Seeking Screenshot Tool

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goodbyefraps

This morning I am going to go in a different direction… and ask the Blaugust community with assistance on something.  For years I have been a loyal FRAPS user for the purpose of recording game screenshots.  I have a legally registered copy… that happens to have personal information in the registration details screen so I have mosaic’d it out.  There are an awful lot of pirated copies floating about but I happily plunked down my $40 and have been using it for over a decade at this point.  It has always simply worked as intended and given me the ability to record screenshots without fail.  This changed however when Destiny 2 made the weird decision to block any form of an overlay for “security reasons” there by making it so that FRAPS could not record anything successfully.

First I feel like I need to start off with why I use FRAPS rather than in game screenshot tools.  It all comes down to the fact that I like posting a significant number of screenshots in my morning posts…  and that I am lazy.  I cannot remember what the directory MMO number 376 that I have installed on my system uses for screenshot storage.  As a result I like having everything dumped into the same directory where I can filter through them quickly, and eventually archive them off to my network attached storage.  I have a truly nonsense number of screenshots stored out there at this point.

Ultimately what I am looking for feature wise…

  • ability to capture fullscreen, borderless and windows screenshots without capturing the window frame or my desktop
  • ability to save to the format of choice… I tend to dump things to JPG because my blog gets grumpy if I upload PNGs anymore
  • ability to work flawlessly without having to constantly check to see if its on
  • ability to change the target directory and dump everything to one place
  • ability to bind whatever it is to work off of PrtScrn button because its habit

For years FRAPS did all of these things but one of the recent Windows 10 updates seems to have changed that.  Now any time I launch a game I need to kill FRAPS and relaunch it to get the overlay to work properly.  This means that it is now a fiddly mess and it makes me grumpy.  So what I am asking you my community is…  is there a hidden gem out there for screen capture that I am unaware of?  Now I am going to talk about some of the alternatives that I have used.

GeForce Experience

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This one seemed like a no brainer given that I run Nvidia based cards and this ends up installing to your system regardless if you want it to.  It isn’t a flawless system but it was the only reliable way that I seemed to have to be able to record Destiny 2 given that the overlay is hardware based and not something executing at a software level.  Its major flaws were the fact that it would not dump to a single directory, but instead a series of directories named off of what the game executable thinks it is.  This causes some weirdness when the game developers don’t actually go back and fix the name of their executable… for example the Quake Champions screenshots I have are in a directory called “PC” or Dauntless for whatever reason shows up as “Archon” which was maybe an early name for the game?

Another flaw is that you cannot change what format the screenshots are dumped in as it always saves to PNG, which involved me going through a morning ritual of converting all of the screenshots that I was going to upload to JPG to bypass the nonsense size limit.  Lastly and quite possibly the most damning problem is when I happen to be running a game in windowed mode…  it records my entire desktop like the above screenshot.  This means I either need to drop it in photoshop and cut out the window or just live with the fact I am posting a postage stamp for a screenshot.  Not ideal to say the least given that when I am streaming I occasionally run things windowed so I can see what is going on in stream etc.

Dxtory

Another screenshot software that has been recommended to me numerous times is Dxtory by ExKode which is I believe a Japanese based software house.  It is also in the 30-40 dollar range price wise and does a really good job of capturing both images and video.  The problem is… it would occasionally just stop working and not give any indication of this.  I would be playing along thinking everything was working as intended… I would still have an overlay in game indicating that the software is active…  then when I sit down to write a blog post the next morning I would have zero screenshots to show for the previous nights play time.  The unreliable nature and the fact that this was not an every night occurrence made me move away from it.  Some times it would go for three or four nights without flaking out on me… and other times it would happen multiple times in the same night.  I was not able to find any sort of pattern around it.  Whatever the case however it was unreliable and I opted to move away from it.

Greenshot

This is an open source software mostly designed to capture regions of an image much like windows clipping tool.  However it does in fact have an unattended screenshot mode and as a result I attempted to use it as my software of choice for awhile.  The problem is that when running Windowed Borderless… it would intermittently alternate between taking a screenshot of my desktop and taking a screenshot of the game.  This became problematic given that I was missing a bunch of screenshots and again… maybe had nothing to show for my night of gaming come blog post time.

