellowship did.
However, I do get a slightly uncomfortable feeling among
the Galadrim, like they're snickering at me behind my back.
Or that I'm like a puppy dog that they're playing with for a while.

*I'd argue that things for SoA really took off once you got to Gath Forthnir and reached the original L50 "endgame". At that point, the story had several twists and turns, involving back and forth across all of Eriador, until a satisfying (if saddening) ending is reached. I'd say that about half of the SoA story was told at the old "max level". I put that in quotes because you can keep leveling past L50, but the storyline was designed for L50. And I'm kind of grateful for that because of some of the areas you wander into in Angmar.

**The oldest mini-Red told me this story a couple of weeks ago about how someone came riding into Bree and started exclaiming in World Chat how wonderful and alive Bree was. "Been in Moria?" someone asked. "Yep," was the reply.

***Forochel gets depressing when the fog rolls in and you can't see more than a few feet in front of you. That happens in Evendim as well, but much less frequently.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, WoW

Jeez, at 12 years old WoW is almost a teenager.

By Theamat on DeviantArt:

And, courtesy of Marvel's Free Comic Book Day offering of Age of Ultron (several years ago):

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Now That's More Like It

Don't know what you got till it's gone
Don't know what it is I did so wrong
Now I know what I got
It's just this song
And it ain't easy to get back
Takes so long
--Don't Know What You've Got (Till It's Gone), Cinderella

The adventure I've been on the past month began when the graphics card in the main PC went belly up. I'd been thinking that we might want to upgrade some of the components over the holidays --if the bonus gods were willing to smile on us, that is-- but I'd been thinking that a new graphics card would be #2 on the list behind an SSD.

But that idea got thrown in the trash heap on November 4th.

Yeah, like this. Only with fewer cows.
From quickmeme.com.

I've already covered my adventures dealing with the Intel integrated graphics for my 3rd Gen i7 system (spoilers: they weren't happy ones), so I knew I had to shell out for a new card. And yes, I warned The Boss just how much one that would be a bit better but not top of the line would cost (~$200 US). So, with a budget in hand and potential specs a plenty, I sallied forth to do battle with the mighty graphics card market.

I used to be an NVidia fanboy from way back in the day, but I had some bad experiences with the GS series of NVidia cards in the late 2000s, so I'd switched to AMD's Radeon offerings when the current PC was built. I saw no need to change that, particularly since the AMD integrated graphics on the mini-Red's laptops ran rings around Intel's integrated graphics. If they can do that, I figured, then their dedicated cards will be good enough for me.

What I saw in research only confirmed my suspicions, as I zoomed in on the RX470 as the potential card to have. The 4 GB option in particular hit that ~$200 price point, and I had a traditional HD monitor, so I had no need for either the 8 GB or the RX480 cards. I also had a quirk of the system in that I only had a 6 pin power connector available for the graphics card, not an 8 pin, so that ended up limiting my selection to only a couple of cards.*

Namely, this one:

The Sapphire Radeon RX470 4GB. From pcworld.com.

Courtesy of my living close to Newegg's warehouse (it's only a state away), it arrived several days ahead of its original delivery date, which meant that I had an opportunity to install the sucker a lot sooner than I expected.

Nah, man. If I can figure out how to get a refrigerator
to fit in a small kitchen, I can buy the right sized
graphics card. From catplanet.org.
The only surprise I had during installation was that the power connection was on top of the damn card, not on the side, which meant that I had to get creative in terms of making sure the card fit around the case frame. Still, the installation and driver updates went fairly smooth, and the card itself is quieter than the old HD7700 I had in the PC.


Over the past week I've had a chance to sit down and try a stable of games with the new card to see what sort of difference it made to the graphics settings.

Now, I don't have a game that's less than two years old (Wildstar and Mass Effect 3 are the newest, from 2014), so the games I have don't really stress a game card like a current gen game (such as, say, Witcher III or Black Desert Online). Still, this card ought to handle both current gen games without much issue.

As for the games I own? let's just say that one game in particular surprised me. A lot.

LOTRO experienced some lag when entering certain areas (such as around Emyn Lun in Mirkwood), as if the game were busy loading data from the LOTRO servers. Given that LOTRO is closing in on its 10 year anniversary next year, I wasn't expecting the graphical lag like I got. But once that initial lag was over, the game ran smoothly.

I've checked online a bit, and discovered that I'm not the only person who has had these issues with LOTRO, and that it might actually be due to the game architecture. I can't really say, but it is definitely the only game that I've experienced this issue with.

But the graphics... Oh, yes. All of the little LOTRO graphics options are selected, and it makes a big difference in the background on the game. Items such as fog are much more realistic now, and background scenery is far more detailed. I can stand on the northern Dwarven outpost in Angmar and look down at Imlad Balcorath in the distance and see all of the details, something I couldn't see without sacrificing framerates.

Not too surprisingly, the game that benefits the most from the new graphics card has been SWTOR. The graphics engine for SWTOR is a bit clunky --even Bioware admits that-- but with a 4 GB card the game finally shines. I can actually set the shadow detail on high and get good framerates; no blobby shadows for me anymore. I really need to get over to my own personal hell, Alderaan, and see how the game holds up now. That used to be the place where my old graphics card went to go cry in a corner, so if it can handle that place, it can handle anything SWTOR throws at it.

Before the new card, those shadows would be blobs.
From mmorpg.com.

As for other games, the weirdest result I got was when loading Star Trek Online. It bitched that I didn't have the current graphics firmware, but then proceeded to load up the highest settings anyway. Something tells me that Cryptic Studios needs to update their graphics card firmware data. Neverwinter and Wildstar looked better, but not overwhelmingly so, as did Age of Conan.

Now, if there was a way for your Guild Wars 2 toons to look more, well, lived in with higher graphics settings and not as pristine as they do...


Was it worth it to upgrade?

Well, since I had no real choice, yeah. But if you mean compared to the old card, then yes to that too. I believe that the bigger boost to my system, however, would come from replacing the HDD with an SSD. But that is now an adventure for another time.

Besides, I've got other items to worry about for the next few months, such as university applications.

Oh yay.

*Why change out the power supply when I can find a card that works? Sure, it'd be nice to get a Sapphire Nitro RX470, but not because I had to spend an extra $50-100 on a power supply.

