Brackish Waters

how my gaming and life coalesce.

Going the extra mile

Sunset_RoadSo I did end up buying Tabula Rasa as I said I would and wouldn’t you know it, Gamestop had it the day before it was ready to launch. Interesting. I haven’t really visited that store much since I stopped working for them 6 years ago in Boston but its pretty much the same. One thing that I will note about my local store here in Maine is that the workers there went the extra step and gave me a copy of the preorder box. That was pretty cool of them as my beta access had expired the night before and I kind of wanted to get into the game on Thursday.

I’ll probably go back to that store because the employees were pretty cool even if they didn’t know what the game was about or that it was a MMO.

I’ve been going back through the same content as I did in beta and taking my time to ensure I do everything before moving on to the next zone. It still runs smooth on my system but the servers are crazy right now with stress and I really hope they iron out the issues.

If you haven’t played TR, they instance each zone multiple times and separate the population into mirrors of each world. Think Ironforge_1, Ironforge_2, and Ironforge_3 and the ability to switch between them at a certain place in the city. For some reason it kept dumping me to the same heavily populated zone even though I would select the less populated one. Suc.

The reason for the post is not really to complain about TR but more or less ask them why they didn’t take the time to finish out their world with the same level of immersion that the Bane offer the player. Immersion is pretty high on my ‘need’ list when playing a game and I’m not just talking about graphics here.

The Bane (bad guys) and the AFS (good guys) drop in on the planet via ships at seemingly random encounters and engage you, the player, in awesome battles. Ask any player who is in game right now about their first time at Memory Hill and I am sure they will tell you they spent atleast an hour there just running around taking out enemies. Its highly addictive and you can’t help but get caught up.

So why is it that the other 40% of the population in the world is working with the old respawn scenario?

The Tree Lurker drops down from certain trees when you happen to run by. This is great as it makes me look around and wait for the “thump” that they always make when they hit the ground. Very similar to the Bane and exactly what I would expect a mob with this name to do.

The Miasma, which you have to kill a ton of at the beginning, just ‘pop’ in. This just takes away from the effort that went into the Bane and Tree Lurker for me. They look like illithid so why not make them come in from another plane or maybe give them some wasp-like nest to come out of.  Heck, I’ve only seen these things in caves so why not give them some crevice to spawn out of?

Then there are Boars. I can’t remember their real name but I think it is something like Boregar or something close to that. Give them a hole in the ground too small for the player but just big enough for the boar. Make them come out as they usually walk and then go to their designated path if you have to, not just pop in whenever they are killed. Make us think that there is an actual colony under our feet full of these boars and make the world we are on truly foreign.

TR_TreebackFinally there is the Treebacks. These gigantic docile creatures scale to you very similar to that of a elephant. They roam around the wilderness in small packs and make a fairly loud stomping noise when they move in unison. I like these guys a lot even though I haven’t seen them as frequently as many of the other creatures.

Image courtesy of tr.stratics.com

W hat I think is missing with the Treebacks is that TR had an opportunity to entwine their spawn method with the ever present and impassable zone walls. When you reach one of these walls its usually pretty obvious because the forest somehow has become mysteriously thick and no opening whatsoever can be found. Pretty basic stuff here but a bit better than that in EQ2 and many other MMOs.Elephant_Forest

TR could have added a small opening that was one way and allowed the Treeback to simply walk into the area when one of their kin was killed.  Think Natural Geographic and a herd crashing through the think forest out onto an open plain.

I will say that Richard Garriot’s team did an awesome job with the immersion so far in Tabula Rasa and I really feel a part of the world when I am out on the battlefield fighting the Bane. I just wish they would have gone the extra mile with the rest of the world’s inhabitants.

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November 5, 2007 Posted by | Rants, Tabula Rasa | | Leave a comment

Fighting the battle with two shields

SAWAs we get closer to winter here in the northeast, the business runs a little slower and the chatter in the office picks up. There have been some great quotes this year already but the following one prompted me to dedicated a post exclusively to its ignorance.

There was just some inane conversation about movies and children going around while everyone was still coming in and starting to go through their e-mail when someone mentioned that they had let their child see the movie SAW. From what I understand, this child is about 13 or so and watched it without their parent. One of the responses I heard was:

“Its not as bad as some of the stuff he is going to see on those online games he plays anyway.”

Wow. If I was playing SAW: The MMO every night I would probably either be a complete psychopath right now or have thrown my computer in the basement and taken up basket weaving as my new pastime.