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The core problem is that most of the screenshot tools don’t really do the thing that I want them to do given that they are largely focused on capturing video…  and not capturing still images.  I have StreamLabs OBS for those moments when I want to capture video so I have that covered.  However what I want instead is just a reliable screenshot tool that I can use with literally every game I play, so the images don’t get lost somewhere on my hard drive.  I may give Dxtory another spin because it has been numerous years since I last tried it.  Ultimately however what I really want… is FRAPS to stop being a butt and just work again.  In the meantime however, I would love to hear some of your suggestions for screenshotting games?  Do you still rely on the in game screenshot tools, or have you consolidated to using some tool other than the ones I have mentioned?

 

Because Rocks

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While we are still very much in Blaugust prep week, I am going to take the morning off and talk about some non-Blaugust stuff.  First off the above embedded video is the YouTube version of this weeks Podcast where we talk at length about our feelings regarding Battle for Azeroth.  Of the crew Grace and I are the only two that are really still connected to World of Warcraft in any major way, and the show itself became a bit of an extended version of the feelings we are both having.  This weekend I spent a good deal of time prepping characters for the expansion since I had not really done that yet, and can abuse the event that is happening as a way to get some reasonable gear easily.

Unfortunately I made the decision to main Horde this expansion before I experienced the nonsense War of the Thorns quests…  but as part of that decision I have been prepping my Warrior, Deathknight, Demon Hunter, Warlock and have been pushing up my Paladin.  Now it had been awhile since I had done one of the class order hall missions, and I was immediately struck by now good tone wise it felt to be gathering up the paladins on either side of the fence to work together towards the goal of saving Azeroth.  I am not sure how we got to this point where all of the past gains of the Legion expansion are out the window and we are back to a forced Red vs Blue narrative.

One of the things we talk at length about in the podcast is just how bad the Advertising campaign feels.  Firstly we are divided as a nation and as a world by so many serious issues right now that it just feels irresponsible to be pushing more of that for the sake of selling your product.  Secondly…  in our experience World of Warcraft isn’t a dividing line but instead something that brings people together with the stupid artificial boundary between Horde and Alliance just being an inconvenience that maybe keeps you from playing with some of your friends.  I tell this tale in the podcast but I figured I would talk a little bit about it in person.

When I went to take my ITIL training and eventually take the test, there was a significant amount of waiting around because of a scheduling mistake.  This meant me and the trainer of the class had to sit around and hang out for a bit while waiting on my online time slot.  During this we realized that we both had played World of Warcraft and were both raiders back in the day…  but on opposite sides of the fence.  Instead of it becoming a discussion about Horde vs Alliance… it became a discussion about our shared experiences leading guilds and raids and all of the weird things we had encountered in the process of doing that.  We both immediately realized we had more in common in our experiences than different and focused in on those things…  rather than some nonsensical artificial rivalry.

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So as I find myself prepping for the launch of this expansion I end up thinking about the expansion that could have been.  Had we continued the class fantasy and kept moving forward towards a unified Azeroth it could have been so amazing.  Legion was probably the strongest World of Warcraft content to date and in part it was so strong…  because the Horde and Alliance factored so little into it.  There is a sequence in Stormheim that feels awful as you are forced back into the shoes of Red and Blue but everything else feels so good as you are working side by side with the other faction to face bigger evils.  That is the World of Warcraft I want, where we take on things bigger than ourselves as we face what will be the obvious resurgence of the Old Gods.

I feel like Battle for Azeroth is the expansion that no one wanted, and I have arrived at this point by listening to my social media feed made up of a bunch of long time WoW players.  Sure there are a few people I know who were excited for the War Mode…  but only because they rolled on a PVP server to be with friends and don’t want any part of that nonsense and will be turning it off completely.  It just seems like a weird gamble to triple down on the faction versus faction thing, when it felt so amazing to get away from it completely.  I keep hoping that maybe they will throw us for a loop and that the factional nonsense is short lived, but I somehow doubt that.

