NBIMMO: Resources and Final Thoughts

#NBIMMO

nbilarge

Well apparently it is that time, the end of the Newbie Blogger Initiative month.  I think overall it has been a great success for the community.  Syp has a nice wrap up post, and a list of all the blogs and articles over on his site Bio Break, so rather than copypasta, I will just send you guys there.  Huge thanks to Syp for pulling this all together, and it cannot be sheer consequence that this all culminates on his birthday.  So in addition to the thanks, sending a bit Happy Birthday your way.

The Cutting Room Floor

I’ve had a stack of posts kicking around in my skull for the better part of a month, but my schedule has been insane so none of them actually made their way to paper.  However since this is still technically within the month, I wanted to throw together a post I had been meaning to for a few weeks.  Essentially without really meaning to, I have come at my posts from the stance of helping bloggers through some of the more technical aspects of hosting your own blog.

In the process there have been several items I wanted to talk about, resources I wanted to share, that have just been left on the cutting room floor.  Pieces of debris that never quite made it into a fully realized topic form.  So as a warning, today’s topic is going to be a bit more freeform than normal for me.

Gaming Tooltips

One of the coolest inventions of the post-wow world is the tooltip script.  Essentially multiple websites now allow you to easily add a script snippet to your blog template, and then when you link to a given website it shows a nice mouse over popup of the items description.  These really add a nice level of detail to your posts, your readers can see exactly what an ability does when you talk about it, without you needing to devote time to actually explaining it.  If you want to talk about a nice piece of loot, you get instant access to the stats without needing to come up with some arcane formatting for it.

The first website I can ever remember doing this was Allakhazam, but over time more and more websites have adopted the practice.  Originally it was pretty contorted to get this information into your website, but now most of these sites offer a simple one line script include.  It is likely that whatever game you play, has someone offering a similar service, but below are some of the more common ones by game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Torhead

Torhead offers for SWTOR the same level of support we are used to from WoWhead.  Updated constantly, should have pretty much any tooltip you would want to link to.  To include them in your site, just add this snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script src="http://tor.zamimg.com/tooltips.js "></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee Bindo’s Lightsaber

DarthHater DB

DarthHater really hit the ground running, and early on claimed a huge share of the item database traffic.  Does not seem to be nearly as complete as Torhead, but still definitely a viable option.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://db.darthhater.com/js/extooltips.js"></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee bindo’s Lightsaber

KnoTOR

KnoTOR honestly seems to be abandoned, or at least they update extremely slowly.  I am including them however because they really had the nicest looking links available when it was being developed on actively.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script src="http://i4.knocdn.com/assets/tooltips.js "></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee Bindo’s Lightsaber

World of Warcraft

WoWhead

Really as far as wow item databases go, the only one of any real significance at this point is WoWhead.  They came from out of nowhere and have continued to kick ass expansion after expansion.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://static.wowhead.com/widgets/power.js"></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Shadowmourne

Multi-Game Support

ZAM

The Allakhazam network has been around in one form or another since the opening days of the original Everquest.  They support pretty much every game that comes out.  The side effect of supporting everything however is that they may not support a specific game as good as another content specific provider.  However they are an add once, use many juggernaut for tooltips.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

Supported Games
  • Everquest
  • Everquest II
  • Final Fantasy XI
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Rift
  • Warhammer Online
  • World of Warcraft
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://zam.zamimg.com/j/tooltips.js "></script>

Some example links:  Sedition, Sword of the Bloodmoon, The Soul Reaper, Panzer Shield

Experimental

I wanted to include this one, despite the fact it is somewhat more experimental.  Ask Mr. Robot was an amazing resource for World of Warcraft gear planning.  They seem to have shifted focus over to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and with it they have a really cool item database in the works.  The integration process is not yet as simple as the others, but they have a blog post on integrating it with wordpress.  I personally have not gone through the trouble myself, but including this out there in case someone else wants to.

Those Amazing Fonts

nbi_fonts

Sooner or later you want going to want to do some work with interesting fonts, either to label images, or create logos for various post series.  The problem is the fonts included in windows are boring as hell.  Something a good number of users do not realize is that fonts are licensed, and the various font foundries have teams of rabid lawyers crawling the web looking for violators. 

The safest option is to simply stick to using nothing but freeware or open source fonts.  The big problem is, that if you type “Free Fonts” into Google you get a complete mess of sites that are sometimes a bit questionable at worst, and at best full of low quality fonts.  There are a few websites I have used for years, that have consistently high quality fonts.

Blambot

nbi_blambothttp://www.blambot.com

If you read comics at all, be they digital or print, chances are you have run into Blambot fonts and never knew it.  Personally I think they are the best font shop out there.  They sell their fonts for a pretty reasonable price, but even better they offer a good number of their more recognizable faces completely free.  All of the fonts in the above image are from Blambot, as are the fonts I use in the Tales of the Aggronaut logo.

DaFont

nbi_dafonthttp://www.dafont.com/en

While Blambot represents one amazing font studio, DaFont is essentially a massive search engine for awesome free fonts.  There are many websites out there that serve a similar purpose, but what sets DaFont ahead of the competition is the fact that it breaks fonts down into stylistic categories.  If you are looking for a fantasy font or a Sci-fi font, within moments you can instantly jump into long lists of similar styled fonts.  You are given a preview of the font in the main list, and can jump into a complete display of the entire alphabet for each.  They have a huge selection of open source versions of familiar type faces, so there should be something to fit any of your design needs.