I look at this statement as the go-to misconceptions of those that are older than I am and have yet to spend any time actually playing games that they feel they can make such a broad generalization about.

In turn, I feel I can make that broad generalization about this generation because 95% of the people I have met over 45 have no understanding about MMOs, PC games, or console games other than that which they have gleaned from either their child or the news. I don’t see this as a weakness in them unless they choose to try to speak about the subject to prove some point.

The conversation in my office then jumped to:

“I’d rather have my child look at boobies than watch that movie.”

Child here being early teen… okay I can see that. If I had a choice between explaining female anatomy and the psycho in the movie SAW, I’d break out the medical books. I’d rather have him know more about the physiology of himself and the girls he meets everyday than the sickness thats lurking in the mind of killer he will never know. Its really a no brainer.

I’ve played Manhunt before. I played it from start to finish in all its sick glory and it was… entertaining. Sick, but entertaining. At no point in my life will I ever decapitate a man with a plastic bag and then hang that head from my back pocket. Its just not going to happen. At no point am I going to let my son play that game while he is living in my house. Thats just not going to happen either.

I’ll be on top of everything that comes out because its not only my responsibility as a parent but also as a gamer. I need to be able to discredit those people who don’t know anymore than the media tells them and also ward off the rolling eyes of the 12 year old friends of my son in the future. I can already see it coming too. “Dude, lets just go over to my place and play it.” What can I do but play it from both ends? Its like I’m in the middle of a battle with nothing but two shields.

Its a tough one because I think games like Manhunt should be allowed the freedom they need to be developed but also should be restricted in publication by the level in which they choose to embellish the violence. I should be hearing about these games from other parents, not in conversations between the children. This is how it was though and I can remember being the child in those situations.

My son will have it tougher than most because this ol’ man won’t be an ignorant fool and I hope I won’t be alone.

October 29, 2007 Posted by | Rants, RL | , | 1 Comment

Maybe the Beauty Queen was right

The following was a conversation between some of my fellow employees.  I don’t know what is more disturbing about this conversation, the fact that I know they bank a lot more than I do or that they had to use a reference tool.

Employee 1: Hey, what state is DE?
Employee 2:  I don’t know, Denver?
*pause*
Employee 2: I’d Google it.
Employee 1: Oh, its Delaware.
Employee 2: I was close.

… and my wife wonders why I cry myself to sleep every night.

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Rants, RL | , | 6 Comments

Locking professions

A couple days ago I posted my woes with the Everquest 2 crafting professions and how IPadlock accidentally chose the wrong profession when I was going through the quest dialog. Now, I owned up to the fact that it was my error and that SOE did place in front of me three distinct choices for the paths I could follow, and it was clear on which was which. This was my fault entirely and I took my punishment for the inattention I showed the game by redoing the previous 10 levels of crafting and spending atleast 15 gold in payments to the broker. Not a bad penalty.

But is it necessary?

I believe that I would have had a better experience with the specialization quest if I had been routed to a NPC that was in the profession I was interested in playing. In fact, the first thing I did before hailing the NPC outside of the crafting instance was head to the NPC in which I had talked to when I did my class armor quest. I think atleast in regards to the EQ2 system, giving a player a small quest to do for the specialization, might give them enough of a chance to realize their possible mistake but also open up the game to allow soft locks on professions.

Soft locks are what I think of as barriers that are easily overcome through a series of quests or trials. These locks wouldn’t really bar a player from experiencing the content or options available to them, they would just block out the unnecessary information unless the player chose to take the time to open that content.

Why is it that some MMO designs are created to hard lock players into crafting professions. I don’t understand why this is and I have been trying to think of the various benefits and drawbacks to a world if every player has the chance to be everything they want to be. I am just talking about crafting professions here, not adventuring.

As a crafter free to learn every profession:

  • I have the freedom to further define my character’s abilities.
  • I am more self sufficient if I choose to invest the time.
  • I can personally use more of what I find.
  • I am online with one character instead of alt_tailor, alt_chanter, or alt_smith.
  • I become a supplier that can offer my customers a larger selection.

As a crafter limited to a single profession:

  • I cannot corner multiple areas of the market with one character.
  • I am forced to make multiple characters and use the mail system to transfer items between them.
  • customers are forced to learn the name of my alts when they want something specifically made.