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I will be there with my hordelings hanging out with that side of my gaming family, but I am not going to be super pumped about it especially with the way that the early questing has gone so far.  We are fighting a war “because rocks” and that we don’t want the other side to get any of these macguffins of ultimate power.  Here is hoping that things get better from here.

Syndication and Social Media

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This morning I have struggled a bit to get off the ground and coalesce into writing something that might be valuable to someone else.  One of the things you see a lot with my blog is me attempting to be honest with my readers.  This isn’t really the point of this mornings post but i would say if you are struggling with something…  let them in on it.  I’ve said before that blogging is therapeutic and at the same time lowering your guard a bit is too.  Now I am not saying that I recommend this practice for everyone, because it does in fact give trolls an attack vector.

The thing I wanted to talk to this morning is the interwoven relationship between blogging and social media.  I can say without hyperbole that almost every one of my social media accounts exists because of this blog as I sussed it out as another possible syndication venue for my content.  It is not a coincidence that both my twitter account and my blog both started in April of 2009, because twitter has long been the vehicle that bloggers get together to talk to one another.  This is why I asked for twitter handle as part of the sign up instead of other social media options.

I think the reason for this is that twitter is better than any platform at the quick distribution of a blog link.  You have enough characters to provide a quick summary, a link and an image enticing your readers to click through and visit your post.  The retweet culture allows someone to pass your information on… without passing too much of themselves in the process and I think that simply leads to more folks passing more information around than on other platforms.  Granted in the era of the quoted retweet that changed a bit, but I still feel like that platform is the best place to quickly distribute content.

The thing is…  I don’t just think this I know this from the statistics.  I’ve been running google analytics since day one and that has given me a lot of information about what works and what doesn’t work for the purpose of spreading my blog.  If I had utilized this more fluently rather than the generally lazy way that I do… I could be a hell of a lot more popular than I actually am.  However it does tell me things about which platforms work and which do not.  Let’s talk for a moment about the content I share and where it gets consumed.

Direct Traffic and RSS

First off one of the things you need to know is that the majority of your readers are probably still to this day going to be consuming your content through an RSS Feed Reader.  Before sitting down to write my post I ran some numbers for the past year of usage and only 14% of my traffic comes from any referral source.  This means the majority of my readers are either coming in directly or through an RSS feed reader.  There are some other statistics that I have through WordPress that tell me that the majority of my readers are in fact coming in through RSS.

I don’t want to necessarily talk about the numbers because I have a larger audience than some folks and a much smaller audience than others.  I use analytics for the purpose of learning about the data not necessarily as creating a benchmark to judge my success on and I highly suggest if you decide to go down that road you adopt a similar stance.  The big thing I want as a takeaway however is that RSS is in fact not dead and you are going to see a large number of your users that are not accessing your content  directly.  As a result I highly suggest you check your own blog out in a news reader and make sure it looks like you want it to look.  Since I am not trying to drive ad venue I syndicate my entire blog out over RSS instead of snippets…  your mileage may vary here.

Social Media

In the above bit I mentioned that only 14% of my readers come as referrals from any other source and that also includes social media.  As it stands right now I syndicate my content in the places that are built into WordPress, so that when I hit publish it also sends my content out there as well.  Here is a rundown of where all said content goes…

  • Twitter – This is my primary social network
  • Facebook – At some point along the line I created a Facebook account just for the blog.  I don’t use this network much.
  • Google Plus – Hold out from that era when we thought Google Plus would rule the world and a lot of us bloggers started hanging out here.
  • GPlus “Page” – Similar hold out where I thought it was a good idea to create a Tales of the Aggronaut page.
  • Tumblr – I don’t even know why I do this, but it was an option in WordPress so might as well.

These are effectively the places that I can push to each day when I hit publish without further interaction.  The only publish option that I am not utilizing is Path…  which if I am being completely honest I  don’t know what the hell it actually is.  It’s seems to be an iPhone thing and since I am not an iDevice user I have never actually encountered it.  Now since only 14% of my traffic comes in through referrals…  I could make an argument that syndication doesn’t actually matter.  However I feel like putting your stuff in front of as many eyeballs as possible is always going to be a generally good idea.

Let’s talk a bit about where that referral content is coming from.

