Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Security Blahs

Normally I don't post about these sort of things, but this little alert that crossed my laptop early today was enough for me to make an exception:

'All wifi networks' are vulnerable to hacking, security expert discovers

Yes, I realize that not everybody agrees with The Guardian's political slant, but they to a fairly good job of explaining why people should be concerned without trying to translate the actual methodology behind how the team accomplished cracking the encryption.

The long and the short of it is that if you use the WPA2 encryption for WiFi, which used to be the safest of the widely available WiFi encryption methods, your data stream is now vulnerable. And the biggest problem is that there is no widely available replacement for WPA2, as was the case when the WEP encryption was cracked.

So the best I can tell you right now is to use a wired connection as much as possible when conducting online purchasing/transactions, and keep an eye open for updates to your router's firmware. I'm sure that we'll be seeing something fairly soon from both networking companies and your online device's manufacturers.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Time Marches On

I was wondering what to write about for this Friday, and contemplating something silly like "how high can you jump from a cliff on LOTRO before you die from the fall", but then I saw this come through the interwebs today:

AOL Instant Messenger Will Be Discontinued

Wow.

For some reason, I didn't see this coming. I'm not surprised, per se, but I am kind of sad about that.

My D&D group started playing on AIM back around 2001, when AIM was (roughly) at its height. I knew about AIM --anybody involved in tech knew about it-- but I really had no reason to use it until that point.* We spent about a decade on AIM, killing virtual baddies and working our way through two major adventure lines, until some of the changes AIM made on things such as saving our transcripts and whatnot forced us away and eventually landing us on Google.**

But for that decade I had AIM fired up alongside my work IM.

I'll miss AIM purely for the nostalgia, because I'd not logged into AIM in about 5 years.

But to balance out the sadness, here's Avenged Sevenfold performing a cover of one of my favorite songs:







*I was far more fond of Usenet back in those days, before it got overrun by trolls and spam, and the people who made Usenet great migrated to more gated discussion forums to keep the discussions on topic. You used to be able to find some of my posts on FAQs for groups such as rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan (yes, I was a Wheel of Time fan back through A Crown of Swords), but a lot of those have gone away as Usenet has declined and The Wheel of Time finally (!) was completed.

**A few of us have argued that we should use some of the sites such as Roll 20 for our platform of choice, but our DM is infamously a computer luddite and refuses to migrate off of a regular IM platform into something more modern.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Not Quite a Guild

The MMO site MassivelyOP had a post by Justin "Syp" Olivetti* about an organization called Permateam whose goal is to reduce the toxic nature of random PvP matches in games such as Overwatch and League of Legends.

Before I could write a post that said "Yeah, good luck with that," I hit pause and let the article and my perusal of the Permateam website percolate in my head for a few days. And I have to admit, it has as good a chance at dealing with the player toxicity found in online PvP matches than anything else.

Permateam is somewhere in that hazy area that is not quite a guild and not quite a fansite. The idea is that you fill out info on what roles you like to play, when you like to play, and what games you play, and Permateam helps you out in selecting players to play Overwatch and League with from their own database. The entire point is that players who sign up with Permateam want to avoid the drama and toxicity by reducing the potential pool of players to the Permateam player lists. Sure, it's not perfect, and people can still be asshats, but how that is dealt with is kind of hazy right now.

Like I said, it's a lot broader in scope than your average guild, but still has a lot of common ground with an MMO player running battlegrounds and arenas with your guildies.

What I find most interesting are the comments, some of which have me scratching my head.

Some people seem to truly believe that if you don't allow purely random match selection, you're not truly opening yourself to the ability to meet people online and you're self selecting a group of players. But for me, I don't see it like that. If a game's toxic player base is so bad that you derive no enjoyment from the game itself, then why play the game at all? Isn't the toxic player base engaging in its own version of self selection, only in a more obnoxious manner?

I realize that some people think this encourages elitism, but I don't believe that what is there now is any different. The current environment in Overwatch or League or DOTA 2 is an elitist environment, because if a player thinks you're not playing well enough they hurl invective and abuse at you until you quit. If you join a guild or join Permateam to get away from the asshats and play with people who are friendly, it's a win-win for everybody; the original asshats get to group the old fashioned way without Permateam directly impacting their fun, the Permateam players get to play with people who share similar gaming values, and the game admins have less stress all the way around.

Do I think that Permateam will last? I believe that the jury is still out on Permateam, because well meaning organizations like this require dedication and support and active interest to keep going. There are plenty of MMO guilds out there that have fallen apart due to personality clashes and general disinterest. If Permateam is to succeed, the players and the management have to keep up their interest in the service.

Best of luck, Permateam. I hope you know what you're doing.





*Yes, the Syp of the BioBreak blog and of the Battle Bards podcast.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On the Endangered Species List: The Story in MMOs

As I'm well into my third (and kind of poking around my fourth) MMO for my "Fun With" series, I've noticed something about some of these Asian MMOs that I've not noticed in the WoW branch of MMOs: that story is much less important than other factors.

True, I'll grant that ArcheAge is more story rich than TERA, but the more I've played the more I get the feeling that the story is father down the priority list than what you'd find in most of the WoW branch's MMOs. For ArcheAge, story is below PvP, Crafting, and graphics* in terms of importance, while for WoW, the story is likely only below the Orcs vs. Humans dictum. I could even make the argument that Orcs vs. Humans is the foundation of the WoW story and that a argument could be made that WoW's true #1 is raiding, but even then the story is a higher priority in WoW and its branch of MMOs than in ArcheAge, TERA, and (now that I think about it), Aion.**

As much as the post-Cataclysm story discontinuity drove me nuts, I can't deny that without a story WoW would have been closer to a MOBA than anything resembling its current incarnation.

Now, all this being said, I readily acknowledge that there are going to be Fantasy/Science Fiction tropes --that are primarily Western in nature-- that don't apply to Asian MMOs. (And vice versa.) This also impacts the development process, what parts of a game to put priority on, and how the story unfolds. So it's likely that I'm missing some parts of the story and overall thrust of some of these Asian MMOs that would be more apparent were I not so steeped in the Western SF&F tropes.

What is bothersome to me --and to others who prefer the story to be the primary focus of a game-- it seems that game companies in general are moving away from the story and more toward multiplayer competition. Remember how Mass Effect: Andromeda announced it won't be updating single player, and only multiplayer going forward? I used to think that maybe it was more due to the ME team needing to take a step back and refocus on what makes Bioware games tick and devote resources to making that happen, but now I'm not so sure. The more I've played the Asian MMOs and gone back and reviewed the rise of the MOBA and Overwatch, the more I think game companies are starting to abandon the story in favor of (cheaper to develop) multiplayer games where it's "Story? What story? I just want to kill things!" as the focus.

Even Blizzard had begun doing this with WoW by dumping major story points into novels that are then reflected in game; if you want to catch up with the story, you have to read all the novels.*** That has historically given me the impression that it was done as a cost saving measure, so Blizz wouldn't have to spend development dollars for something they'd pay an author to write. But at least Blizz still puts focus on the story, because without the story they'd be another Splatoon.