From a community standpoint, I would rather have players on more with their one character than multiple alts. It would allow veterans to rise to the top and continue to be known by the population at large throughout their career. Its better for the player and does little to change the economy from what I can see. Why is it then that we are locked in these decisions?1

1 I did a search through Google Reader on this topic and it seems that the function is still not really up to the standard of the regular Google Search. I apologize if this topic has been beaten like Private Pyle at blanket party.

October 10, 2007 Posted by | Brainstorms, Crafting, EQ2, Rants | , | 6 Comments

Learning how to learn

Its often been said to me that you can learn from your own mistakes or you can learn from the mistakes of others. The wiser person chooses the latter and dares not repeat the failures of those who have come before him, but more often than not I hear about history repeating itself. Sometimes its the young showing disrespect for their elders and trying so hard by themselves to blaze their own path. Sometimes its pride that gets the best of even the most learned and blinds them from the lessons of their peers

But sometimes there are those mistakes that are completely avoidable and just happen because your wife is watching a really bad but strangely addicting movie with Gena Davis in it.

This weekend I had one of these rare mistakes in my crafting career and only when I finally got the courage to ask for help in the general crafting channel did I realize it was not my issue but that of the game design itself. There is nothing wrong with the crafting in Everquest, its simply the design of the game that SOE and unfortunately many others tend to go with.

Saturday evening I had reached the cap of level 19 in the Outfitter Profession and had figured outEQ2 Choose Profession that in order to progress I needed to speak to one of the trainers again. Pretty basic, just go up and go through the dialog and click the new specialized profession. Well wouldn’t you know it that I managed to screw this part up. I have no idea what I was doing at the time(never-mind, I do) but I clicked Weaponsmith instead of Armorsmith and sealed my fate to that of making pokey things.

After talking to a nice group in the crafting channel I found out that there was a NPC in a crafting instance in West Freeport that would allow me to change this error and begin again. What they didn’t tell me, and I don’t blame them for this, is that this decision reverts you to level 9 again!

BLARGG!!

SOE did put in enough information before I chose to revert my crafting experience, I will give them that. I sat there for about 5 minutes mulling it over before clicking accept. I wanted to kick that stupid ogre NPC smiling at me the whole damn time.

I just couldn’t bring myself to continue crafting just weapons. I knew if I could suck it up, face the music, bite the bullet and find the most motivational idiom, I would be happier about continuing crafting in Everquest 2.

So I did it.

Four crafting levels, 15 gold, and remembering that a bad worker always blames their tools, I’m back up to level 20 and certified as a Armorsmith. All in all it wasn’t a bad experience and I feel better about continuing with the crafting here. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and learn from your mistakes. I could sit here and blame SOE for limiting the player’s ability to learn multiple crafting professions, and to be honest that’s what I intended to do. I was going to write about the way games limit us by slamming us in a mold of X Adventuring class and Y Crafting Profession. Maybe that’s tomorrow’s discussion, but I’m going to track down some older articles from other bloggers before I paste some of the same ol’ vanilla opinions and suggestions.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | Adventure Journal, Crafting, EQ2, Rants | | 2 Comments

Could I be a better gamer dad?

There have been a large number of articles and posts about being a parent and gamer over theHomerSimpson past month and believe me, I haven’t been ignoring them. I wasn’t sure and still am not completely satisfied about how I can approach this and adequately express how I feel about this tough subject. I could go witty or brief and simply say “Everything in moderation” or “RL before RPG” but I don’t think its really a satisfying answer for myself or other parents.

I’m not going to argue the semantics of being a great gamer and what places one league of players above another. I’m also not going to give you tirades of back and forth psychoanalytic jargon about being a good parent and the benchmarks for your three year old child. I could honestly give two shits about that crap and since my wife became pregnant I think we picked up the “What to expect” book exactly 3 times.

What I am going to do is lay down exactly how I am as a parent and as a gamer and let other people decide. Will I change? Honestly, probably not. I like my lifestyle and I love my son. As I see it right now, he is doing great. Every morning that boy wakes up with the brightest smile on his face and every evening when that little boy goes to bed, we almost never hear a peep of disagreement from him. If you’re a parent, you know how great that can be.

I am thankful for the life I have but as a parent I can’t help but second guess the decisions I make. I think I got that about 2 hours after we figured out my wife was pregnant and my father would be quick to point out that, like worrying, it never goes away. So, I giving myself a sort of Daedalus test about my gaming and parenting specifically. I hope that it both helps me recognize the weak points in my daily routine and also my strengths.