  • 25% – Twitter – this is my primary platform for engagement so it probably isn’t shocking that the vast majority of my click-through’s come from it.  It probably says way more about my willingness to engage with it than the actual power of the platform.  My tweets don’t really go viral so it isn’t like I am getting a crushing number of hits this way.
  • 12% – Bhagpuss.blogspot.com – That is right… my appearance in the Inventory Full blog roll is quite literally beating every social media platform but twitter.  Thanks Bhagpuss!
  • 9% – Facebook – this shows up as a few different addresses but combined together it equates to a little less than 10% of the referral traffic.
  • 2.5% – Google Plus – There are still folks actively using this platform in spite of the fact that I am not.  At one point I had a nonsense number of people following me so there may be some residuals from that?
  • 1.3% – Reddit – Not something I actively engage with but a handful of my blog posts have made their way to Reddit where they got significant action.  Getting anything on Reddit means you are going to have a constant trickle of users from there clicking on the links as people search.
  • .32% – Tumblr – I mean it makes a lot of sense given that my posts are not exactly formatted in the Tumblr way and I don’t spend any time engaged with that platform other than occasionally going on a reblog bender reposting cool comic book art.

Now as an academic experiment I extended out my timeframe and looked at all traffic I have ever gotten to my blog.  At that point a bunch of data points change… namely my referral rate goes up to 26% of my traffic and the influence of twitter drops to only 11% of that…  with WoW.com coming in second at a little over 8% showing the sheer influence of being part of the World of Warcraft blogging community used to be.  To round out the top five… you have Google Plus at number three, Facebook at number four, and Reddit at number five.  It is funny how things change over time.

Engagement

Ultimately my take away from all of this is that social media syndication is worth it… but only if you plan to engage with those communities.  I feel like my numbers don’t really point out that Twitter is the most superior platform but instead that it is the only platform I am willing to actively engage with.  It is the place where people know my name and respond to the things I say… and on the other platforms I am just a weird guy that refuses to use his real name or picture.  Granted my real name is pretty freaking easy to find and I have tweeted out my picture a few times… so it is a personal choice thing not like a witness protection program thing.  Ultimately I feel like you get out of social media what you put into it as far as blogging goes.  I still feel like it is my favorite way to link up with other bloggers, but especially now that we have the discord and how active it has been…  maybe that could shift into being that primary vehicle of communication for the community.

Regardless don’t feel like you have to do social media if you are not comfortable doing it.  My engagement brings me in some hits but in the grand scheme of things it accounts for a very small percentage of my total users.  The effect that is impossible to capture however is where people found out about my site in the first place.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if you somehow managed to factor that into the equation… then social media would have far more weight in the equation that it appears to have.  I choose to put my stuff out there and over time have built a community of regular readers, and if you do the same you will build your own circle of readers as well.

 

 

 

Choosing a Platform

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blaugustrebornlogo2018

Yesterday I talked a bit about the name of your blog and why I felt like it was probably the single most important decision you made starting out.  Today I am going to talk about a very close second…  which is what platform you are going to be doing your blogging on.  There are a bunch of competing software packages and hosting scenarios out there, but I am going to attempt to do my best to work through them with you this morning…  or at least the major options.  For the sake of transparency I myself use WordPress in a hosted environment and have for a very long time.  There are pluses and negatives with that kind of set up, but a lot of the other options I have played with at one point or another.

Hosting vs SaaS

Ultimately your first real decision point is going to be…  are you going to be using a cloud/software as a service (SaaS) model for your site or are you going to procure your own hosting environment and maintain the site yourself.  This really is a question of how technical do you feel comfortable being?  Sure most hosting providers give you the option of installing something like WordPress or Drupal from the web based back end with the click of a few buttons.  However there will come a time at some point when you need to get your hands dirty in the innards of your software.  So ultimately you need to ask yourself if you are comfortable having to do that.

Ultimately the big thing that hosting the software does is give you the freedom to be able to try out any new plugins or themes that come out, because you can effectively re-roll your site as often as you like because you have the tools to do so.  Traditionally in a more SaaS model you are paying them to maintain the software where they give you a few configuration options but greatly limit your ability to install custom code.  For example if I were not as lazy as I am…  I could create a wordpress plugin to maintain all of the nonsense that we end up keeping track of with Blaugust.  When we were utilizing Anook quite a bit within the blogging community there was one of the folks that created a custom integration that would allow you to have an auto updating version of your Anook feed in your blog sidebar.