Smashing Magazine

nbi_smashinghttp://www.smashingmagazine.com

I did warn you ahead of time, that this post was going to be pretty free form.  I am including this resource here because they do occasionally link awesome fonts.  More than anything this is just a great web design resource.  I have it in my RSS Reader and they cover everything from WordPress Tips, to Free Graphic resources, to of course great open source fonts.  If you are running a website in any form you need to watch this page periodically.

Software Resources

Gimp

nbi_gimphttp://gimp.org

Personally I am a Photoshop user, started using it somewhere around version 2.5 (circa 1994).  While it can do amazing things, it has an equally astonishing price tag associated with it.  It quickly becomes hard to justify the cost, if you are not using it professionally.  Luckily for the rest of the world, there is a great image manipulation software that is open source.

Gimp can do pretty much anything you will ever need to do from photo retouching, to painting, to really nice logo work.  It has a pretty rabid community supporting it, and there are plugins out there to do any manner of effects.  The biggest problem for me, is that coming from Photoshop, it has a very different user interface.  With the 2.9 release (not yet available for windows) supposedly it brings things more in line with the “Photoshop” standards.  However luckily for the Photoshop natives out there, there is a custom fork of the gimp project called Gimpshop.  Essentially it sets up the shortcuts and windows into a much more Photoshop like arrangement.

Inkscape

nbi_inkscapehttp://inkscape.org

If you are more familiar with vector graphics like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, I have you covered too.  I am actually just starting to use this a bit myself.  I have been looking for a more simplistic vector program, and so far while I am still learning this one, it feels very robust.  I never actually learned Illustrator very well, and was a longtime Corel Draw user.  So far the controls and tools feel clean and familiar.  You have the ability to export your graphics as either an SVG directly for use on the web, or rasterizing it as one of many image formats.  Would have come in extremely handy back when I was trying to diagram WoW Raid strategies.

Windows Live Writer

nbi_livewriter

http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows-live/essentials-other-programs

I cannot express how much I love this software.  Writer used to be a stand alone project, but is now included as part of the Windows Live Essentials package.  While Windows Movie Maker is pretty awesome, the only part of this package I really use is Writer itself.  Essentially it acts as a WYSIWYG editor for your blog.  When you configure your blog with the software, it logs into your website and downloads all the CSS information for your theme.

If you look at the image above, that is side by side screenshots of my Secret World impressions post.  On the left is the site as I composed it in Live Writer, on the right is the site in Chrome.  This completely frees you from wondering what a given post will look and feel like when you publish.  The real money feature is the image manipulation.  You can resize the images freely, set the alignment, word wrap, margins, borders all without any manual manipulation.

Basically for me it frees me up to just write, without having to worry if it is going to look right or not.  Over the years I have noticed a good number of other bloggers using it.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  It supports a wide number of common blogging platforms.  I use it for example on my custom hosted WordPress, but I have also connected to a blogger and had equally good results.

Final Thoughts

While personally I have not participated in the NBIMMO as much as I would have liked this month, it has spawned an amazing number of quality blogs in the process.  Often times lately, my schedule has dictated that either I get to play the games, or write about them.  I more often than not choose to play, and as a result I go for weeks without posts.  Luckily however a good number of these new blogs have been extremely prolific.

I still think this was an amazing idea, and I hope as we officially exit NBIMMO month, the community sprit will continue.  While there are tons of us out there, we are at the end of the day a pretty small community.  I never would have started up my blog in the first place were it not for the great support of other game bloggers.  So I hope as time goes on, each of us can continue to offer support when others need it.

The Secret World Impressions

[update]  The beta weekend continues Friday 5/18.

TSW_LogoScreenAt this point I have spent about 6 hours in total running around in Funcom’s latest MMO, The Secret World.  Up to this point I hadn’t really fully decided if I liked the game or not.  From what I am seeing floating around, seems like most people are having similar mixed emotions.  The game is an odd mixture of really good elements, and horrifically bad elements.  Up to now I wasn’t quite sure if the good were good enough to make me ignore the bad.

The Ugly and Awkward

TSW_Cutscene_stifflegsThe Secret World focuses heavily on the story of this dark setting.  The problem is, the cut scenes and voice acting that make up the otherwise well written story are tragically bad.  The motion of the characters are rigid and mannequin-like as then bend in impossibly puppet like directions.  The voice acting varies greatly between extremely well done, to tragically confused accents.

The saddest part about this is that the dialog is actually extremely well written.  The characters are interesting enough to make you take note of them and remember their names.  They weave a story of a world gone wrong.  Instead of giving it to you in a sea of quest text that you likely wont ever read, you have to draw it out of the characters a line at a time.  In traditional roleplaying game fashion, each question has multiple answers, and talking to the NPC yields different results each time.  When you have heard all the possible results, a green check mark shows up at the end of the prompt.

TSW_CutscenesStiffWristSo the game world is intricate and engaging, but you are forced to sit through a sequence of awkward cut scenes and often times lousy voice overs to get to the meat of the game.  In SWTOR you could skip through the voice over, and still be able to read the text by hitting the spacebar.  Unfortunately right now there is no option like this, and you are forced to make a decision between sitting patiently through the rough movies, or skipping them entirely with the escape key and having no clue what is actually going on.