Enjoy the split personality questioning after the jump!
Continue reading

October 2, 2007 Posted by | Rants, RL | , , | 5 Comments

The woeful cry of the Unsubscribe button

For the past three weeks I have been playing LotRO and EQ2 in tandem and on Sunday I was forced to make a decision between the two. My month long trial of Everquest 2 had come to an end and my recurring bill to Turbine was set to post to my account on Monday morning. A tough decision indeed and one that has come up much to often over the last year.

It was clear to me that our group was losing interest in Middle Earth over a week ago, but I really didn’t want to confront it as I had invested a large amount of time into my character there and still had a lot to do in terms of the story-line quests. We are all in our mid to high 40’s and have experienced a majority of the content and have also had a boatload of fun doing it. Yes, there are still areas like Carn Dum and the rest of Helegrod to explore, but maybe its because the horizon is so clear on what to expect that we have lost the will to continue. The feeling of “more of the same” is a contagious sentiment and in an effort to prevent it from spreading among us, we almost subconsciously stopped playing together for about a week.

When I make a decision to unsubscribe from a MMO its always about the money. Its really never about the game, because if I was either financially independent or the game itself had no recurring fee I would continue to keep the game on my hard-drive. Even some games that are in the perceived worst of state when released can change, and I really wish I could support them while they go through that evolution.

One of the largest of such changes is that of Everquest 2. While I have no prior experience to judge this progression, there is the consistent din that travels the internet always referring to EQ2 as an example of what SOE can do and may possibly do again with Vanguard. I have written a small amount about my travels so far in this world and I plan on doing more as I have I have not only chosen to continue playing in EQ2, but I also managedEQ2_HolyTrinity to drag along the rest of the holy trinity.

So, my goals have changed a little as of now in EQ2. What was once a singular expedition into the lore of Faydwer and beyond, has evolved into something similar to that of Troy’s podcast – EQual Perspectives. My two companions are big Everquest 1 veterans and I am now the noob under their wing. I still have yet to realize what I have got myself into by convincing them to return to the EQ world, but I believe I got a nice taste of it last night. The two of them went on about some zone-chasing-thingamabob that murdered 200 children and had them up for two weeks while they waited in line for a chance to camp it and retrieve the Boots of Shit Kicking. Something along those lines, I don’t know.

When those Everquest 1 people start reminiscing, I have found it best to just let em get it all out and then offer cocoa after they have finished. Better results with the kind that has marshmallows too.

I still plan on returning to LotRO (famous last words) as my wife was still having a good time there and so are a couple of my friends. I was in a great guild, so if you play on the Firefoot server and are looking for a nice group, be sure to check them out. There are alsoHI_1 atleast two more articles I have written that I have been putting off, one being our last run on Sunday through Haudh Iarchith.

I have enjoyed my time there, and in retrospect, I am not too upset about leaving. I had a lot of fun and did more quests than I can imagine. I was a bit burnt out on the Lord of the Rings lore even before I bought the game and yet they did a remarkable job in dragging me back in and making me feel like this was the Middle Earth that Tolkien had described. I say, “Well done!” to Turbine.

Tempt me, and I may be back sooner than you think.

September 19, 2007 Posted by | Adventure Journal, EQ2, LOTRO, Rants, Vanguard | 2 Comments

The brackish waters of blogging and press

The topic that Darren started last week is still one of general interest to many on the web including myself. Its hard to express how I truly feel about the topic during the podcast, because I was there to not only give my view but also take part in an exchange that can go in multiple directions at any moment. I will however attempt to do so now.

It is my opinion that Bloggers occupy a unique area of the press that is still being defined. Just the fact that we are talking about it is a sign that it still has no classification. Its hard to place bloggers in this mold when each is unique and the word press brings to mind so many definitions.

I said this before and I’ll say it again:
Recognition does not only come from within, but from others.

This is why I believe wilhelm was on the right track.
So if I chose to become an active and up-to-date blog of everything that has to do with the race of hobbits in Lord of the Rings:Online, I probably could. I could publish everything I discover in the game and cross-link this to know publications about the lore and then go into theory as to why Turbine left out table dancing as an emote and gather a large following from the community. Wouldn’t this then classify me as press in the eyes of my audience? Sure, but it will take a bit more before I might be acknowledged by Turbine or Tolkien Enterprises.

The initial question and reason it was asked (I believe) was that of why some bloggers may not receive special passes or treatment when they are believed, by the general blog-o-sphere, to be worthy of such merit.

I think the problem lies in our ability to be unpredictable and also anonymous.