Monday, November 21, 2016

No Graphic Novel for You

The new graphics card is functional, and I'm going to have a post on that shortly. However, I wanted to pass along this little tidbit to Overwatch fans. Apparently the graphic novel set in the Overwatch universe has been scrapped.

From kotaku.com.au. For some reason I couldn't find this article
on the main kotaku.com site. Go figure. And no, I don't know who
this is; it's just the main pic on the article, and the "mobile exoskeleton"
armor looks suspiciously like a Star Trek Next Gen suit
in terms of its... swimsuit look.

This is actually quite an interesting development for Blizzard, as they've been moving heavily into other tie-in sources for a long time now. I'm sure that Blizz hasn't given up on creating a graphic novel for Overwatch, so we'll see how things work out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

...and much fun was had

New graphics card is here, and installation is ongoing at this time.

Thus sayeth Tim the Enchanter.

Here's hoping that there's no disasters. I could use a day without any issues.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Um.... Ouch

I was minding my own business, killing a few mobs on LOTRO in Mirkwood* when my screen went beige.

As in "the entire screen turned into one single beige block and the computer began emitting a BRAAAAAAP sound" sort of beige.

Having seen this sort of thing before I knew what it meant: my PC's video card decided to give up the ghost.

"But I clean the damn thing regularly!" I exclaimed, shaking a fist at the screen.

My wife heard me from the other room, even though she was in the middle of a tight game of Mario Kart online. "What's going on?" she asked.

I recycled the computer in a futile attempt to recover the thing, sighed, and walked over to the tv room. "I think the video card just died."

"Weren't you just talking about..."

"...thinking of upgrading parts of the thing? Yes, but--" I turned and shook my fist in the general direction of my office "--NOT NOW!!"

"So... what are you going to do? What does a replacement cost?"

"About $150 or so. I'm going to see if the motherboard has Intel integrated graphics capability so that we can limp along for a month or two."


A few hours --and one abortive attempt to try to use the old NVidia graphics card out of our previous PC**-- later, I managed to expose the previously hidden DVI connection for the Intel HD Graphics 4000 and get the machine back up and running.

I figured it couldn't hurt to try LOTRO, since it's a pretty old MMO, and fired it up.

That was a mistake.

I had to lower the graphics quality to "low" in order to get a fairly smooth (if you want to call it that) experience in Mirkwood. I quickly realized this wasn't going to work, and switched to Civ IV instead.

Civ IV worked better, until the graphics froze, locking the system.

This happened multiple times until I threw up my hands in disgust.

"Well," I told my wife, "you can watch videos, but don't try to tax the system too much, or it'll just die on you. It's something we'll have to deal with for the time being."


Alas, gaming is about to be shelved for a while.

Not that I don't have things to write about --I do-- but it would be nice to actually, you know, play something after a long day at work.

Somewhere, Murphy is laughing. I'm sure of it.

*Yes, I finally made it to Mirkwood. I'm kind of aware that the Moria questline will go back and forth for a while, but I don't know how it'll ultimately end up. We'll see, I suppose.

**The machine bitched like you wouldn't believe, so I gave up.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How often can you connect a video game with They Live?

The voice of Captain Anderson in Mass Effect is provided by prolific actor Keith David. For some people, he is also the voice of Goliath in the cartoon Gargoyles. For others, he's found in John Carpenter's films The Thing (Childs) and They Live (Armitage). And still others, he's known for his voice work in Halo, Saints Row, and Call of Duty.

But probably his best known current work in the US is something that's rarely heard beyond our borders.

That's because Keith David is the narrator for commercials for the US Navy.

It may not be well known outside the US, but the US military is an all volunteer force. Since they don't rely upon a draft to staff the military, each branch invests heavily in commercials and outreach.

And that includes television commercials.

So when I hear Captain Anderson in Mass Effect, I have this weird juxtaposition of Mass Effect and the US Navy.

This makes me wonder if people who are used to Jennifer Hale's voice in Mass Effect and other video games have flashbacks when they hear her voice as the SWTOR female trooper.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mass Effect vs SWTOR: A Short Comparison

Okay, this is very short, because I'm only about a couple of hours into Mass Effect itself.

Yes, yes, I bought the Mass Effect Trilogy. I bought it to help fill out an Amazon order to get it into the "free shipping" price area, and besides it was much cheaper than buying it from Origin.*

There were some adventures getting the original Mass Effect to work properly --mainly involving shutting down Origin when ME loads**-- but when it loaded...

Mass Effect is the natural progression of Bioware cinematic storytelling from Baldur's Gate I and II through Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic I and II, and Jade Empire. That cinematic storytelling process is actually quite revealing to me, who played BG 1 and 2 in the late 90s/early 00s and then skipped ahead to SWTOR long before going back to Jade Empire and now Mass Effect. In a way, Bioware's original Mass Effect story mirrors the intro stories of SWTOR to a significant degree.

Part 1: Starting Zone

It goes without saying that MMOs have a starting zone where the player first learns the basics before setting off into the big bad world. Even useful learning experiences like "don't stand in the bad" will make an appearance in the Starting Zone and it's adjacent low level zones. But as for the story in a Starting Zone, that's been fleshed out over time.

The evolution of the MMO starting zone from generic knockabout place to one with a specific storyline can be most easily seen in WoW. The Vanilla races, particularly in the pre-Cataclysm questlines, were very much a hodge-podge of "do this", "fetch that", "kill ten rats"***. The BC races had a bit of a questline but still harkened back to that earlier Vanilla era. It was only in the post-Cataclysm races that you found an actual story --using phasing-- that dominated the starting zone experience.

Age of Conan, with its Tortage starting zone, probably is the best of the classic old style MMOs for a story driven starting area. It's a shame, really, that the story driven promise of Tortage wasn't followed up in the regular zones to the same degree.

LOTRO, of course, does have its own story driven zones that propel the player into the next, regular low level areas, but the story line can get lost in the "kill ten rats" quests that dominate the game. It's only when you hit the old "max level" quests does the LOTRO Shadows of Angmar story really shine.