While I get that for some people, the story in an MMO is best left to the players --such as in EVE Online-- I'm not like that. For me, a story provides a framework for everything else that happens in an MMO, and while you can get away with a generic Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO as a pure sandbox, MMOs based on name properties would have a hard time pulling that off. If you've got a name such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars, you expect a game to have a WoW or Star Wars feel to it, and while you can stick a Wookie in a bar, that doesn't make a game "Star Wars" anymore than having some Orcs fight some Humans and call it WoW.****

***

Perhaps these things come and go in cycles, where story becomes more or less important based on what becomes the new hotness. Computer RPGs had an early golden age with Infocom text games, the early Ultima series, and the AD&D games developed by SSI, but there was a long period in the 90s where RPGs nearly vanished from the scene. It was 1998's Baldur's Gate that revived the RPG as a genre, so maybe we've hit a period where except for a few titles --such as Zelda and Horizon: Zero Dawn-- there's just not a lot of interest from the major software companies to fund new story driven games.

But I sure hope more of them get made, because while companies may not be interested in such games, the public certainly does.




*Yes, including boob physics. The nature of the boob physics in ArcheAge is that while breasts can move that way, because cloth and leather armor operate in-game as if they're attached to the frame of the toon, the breast movement is more akin to a naked person wearing body paint than a person wearing cloth or leather armor. In WoW, this "attached to the frame" aspect of toons is very obvious if your toon is wearing a tabard; in ArcheAge it is less obvious until you see a female toon move. Like TERA, the ArcheAge devs' implementation of boob physics is less about realism and still more about titillation.

**I suspect that Black Desert Online is in the same vein. Not so sure about Vindictus, however.

***It must be said, however, Blizzard still would have a ton of story in each WoW expac.

****Some boardgame designers forget that when trying to design games based on named properties. For me, Pillars of the Earth, based on the novel by Ken Follett, is a prime example. When you take out too much theme --or try to wrap a theme around a mathematical exercise-- you end up with a result that looks nothing like the source material.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why I Likely Won't Play EVE, Part Whatever

I was originally thinking of writing something a bit more lighthearted for Friday, but I came across this little post in Kotaku from Wednesday:


A game that prides itself on its no-holds barred/Machiavellian environment* in a space economy is the only place I'd expect to see something like this. Sure, it makes for fascinating reading, but I know I couldn't handle this sort of shenanigans. It'd be like watching real work intrude on my gaming fun.**

Oh, and the spreadsheet aspect of EVE isn't something that I'm enamored of, either. Sure, I'm good at spreadsheets, and I use them even outside of work, but it's not something I like to do but rather something I have to do. Like keep track of college data so we can drill down on what universities mini-Red #2 should be focusing on when we go to the college fairs.*** Or working out the cost details on house projects. But if you want to be good at EVE, you need to run spreadsheets. LOTS of spreadsheets. And that doesn't spark my interests.

Still, more power to those who love to play. It's the difference between respecting somebody who is good at the old Avalon Hill boardgame Diplomacy and actually playing it: the people who are best at both may not necessarily be the people you want to hang around with in real life.




*With the major exception of out of game threats of violence being met with a perma-ban.

**The main reason why I won't read A Song of Fire and Ice and other, gritty SF/F novels is because if I want to read about gritty realism and how characters must suffer and die, I'll go turn on the news.

***Seriously. There's not enough time at those things to cover every university that is there, so you have to focus on the ones you're most interested in. Add to that the complexity of finding universities that have majors that you're interested in --English or Chemistry is easy, finding a university with a Music program that has an Oboist, not so much-- and you've got the makings of a pretty challenging environment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Well, That was Unexpected

I've been working on Archage for my next review, but midway through my playing of the game they had a server merge. So, there's that little surprise.

And then I discovered that unlike some other games that are F2P where you can create a maximum of 2 toons per server, Archeage gives you a maximum of 2 toons period.

So, my little side exploration into one of the other race options meant that I accidentally locked up all of my toons for the game, so I had to delete that other toon in order to free up the space.

But....

When you delete a toon in Archeage, you have to wait 5 days (or so) for it to clear. I'm not sure if that was due to the impending server merge, but the toon was on a server not affected by the merge so I think this is a regular thing with Archeage.

All in all, Archeage really really REALLY wants your money and has no qualms about really restricting things in odd ways. For all of those people who complain about SWTOR and it's restrictions, at least you're not restricted in toons the way Archeage is.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Mashup Made in Geek Heaven

It's pretty much gone mainstream these days, but Settlers of Catan (now called just Catan) started out was an import here in the US. It was one of the original Eurogames that made it to our shores in the mid 90s* and began the boardgame revolution that we see today.

And Season Seven of the television adaptation of George RR Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, HBO's Game of Thrones, just ended.

So what do I find when flipping through the big Con book from Gen Con? This:

The oldest mini-Red freaked out
when I texted her this.
Its a shared venture between Fantasy Flight Games (which holds the Game of Thrones license) and Catan Games. Here's the info on FFG's website.

Let the geeking out commence.





*Our copy dates from roughly 1996.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Time for the Lottery Drawing

Things have changed a bit in 30 years, but dorm life apparently isn't one of them.

Sure, there's wifi (and network access in general), newer washing machines, smartphones*, and air conditioning**, but the dorms are filled with students, and students haven't exactly changed much over the years.

Our oldest mini-Red is now at university, living in a dorm with three other women. I've heard the common complaints ("classes are overwhelming at times") and emergency requests that comes with life from someone in music/band ("I need my flip folder sent to me so that I'm ready by Saturday's game"), but I've also heard items that are closer to a modern sensibility ("wifi sucks" and "I need to get this program loaded but the instructions for installing it are all screwed up").
"Hey Lazlo! Wanna see a demonstration of gravity?"
The dorm wasn't too far off this, but with a LOT
more cinder block and a lot less graffiti.
From Real Genius (1985) and getyarn.io.
By comparison, when I attended college you couldn't connect to the university owned network from your dorm or rented house until my junior year. And even then, you needed a modem to handle the dial-up connection.*** The internet? Ha! Good luck with that, because it was the province of only the professors and a few lucky students who could use the net for research purposes. (Remember, the web itself was about 7-8 years away.) The concept of using a word processor to write up a paper was still pretty alien, as very few students had computers that could even handle a word processor. I was lucky that my Freshman roommate had a Commodore 64 and a printer, but until I reached my Junior year I frequently relied upon my old Smith Corona electronic typewriter to write my reports.****
We still have my wife's old Smith Corona around.
I haven't seen mine in decades. From ebay.com.

The Commodore 64 --and, to a lesser extent, the Apple IIe-- were what my fellow students frequently had if they had any computer or game console at all in their dorms. The NES was still a rare find on campus as most students couldn't afford to have one in their dorm --you more often found a hand-me-down Atari 2600 than an NES-- so the C64 was also the primary games machine for a lot of students.*****
There are times when I really do miss this
machine. Considering they were built like
tanks, I suppose I could find one
if I really wanted it. From Pinterest.

While I have very fond memories of my roommate's C64 --it introduced me to Ultima IV and Infocom games such as Planetfall-- the gaming landscape today is a wee bit different than thirty years ago. Among other things, tech's integration with society has had a huge impact on the public's perception of gamers. The very concept of being a gamer has much more acceptance today than it did in the 1980s, when "gamer" as a slang or descriptive term really didn't exist.