If we choose to remain anonymous, I would wager that we would be less inclined to receive official accolade for anything we do or write about. Tobold believes that this is one of our strengths. I agree. That is, unless the intention of the blogger is to become part of the press we are talking about. A blogger can pine to these developers til the cows come home, but if we are not meeting their standards then the efforts are wasted.

It is my belief that the game companies will not take a chance by going with an anonymous writer, no matter how much of a following we have. If we show ourselves as we really are, we bring in true accountability. This is especially pertinent and can be particularly dangerous if we happen to be blogging about the same field in which we are employed. Firings, lawsuits, and defamation have all happened to bloggers who chose not to remain anonymous. Maybe not in the gaming world, but certainly across the internet. It appears to be a tough line to walk.

Even if we are known, we can still be very unpredictable. We could disappear for two weeks and have no repercussion except that of the stats for our blog. Our readers may understand if we put up a “sorry for /afk” message on our return, but this could really never happen with a news or official press site.

But really, could a blog about hobbits ever be known officially as press? Yes. Especially if Turbine chose to use that blog to talk to the hobbit “community”. If Turbine acknowledged them, gave them information for their players, and in doing so allowed the blog to become a source for official information about hobbits, it would definitely become a niche press blog.

Vanguard did this with their official fan-sites before the acquisition by SOE. All new information came through the mouth of these sites. They weren’t Gamespy or MMORPG.com but approved sites by Sigil and listed on their front page. The process to become a part of this affiliation required items like no gold selling banners, a good track record for stability, and a good design and layout.*  These standards are probably no different than the ones that some companies have before they decide to acknowledge the work of a blogger.

Brandon over at MMOGaming wrote:

Bloggers are the new word of mouth. They are “word of mouth 2.0.” They combine the greatest marketing influence of all, our friends, with the ability to still reach thousands upon thousands of people with the message.

This is our strength.  If you choose to use this to reach the goal of becoming part of the gaming press, then I wish the best for you.

* There may be more to this but I never ran a site or actually applied for this status. This is what I remember to be the major qualifications at the time.

September 18, 2007 Posted by | Blog-o-sphere, Rants | 3 Comments

1-800-RAID-WOW

On the most recent episode of Shut Up We’re Talking, there was a conversation about the possibility of players being able to contract work out to companies outside of the game for in-game services.  Raid leaders, guild managers, tour guides, and personal trainers were all talked about here and I can’t help but think of the good and the bad that would come with something like this.

Raid Leaders
This more than any of the four scenarios mentioned above, would be the most beneficial to small guilds who wish to experience the more difficult content of today’s MMOs.  What a guild lacking the actual manpower to do the run, a professional outside service with dedicated crew and players could provide.
The Good

  • Players would simply need to provide the needed currency and time available for content, the contracted companies would bring along all needed expendables.
  • Companies could offer additional benefits like guild pictures, movies and even T-Shirts.
  • Reviews based on prior experiences would likely be available on the net and guilds would have a good idea of who to trust and who not to trust.
  • Various levels of service.  Private runs and Semi-privates raids could allow for a variety of costs to choose from.  Also, prerequisite runs could also be arranged for players needing keys and certain restrictions lifted before the raid was started.

The Bad

  • The sheer amount of instances and raid content spanning a lot of the more common games would put pressure on these companies to meet the demand that would be there. Pricing and participation may vary, see server for details.
  • Flat rate or hourly fees?  Could that person in your guild that has gone afk so many times before now actually be costing your guild money?
  • Guarantees would be hard to nail down.  The goal and expectations of the event would have to be agreed upon before transferring any money or agreeing to any contract.

The Ugly

  • If a service like this was sanctioned by the publishers and developers of these games, and real world currency was the method of payment, I can’t see any way that the gold farmers wouldn’t want to get into this.  They would have more of a problem with this as they have a bigger barrier to overcome with some of their future customers, speaking their language.

I plan on talking a bit more about the other three services later this week, but my work load today needs some definite attention.  I will say this though, I can’t see a service like this being available to players unless the developers/publishers of the game are the ones providing the service or in some agreement with these outside companies.  Either way, that is beyond my scope of knowledge.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Brainstorms, Rants | 3 Comments

I’ll show you awkward

So in keeping with the tradition of spreading around the random personality tests that crop up from time to time on everyone’s blog, Ill post my results.

Two comments:
Math is Hard
I bent my wookie

NerdTests.com says I'm a Dorky High Nerd. What are you? Click here!

September 12, 2007 Posted by | Rants, RL | Leave a comment