But SWTOR is a different animal entirely. Designed to be strictly a story driven MMO from the start, each of the eight class stories deals with the same general process:
  • Player is given an initial couple of quests
  • Player deals with a sudden shakeup of the current order, and has to spend the bulk of the starting zone making sense of the shakeup
  • Player is handed a sudden story twist that turns the entire conflict on its head and propels the story to the faction's capital planet.
This by itself isn't too remarkable, since LOTRO's, AoC's, and WoW's Cataclysm races have similar trajectories. However, the other three's lack of fully acted cutscenes lack the same emotional punch that SWTOR's has.****

Which leads me neatly into Mass Effect, which has cutscenes that heighten the dramatic impact when the unexpected twist happens. You could also argue that there were two unexpected twists for the intro zone for Mass Effect, the *mumblety mumble* one and the one at the very end of the mission, and I'd not disagree with you.

Hell-lo, bad boy.
From multiple places on the web.

Part 2: Capital City and Intrigue

It kind of goes without saying that in MMOs a standard exit from the starting zone is the pilgrimage to the faction/race's Capital City/Planet. You leave Shadowglen and end up at Teldrassil. Your Cimmerian leaves Tortage and ends up at Conarch Village.***** Your Sith leaves Korriban and ends up at Dromund Kaas.

And so it goes with Mass Effect that you end up at The Citadel.

For a space based SF game, Mass Effect and SWTOR are eerily alike: you arrive without a means of interstellar travel as a passenger on a ship, and you have to navigate the consequences of the story twist on the starter world. You're introduced to galactic politics, various races, and no small amount of intrigue along the way. An older game such as Mass Effect compresses the experience a bit compared to the more fully realized MMO environment, but it still provides an eerily similar experience to the SWTOR capital cities. Mass Effect's angle is a bit different than most of the SWTOR class stories as the politics is more direct and at the highest levels of (what passes for) government, but all revolve around the same basic theme of dealing with the fallout from the starting world.

Part 3: A Ship and the Means to Go Where We Will

I thought Joachim's line from The Wrath of Khan highly appropriate for this last part.

The SWTOR player has conquered the immediate threat on the Capital world, and as a result more issues appear on other worlds. Time to give that player a starship!

(Or, in the case of the Smuggler, 'I have GOT MY DAMN SHIP BACK! and I now want to go and... What's this? Treasure you say?')

From swtor.wikia.com.

And Mass Effect follows the same pattern. (Sorry kids, no spoilers here.)

From masseffect.wikia.com.

The Normandy has some really nice lines and a great look, but my fondness still goes with the Smuggler's starship.

The Normandy and a SWTOR starship are outwardly dissimilar, but inside you can talk to your crew and advance crew questlines. Since Mass Effect is rated M, that presumably means a romance that enters into R rated territory, unlike SWTOR's romances. However, since the crew in SWTOR is somewhat limited in scope (at least initially), the Normandy not only looks bigger it feels bigger.

Part 4: No More Hurry Up and Wait

On the flip side, the missions for Mass Effect are akin to taking an entire SWTOR planet story and compressing it a bit. That has the effect of heightening the tension while at the same time making you feel like you just might be missing something somewhere. MMO zone/planet stories have enough time spread out between them that you have a bit more leisure time to take care of any side quests without rushing things too much.

I suppose you could say that Mass Effect --and other Bioware console/PC games-- have had an impact on SWTOR in Knights of the Fallen Empire by eliminating a lot of the side quests and enabling the player to focus strictly on the main questline with few interruptions.

Conclusions: What, you were expecting spoilers?

I've obviously not gotten very far in Mass Effect 1. Among other things, I'm playing ME1 at the same time as LOTRO and keeping myself afloat in SWTOR and some other MMOs, and I'm resisting the impulse to play until 4 AM.****** But the more I play ME1, the more I think that the experience with the Mass Effect series in particular has influenced Bioware's design for SWTOR.  There's been more than once when I've exclaimed "Hey, that feels like SWTOR!" while playing the game.

Which isn't a bad thing in my book.

*Or buying a used XBox 360 and the games that way.

**There's actually a setting box for this in the game's settings menu in Origin --not the Settings menu IN GAME, but the one in Origin itself. If you deselect the option for keeping Origin running while ME plays, you're able to play the game properly. Took me about 45 minutes of tweaking and Googling to figure that one out.

***Often literally so.

****Like, oh, the cutscene for the Trooper's or the Knight's sudden twist.

*****Yes, I know, Cimmerians don't have a capital city because they are nomadic tribes, but as an in-game necessity the Cimmerians use the home village of Conan's tribe as the "capital".

******Although this election season has made me want to lose myself in a game --or drink a lot-- for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Some Wednesday Humor

While there's already a classic College Humor skit out there for how female armor sucks, this dropped over the summer from Viva La Dirt League (on their YouTube channel):

Yep, it's kind of like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


For those in the know --and those not impacted by the DDoS attack on DNS servers yesterday-- Friday was the beginning of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists against eleven prominent video game companies.

Here's the list of companies, courtesy of the SAG-AFTRA pdf:

  • Activision Publishing Inc.
  • Blindlight, LLC
  • Corps of Discovery Films
  • Disney Character Voices, Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.
  • Formosa Interactive, LLC
  • Insomniac Games, Inc.
  • Interactive Associates, Inc.
  • Take 2 Interactive Software
  • VoiceWorks Productions, Inc. and
  • WB Games, Inc.
If you notice, several major MMO properties are hit by this, such as WoW (Activision), SWTOR (EA), and LOTRO (WB Games).

I do have to wonder what sort of impact this strike will have on future games in the pipeline. I don't think that games that are already in the can but haven't been released are going to be affected, such as the latest SWTOR expac or Mass Effect Andromeda, but anything still being developed is likely to be impacted.

The interview with Jennifer Hale (yes, the Mass Effect and SWTOR Trooper Jennifer Hale) on NPR linked to above is very interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Switching Things Around

Nintendo became the first of the big three console makers to drop a trailer for their next gen console, the Nintendo Switch.

Unlike Sony and Microsoft with their upcoming releases, the Switch is actually a replacement console for the Wii U, and it goes in the direction that Sony attempted to move with their Vita 2, but amped up to 11.

Here's the trailer that Nintendo dropped this morning:

Yes, you saw that right. They were playing Skyrim with the game.