What we call gamers today were basically lumped into generic bucket of "nerd" activities. Played D&D? Nerd. Played video games? Nerd. Owned an actual game console? Nerd. Was into science? Nerd. Was into computer science? Nerd. Watched cartoons? Nerd. Read comics? Nerd. Was into science fiction and fantasy? Nerd.
Life is hell when the Alpha Betas are in charge
of the frat council. From Revenge of the Nerds (1984).
From giphy.
Sure, those activities are still nerdy, but the term "nerd" was much more pejorative back then. Today, video games are big business. So are boardgames and pencil-and-paper RPGs. The list of top grossing movies dating back to (roughly) 2000 has been an 80's nerd's paradise. Hell, even MTV, that purveyor of hipster teen/twentysomething coolness, has had SF/F shows on their lineup.

All this has translated into today, where having a dorm roommate who plays video games or D&D isn't so out of the ordinary.

***

When I arrived at my dorm my freshman year, I walked past the hallways of people carrying boxes into their own rooms. Some had begun putting up posters of rock bands, hot bikini babes, and odes to greed.
Yeah, like this. This and the posters of Budweiser
swimsuit models pretty much scream '80s.
From Yahoo.

I walked into my dorm room, and there were a few boxes set neatly to one side. A signed photo of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, sat on the two person desk next to a pair of prom photos. My roommate came through the doorway carrying a milk crate of stuff that had a copy of Dragon magazine on top, and I grinned. I was with another member of my tribe.******

This cover, actually. I remember the Mystic
College article very well. From rpg.net.

Fast forward to the other week when the oldest mini-Red was getting settled into her dorm, she put up a few posters --Rogue One among them-- and her roommate began talking about the copy of Smash Up that the mini-Red had tossed onto her bed. Thirty minutes later they were discussing D&D 5e and maybe getting a campaign together.

I wore a silly grin for the next five minutes.

As I later texted my brother-in-law, "Sometimes, you just win the roommate lottery."




*The dorm that the oldest mini-Red lives in was built in the 50s/60s and had places for telephones hung on the wall. But --surprise surprise-- those phones are now gone. If your kid doesn't have a cell at this point then they can't call anybody without a laptop or tablet using Skype. Of course, some teenagers might read this and think "Who CALLS anybody anymore?" I guess I'm getting old...

**One of the universities we visited during the selection process was my and my wife's alma mater. During the group tour it came out that yes, we were alumni, and one of my fellow parents asked me what I thought of the dorms that they were presenting. "I'm amazed that they have air conditioning," I replied. "All of the main dorms didn't have A/C when I was here."

"What do you remember the most?"

"The smell. Imagine 40-50 guys on one floor, with no A/C, and the smell of sweat and dirty clothes. It got really fragrant at times."

***My housemates and I my senior year pooled our money and splurged on a second phone line so we wouldn't tie up the main phone by connecting to the university.

****Remember Wordstar? It was a competitor to Wordperfect at the time, and it's software could fit onto one 5.25" floppy disk with enough space for your papers. That meant if I had access to a PC around campus, I could pop in the floppy, start Wordstar, and work on a paper. It did have one major flaw in that if you got too eager and began to pull the floppy before it completely stopped spinning, your data file would get corrupted. I sadly discovered this the night before my final in my Advanced Lab class, where I lost 3 lab reports at 11 PM. The data was there, but unrecoverable. I had to rewrite those 3 reports --each report 20-25 pages long-- plus the one that was unwritten by 8 AM. I still don't know how I managed to write about 80 pages in one night, but I was so hyped up on coffee, adrenaline, and sheer terror that after I turned in all the papers I simply couldn't get myself to calm down and sleep for another 4 hours.

*****The NES back in 1987 ran typically from $100-150, with the deluxe set $179. In 2017 dollars, that's $220-330 for the commonly found versions of the NES and $400 for the deluxe set (courtesy of the inflation calculator at saving.org). These numbers are pretty much in line with what a new PS4/XBox One/Switch costs in 2017.

******You can buy those milk crates --even though they don't hold milk anymore-- at all of the discount stores such as Target and Walmart. Another nod to things that never change.

And for the record, yes, we did have some non-geeky posters on the wall too. Like the obligatory 6 foot tall poster of Samantha Fox. Yes, THAT poster. And yes, when my parents visited my dorm room later that year, I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack. (They never even noticed the D&D stuff tucked in a corner.)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Years in the Bunker

In case you hadn't noticed, Ophelie of Bossy Pally is back posting after an extended hiatus. She's been focusing on single player games these days, and she's been working her way through the Mass Effect series.

Her most recent post was about single player versus multiplayer games, their profitability, and the potential future of Mass Effect titles. While I think that ME will make a return after the bones of the system (the Frostbite engine in particular) are fleshed out enough to accommodate the RPG that Bioware wants to create, the lure of cashing in on ME style multiplayer might pull the game in a direction that fans of Bioware RPGs might not like.*

That said, a link to this article by Kotaku author Jason Schreier really caught my eye. It was a detailed article on the development process for ME:A, and everything that went wrong in development. (TL;DR: a LOT went wrong.) Schreier even mentions in the article that it was amazing that ME:A actually shipped at all, given all of the issues with the development process.

But for me, reading the article felt like deja vu.

***

As I alluded to in a previous post about the potential issues of new software releases, I worked for several years in a software development house. Those five years were some of the best years of my life, when I worked hard for bosses that both pushed me beyond what I thought my limits were and yet respected my effort and output. I made some friendships that are still going strong today, and the skills I learned during my years in the barrel (so to speak) still serve me well today.

But those five years were also among the most stressful I ever experienced.

When you're on the inside of a development house there is an occasional tendency to get consumed with the work that's right in front of your face. Teams who work together day in and day out develop the feeling that their (piece of the) project is the most important part and frequently miss warning signs. But if you can break out of that silo, you can also see a train wreck coming a mile away. Sometimes it's salespeople who overpromise to critical customers without asking in advance "can we do this?"; sometimes it's the defection of critical personnel that a company had relied upon for years as a hero to fix the emergencies at the last second; other times it might be the promotion of people who prove to be incompetent at managing a development team; and then there's the occasional directive from the top to change direction in a project. Sometimes you might just get three or even all four.

I've been in good releases and bad releases, but the one that still haunts me is the last release I was involved in, which was a real shitshow.

This particular release was a perfect storm of overcommitments to customers, loss of senior staff to higher paying jobs**, an inflexible deadline set by said commitments, and major stability issues with the development environment. In spite of all of the (new) development staff we had, there were personnel shortages during the entire release cycle as the company had underestimated the new devs' capabilities.*** I was our team's representative on the weekly release meeting, and every week there were major complaints from all of the QA teams about the quality and stability of the product. We felt that the product needed at least 2 months to straighten out all the bugs, but we were informed by upper management that was simply not possible.

Things were so bad that they had to create a tiger team dedicated to simply having a workable daily environment for devs to code with, because every other day it seemed like some new code change would crash the entire system. I got drafted into that team for a couple of months, and I lost a lot of sleep because my pager (remember them?) would go off multiple times a night letting me know that a build had failed and we needed to find what code change broke the system.