TSW_CutsceneTaxiThe biggest detractor the game has right now is the fact that in order to get into any action at all, I had to sit through literally 45 minutes of cut scenes and fed ex quests in London before I could actually go do anything interesting.  I’ve heard this intro was unique to the beta weekend, and I really hope they either greatly reduce it, or remove it entirely.  Once you get to Kingsmouth the game becomes fun and interesting, but up to that point you feel like you are having to suffer through a mile of bad road.

The Really Good

TSW_DinerThe atmosphere of the game is amazing.  When you land in Kingsmouth you are surrounding by a town besieged by zombies and other things that go bump in the night.  Little gatherings of survivors fight to stay alive in the midst of the ravenous hordes.  The game feels like a really good World of Darkness gaming session.  I was expecting to need to roll 7d10 for Initiative at any moment.  It has been years since a game made me physically jump, and as I wandered around the small town, I jumped several times as a zombie horde rushed out of hiding at me.

TSW_MuseumThe game is pretty much standard role playing game fare, talk to NPCs, get a quest and them complete it by following on screen guidance.  Where the game differs greatly however is the fact that your standard MMO trope of batching up a bunch of quests simply does not work here.  The system really is designed for you to focus on a single quest, and then follow it through to its logical conclusion.  When you pick up additional quests they go into a 6 quest queue, but only one can be actively worked on at a given time.

TSW_QuestNoteI actually found myself taking notes as I played, trying to remember where I had seen quest objects in the world to interact with and accept the quest after I finished the one I was on.  I found a severed arm, a damaged pda, a suspicious body, forgotten mail, all beckoning me to figure out what exactly was up with each.  Over the hours of play, I have been working my way through a laundry list of objectives I found both from various NPCs and out in the “wild”.

Level-less system still has levels

TSW_AbilityWheelI went into the beta assuming this would be the case, but there is no such thing as a level-less system.  While there is no magical number that appears on your character, there is a mechanism in place that determines how well you perform verses the various mobs.  I have not entirely reasoned out how it works, but it seems as you gain more Skill Points and Anima Points you gain additional hit points.  So essentially, the number of points you have accumulated roughly equates to your level.

TSW_SkillWindowMonsters in the world have a “con”, just like they do in any other game.  White mobs are roughly equivalent to your own level, and Yellow are much harder.  I’ve heard there are other colors that denote different relations, but to this point I have not encountered them.  Normal mobs are marked with a dot, if you see more than one icon on their nameplate, it means they come as part of a group.  I’ve run into several mobs that are marked with a flag, and they seem to be some form of a mini-boss classification.

Atmosphere: Dice Included

TSW_InventorySo essentially you have all the same characteristics of a traditional mmo, they are just wrapped in a more pen and paper dynamic.  Honestly the entire game feels like it came from one of my late night Werewolf: The Apocalypse sessions, tracking down the taint of the Wyrm.  One of the first equipable items I got as a drop, were Dice.  I can see several different games here.  Parts of it feel like Matrix Online, other parts like Grand Theft Auto 3, and even others like the early PSX Survival Horror titles.

TSW_DefendBarricadeAs I walk down the foggy streets near the shore, I had multiple flashbacks to playing Silent Hill.  Honestly so far I have yet to see any reason why this game has to be an MMO at all.  The atmosphere is great, I love the town, the abandoned cars, and the crude fortifications the survivors have thrown up.  One of the early quests I did involved helping the Sherriff defend the barricades against hordes of oncoming zombies.  Each time a new wave would spawn in the distance, a “tornado” siren would start up warning against their arrival.

Forgettable Combat

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-05-12 21-42-25-13At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had withheld my opinion on whether or not I was able to look past the bad and see the good.  As I have played the game more, around hour three, it started growing on me.  I can see the potential I guess.  The game is still very rough, there are a good number of awkward and confused things about it, but there is also a good deal of raw intricacy there.  Part of the reason why I love Everquest 2 so much, is because the game exudes depth, and even in one small coastal town I can see depth to spare.

TSW_ZombieCombatThere are going to be several folks that will be turned off as a whole by the game.  I’m nearing the end of at least one of the skill trees, and to this point combat is still wholesale forgettable.  I went with a blades build, that overall feels much like the Katana Scrapper in City of Heroes.  So far however, it seems like my PBAOE resource builder attack, is somewhat of an I-Win button.  I can run into a pack of zombies and just brainlessly spam it until I win a prize.

TSW_BigBaddieWhen I face bigger baddies, I have to use more or two other attacks, but overall the combat is pretty mindless.  So long as I am careful with what I attack, and watch out for drawn areas on the ground to avoid, I can pretty much defeat anything without much issue.  That isn’t to say that I have not taken more than my fair share of deaths.  Before I had the basics of the “con” system explained to me, I was trying to take down mini bosses and much higher level monsters that I could realistically handle.  The big problem is, nowhere during the tutorial does it ever explain how you should actually play the game.