With the presence of Splatoon on the Switch, it seems that the Wii U will still likely connect to the Nintendo network platform.

Additionally, given Nintendo's typical modus operandi of supporting the previous console's games on the current console, Wii U games will likely be playable on the Switch.

Nintendo also claims to have 50 developer houses on board for game creation for the Switch, but the real question is whether they will hang in there or bug out after a year or so like developers did with the Wii U.

One other item of note is that the system runs on a custom Nvidia Tegra processor, the same processor family found in Nvidia Shield tablet. Perhaps that is why the Switch looks like it can do so much given its mobile emphasis.

Still, it looks like Nintendo is blurring the lines between mobile and traditional console gaming in a way that wasn't possible before.

EtA: Added the links to some of the items.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You know you've become immune to video game bugs when...

...you almost fail a quest because you think that the "slurred" words are merely bugged, poorly translated ones.

That happened on LOTRO for me, with the Lothlorien quest (just north of the vinyards) to admonish the Elven revelers who have... imbibed... way too much.* I read the exclamations above the revelers, and at first thought that those who actually said something were the ones who need to be admonished.

One try disabused me of that idea.

Then the next try I noticed the slurred or mispronounced words. Surely, I thought, they could have gotten a better QA person to fix this.


OH! THOSE are the people I need to admonish!

Excuse me while I go and imbibe a little, myself...

*Seriously, with three weeks to go before the 2016 US Presidential Election, I think I'll be doing the imbibing along with the NPCs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Not Everyday an MMO Trailer Blows Up

Well, I should clarify that and say "an MMO trailer NOT from Blizzard blows up the internet".

Bioware must be doing something right, as the 6 minute trailer from Bioware for the upcoming expac for SWTOR started trending on FB today. The funny thing is, people are pointing at the trailer as being better than several of the Star Wars movies.

Seriously, go Google it and you'll see.

Oh, and here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet:

Friday, September 30, 2016

Yeah, Right...

Courtesy of Facebook.

Pretty sure people know my opinion on this one.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Few Short Musings

  • If I ran as much as my LOTRO toon does, I'd be back to a normal weight.

    I'm at that point in the Mines of Moria storyline where I'm sent from the Crossroads down to the Waterworks, then back to the 21st Hall, then down to the Flaming Deeps, and then back to the 21st Hall, then down to the Waterworks.... You get the idea. Outside of the fact that the storyline wouldn't simply wait for me to go back and forth like that* if this were closer to a real time event, I'd have worked off all those years of helping to "eliminate" excess Halloween candy in our household.
  • Even though I love the "slurring" that WoW has their toons perform when talking, I think I prefer the LOTRO version of the "drunk toon". Sure, both MMOs have the screens get progressively blurrier, but LOTRO takes it a step further by making everything monochromatic sepia toned, like you're swimming in an oil tainted pool. The toneless muttering also makes it sound like I've collapsed in a corner, arguing with myself over whether Stalin would have arisen in Russia if Lenin hadn't passed away when he did.
  • It felt weird logging into SWTOR after having spent so much time in LOTRO recently. I'd jumped on a toon that was deep in Justicar territory on Coruscant, and it felt.... Airy. I never thought I'd say that about the lower levels of Coruscant, but after a month's worth of slogging through the Mines of Moria, it sure feels open. And welcoming.

*I once read it described as an offshoot of moving at the speed of plot. In a novel or a pencil and paper RPG, these boring parts can be skipped to keep the pace going. Videogames, not so much. You'd have to rely upon cutscenes to keep things moving, or automated transportation perhaps, but neither is an ideal situation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Gimli cast his hood over his face.

The Company stood silent beside the tomb of Balin. Frodo thought of Bilbo and his long friendship with the dwarf, and of Balin's visit to the Shire long ago. In that dusty chamber in the mountains it seemed a thousand years ago and on the other side of the world.

At length they stirred and looked up, and began to search for anything that would give them tidings of Balin's fate ...

'I fear the book had ill tidings to record ...' said Gandalf. 'The first clear word is sorrow, but the rest of the line is lost, unless it ends in estre. Yes, it must be yestre followed by day being the tenth of novembre Balin lord of Moria fell in Dimrill Dale. He went alone to look in Mirror mere. an orc shot him from behind a stone. we slew the orc, but many more ... up from east up the Silverlode. ... Poor Balin! He seems to have kept the title that he took for less than five years.'
--from The Fellowship of the Ring

I'm a bit of a night owl. This admission is no surprise to people who know me, but it also means that I'm used to the night sky and darkness in general. There were days at a previous job when I'd go to work early (3 AM local time) and leave at 7 PM, and in the winter I'd never see the sun in the sky.*

But after a few weeks of Moria, I've started craving the sun.

Although I may play one on LOTRO, I'm no elf. I don't mind urban environments, and as a kid I wanted to be an astrophysicist**, so I was fine with staying up all night working on telescopes. Khazad-dum, however, is a completely different animal.

Sure, there are places where there are wide open caverns that give the impression of space, but you're still enclosed under a mountain of rock.***

At least somebody has a sense of humor in this Valar forsaken place.
There's plenty to enjoy about the Mines of Moria, however, I can't shake the sense of impending doom. Sure, I know what happened to Durin's Bane courtesy of The Fellowship of the Ring, but that doesn't mean that the devs don't have more tricks up their sleeves. After all, the last third of Shadows of Angmar was a case study in an increasingly futile attempt to stop Angmar's inevitable victory in the North.

Having just completed the Waterworks (minus the raid part), all I can think of is that Balin and Company certainly weren't unprepared, and Balin himself was a shrewd and wise Dwarf. Was he simply blind to the reality of Durin's Bane, or did he think he'd marshaled enough forces to overcome what the entire Dwarf city of Khazad-dum could not? Of course, the expedition in the Expac is fortuitous in that a major obstacle (the Balrog) is removed, but the Balrog itself didn't destroy Balin's expedition; it was everyone else who'd moved into the Mines since the Dwarves fled who did it in.

(One of these days I should just go look up Stephen Colbert and shoot the breeze with him about whether he thought that Moria was reclaimed in the Fourth Age.)

*I would get in early so I could actually, you know, get work done. the 4-5 hours of (almost) nobody around meant that nobody would stop by and talk to me about stuff, so it meant I could focus on my large pile of work to do.