In the end, you can kind of guess what happened: the product shipped, it was incredibly buggy, and the company took a lot of flak for it. A year and a half later, the company was gutted of "overpriced personnel" and sold to a competitor.****

So yeah, I know what it's like to be in Bioware's shoes with the result of the ME:A release.

***

The thing is, the development cycle didn't have to be that way.

Blizzard is practically alone in not announcing a release date until it feels that the software is ready to go. But that's because while Blizzard has given themselves a ton of goodwill from the gaming community over the years, they have also their reputation as a producer of good and stable games at stake. Of course, they have had their share of release fiascos lately --such as Diablo III and Overwatch-- so they're not immune to problems either. But I do believe these issues also stem from the pressure that Activision is placing on Blizzard to release on a regular schedule, in much the same way that ME:A would have benefited from an extra year of work rather than release on a date set long in advance (whether internally by the staff or externally by the suits).

The ME:A release disaster was another perfect storm of staffing, management, focus, new tech, and time. And the Bioware Montreal office paid the ultimate price by being shut down and absorbed into EA Motive. But this disaster should be used by Bioware to focus on the weak points and improve them, not to go and hide. Shelving the (single player) Mass Effect franchise would be the wrong solution to the problems of ME:A.

Now, if only the suits would let Bioware work out the solutions...





*Think of it this way: Blizz was known for the Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft franchises. Now, along comes Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and Overwatch. The money that Blizz gets out of the latter three have muscled aside the original three, and so guess where the development dollars go? While WoW still pumps out content but it is no longer the star of Blizzard's lineup, and that means that WoW will take a back seat to content for the new titles, which are correspondingly cheaper to develop and maintain. (Such as a lack of story content to the level that WoW/Diablo/Starcraft have.)

**This was the late 90s, when the original dot com bubble was inflating rapidly. I knew several of these people very well, and almost all of them cited the desire to a) make more money and b) feel appreciated. While this may sound at odds with my statement as to how I was respected, you have to realize that these people had been taken for granted by management that they'd be around to clean up everyone's messes. They'd been around for a decade or longer, and they'd realized that the internet revolution was passing them by, so they jumped ship.

***The new devs also had an alarming lack of discipline. If they were assigned to work on boolean logic issues, we'd frequently find them deep within the mathematical algorithms instead, claiming that they wanted to see where the bug led them. We had to explain numerous times that it's not your job to worry about the algorithms, we have an entire math team to handle that. Hand the bug off to them and let them deal with it. Curiosity is one thing, but when you've got 10 bugs to work on and you need to get them fixed in 3 days you don't have the luxury of drilling down past the code you know.

****By then I'd already left the company, as everybody could see that the CEO was going to cash in by selling us and getting his golden parachute.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fifty is Nifty

Hard to believe a little wargamer get together has evolved into this:

From Geekdad.com. And yes, I've been there, just
not on a Thursday right before the opening.
Or this:

From icv2.com. I was in there... somewhere.

But Gen Con turns 50 this year, and the geeks have descended upon Indianapolis.

If you were, like me, hoping to go to Gen Con 50 and you don't have a ticket, you're out of luck. All of the tickets for Gen Con 50 sold out this week, and the tickets for Thursday (the first day) and Sunday (Family Fun Day) sold out well in advance.

I'm reduced to watching livestreams from places such as Boardgame Geek's twitch.tv stream, but I don't mind. I'm just happy that my clan has showed up to game in numbers not seen before at Gen Con.

If you want to see the BGG twitch.tv livestream, here you go:

Watch live video from BoardGameGeekTV on www.twitch.tv

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Just Horsing Around

Yesterday I spent some time hiking at one of the local public parks. This particular park has a riding center attached to it* that the mini-Reds have either volunteered at or attended a week long "horse camp" during the summers, so during my hike I was entertained by the sight of horses out in paddocks or with riders coming back from a supervised trail ride.

I have a love-hate relationship with horses. I love that my kids enjoy spending time with them, and that my in-laws were able to indulge that love by helping them to attend horse camp, but I personally don't see eye to eye with horses. They don't like me very much and I'm happy to return that aloofness. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate what the horse (and the ox) have done in human history.

You can't talk about a pre-steam engine society without mentioning the horse and the ox. They were the primary means of plowing the fields for millenia, and when there was no access to running water both animals provided the means of powering items such as forge bellows and workshops.

And, of course, there was the transportation provided by these animals, which brings me to MMOs.

***

Horses (and other magical beasts) are kind of glossed over in MMOs. They are a primary means of transportation, yet beyond that they are little more than decorations. This is obviously a design decision, as the effort it would take to model the care and feeding of a horse (or even a drake) would be dwarfed only by the in-game effort needed to keep a horse as viable transportation. Besides, people don't typically play MMOs to simulate equine care and feeding.

But still, items such as understanding language or handling mounts would make for a more realistic MMO.

Back in my high school (and part of my college) days, I DMed a campaign in Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) system. One of the nice things about MERP was that it was skill based, but on a level basis as well in much the same way as 3.x D&D (and Pathfinder) is today. But one of the biggest quirks/features of MERP was that languages and riding were on a skill system too. For example, skill in a particular language ranked from a 1 to 5: 1 for being able to speak a couple of phrases ("Hello" or "Need to piss"), up to 5 for being able speak like a native.

These skill levels are the equivalent in WoW of the old weapon proficiency skill, where you had to spend time with a weapon to build up enough proficiency to wield the weapon effectively. This went away prior to Cataclysm, but I still remember it fondly as one of the quirks to WoW that made the game more realistic, along with having to train with a trainer to gain new skills.**

How an equine skill system would work in an MMO is something that I would think is similar to the level system for a mount that Archeage has***, but instead of having a mount trailing along behind you in combat like Archeage an MMO could have a player spend time and/or money at a stable to "train" their mount. A reward for this training would be better speed and the occasional bonus of an instant in-game transportation (which would be a real boon to F2P players in games such as LOTRO).

***

Still, this kind of begs the question "Why bother?"

True, if the design goal is to bash in a raid boss' head, then adding mount skills won't add a thing to the game. This is why WoW got rid of weapon proficiency skills and trainer visits in the first place.

But if the design goal of the game is to immerse yourself in a game world, then a mount skillset could be a valuable part of the experience. Of my regular games, I'd say that LOTRO is the game where immersion is a design goal. Sure, SWTOR does a pretty good job of immersion in its own right, but LOTRO is the only MMO I play where you have in game bands that get together and play on a weekly basis. But even LOTRO doesn't have immersion as a primary design goal any more, as players only seem to want to talk about endgame (Mordor) these days.

I consider the concept of mount skill something that would make for an interesting exercise, but given how MMOs are oriented less on the journey and more on the destination I can't really see an MMO actually doing this. A shame, really, because MMOs had the potential to be more than what they have evolved into.




*The riding center is publicly funded, but is also supported by people who pay for riding lessons. The riding center also has programs for the mentally challenged, called the Special Riders Program, and hosts an annual Special Olympics equestrian event. There's also a farm attached to the park, but it is managed separately from the riding center.

**I knew people who deliberately socketed a weapon skill that wasn't their most current weapon skill rank (for example, a Judgement that wasn't the current skill ranking but the one before that one) just so that they wouldn't use up so much mana or rage or whatnot when fighting. Sure, it was gaming the system, but they were deliberately sacrificing DPS for being able to stay in the fight.