The Rundown

TSW_GodBlessTheInternetSo far I really like what I see.  I like the look and feel of the world.  Unfortunately the game has a long way to go before it will be ready for the bulk of the MMO market.  By the large number of negative reviews I have already seen this weekend, the game is just accessible enough for most people.  Personally I am looking for games more like EQ2, and less like WoW/Rift/SWTOR.  So all the extra fluff this game has, really appeals to me, and I can look past some of the akward combat and cutscenes for the time being.

TSW_RoofWhat has me most concerned is the fact that this game is supposedly shipping in roughly a months time.  Based on the multiple alphas and betas I have participated in over the years, I see multiple months worth of solid work here.  If this title launches as it is, I am afraid it will fail to find a stable market.  I know now that I will likely play it when it launches, but I will also be playing EQ2, GW2, and probably others.  The game has to be a bit more polished than it is now if it hopes to win even my full attention.

TSW_Combat_MinibossI am looking forward to spending more time working through Kingsmouth.  I hope by the next beta, we see a good amount of polish applied.  I am really hoping that they can poke and prod and tweak everything to make the overall experience better.  They’ve nailed the atmosphere, and they have some really good writing, the delivery just gets lost in all the lousy animation.  Hopefully they will work on all of this, because I see a game that will be really fun if they do.

TSW_ArgarthaUltimately the final challenge will be in pumping out the content.  SWTOR was a fun theme park ride, but after riding the roller coaster to completion three times, I just don’t care to ride it any more.  The storytelling, voice, and cinematics were an amazing tour de force.  When the story is over however, there just was nothing left I cared to do.  The Secret World will have to find a way to avoid the same trap WoW, Rift and SWTOR didn’t.  The end game has to be something other than raiding, pvp and dailies.  Here is to hoping they find a way to make the game stay relevant once you reach the ultimate cap.

A Quiet Evening in Norrath

I have to say, it has been a fairly crazy week.  At work I have been dealing with a “brand marketing” company, as we try and stand up a brand new promotional website.  On the blog, the Newbie Blogger Initiative has kinda kicked me in the ass, and made me start trying to post some useful stuff on a regular basis.  In game, as I mentioned yesterday I picked up TERA on a whim, so I have added it to my rotation of SWTOR and EQ2.

Checking In On The Republic

Screenshot_2012-04-12_22_57_20_558931After spending the weekend in the Guild Wars 2 beta, and a good chunk of the week playing TERA, I felt like I needed to spend last night in SWTOR since the troops were getting restless.  Leading a guild in Star Wars has been an interesting transition.  I lead a very active guild in World of Warcraft for a little over seven years, so since the Star Wars guild is a combination of the same people, one would think I would be used to it. 

I have to say however, it has been an interesting experience.  I’ve talked about it before, but I really am not the same player that my friends knew and loved form WoW.  After being committed to raiding 3-4 times a week, I find myself having trouble even committing to running a dungeon as a group.  I’ve developed this resentment towards anything that ties me down, or forces other players to depend on me.

The Reluctant Guildmaster

Screenshot_2012-03-21_22_16_22_840230After several nights of piddling around in other games and a weekend of soloing while testing, coming back to SWTOR last night was a bit jarring.  I logged into a sea of tells, similar to like I used to get on a nightly basis in WoW.  Each person that contacted me, had been waiting patiently for me to show up again, because they had some real need of my attention.  But I have to say, it almost invoked a fight or flee instinct in me.  Instead of actually going out and trying to get into my new Chiss Smuggler, I wound up simply logging in my 4 characters all night and running slicing missions. 

I can happily report however, that the last patch did in fact seem to fix the slicing bugs.  I was able to make a meager profit from running high end slicing boxes.  When 1.2 came out, I ended up blowing through around 300,000 credits, trying to figure out a mix of lockboxes that actually was able to at least break even.  Our guild crafters really relied on getting materials from those slicing missions, so it will be nice to be able to provide them once more.

I’ve hit a wall right now in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I have 3 characters at 50, each of them geared at least in purple mods in moldable gear.  All that is missing from my stable is a smuggler.  I made a push to do dailies on all three of my max level characters, and farmed up the 1.5 million credits to unlock the Chiss race I was wanting.  Problem is, I just can’t seem to push forward anymore.  At almost legacy 30, there really is nothing left for me in the system that does not involve prodigious amounts of credit grinding.

Norrath Calling

EQ2_000047After last night feeling very much like returning to a job after a vacation, and knowing that tomorrow would be spent on the road, I decided tonight I would relax over in Norrath.  Everquest 2 is one of those games I can always return to, and always find something interesting to do.  I seriously think there is more content in that game than I will ever be able to complete. 

I have a level 90 ShadowKnight, with around 300 AAs, so I could be off doing the new 90-92 content.  Problem being that I don’t really feel like doing anything that serious.  The rest of my guild seems to be moving happily through the content, and from all accounts it seems like the Withering Lands and Skyshrine are extremely awesome.  For whatever reason though, I just have more of a desire to play my level 80 Dark Elf Dirge, and my level 20 Froglok Paladin.

Belglorian of Marr

EQ2_000059Tonight I decided to log into my little frogadin, and take a trip to Stormhold.  Over the years this has been one of my favorite dungeons.  I love the way Norrathian dungeons are laid out, and anytime you give me one filled with tons of undead I am a happy camper.  Other games have pretty dungeons, but for whatever reason they don’t feel like something the mobs would actually use.  EQ2 dungeons are replete with kitchens, store rooms, audience chambers, and are populated with everything from the butler to the chef.  I honestly think this was why I liked Karazhan so much.  It was the only wow dungeon that felt like someone could actually inhabit it.