**I figured that since I was nearsighted --and consequently unable to sign up to be a fighter pilot-- going the science route would be the best way to qualify for the astronaut corps. There's one family story about when my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said "An Astrophysicist!" A puzzled look crept across her face, and she turned to my mom. In a loud whisper, she asked "What IS that?" "I don't know!" my mom whispered back.

***I've visited a couple of artificial caverns created by mining limestone (and Detroit has underground salt mines that I've not visited but are similar in scope), and the spaces created are similar but on a smaller scale. The closest I can describe it is the 21st Hall in terms of columns preventing the ceiling from collapsing, as I doubt Tolkien had the mining knowledge to understand how to tie the ceiling into the bedrock above and prevent the ceiling from collapsing. Tolkien could understand columns, however.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Well, That's That

I was going to post about something else, but it seems that Blizzard is continuing its dominance of my posting cycle.

This time, it's a bit unexpected: Chris Metzen is retiring from Blizzard.

He's not leaving for another company, unlike some of the others in the industry, but actually jumping off of the train to spend time with his family.

While I didn't agree with every decision Blizz' WoW dev team made, I can respect his work. Best of luck, Chris.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't Click on the Random Item...

...just sayin'.

Why, you may ask?

If SWTOR's tendency to hide World Bosses behind clickable items won't deter you*, maybe this will:

Seriously, if you find a hidden puzzle without any explanation, don't start acting like the dwarves in Khazad-dum and delve too greedily and too deep. You just might unleash an Old God upon Azeroth.

*And really, I've done that several times on SWTOR before I finally got the hint and didn't click. Like, say, on Voss. "Oh look, a mysterious tablet. OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!!!!!!!"

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Now this is a bit more like it

With Legion's release imminent, this arrived in my INBOX:

Now this is what I kind of expected from Blizz. No mention of my previous mains, however.

Best of luck to WoW players on release day!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Now This is an Odd Gear Check

Silly me.

And here I thought I was going to proceed with the story for LOTRO's Mines of Moria expansion without running into a grind.

But a few days later, and I'm slaying Orcs and Angmarim and Dunlendings in Eregion, grinding away at getting a legendary weapon up to L10. Apparently a legendary weapon demands sacrifice, bathing in the blood of my enemies. (Who knew?)

The first five levels weren't so bad.

The next two as well.

But by the time you reach L8, you have to whack a bunch of orcs just to move up a level, and I dread what it's going to be like when I get to, oh, much farther downstream, such as L20 or so.

I had no idea that I would end up wielding Stormbringer in LOTRO.

This was what the cover of the first Elric book
I owned looked like. From tor.com.

And maybe I ought to start getting concerned about LOTRO's endgame, given how the Elric Saga ended up.

(And no, I'm not going to spoil that one; the Moorcock books are very quick reads. But given that Michael Moorcock has rather publicly stated his dislike for Tolkien's works, I'm not sure what he'd think about my comparison.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"I'm going on an adventure!!"

Somewhere, up there, lies the Black Pit.

Courtesy of a lot of diligent grinding --and a major boost from the LOTRO 50% off sale-- I managed to accumulate enough Turbine Points to nab the entire expansion for the Mines of Moria.

Some thanks goes to the oldest mini-Red, who has one toon on my account on this server, and did some grinding for deeds herself a while back.

But if you'll excuse me, there's a world underneath those mountains to explore.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shaken, Not Stirred

I've always wanted to play a spy, because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem. --Benedict Cumberbatch

The 60's era spy genre, as interpreted by the SWTOR Agent class story, has all of the classics covered: danger, double crossing, sex/romance, an insidious enemy, and a dashing, heroic character at the center.

And no easy choices.

Although it was before my time by several
years, I'm familiar with this tune by Johnny Rivers.

I'm about at the end of Chapter 2, and I recognize all of the signs for a big reveal and/or turning point that sends me on to Chapter 3.* But the more I've thought about the class story that I've seen so far, I've been impressed with how clever Bioware has been to humanize the story and get you on the agent's side.

(Spoilers after the break)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What a Puzzlement

The name I'd chosen eons ago for the Blizzard forums is not Redbeard, believe it or not.

I was quite a bit more mundane and used one of my old standby forum names, because I was used to having Redbeard already taken.*

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an e-mail from Blizzard.

A small portion of the e-mail.

Yes, ol' Redbeard is front and center in the e-mail.

I'm used to some of my toons showing up in the occasional Blizzard e-mail, such as Azshandra, Nevelanthala, and Tomakan, but this is.... different.

Just who reads this blog, anyway?

*There must be a ton of Scooby Doo fans out there. Unfortunately, I'm not going to link the episode that features the Ghost of Redbeard, "Go Away Ghost Ship", as I can see that the videos out there are pretty thinly veiled attempts to avoid copyright infringement (video is speeded up, and white dots and smudges are deliberately introduced to avoid bots.)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Methinks I need a new d20

Gen Con begins today in Indianapolis, and this year I'm going to be reduced to watching it from afar.

Due to school commitments (marching band camp) and monetary commitments (the Grand College Tour), we're going to take a pass this year.

But that doesn't mean that I won't keep up with what's going on, as boardgamegeek.com has their BoardGameGeekTV up and running over at Gen Con.

And I've  a connection on the inside, as my brother-in-law has been attending for years and is likely in line right now (~6 AM Indianapolis time).

Go forth and play games!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hey, at least I didn't die of dysentery

I haz returned.

The Great College Tour is complete. Universities and colleges were visited, food was consumed, and nary a video game was played.

Hell, I didn't even THINK of MMOs or video games until our last visit of the Tour. The guide for the last university tour paused in front of a room at the Student Center and asked if anyone here played video games.

Three mini-Reds' hands shot up, along with those of a couple of other people.

Well, the guide said, this is the video game room. There are consoles and oversized screens there for people to play, and it's all free of charge.

I swear I thought I saw the mini-Reds' levitate.


Not all was serious business, certainly. We did sample the local cuisine (which, in Chicago, means Chicago style hot dogs and Chicago style pan pizza), and we took a day off and visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Here, have a picture of the Pioneer Zephyr --the first US streamliner-- which was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1960:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Clean Up in Aisle Four

After several years, I've finally pushed past the last Kerrals Jarvis quest in the Agent's storyline on Hutta and begun my last unfinished class story in earnest.