***Guess which MMO I'm checking out now?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Oopsie

I think my last post, the TERA review, broke Blogger.

I was catching up on blogs this afternoon and I happened to notice that my post hasn't been updated on other peoples' blogs, which I found rather odd.

Courtesy of The IT Crowd.

From what I've read, it might be a side effect of the size of the sucker, given all of the images I used. I just hope it wasn't an unintended side effect of actually using the scheduler for the first time to post when I wasn't around. (Yeah, even after 8 years of PC I've never used the scheduler. I never felt the need to use it, I guess.)


Friday, August 4, 2017

Fun With MMOs: TERA

I first became aware of TERA when reports surfaced about the so-called "panty run". You know, the YouTube videos that showed a female toon half bent over, running in such a way that you could see her panties quite easily. It was designed to titillate, and meant specifically for the male gaze to a degree I'd not seen in an MMO since Age of Conan.

ALL of Age of Conan.

For the longest time, I just simply wrote off TERA because of that video and how much it disturbed me. This was an MMO I'd be embarrassed to have the mini-Reds --or my wife-- find me playing, and if I did play TERA it would be really late at night or early in the morning, like Age of Conan.

So why review TERA at all? Like I said in the previous post, if I'm going to be asked my opinion, I need it to be an honest one, not just a knee jerk reaction to what I've seen via YouTube. And the longer TERA has hung around the MMO field, the longer my curiosity has grown. How has this MMO survived out there? Is it all strictly a young male fantasy, or something about Asian MMOs that I simply don't get? You'd think that if the male fantasy angle were the thing, then Age of Conan wouldn't be on life support. And I'll freely admit that I don't watch anime (at least anime newer than the original Speed Racer and Star Blazers), so there's likely a cultural component I'm missing.

So I decided that the only way to understand TERA was to actually get into the game, so I downloaded TERA, made sure it was late at night, and clicked "play".

The original TERA box cover artwork.
Because of the En Masse logo, this was
for North America consumption.
From Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I'm FATE-ed to Repeat Things

I've occasionally mentioned the pencil and paper RPG FATE Core, which I really think is a fun and well designed game.

Well, the people over at uptofourplayers.com created a comic describing the basics behind FATE. It's incredibly well done, and worth a look.

***

In other non-video game related news, I've been involved in an AD&D 1e campaign these past few months. The DM had hit his mid-life crisis, and decided that rather than go out and buy and expensive car (or get a new spouse) he'd much rather play D&D again. So, he rounded up some friends who like to play the game --and I in turn rounded up the oldest mini-Red-- and we began playing in late Spring.

What are we playing, you ask? Well, a classic module set:

Against the Slave Lords, Modules A1 - A4.
From greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com.
Wizards of the Coast had re-released the original four modules along with an introductory adventure, calling it Against the Slave Lords:

From dnd.wizards.com.
I've not played these modules since the mid-late 80s, so I was psyched for a trip down memory lane.

The DM did not disappoint, as he kept the action going and the pace fairly brisk. Sure, we players could take a step back and argue about what to do next, but this was light years faster than D&D 3.x and 4e that I'd grown accustomed to.

Who did I play? A cleric, of course.

As for how things will work this Fall while the oldest mini-Red is away at college, I recruited the youngest mini-Red to cover for her for the time being. And really, it's been a blast.


EtA: Corrected a basic spelling error. Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fun With Computers -- College Edition

While I've been working my way through my next MMO, I've been keeping an eye on the oldest mini-Red as she has been getting ready to attend college.

This has been a surreal experience, watching the pile of "things to take to the dorm" grow.

When I left for college, I was the first person in my family to go away to get a bachelor's degree in four years.* As you can imagine, I had no clue what I was getting into when I carried my dorm stuff into my room that first time. Now, however, my oldest has two parents who went through that same experience, so while some things are different --cell phones, laptops, internet, and cable television-- the basic dorm experience is going to be the same as ours.

But that tech thing, that's been gnawing at me.

Her laptop is 3 years old, and while the processor/memory is still pretty good as far as non-gamer specific laptops go, the hard drive that came with the thing is slow as hell and I'm concerned it'll become a problem in the near future.**

With that in mind, I've begun an investigation into solid state drives.

Come to papa.
Image from Amazon.

Having seen the prices for SSDs, all I can think of is what it must have been like a few years ago when they were even more expensive. This actually reminds me of the old days --24 or so years ago-- when a local computer store ran their "Buck a Meg" sale. Yes, a dollar per MB of hard drive space, so a 300 MB drive cost $300.

The prices don't change --the drive pictured about is listed at around $270-280-- but the size and type of the storage does.

All I can think of is that I hope this (or a similar) drive is worth it and will extend the life of the laptop by a few years, or at least last her through her bachelor's degree.





*My father received an Associate's degree (2-year) in engineering, and then went to night school and a decade later finally finished his Bachelor's degree in Economics. My mother took a class or two at a time at a local college and finally received her degree --the only one of her siblings-- a few years after mine.

**That's a big part of the reason why the laptop is a $600 non-gamer laptop. Sure, the screen's resolution isn't full 1080, but the basic 5400 rpm HDD was designed to save energy and cost, not provide performance.

***I also looked at the performance hard drives, but since there's really space for one drive in the laptop if I want to make a real difference I need to go in the direction of solid state drives.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Chrysler Effect and Gaming

For those of you outside the US, there is a consumer publication called Consumer Reports that tests and evaluates products. They do not accept advertising dollars, and the entire enterprise is funded by their subscriber base. Their testing is considered top notch, particularly with household appliances and cars.* If you end up looking for a new (or used) car in the US, odds are very good that you'll have at least one Consumer Reports magazine with you as part of the process.

As part of the review process, Consumers Union (the entity that publishes CR) not only covers the specifics of how an item behaves, but also provides clues on how well an item will last. They send out annual surveys to their subscribers to provide input on items they own, as well as whether they would purchase that item again. This last one gives CU a decent idea as to whether people are happy with their purchase decision, which when we're talking about cars is a multi-thousand dollar purchase that people may own for over a decade.

This brings me to Chrysler.

Chrysler, the US manufacturer now owned by Fiat, has had a checkered history. Chrysler created the minivan**, and were among the first car manufacturers to add standard airbags. At the same time, Chrysler has been in bankruptcy more than once, and that last bout of bankruptcy ending in the purchase of Chrysler by Fiat.

Why, you may ask? Partially it is due to the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, but also because Chrysler cars have a reputation for poor quality.

Both word of mouth and data acquired by CU point to Chrysler having --by far-- the worst quality results of all US domestic automakers. Even when Chrysler makes a well received vehicle, such as the newly released Chrysler Pacifica minivan, in the new car issue of Consumer Reports CU hedges their bets on the quality of the new vehicle, saying they expect it to have poorer than average quality. Essentially, it's a "until you prove to me otherwise, we'll assume that this is going to be a car that will be in the repair shop a lot."

***

When I posted my review of Rift the other day, I knew peripherally about how Rift had gone F2P and how it had burned through its fanbase's support by moving in the direction of a more "pay to win" cash shop. Still, I decided to post without dredging that up. However, Shintar's comments about how she felt that Trion had turned Rift into a cautionary tale about how to destroy a fanbase's goodwill, I felt that it is important to address the elephant in the room.