I’ve completely stacked the deck on my Belglorian, my paladin.  I picked him up one of Fippy Darkpaw’s swords during the chronoportal event.  In addition I have crafted some nice armor, including the level 20 reactant “of authority” chest piece.  Essentially my gameplay is to keep him locked at 100% AA at level 20 until I can get at least 100 AA levels.  Right now I am sitting at 45, and each AA makes life a little easier.  There are so many good level 20ish spots, and I find running around killing random stuff in Everquest 2 really relaxing.

I had a bad pull deep down inside of Stormhold, wound up getting two bosses and wiped.  I took a quick break to come over her and write something up, but I can hear the soft crackling of the braziers near the entrance in the background as I right.  It is softly calling me back, to come bash heads again.  I hope you all have a great weekend, mine will be busy chaperoning a college trip with my educator wife.  As a result not sure how much playtime I will actually get other than tonight, so I am planning on savoring it.

NBIMMO: Be Open Minded (…Unlike Me)

nbilarge

The Newbie Blogger Initiative has been rolling the last few days with some pretty amazing posts in the process.  From the sponsor side there have been all sorts of posts on how to get started, how to choose your topics, and how to mine information and keep up with various bloggers.  Out of all the advice we have been giving have started to pour several new and fledgling bloggers.  I’ve been amazingly impressed by the turnout, and Syp deserves some kind of a medal for starting this boulder rolling.

Some of the blogs to come out of NBIMMO already

There are a good number more bloggers participating in the program, but I specifically picked the ones that had no posts prior to the launch of NBIMMO.  If I missed anyone in the process apologies.

Belghast’s Are Bitter

Today’s post is very much related to NBIMMO, but not as directly as the previous two days.  The first day I gave some pretty general tips, and yesterday a specific tutorial for using Reader to power your blogroll.  Today we are getting into much more esoteric territory.  This is very much a life lesson I am having to force feed myself. 

I will be the first to admit that quite often I am a dumbass and one hundred and ten percent wrong about many things.  But often times I tend to take a pretty pessimistic view towards the online games and the gaming industry in general.  After several cases of being let down in the past, I often times walk into games expecting the worst.  Today’s lesson at hand then, is to try your best to keep an open mind towards new experiences.

Enter TERA

TERA_ScreenShot_20120502_195810

When I first saw TERA, I saw the skimpy clothing, and the truly ridiculously over sized weaponry I can remember thinking to myself: “Oh god, not another useless low-rent eastern grind fest”.  it has all the earmarks of that trope.  Final Fantasy art style… check.  Buxom women wearing next to nothing…  check.  Unrealistic fantasy weapons in an inexplicably steam punk setting…  check.  This game was not at all on my radar, I had completely written it off.

A funny thing happened.  People started talking about it being a blast.  Talking about how fun and revolutionary the combat system was.  Even more shocking, these people were all folks that I deeply valued their opinion.  At first I thought there was some new internet madness spreading around, I mean can’t they see this looks like yet another game in the long line of Lineage clones?  In a fit of what I thought was my own madness I decided to go ahead and pick up a copy.

Bel Admits He Was Wrong

TERA_ScreenShot_20120502_200344

Funny thing is, they were right.  This game really is a blast, and the combat really is revolutionary.  The game is definitely the equivalent of gaming junkfood.  It has some amazing gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and every time you see one of the scantily clad females run past you feel bad about yourself for enjoying the game.  But the game is like this magical slot machine, that you mash buttons furiously until you can set up a series of chain attacks…  then win prizes.

I am not sure if at this point I could actually see myself subscribing to the game, but if I had not allowed myself the possibility that the opinions of other players could be right, I would have missed out on all the fun I have been having in it.  I’ve gotten to a point where I have been so jaded, that I have a real hard time looking past the few negative things to see all the good.

Remember Guild Wars 2

gw047Thing is this is the second such game I had written off, but that turned out to be really enjoyable.  Based on bad experiences in previous testing, I had written off Guild Wars 2 as a game full on hype, but weak on enjoyment.  I decided almost begrudgingly to get in on the beta test weekend.  Last weekend I wrote up what I thought was a pretty positive review of the game, talking about all the things I enjoyed about it.  I listed a few weak points, but as the commenters pointed out, they aren’t all “bad” things.

Since the close of the beta weekend, I have been anxious for the next one.  I’ve gone from feeling the game was a marketing sham, to being hopeful that it will see a summer release and not wait for the holiday season.  Once again I have had to alter my opinion.  Had I stayed closed minded about the game, I would have missed out on one of the more enjoyable weekends I have had in recent memory.

Basically, I Am Wrong Often

I’ve gone through many such cycles recently. Twelve year long wait, I was frustrated that Diablo 3 was nothing revolutionary.  After playing it for a bit, it actually grew on me.  I had quite a bit of fun reliving some of the fun times I had playing Diablo 2, and now am looking forward to being able to play the game with friends.  I had some big time expectations, expecting a game that would walk on water, and ultimately set myself up for a disappointment as I watched the feature set shrink.