Even after creating another new Agent and reaching that same moral roadblock, I finally decided to bite the bullet and finish that quest. Still, that wasn't an easy thing to do.

(Spoilers after the break for the SWTOR storylines.....)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Have a Nice Trip

I spent most of the past week visiting different colleges and universities with the Redbeard clan, and while that also meant not a whole lot of gaming, I also got a lot of exercise walking around several campuses.

Sort of.

You see, I'd busted my foot back in early June the day of a college visit to Bowling Green State University. I was walking across our hotel's open area, where their attempt to invoke the images of New Orleans' French Quarter included masks such as these:

The photo doesn't do it justice.
The thing is close to 2 meters tall.
As I was staring at these masks that my wife compared to American Horror Story's Freak Show, I tripped over my feet and I felt intense pain in the heel of my foot. To my later regret, I convinced myself that I'd be fine and went on the visit anyway, which included a 90 minute walking tour of the campus.

I discovered just how much of a mistake that was when we left for home after the visit and stopped for lunch along the way. I simply could not put any weight on my foot without pain shooting through my heel.

After a week, I decided to visit the doctor's office since the pain wasn't going away much at all in spite of rest, ice, and elevation. The doctor took an x-ray and discovered that my foot was not in fact broken, but merely sprained. More rest and ice was the prescription.

Fast forward to a month and a half later, I can walk fairly well, but the foot is around 85-90%.

But it still isn't fun walking around college campuses, particularly those with lots of hills.


Anyway, after one of the campus tours we stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Latin restaurant. We placed our order, and while we were waiting, I noticed a couple of construction workers eating nearby. Normally, that's not a surprise, but what attracted my eye was the "Blizzard" logo on the back of one of the workers' shirt.

Sure enough, when he went to get a drink, he had a giant Horde symbol on the front.

"For the Horde," I whispered. And smiled.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Anyone for a friendly game of pick-up?

MMO players tend to be a bit of an odd breed.

No, I don't mean in the "u suck noob!" manner, and not in the "obsess over a game" manner either.

But in how a significant portion of the player base is constantly looking at new, unreleased material and that this is considered completely normal.

Imagine about 10-20% of the people who saw The Force Awakens got to see it about 2 months beforehand, multiple times, and a) got to provide detailed write-ups of the entire plot and the fights before the movie was even released, and b) used the viewings to organize friends into the optimal movie watching strategy for the Midnight showing. And consider that the really hardcore viewers were in a race to see who could finish watching the movie first, and you've got a bit of what it's like operating with the PTR servers for an MMO.

It may sound silly when converting the MMO concept of a PTR server into other forms of entertainment, but to a decent sized portion of the player base a PTR server is absolutely vital to playing an MMO. Working out boss strategies, figuring out optimal pathways to world firsts, exploring every corner of a new expac (major or minor) and writing up a world guide, and figuring out what the newest "hot" PvP class will be are all integral to the MMO experience.

For MMO developers, the PTR provides free player feedback and bug reports, so it is a win-win for them as they can tweak the patches prior to formal release. As an IT person myself, I completely get that; it's the equivalent of a QA server where people can kick the tires prior to a formal release to Production. And I like that, as it means that I have a better chance at a bug-free release.

But this also highlights what MMOs are to a certain amount of the player base: an exercise in (group) mechanics and achievements, where the theme is secondary (or tertiary, if you count the toon sex appeal on some games*).


I'm guilty as the next person for trying to do things such as figuring out a rotation or going to Elitist Jerks and try to min/max my toons' gear, but I have to wonder whether the MMO community has lost something over the years.

Go ahead and Google "legion is coming are you ready", and scan the results. I see forum and blog and YouTube posts from as far back as August and September 2015 on how to maximize your output and prep your stable of toons to be ready for when Legion drops. Remember, these are posts from almost a year ago about what, mechanically speaking, you need to do to prepare yourself for the new WoW expac that hasn't dropped yet.

To me, as a long time boardgame player, these articles remind me of discussions surrounding the hard core Eurogames, such as Puerto Rico or Tigris and Euphrates. If you hang around BoardGameGeek enough, you'll find that there's an "optimal" strategy for Puerto Rico, and if you play with some of the hard core, you'll be berated if you deviate from that strategy; yes, the exact same "L2P NOOB!!!" behavior exists in the board game community. And, like the MMOs, the theme is less important than the mechanics and the team requirements to win the game (or finish the raid). Eurogames in particular were infamous for a tacked-on theme hiding behind an optimization game, and if you were out shopping for boardgames it made a lot of sense to read the entire description on the back very carefully so you'd know whether the game is the sort that you'd be interested in or not. What might be a game that sounds like wheeling and dealing in Istanbul's grand bazaar is really an economic simulation that requires you to figure out how many wheelbarrows you need to transport goods to market to exchange for rubies. The theme itself is secondary to the mechanics behind the theme.

Comparing a Eurogame to an MMO isn't really fair, since MMOs are much bigger than any Euro, and because they are bigger, they can appeal to far more than simply the min-maxers and the others. But at the same time, those subgroups do take up a lot of the oxygen in the room.


I used to gripe at Blizzard for shoving a lot of plot and background development off screen and into their books. "The game is right there," I'd say, "why not incorporate all of this into the game instead?"

My belief was that Blizz had decided that it was cheaper to pay an author to write a tie-in novel rather than develop the story in WoW itself, and I'm sure that's still part of the equation. But what if Blizzard did this because it wanted to get some of the story out of the game? Maybe Blizzard recognized that enough players weren't interested in the story, so to preserve the story as much as possible yet still accommodate those players that weren't interested, they decided to push the story into novels. The critical path storyline is still present in the game, but all of the background material that a decent portion of the player base wouldn't be interested in was moved offline, as it were.

If this is the case, then Blizz is performing one more balancing act that I'd not have considered beyond the traditional PvE vs. PvP and the class balancing ones: how much story to incorporate in game and how much reveal before release.