Should a development house's or game's reputation/behavior have an impact on game reviews? I'm not talking about specific posts about a company, because I've got tons of those over the years that are critical of development houses, but rather a review of the game itself. In other words, should the previous actions/reputation of a development house be reason to dismiss a game, or at the very least give the player pause before deciding to play?

In a way, this is the Playstation/XBox debate in a nutshell, where people take sides and sit in their glass houses, lobbing grenades at each other. This could also describe how people respond to EA or Ubisoft games*** with the "burn it all down!!" or worse. (Much much worse.)

But at the same time, a development house's reputation can't be ignored, because there's frequently a reason why a company/dev house has that reputation. If a coworker has a great reputation, you're likely to cut that employee some slack if they screw up. And on the flip side, if you've a coworker with a reputation as being a screw-up, you're thinking "yep, expected that" when things don't go well.

Look at Blizzard. When Cataclysm launched, it got a lot of nice reviews. I distinctly remember one review saying that the only real drawback to Cata was that you had to subscribe and have the previous expacs. But now, looking back on it from a 5+ year distance, Cataclysm was the expac that began the slow descent of WoW.**** It broke the story continuity, it had several meh major content patches that didn't excite the base, and the changes to the guts of WoW disappointed many who complained that WoW was being "dumbed down." Blizzard's reputation was such that it took a long time to admit that Blizzard could still lay an egg.

***

So what to do about Trion, and these reviews in general?

In this case I believe it is best to separate the game from the development house, and examine the game on its own terms. I can't control what Trion does and how the community reacts, but I can report on what I find in the game. If the game feels empty, I'll report that. If the community is toxic, I'll report that. And if I find bugs and crashes in what ought to be basic stuff, I'll report that too.

But I shouldn't let dev companies off the hook for their product, either. So another series, examining the dev houses behind the games, would be a good idea.

As for my statement about Rift being a survivor, I still stand by that statement. A six year old game still getting expac releases is not a small feat. I work in an industry that considers three year old equipment "ancient" and "in need of replacement", so anything that lasts six years is an impressive achievement.

Shintar, however, is also right in that Trion Worlds made some bad decisions that will likely jeopardize Rift's ability to be around another six years, which is a shame because the game right now is pretty darn good.

The review of the game still stands, but a study of the dev house... That still needs to happen.




*Back in 1988, it was their review of the Suzuki Samurai that exposed the rollover problem of the Samurai during certain avoidance maneuvers, and their "not acceptable" rating of the car helped kill the Samurai in the NA market.

**I know that minivans are not well liked, but I like them. They work and they get the job done. When our old minivan died last year, I missed it.

***Think of the reaction to the buggy Mass Effect: Andromeda or Assassin's Creed Unity (or Syndicate).

****To borrow a Boromir quote in Fellowship of the Ring, "WoW wanes, you say. But WoW stands, and even at the end of its strength it is still very strong." WoW still likely has more regular players than the #2-#10 MMOs put together. MOBAs, on the other hand, are a completely different thing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fun With MMOs: Rift Revisited

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Back in late 2010, WoW released Cataclysm. There was a lot of initial enthusiasm for the expac and the number of subs to WoW swelled to their highest point at that time of 12 million. However, by March 2011 the number had fallen back to 11.4 million and some of the playerbase had become restless. There were the usual gripes of "nothing to do" on reaching max level as well as the "instances are too hard" refrain, but there were also complaints from some traditionalists who missed the talent trees and a lot of quirks that Blizzard had eliminated in their desire to make WoW fresh and exciting.

Into that atmosphere came the software company Trion Worlds with their new MMO Rift.
This is one of five copies around the house, courtesy of Gen Con 2011's
goodie bag. Yes, even the youngest mini-Red got a goodie bag, which
inclued a mini-deck for Magic: the Gathering,  a.k.a. a free sample of crack.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fun with MMOs: The Reviews' Guiding Principles

If I'm going to actually review some new(ish) MMOs*, I'm going to provide some parameters for both the effort itself and what I'm evaluating. What I don't want to do is just play for a few minutes and give the game an evaluation, because that's not so much an evaluation as taking a look at a trailer for the game.

That said, what I will review will be different than what other people review. Some reviewers focus on gameplay, sound, graphics, story, endgame, and polish, but I don't want to be constrained to that. I want to focus on the sense of immersion and whether there are things in the game that break it.

Here's a short example of breaking immersion from a non-video game aspect: the story in the film National Treasure. Yes, I'm aware National Treasure is a fun action movie --and it plays out like an RPG campaign, to be honest-- but I'm also a history buff.** When I first watched that movie I was glad I was at home, because I could then get up and go into the kitchen and silently rage at all of the misrepresentations of history before rejoining my wife. Fun movie, yes, but boy did it break my sense of immersion.

You got that right, Sean. Fun fact: Sean Bean's character
doesn't die in National Treasure, which is a pretty rare thing.
From quickmeme.

How do I intend to do all of this? Well, here's my process:

  • Create a toon for each faction represented in the MMO.
  • If there's only one faction, I'll still create two toons, one male and one female.
  • During the creation process, I'll take a look at all of the options to see where the limiting factors are. I'm thinking in terms of agency here, as I want people to not be restricted to playing a very specific type of player. I'm not using this as an excuse to push any sort of prudishness or moral/political viewpoint, I just want there to be options for people to play the way they want to play.
  • To properly evaluate gameplay and story, I'll play through the intro zone and the first low level zone to get a good feel for the game. Preferably, if the game has one or more capital cities, I want to at least reach that city before I end my evaluation, but I want to avoid the issue of Age of Conan where the intro zone --Tortage-- was fantastic but the low level zone (right after arriving at the capital city) was just so-so. My initial review of AoC was that it was a really good game, until it became a huge grind once you got past Tortage.
  • How other players interact, how global chat operates, and how other players present themselves will factor into my evaluation of immersion. I'm not going to get on a RP server if I can help it, but I will definitely stick to PvE as much as I can. I'm no longer a world PvPer, and I don't want that to factor into my evaluation.
  • I'll also keep an eye on how NPC's behave, look, and interact with the players. Clues as to what sort of game the developers want to present can be found in those details, as what developers present in game may be different than when they talk about the game.
Curse you, Steam, for making it too easy to find all of these games!
I realize that not everybody is going to find these reviews valuable, particularly given that some of these MMOs have been around for several years. Chasing the new hotness is pretty much always in vogue, and I'm definitely not doing that nor examining the most popular aspects of MMOs. My viewpoint is decidedly non-raid and non-world PvP, which puts me at odds with a significant portion of the MMO community; people who want to see those aspects in an MMO aren't going to get much of anything out of my reviews.

But that's fine with me. I'm not trying to keep up with the latest MMO out there, so when I get to it, I get to it. And I'm not likely to be the only person who comes into an MMO late, so taking a gander at an MMO that has had time to mature isn't a bad thing at all. And really, people who read this blog are well aware of my lack of time/desire to go raiding, so there's no real surprises.

So let's do this. First up, an MMO that I examined six years ago and found a lot to like, but I didn't want to leave the confines of WoW to explore something new.