I am trying very hard not to be as pessimistic and bitter as I have been in the past.  I am trying hard to keep an open mind as I look forward to games.  Since I have been wrong so often, it is making me adjust my outlook on lots of different games.  While I had originally written it off, Mists of Pandaria may just be one of the best things to happen to WoW in a long time.  I had made fun of the pet battle system, but after seeing some footage of it in action, I have to admit it looks pretty great.  I can’t really see myself returning to the game, but honestly at this point who knows.

I bemoaned the fact that The Secret World was a Funcom game.  I was determined that just because I didn’t like Anarchy Online or Age of Conan, that ultimately this new game would end up being something I wouldn’t like either.  But that is ultimately unfair, because the studio that built the previous two games, isn’t exactly the same as the one currently building TSW.  So as I hear more details about the gameplay, classless advancement, and the awesome Lovecraftian settings I have to say I am getting excited.

Learn From My Mistakes

Ultimately my advice to you, is to do the things I have failed miserably at.  Keep an open mind, try to stay positive, and don’t let yourself get disappointed enough that it destroys your motivation.  The last of these is something I have struggled with more than any.  Every major lapse in content that Tales of the Aggronaut has suffered, has been due to the fact that I got the wind knocked out of my sails, due to some game. 

I’ve been bitter and angry, like I was with my perceived downfall of the game I loved so much, World of Warcraft.  I’ve been disappointed by a game that turned out to be something I didn’t actually want to play.  I’ve had disappointments in raids, disappointments in patches, and disappointments in accomplishments.  Each time I have allowed myself to get knocked down, and developed a nasty case of not knowing what to say.  I think the trait of a truly great blogger, is that they just keep writing, regardless of what they are feeling.  This is why I will never actually be great.

But with my current trend of keeping on the positive side,  I realize that while great posts will come and go, and with them your spikes in readership. The important thing to me however, is the community you build with other gamers.  This initiative has given me a good deal of hope that we are in fact still a fairly cohesive community, and as such willing to help each other out.  While I am still a grumpy old man, NBIMMO has given me hope for the future.  I really look forward to the coming games, and coming posts.

NBIMMO: The Google Reader Blogroll

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Yesterday multiple blogs around the web heralded the arrive of the Newbie Blogger Initiative month.  Currently there are about 70 bloggers involved in the program, either as a sponsor like myself, or taking that step forward into fledgling blog-hood.  In continued support towards the initiative, I have another tip post today.

Since I self-host this blog, I will likely be covering topics from that perspective.  One of the biggest tropes of blogging is the “Blogroll”.  Essentially it is a list that connects readers that enjoy your blog, with other bloggers they might enjoy reading.  This has been one of the primary means of bloggers networking almost since inception of the medium.

Manually Updating Your Blogroll Sucks!

reader_mygamingblogrollI don’t think I am shocking anyone with the above statement.  Trying to keep your blogroll updated on a regular basis is a lousy task.  When you only have a dozen or so blogs on it, it is no big deal, but as your list grows it quickly becomes a time consuming nightmare trying to make sure the links are up to date and actually reflect the topics you are interested in.

Various blogging platforms have ways of handling this, allowing you to maintain categories of links.  The problem is, that just because you automate the process, you still have to manually add and delete links from the list.  The mian issue with blogrolls generally has been that they are just simply not organic to the blogger. 

Google Reader to the Rescue

reader_googlereader_overviewMost of us read a good number of blogs on a regular basis, and as such tend to read them through some form of an RSS reader.  Personally I use Google Reader as my central platform for reading other blogs.  I like the fact that I can have everything in once place, organized, and I can read it easily from a web browser, my phone, or my tablet.  Using Reader however takes a little bit of forethought. 

reader_labelsEssentially the key to sharing anything from reader is organizing your subscriptions in specific “folders”.  Each subscription can be a member of one or more folders.  I’ve shifted back and forth many times on trying to pick an organizational scheme.  Initially I was breaking blogs up by the games they covered.  However after the decline of World of Warcraft, bloggers have tended to shift alliances between games a good deal more frequently than before, myself included.

The scheme I have finally settled on, is to organize my subscriptions into two really broad categories.  Gaming: That essentially includes all gaming related blogs, websites, and even subreddits; and Geekdom: which is the broad category I lump all geek life related blogs into, be they SciFi, Comics, Gadgets, or general technology.  I’ve rearranged my entire Reader layout around this concept, but in theory since each subscription can live in multiple folders, you could create a series of custom categories just for use on your Blogroll.

Just a quick side note.  You will notice in the above right-hand image, I have my own blog added to Google Reader living outside of these categories.  If you choose to use Google reader, or any other third party RSS reader, it is a good idea to add your own blog.  The simple truth is, not everything renders now you expect it to in RSS clients.  After I make a post, I view it in Reader to make sure everything looks the way I was expecting it to look, and nothing odd has happened during the publish.

Getting It On Your Blog

Once upon a time, Google Reader had a really simple functionality for posting any folder to your blog as a blogroll.  It was nice and obvious, and accessed through the folder maintenance UI.  When Google+ was released, Google went through a process of completely mangling their products to make them fit in the new universe they were creating.  As a result, this functionality was seemingly removed, and millions of bloggers cried out in pain.  Through a good deal of scouring the web, I found out that the functionality was essentially there still, just greatly changed and nowhere as easy to use as it once was.