I've picked on WoW a bit in this meandering post because Legion is due out soon, but this argument that MMO players are focusing so much on mechanics --to the extent that they spend time in playing the game in PTR to be ready for when the game is actually released-- could be applied to just about any other MMO out there.*** It just seems somewhat unreal when you think about it, that a player willingly sacrifices their sense of wonder at seeing something new just so that they've got their practice in when the big day comes.

In that respect, maybe MMOs are a bit like sports after all. There are those who play for purely social reasons, and those who make a commitment to dedication to work hard and do well. And then there are the pros (and the wannabee pros) who practice so that nothing is ever left to chance.

As for me, I realize that I'm never going to be hardcore, and I know that my physical skills aren't as good as they were even 5-6 years ago, so I'm not worried about being the best I can be. Competence is enough. And I know enough now to realize that while I've got elements of a completionist and a perfectionist in me, it's about the journey rather than the destination.

That's not going to keep me from griping at rules changes, and nothing screams "stay off my lawn!" more than grousing about how things were back in the day.

*gamebynight.com pretty much covered my opinion of TERA, particularly Item #4.

**I'm sure Blizz could generate statistics based on how quickly players click through quest text.

***Or MOBA.

EtA: Corrected a grammatical issue. Or two.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Whatever you do, DON'T piss off a Sith

In honor of the Dark vs. Light event going on in SWTOR, I thought I'd post a link to a Taylor Davis video.

If you may recall, Taylor is the violinist who has been making videos of her arrangements of music from all corners of geekdom. People who have read PC before may recall my post referencing her rendition of Theme for Rohan by Chance Thomas for the LOTRO expansion Riders of Rohan. Well, she's outdone herself in this video, uploaded just prior to the release of The Force Awakens last December.

And yes, that's her as both Jedi and Sith.

I could have done without the synthesized backing music, but that's because I hear that and get flashbacks to the Star Wars Theme by MECO.

For the curious, here's the YouTube video of the behind the scenes making of her Star Wars Medley:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

1200 down, only 1200 to go

It's kind of ironic to me that a game that has so many expansions --LOTRO-- has slowed to a grindy crawl for me.

I've finished Shadows of Angmar, and I've got the epic questline for the Mines of Moria, but I don't have the expansion purchased. And, I'm determined to handle this with Turbine Points, which means I have to grind deeds.

Lots and lots of deeds.

as the title of this post makes plain, I've got a loooong way to go before I can purchase the expac. And even then, I'll likely need to wait for a sale in the LOTRO Store for me to actually get enough Turbine Points to buy the thing.

Will it be worth it?

Everything I've read online has said that the Mines of Moria is fantastic, but that only goes so far with motivation when you're killing another 100 orcs.*


With LOTRO becoming a slog, I've returned to SWTOR for the time being.

In an amusing bit of topsy-turvy, just as I got heavily invested in the Shadows of Angmar ending, the mini-Reds went back to SWTOR and started playing that heavily.

Having created somewhere along the lines of about 16 toons across several servers, I know the SWTOR zones fairly well by now, and so I was amused by hearing them talk during lunch about what they're doing with the characters they've created. And the comparisons between World Chat on LOTRO and Zone Chat on SWTOR.

From my perspective, World Chat on LOTRO has declined a bit of late, with a few people on Gladden spamming WC with stuff for sale (at a grossly excessive price) and people following along behind them telling them to move it to Trade Chat. And then there's the Trump fans --and those who think Trump isn't going far enough-- and let's just say that I've not been enjoying LOTRO's World Chat much lately.

However, SWTOR's Zone Chats aren't exactly better, either. And to be honest, I'd really really hate to see what Trade Chat on WoW is like right now.

Seems that the coarsening of public debate has hit the MMO genre in a huge way this Summer. Not that things were great before this Summer, but I feel there has been a distinct drop-off in quality and behavior since both the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Brexit referendum kicked into high gear.

And if it's bad in MMO space, I hate to think of what it's like in Xbox Live, Playstation Plus, or in chat for MOBAs right now.


At times like this, I wouldn't blame people one bit for turning off World/Zone/Trade Chat and focusing almost completely on Guild Chat.

If you're surrounded by a bubble of friends, it can make all the difference between enjoying yourself and throwing your hands up in disgust. Sure, it's a bit of an echo chamber, but there are times when you want to seal yourself off from the rest of the nuthouse and just enjoy yourself.

Me, I go take a walk for some peace and quiet.**

Or maybe I should just go kill another 100 orcs or so.

*Per region. Or whatever the numbers are, but they're pretty high.

**Well, kind of. I busted my foot pretty badly a few weeks ago, and I proceeded to hobble along on a walking tour of a university an hour later. (Which was a big mistake.) The docs confirmed the foot isn't broken, but I was limping around in a boot for a few weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

As Memes Go.....

I'm not exactly a great fan of memes.

The ones you find floating around Facebook and other social media outlets often tend to reduce a complex topic down to a few partially correct zingers. Or they misassign quotes* while passing them off as correct.

That said, there is a place for memes of the sort that are making the blogging rounds again, such as the Creative Blogger Award. They provide a means of peeling back the facade and revealing a bit about the blogger behind the site without forcing the blogger to shout "Look at MEEEEE!" any more than they have to.**

Before you smirk and say "what are blogs for, anyway, if not for expressing your narcissism?", consider that most of the bloggers I know aren't the classic extrovert personalities. They do all love something, whether it is gaming, writing, or something else, and they use blogging to share their love with the world in a (relatively) passive way.

Pewdiepie, we're not.

As much as I groaned about it when I received the Creative Blogger Award nomination from Ravanel Griffon of Ravalation last week, I didn't mind quite as much as I let on. It's not a series of Truth or Dare questions, or even Twenty Questions, but rather 5 facts about yourself.

That, I can do.


In no particular order, here are five facts about me that I'm pretty sure nobody in the blogosphere knows:

  • I once had a letter to Radio Austria International read on the air.

    I believe I may have mentioned once or twice that I do listen to shortwave radio, but my habits today aren't what they were back in the 90's and the 00's. Before the Web, I would get my international news from shortwave heavyweights such as the BBC World Service, Radio Deutche Welle, and Radio Nederland. Among the smaller players that beamed to North America, such as Radio Japan or Swiss Radio International, was Radio Austria International (or Radio Österreich International, ORF for short). Due to my work schedule, ORF's English Service was often the last program I'd listen to before bedtime, and they managed to pack in the news from Vienna as well as the program Report from Austria. One day, after listening to the news, I decided to send ORF a reception report as well as a comment on a story in the news --something I rarely did-- and a few weeks later I received a letter saying my letter was going to be read on the air. Sure enough, at the date specified, my letter was read on the air with a short comment from the presenter.