*For my purposes if not for anybody else's. As the youngest mini-Red pointed out to me, her sister is quite capable of making the decision of whether or not to play on her own. "True," I said, "but if someone asks me for my opinion, I want to give an informed one, not one driven by the internet." She was fine with that response.

**I minored in History in college. No, it didn't have anything to do with my major (Physics), but I enjoyed the subject enough that I took a lot of my electives in History (and Philosophy) just because.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Do I Get Roped into These Things?

The oldest mini-Red came to me not too long ago and mentioned that one of her friends had suggested that they play an MMO together.*

"Oh?" I'm not so uptight that I want to control what she's playing, but I was curious why she asked.

"Yeah, I haven't heard the game before. I think it's TERA."

My brain let out a little scream.

"Have you heard of it?"

"Um, yeah, I have. It's well known for how the female toons run."

You know, like this:



And yes, I did show her this video, which looks like something Piers Anthony would have dreamed up.**

"Oh."

"Yeah, outside of that and that the female toon garb tends to be really skimpy, I don't know much else about it."

"Well...." she began, mulling things over. "It is F2P. Maybe I should at least check it out to see what I think."

I scratched my beard as a sinking feeling settled into my stomach. "I guess I should check the game out too as well. Due diligence and all that."

Which is how I arrived at this point in time: I've spent the better part of the past several days on Steam, downloading 3 newer MMOs (and one old one that I tried back in beta, RIFT), and steeling myself for what I might find. I'm not prudish by any means, but I do know that games that are Asian or have a heavy Asian influence (Aion, for example) have a completely different viewpoint on how female toons should look, dress, and act. The subservient "sex toy" vibe that some female toons exude in these games gets on my nerves, particularly when the toon should be a Type A badass.

Compared to my normal (and previous) standbys of LOTRO, SWTOR, STO, and WoW, these games are likely to have gear that should never see a battlefield.

Yeah, like this.
(This meme can be found all over the net.)
And don't think for a second that because I enjoy the Hyborian Age of the Conan stories that I also think that Conan or his female contemporaries in Age of Conan get off the hook. But the one thing that AoC does do right is that it is internally consistent: both male and female toons show a ton of skin, and their toon reactions are anything but subservient in manner and attitude. I know that I'm likely to find in these new MMOs a distinct difference in attitude and presentation between male and female toons, and that is going to annoy me.

At least there's some internal consistency in Cimmeria.
(From Demotivational posters, found all over the net.)

So why go ahead and examine them when I "know" I won't like them?

Because "knowing" is not the same as really understanding. If I'm going to explain my likes and dislikes of a game, I'd better have firsthand knowledge of that game. And if I'm going to give my kids advice on a game, I'd better not be making judgement calls solely on secondhand data. Reviewers will have a bias --just as I will-- but I'll be able to understand that bias and explain myself far better after having examined the games first.

So I'll be off trying some of these games that I've read about only on Syl's and Rohan's blogs, as well as other places.





*Yes, it's a male friend. No, I'm not quite so worried about them hitting it off in game or something, as they already hang out. If they were a year closer in age, I'd think they were an item, but that two year age difference is a bit of a brake on any potential relationship. There's a big difference between, say, 27 and 29 versus 17 and 19. Still, given my extensive observations of teenage boys --fatherhood, you know-- he's quite mature.

**His Xanth series started out somewhat tame, but then they eventually veered into weirdness and overall creepiness with a heavy dose of "panties!" in descriptions.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Big Tent

I've occasionally harped on how representation matters, but I was reminded of that when I was cruising through YouTube last week.

YouTube surfing is like free association: you find something interesting, watch that, and you're pointed in the direction of other potentially interesting videos. Either that, or you end up being distracted by whatever is on the sidebar.*

But one of my "recommendations" was a blast from the past:


I remember vividly the first time I watched this cinematic trailer for SWTOR, because of the reaction of the mini-Reds.

Sure, all three loved it, but when we reached the 2:37 mark, the reactions among the girls changed from "wow!" and "cool!" to stunned amazement.

"I want to be her!"

"I want to play her!"

Representation is not a matter of trying to sideline people who are in the majority, but a way of telling the sidelined "Hey, you're welcome here, have a seat at the table."

It's akin to what happened when an old university friend and his family stopped by for the weekend a few years ago. Their two kids, a girl and boy, had recently discovered Star Wars,** so when they stopped by I was ready. I motioned over the younger kid and pulled out one of the mini-Reds' toy lightsabers. "You know what this is?" I asked.

He nodded wordlessly.

"Go ahead and push the button."

The lightsaber sprang to life, light and sound and everything.

His eyes were as big as saucers.

A second lightsaber found its way into the hands of his older sister, who knew exactly what to do. And for the rest of the afternoon, there were lightsaber battles and young padawans in awesome Jedi poses.

The last I checked, both kids were confirmed Star Wars fans, "For life!" one of them told me last year.

There is no reason why geekdom and the gaming industry can't say "Hey, there's a seat at the table for you, no matter who you are." There's absolutely no reason to feel threatened by making the tent bigger, because we all win when we open our arms wide in welcome.




*Probably both.

**Their dad helped a wee bit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When a Gamble Doesn't Pay Off

"You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around, you're only second best."
--Lancey Howard, The Cincinnati Kid


If it isn't obvious, I have a low opinion of gold farmers.

Gold farming, particularly the large operations, are a source of account hacking and MMO economy manipulation. They are by no means the sole source of either, but they are far from an innocent bunch. By using real money to purchase in in-game source of currency, the gold farmers encourage the "pay to win" mentality in what is at times a very obnoxious form of hard sell. There was a time in late-Wrath through all of Cataclysm where you couldn't walk through an Alliance or Horde city and not run into a bunch of bots in formation spelling out the name of a gold farmer website.* And even today, at least a few times a week I get spam mail in SWTOR from gold/credit farmers, which I find quite hilarious given that it is so easy to spend a day and accumulate enough credits to buy most items in the auction house.

I've occasionally wondered why gold farmers do what they do. Sure, the short answer is "money", but there's plenty of other ways to make a living than dealing in the MMO version of Bitcoin. Well, Cracked magazine's website has a post up about a gold farmer leaving the gold farming business behind.**

(I should also note that Massively OP also picked up on the article and posted a referring article on their website.)

The article itself is worth reading, if for no other reason than that it confirms my opinion that Blizzard's attempts to combat gold farmers using the WoW tokens was a shot across the bow of the WoW gold farming industry. It also deals with the nature of MMO/WoW/video game addiction, and that addiction is very much a real thing.

Oh, and the real gold mine (pardon the pun) is pairing this article with one from a year ago, about how a small time gold farming operation looks from the inside.

My single biggest takeaway is that small time/independent gold farming operations remind me of small time professional gamblers. I don't mean the people who are on television at Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments, but the people who gamble at casinos, racetracks, and online for a living. Sure, someone may strike it rich at any time, but those times are very rare. You may even have a better shot at making it as a pro athlete than as a small time gambler or gold farmer, but that dream of making it big is a siren song.





*No, I'm not going to provide a pic of it. Why give the site(s) free advertising?

**I remember when Cracked was Mad Magazine's wackier cousin. When did Cracked actually start putting up some serious stuff in addition to the humor? I know that they were already serious when Robin Williams passed away and they had a couple of really good articles about the intersection of comedy and depression.