Dark Art of Bundling

reader_clickcreatebundleThe functionality is now called Bundling.  Basically a bundle is a group of subscriptions that other Reader users can then subscribe to an import directly into their own Google Reader account as a package.  Essentially this works a lot like an Amazon list, or even a Google+ circle.  You can publish your reader folder and let others latch on to the Blogs you have found.  If you want to know more about bundles themselves, check out this link on the Google blog.

One of the nice features of Folders is that if you click on the little down arrow widget to the right side of your folder icon, you get a drop down menu that contains the option “Create A Bundle”.  If you check out the right-hand image I have provided a screenshot with a glaringly green arrow pointing the option.  This will bring up the bundle creation dialog, which I have provided a screenshot for below.

reader_createbundle_dialogIn the dialog you will see a listing of every single blog that was contained in that folder.  In this case we are talking about my Gaming folder, so I have named my newly created bundle “Gaming” just to keep things simple.  I would suggest a one word bundle name, quite frankly as a long time web developer I hate spaces with a passion, and since the final output of this little exercise will be a JavaScript snippet, I simply prefer not to tempt the script language gods. 

You notice I have left the description blank.  That is mostly for our purposes the description does not matter at all, no one will be seeing it.  If for whatever reason you want to exclude some blogs from the final version, you can drag those to the trashcan icon below.  For example I may choose to clean mine up and remove the Sub-Reddits, since they do not really translate well into RSS.  Click save and bask in the glory that is your newly created bundle.

Making the Bundle Do What We Need

reader_clickcreatebundleclip

If you scroll down to the bottom of the screen brought up when you clicked the “Create Bundle” link you will see a section listing out all of the bundles you have created.  In my case you can see that I have a Gaming bundle with 31 feeds, and a Geekdom bundle showing 6 feeds.  How Google intended us to be using the service, was to simply share links with each other that would allow folks to subscribe to our entire bundle at once. 

For example, this is the link to my “Gaming” blogroll folder, it opens up in Google Reader and lets you subscribe to the entire thing at once.  That is cool, but not at all what we were wanting.  I’ve once again highlighted with my obnoxious green arrow the link we actually care about.  This is finally starting to make a bit of sense.  The old functionality was called a “WebClip”, so not a totally far stretch that we are going to be dealing with Bundle Clips.

reader_gamingbundle

Above is the dialog you arrive at when you click the “Create a bundle clip” link.  Huzzah! We finally have a JavaScript snippet.  If you are a Blogger users, then you can click the handy “Add To Blogger” image button, but for the rest of us it is a more manual process.  Essentially you have 4 key elements on this screen.  The title field will control the banner Google obnoxiously inserts at the top of your “bundle”.  Color scheme lets you pick from one of the equally horrible defaults, or choose “None” like I did that essentially gives you the most raw HTML possible, an unordered list.  The right-hand side of the screen attempts to give you a mockup of what the final product will look like, and you can retrieve your snippet from a large text area to the bottom-left.

Getting It On The Blog

This one is going to be highly variable depending on which blogging platform you use.  Like I said above, if you us Blogger then your life is simple, click the button and bam instant blogroll.  In other blogging platforms it depends greatly upon your theme.  Personally my theme is set up in such a way that I have WordPress widgets on my right-hand sidebar.  In WordPress, they have a handy “Text” widget, that does exactly what it sounds like, allows you to insert text, or in this case JavaScript or html into your theme. 

I find these extremely handy, and have multiple on my sidebar to encapsulate various content areas.  This allows me to rearrange them at will, with little to no effort.  If you are not on WordPress, Blogger, or are not using a platform with a similar construct, then you are going to have to do it the old fashioned way.  Essentially you will need to crack open your theme, and manually cut and paste the JavaScript segment wherever you wish your Blogroll to appear.  I’m not going to get into any specifics, since there are entirely too many variables depending on what you are using.

Making It Better

reader_geekdombundleThe resulting Blogroll was a bit more cludgy that I cared for.  I hated the fact that it had an annoying “My ‘Geekdom’ Bundle” header, and I didn’t want the subscribe button, or the preview link.   I wanted to replicate the same Blogroll I had before Google changed things around, a nice clean unordered list of links.  Basically this portion involves a good knowledge of CSS, HTML, and a bit of minor surgery.  I don’t really plan on covering this in detail, but I am throwing this out here to plant the seed in your minds.

Essentially I went about using the “Inspect Element” functionality in of Google Chrome, and began listing out the elements I was going to need to manipulate.  I encased the entire JavaScript snippet in a div, so that I could have a container to limit my style changes to.  I isolated the elements that I didn’t want and hid them, namely the bar at the top with the title, and the bar at the bottom of the subscribe and preview link.  After a few hours of patient trial and error I went from the rather cludgy default appearance shown to the right-hand of this paragraph, to something that actually fits into my blog, as seen on the actual Blogroll on the right-hand side of the screen.  I finally had back my Reader driven blogroll.

One Final Thing

Now you are thinking… “Huzzah! I when I add new blogs to Google Reader they will automagically update my BlogRoll!”  Not exactly, like everything in life there is a minor catch here.  This was in fact the exact way Web Clips in Google Reader worked, and it was awesome.  The problem is, with this new Bundles concept, a monkey wrench gets thrown in the mix.  Essentially when you publish create a Bundle, it is a one time process, the list will never update on it’s own.