In a SaaS model that sort of thing really isn’t possible because the software company is maintaining the risk of hosting your content.  That means they need to make sure nothing that is happening on your blog will potentially negatively impact the other people on that platform.  What this means is generally speaking you will not have to worry quite so much about attack vectors and making sure things are patched to the latest versions, and in truth are probably going to have a much more stress free blogging experience.  However if you like to tinker with things…  you will similarly likely never be happy with the constraints placed upon you by a blog provider.

Self Hosting

So when you decide to host your own blog you are going to need two things…  a hosting provider and some blogging software.  The first part of that I don’t have a lot of advice with.  The service that I used to recommend hands down has gotten significantly less grand as time has gone on.  The service that I contemplated moving to…  is no longer open to new customers because it seems like it is ramping down.  So you are left with a minefield of options…  many of which I have heard both positive and negative things about.  InMotion I have some decent experience with in the past and they offer a WordPress hosting option for $8.99 a month (that goes down if you pay for multiple months in a row) that offers some hack/malware protection software along with the package.  Please note though I am not actively using them myself so I can’t really give it a full fledged thumbs up endorsement.

Once you have trudged through the hinterlands and decided where you are going to host your site, you need to pick a software package.  This is also a deluge of choice because as many people as there are out there… there seem to be options for blog software.  Some of the more common options are WordPress, Ghost, Jekyll and Movable Type.  If you want more than just a blog you can look at things like Drupal or Joomla…  but having had plenty of bad work experience with both I am not super fond of either.  That said there are a ton of folks who love them and swear by them, so your mileage may vary.  I would suggest that you look at pretty much all of the options, but in reality you are more than likely going to end up using WordPress.  The reason being that there is simply more support from that community for blog-centric needs…  and if you can think of it, there is likely already a plugin written to do the thing you want to do.

Once you have chosen something…  you need to install it…  which again is going to vary wildly based on the package that you choose.  I said before that more than likely a few of these options are going to show up in the auto configuration tools that your web host will likely have.  That said… automated WordPress installs in my experience often have issues.  My preference is to just use the normal web based installer process in setting it up that involves you creating your own MySQL database (also through a web based tool your provider will give you like PHPMySQL) and then feeding that information into the web GUI to set everything up.  If this sounds frustrating to you, then maybe the self hosting route is not your jam.  Granted there are a bunch of us in the Blaugust community that are going to be more than happy to help you sort these sort of things out.

SaaS / Cloud Platforms

If you checked the hell out of the last sequence of paragraphs then maybe your best option is to go with a feature-lite but also stress-lite blogging platform.  Here you have a wealth of options that are at your disposal.  I have my preferences but I am going to talk about a long list of options that range from completely free, to “freemium”, to paid only.  Quite honestly you can in theory blog with social media like Facebook or Google Plus…  but that is very much not my jam.  There is just too much platform rivalry and for every person like me that hates Facebook with a passion, there is someone else out there that hates some other platform with similar fury.  One of the options I am talking about is in the more social space, but it makes for a pretty reasonable blog option as well.  Essentially I am going to talk through some of these options as I view them.  Take anything I say with a grain of salt.