Monday, June 19, 2017

An Oldie but Goodie

Courtesy of the LOTRO forums comes this little graphic from Yosoff:

If novels followed MMO logic. Just sayin'...

Yes, I am amused.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Raising a Pint in Salute

While longevity in a blog is one thing, longevity in a podcast is quite another.

The time it takes to publish a blog post is pretty minimal compared to the effort it takes to pull together a podcast. From a technical aspect alone, there's the design, the equipment/software, and the editing to create a polished finished product. While you can run both on a minimal budget, the hours spent working on a blog pale to those spent on a podcast.*

Therefore, I wanted to take some time to salute two podcasts that reached significant milestones: The Twisted Nether Blogcast and the Battle Bards podcast.

***

You may be cool, but not Blog Azeroth cool.
Twisted Nether is a live blogcast that has just reached its 9th anniversary. Fimlys, Hydra, and Zabine run the WoW focused show --which is the face of Blog Azeroth-- and are frequently joined by bloggers across the WoW-verse. (Full disclosure: I was a guest on Episode 166, recorded live on April 28, 2012. Back then it was just Fimlys and Hydra running the show, and I'm very glad I got to know them through TN.) TN encourages listeners to join the live blogcast and comment in the live comment section, and while the recording time is frequently at odd hours for Eastern North America, I heartily recommend listening in on a live blogcast.

Through TN I've met several fellow bloggers who have since become friends, including Ancient from Tome of the Ancient. If you're curious about WoW comings and goings, I heartily recommend Twisted Nether for an entertaining look at WoW from people who love it so much that they run a live show in the late hours Sunday nights (EST).

However, I did learn one thing about a live blogcast: don't make a quip that can be construed as being awkward. In my case, it was the final question round, and I made a quip about not having heard these questions before. If you've heard Twisted Nether, you've heard the questions, so it wasn't so much as amusing as awkward, and I should have known better than to try to say that. Still, Fim and Hydra were fantastic hosts, and even though I no longer play WoW, if I'd the chance to go back on just to talk with them, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

***
Something about that lute reminds me of
the LOTRO Minstrel class. Just sayin'.

Battle Bards is an MMO podcast created by three people who truly love MMO music, and will be dropping their 100th episode shortly (if it hasn't dropped already. EtA: Here it is!!!).

While the music might be a minor aspect to MMOs in general, the thrill of that first loading screen with the stirring soundtrack blaring through the speakers is a fond memory to even the most hardened MMO gamer. To that end, the team of Syp, Stef, and Syl --the Battle Bards-- scour the MMO world for the interesting and unusual as well as comparing themes among various MMOs.

I've been a long time listener to Battle Bards, in no small part because a) I'm a music lover and b) my long time blogger friend Syl is a host. While I agree or disagree with the Bards' selections, I do find something interesting each episode. However, looking back at the podcasts, I believe that Battle Bards really hit their stride on their fourth episode, the interview with LOTRO composer Chance Thomas. Chance was an engaging guest, and the Bards performed a great job in exploring the music of LOTRO and the process Chance works through when composing a piece. At that point, the podcast became more than just a discussion about favorite pieces and began hitting on the nuts and bolts of the music itself.

The Battle Bards demonstrate in spades that all you need is a love of the music to explore the amazing world of MMO soundtracks.





*By comparison, the livestreaming of a game takes less effort. Once the software and equipment are configured, all you have to do is bring your creative self and play away. Once a livestream graduates into a vlog, however, editing begins to assert itself.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Way Late News Announcements...

...film at 11.

Seriously, I've been a wee bit busy and haven't had the chance to mention this, but Chance Thomas is returning to score the LOTRO soundtrack for Mordor.

Considering I really liked his previous work for LOTRO, I'm happy to see this.

Here's the link to the livestream interview and announcement:


Friday, May 26, 2017

Speaking of Anniversaries...

...Age of Conan is 9 this year.

Yes, the MMO that garnered more discussion about it's M rating --and the accompanying violence and nudity-- than anything about Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age setting is about to hit double digits in age next year.

I, like a lot of players, got the 9th Anniversary e-mail which included the goodies of an instant L80 for all accounts that were in good standing prior to the event's start, and I figured "why not?" My Barbarian was still mired in the mid-50s, and the grind that I'd need to do in order to get simply to L60 seemed daunting enough that the lure of having a max level toon was simply too much to pass up.

This time, I decided I'd try something a bit closer to a more traditional MMO class, the Conqueror melee DPS class. I also decided to balance the masculinity of my traditional Cimmerian Barbarian with a female Cimmerian Conqueror.

It was during the character creation that I became reacquainted with one of Age of Conan's more eyebrow raising aspects: bust adjustment.

The fact that AoC has that isn't necessarily the issue here, since Aion has it as well, but that AoC felt the need to go in the direction of what I'd call the voluptuous model of female toon design. While AoC's female design allows you to adjust the body to go from practically emaciated to heavily muscled, the bustline pretty much starts at a "C" cup and goes all the way to "you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me".

Because apparently that's how Cimmerians roll.

Cimmerians are not easily amused.*


The oldest mini-Red stopped by right after character creation --and, thankfully, after I'd put the gear on the newly minted toon after zoning in-- to check out the scenery.

"At least the gear covers her up," she said with a critical eye. "I was thinking that there'd be almost nothing there."

I snorted. "That's because I'm wearing heavy armor. There'd be a lot less there if I was playing a Necromancer or a Barbarian."

"Still, it could be worse."

Then another new L80 toon ran by, gearless.

"Oh."

"Yeah," I said. "Like that. You can make all of the gear disappear in vanity armor." I demonstrated by removing leg armor and a few other pieces in the vanity armor tab. "You can always tell the oversexed teenage boys by the lack of armor the female toons wear."

"Absolutely. Why do you play it, then?"

"Because I really liked the Conan short stories and I enjoy the world that Robert E. Howard created, warts and all. And in spite of the obvious oversexed nature of the women, the MMO does allow female toons and NPCs to be powerful people. Plus, the scenery is amazing."

I headed out to Connall's Valley for a view from the waterfall atop the village.

Like what I remembered, the new graphics card handled the scenery at max levels with aplomb. I still shake my head as to why LOTRO has issues when SWTOR and AoC don't, but that's something I can't control.

Far below is a Cimmerian village.

AoC was as beautiful as I remembered when I played it more regularly.

"Wow," the oldest mini-Red whispered.

"Yeah. The scenery is pretty amazing."

"Why'd you stop playing it so much?"

"It was getting too grindy. You know how it is grinding deeds in LOTRO? That's a walk in the park compared to AoC's grinding for levels. And on top of it, the respawn rate is so quick that you have to spend so much time fighting through an area just to need to fight back when you're done."

"That sounds like you have to group up to get even basic things done."

"That's about right. And when you play late at night, your grouping options aren't necessarily the greatest." I scratched my beard, considering. "Still, I might have to give it more of a go now with this toon, since she's already at max level."

My oldest patted me on the shoulder. "Good luck, Dad."




*What, you expected me to post Larethe as she was when she first zoned in? Sorry, but no. While I'm quite aware that over in Europe toplessness isn't considered as big a deal as over in the States, I'm still not planning on crossing that line.