  • The letter suffered from water damage dating from
    the move into our current house, but here it is after some cleaning up.

    Sadly, Radio Austria International is now defunct, a victim of budget cuts and the changing methods of broadcasting news for nations worldwide.

  • I once had to type three lab reports in one night.

    This might not sound so bad until you realize that each lab report was 20 - 30 pages long. And that the only reason why I did it was because my save disk became corrupted, ruining my copies of my reports.

    I'm dating myself here, but I'd been using old word processor program WordStar to work on my lab reports, and saving the data on 5.25" floppy disks. (Kids, if don't know what 5.25" floppy disks are, Google it.) Anyway, I was working on cleaning up the reports before a presentation at my lab final exam when I tried saving, and I heard the familiar ka-chung of the floppy drive's gears screwing up. Sure enough, my data was corrupted.

    In a panic, I realized I had about seven hours to rewrite about 80 or so pages to turn in for a grade.

    To make a long story short, with a lot of effort, a lot of tea, and a lot of semi-insane muttering to myself, I finished the reports in time. And I even survived the presentation during the final, which I believe was due to my being so tired I really didn't care how I sounded, so I wasn't scared at all.
  • I am scared to death of needles.

    This isn't that much of a surprise, I suppose, since a lot of people don't like shots, but my personal reason why I could never do heroin centers around two specific incidents.

    The first one was a shot I received when I was 13 and I'd broken my collarbone at school. The needle that the doctor used to give me a shot of morphine prior to setting the bone was so large --about 0.25" diameter-- that I could see the hole at the end of the needle clearly. That terrified me, but because I was in such pain and was shoved down onto the table, I couldn't move as the glorified Morgul blade slowly moved in and punctured my shoulder.
    I feel for you, Frodo.
    From lotro.wikia.com.

    The second incident happened when I was much older, and as part of a life insurance application a nurse was dispatched to my house to draw a blood sample. The process was supposed to be simple: draw some blood from a vein in my right arm. While the nurse prepped my arm, I looked away, gritted my teeth and waited for the needle. I felt the needle prick, and then a whole lot of extra, well, movement in my arm. "Does that hurt?" the nurse asked. I glanced over and saw her wiggling the needle in a wide arc while it was still puncturing my arm.

    "Uh....." I began, my brain not really registering what I was seeing.

    "Ah, dammit, I went right through your vein. I'm going to have to use the other arm." She yanked the needle out, put it away, and grabbed a new needle and my left arm.

    After she was finished, my wife said something to the effect of "If you weren't scared of needles before, you definitely are now!"

    Gee, thanks.

  • I once owned a car that had a hole in the floor.


    The car was a 70s era Plymouth that had more rust on the body than actual metal, and one day I realized the the place where I'd been putting my left foot while driving felt, well, breezy. I checked out the place after I parked, and sure enough there was a heel-sized hole in the floor, with rust flakes all around. All that kept my foot from plunging through the floor and striking the pavement was the carpeting.

    And for the record, I just kind of kept driving the car, but just made sure that I put my left foot someplace else.
  • When I was a teen, my D&D collection was thrown out to save me from the fires of Hell.

    Yes, I'm a refugee of the Satanic Panic that gripped the U.S. back in the 80s. In those days, many parents blamed societal ills affecting their kids on heavy metal music and D&D. This belief was whipped up by the story of James Dallas Egbert III, who allegedly vanished into the steam tunnels underneath Michigan State University in 1979. The reality is more than a bit mundane, but the ordeal and others such as Patty Pulliam's Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons organization pushed D&D into that "SATAN IS COMING FOR YOUR KIDS!!!" mini-hysteria that gripped a lot of parents of that era.

    My parents were no exception.

    I trace my own problems with it to the time my family visited some in-laws of my aunts, who happened to be very much in the Pat Robertson fan club.*** Robertson was one of many televangelists who rode the Satanic Panic bandwagon, constantly warning about Satan's minions trying to get their claws on the American youth.

    While I was at the in-laws place, my brother and I were both separately brought before what I'd call a tribunal of my mom, the in-laws, and my aunt. And we were grilled over D&D for about 5 minutes. I don't recall anything particularly strange about it, but that afternoon it was declared in a family meeting that D&D was now forbidden as tools of the Devil, and the stuff was all collected and thrown out.

    Yes, this was from an actual Jack Chick comic called Dark
    Dungeons. And this was one of the milder forms of anti-D&D propaganda.
    From Geek and Sundry's How D&D Writers Fought the Satanic Panic of the 1980s

    No protests could sway them. Not even the obvious parallels with role playing games and acting helped, because my parents believed**** that acting, playing a role, is fine, but role playing is something else.

    Perhaps more than anything else, those years in the wilderness as far as RPGs are concerned shaped my viewpoint on what RPGs are and how they are played, as well as my views on how religion and power can be misused when people are afraid of something new.

    I had to wait until later --college-- before I really was able to embrace RPGs once more, and I've never looked back.

At this point, I'm supposed to nominate people for this award, but no fear to my reading list, I don't intend to do so. Many of them were nominated already, so there's no reason to re-nominate them. And besides, all good memes have to come to an end anyway.

*Or worse, simply make them up. John Oliver had a great piece on this.

**Admittedly, a running blog is one of the worst things for someone who is a) shy, b) an introvert or c) both to work on.

***If you don't know who Pat Robertson is, count yourself lucky. He's a televangelist who loves to appear during disasters --natural or man-made-- and claim that it is God's wrath that brought about the tragedy. If you Google "Pat Robertson nutty statements" you'll get an idea of what I mean.

****And they still believe it. They also think Harry Potter and the Rick Riordan books lure kids into Satanism, and I've chosen to ignore their disapproval when they see my kids reading Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. The irony is that my parents were the ones who got me into SF&F in the first place with television shows such as Lost in Space and Star Trek, and books such as Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara.

EtA: Added a few links that I'd missed.