There is a workaround however.  Essentially, each time you want to update your blogroll, go through the process of creating a new bundle from your folder.  Simply name your “new” bundle to the same thing as your “old” bundle was named, it overwrites the original.  With no further effort on your part, the updated Blogroll loads, the next time a user refreshes your webpage.  So the catch really is a minor thing, you just have to remember that if you add more blogs to Reader, you have to manually dump your bundle again.

Now you can enjoy your relatively hassle-free Blogroll!

Newbie Blogger Initiative

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Once again we start off a new month.  For some it means celebrations for May Day, others Beltane, some are anxiously logging in for the official launch of Tera, and for me I am still reeling from the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend.  Regardless of what your perspective on this new month, there is an interesting thing in the works.

Justin Olivetti, best known for his prolific work on Massively and his excellent personal blog Bio Break, has begun a brand new project.  May 2012 proves to be interesting for the blogosphere, because it launches the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  The goal of the project is to connect veteran bloggers, with folks with the will to write and hopefully spawn a number of excellent new gaming blogs in the process.

It is debatable if I actually qualify as a “veteran” blogger, but I have signed up as a sponsor nonetheless.  Years ago, were it not for Fimlys and the BlogAzeroth community, I likely never would have gotten Tales of the Aggronaut up and running.  I am very much in favor of creating a general purpose community to mentor and support up and coming bloggers.

Getting Started

A blank slate is both a blessing and a curse.  Ultimately if you want to start blogging you have to start somewhere.  There are a few decisions you need to think through in the process.  The biggest of these decisions is going to be will you self-host, or use an existing hosted blogging platform.  Both are completely viable options.  Using an existing service allows you to get up and running within moments and start your posts flowing, but choosing to self host requires a little planning.

Hosted Solutions

  • Blogger.com – It has been years since I have personally used blogger, but it is a great no frills option for blogging.  If you just want to get your message out there, without a lot of custom management, this is probably your best choice.  The biggest nicety is that if you are already a Google user, it pretty much integrates with everything Google makes.
  • WordPress.com – Just as easy to use as blogger, but you have quite a few more configuration options.  WordPress also gives you the functionality of tracking statistics, dealing with spam, and providing a certain measure of extensibility.  There are tons of guides out there to using WordPress such as this one.

Self-Hosting

If you find yourself wanting more control over the look, feel and functionality of your blog then the next avenue is to actually acquire a hosting provider, and configure a custom website.  I am a big fan of WordPress, and it is both a hosted solution, and a software platform.  You can acquire the version of WordPress for self-hosting from WordPress.org.  Granted this will require quite a bit more technical experience, but if you do not mind getting your hands dirty, it gives you the most flexibility in the long run.

Pointers for Self-Hosting

  • Update Often

    when you choose an existing platform like WordPress, there are always going to be known exploits in the wild.  WordPress and most plugin authors are good about quickly patching these problems, however in a custom hosted solution you need to actually run the updates.  I would suggest logging in at least once daily to the dashboard and making sure you have no outstanding updates.

  • Stay Away From Package Deals

    I’ve been dealing with websites on a professional level since around 1994, and over the years one of the biggest pitfalls I have seen with projects is the hosting package deal.  Originally domain name registration was an extremely expensive process, and as a result hosting providers would defer the cost of the domain registration when a user signed up for a hosting contract.  However now days you can get a domain name for $5 a year through namecheap.com for example.  The big gotcha is, that unless you have an extremely amiable host, when they register the domain “for you” they are actually registering it under their name.  If at some point down the line, you choose to move to a different hosting provider, they have no legal requirement to allow you to take your domain name with you.

  • Google Analytics

    WordPress has some nice built in statistics, but there will come a time when you want to see more detail than they provide.  It is best to go ahead and sign up for a Google Analytics account from the start, so you have data to refer to when you actually want it.  Configuring it with your website is a relatively simple process that involves inserting some JavaScript into the header of your theme.  However in the case of WordPress, there are a number of plugins that do this process for you. 

  • Develop Good Relationship With Your Host

    Web hosts vary drastically in quality.  You can always find a cheaper provider, willing to host your website for next to nothing.  The problem is, you get what you pay for.  I would highly suggest that you find a webhost that offers good support, takes nightly back-ups, and that is willing to work with you through any customizations that you might need.  Recently my websites were defaced through an exploit in a forum that I run.  Within 10 minutes Cyberwurx, my hosting provider, had all of my sites back up and running.  Within 20 minutes, they had identified the source of the exploit, and within 45 minutes they had mailed me a complete log of everything the hacker had done, action by action, and what data exactly was accessed.  You will never find that level of support from a “cut rate” host.

Welcome to Blogging!

In closing I just want to take a quick moment to welcome all the new bloggers who choose to start up during this program.  The blogging community is a pretty wonderful place.  I highly suggest that you reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to your fellow bloggers.  I’ve been a pretty sporadic poster, but I never would have gotten started in the first place were it not for the welcoming community.  I would never call myself a veteran, or an expert, but I am always willing to help folks with any issues they have.  I just want to take a moment to thank Syp for starting this process.  I truly think it is a noble cause.