  • WordPress.com – This is the fully hosted version of WordPress and lives in a halfway state between free and paid.  Essentially you can roll a site within moments for free and have a something.wordpress.com address to send your readers to.  They also offer a few premium features that you can pay for that get you closer to the WordPress.org self hosted experience, but you will never quite get that level of freedom.  This is going to be the best option if you want to start out small but at some point down the line want to move to hosting your own blog, because it is trivial to move content from a wordpress.com install to a wordpress.org self hosted scenario. There is a really good mobile client for WordPress and for both self hosted and SaaS you can get in and write very solid posts with full picture and theme support from a phone/tablet without needing to rely on the web interface.
  • Blogger.com – This is the other big popular option for a quick and free blog.  I’ve used this in the past at length and my very first blog existed here…  and no I will never link it ever ever because it is embarrassing as hell.  In many ways Blogger feels like it at some point got locked in the dotcom boom look and feel and never really evolved out of it.  It still today feels very much as it did when it was competing with Live Journal and Xanga, and never really grew out of that era.  There are folks however that completely swear by it.. and it has hands down the very best implementation of a blogroll out there.  It also has very easy integration with google advertising if you plan on making money with your postings.  The biggest issue is…  every few years it feels like Google is about ready to kick it to the curb since they would really love you to use Google Plus as your blogging platform.
  • SquareSpace.com – This is a platform I have never used but have heard a lot of great things about especially in the customer service and site uptime departments.  The reason why I have never used it is because there is no free option.  This is paid software and you are essentially given two tiers of access… Personal for $16 a month or Business for $26 a month…  with obvious price breaks for paying a year at a time.  I hear they have a lot of really cool toys behind the scenes and a library full of resources to build your site out in a web based drag and drop editor.  That said once again I have no personal experience with this and as a result can’t give a proper endorsement.
  • Tumblr.com – This one lives in a weird space between social media and blogging platform, and what you end up with instead is an option that is really good at relatively short posts with lots of media file support.  There are folks who love Tumblr as a community, but I have never been super impressed with its often times hyperbolic nature.  That said I syndicate out to Tumblr and often get readers that come in from it so there is at least some traction there…  giving me a shocking number of followers on a platform I never really engage with.  What Tumblr really has going for it is that it is extremely simple to use, has a great mobile friendly web client and is one of your more hands off options.  You can do some pretty basic styling of a Tumblr blog but you will never really be able to do anything super crazy with it.  I appreciate it for its simplicity and the fact that it lends itself to relatively short posts that I can quickly consume.  Image Meme Tumblr is a thing and you are going to run into a lot of blogs that are nothing but reposts from fandoms…  similarly NEVER EVER EVER EVER search for something on Tumblr that you love without the safe search filters on.

Many Important Decisions

The long and short of this is that you are going to be asked to make a lot of decisions that you may or may not know the full ramifications of at this point.  I would suggest that you lead on the Blaugust community for support here because we each have our blogging platform of choice and some very valid reasons why we ended up that way.  I am going to largely push folks towards WordPress because it gives you more options, however I am sure there is someone out there that just hates it and would send you off a completely different path.  Ultimately there are ways to move content between providers, some of which are easier than others…  but what I am telling you is that you are not necessarily locked into a decision right now that you will use for the rest of your life.  I know my long time friend Calamity Jess has re-rolled her blog three or four times since our days in the WoW Blogging Community… and that is okay.  The readers that really matter will follow you wherever you happen to be hanging your hat, and ultimately you have to make the decisions that make you happy.

 

 

 

 

Blaugust Prep Week

FacesOfBel_720

Welcome to Blaugust!!!

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This week begins what I am referring to as “Prep Week” the idea is to start things a little early and give time for folks in the community to give advice on how exactly to get started.  This might be technical advice in how to get that blog up and running, or more soft skills sort of advise like how to find your niche.  The whole idea being that we can help prepare bloggers to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as August 1st rolls around.  I have to say this initiative has already out lived any expectations that I might have had for it…  and up until today we had yet to actually start properly.

After allowing Blaugust to fall by the wayside I was not really sure what sort of response I would get from the community.  The truth is that last year of Blaugust was fairly anemic as well with me not doing much support of my own thing.  I was not sure if people still cared or still wanted to band together into a larger gathering of minds…  but the answer is apparently yes.  As of posting this the official spreadsheet where I am keeping track of participants has 54 blogs signed up.  It is my hope as the first Blaugust posts start rolling in that the number is going to keep incrementing upwards.

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At this point I have been plugging away at this nonsense for going on nine years… which to some makes me a veteran and to the eldest of our number…  a babe in the woods.  One of the things you are going to see with my blog is a lot of artwork by the amazing Ammo, and back at the seven year mark I commissioned her to do the above image of a bunch of my “Belghasts” from different games.  On the far side you have my Human Warrior in World of Warcraft, moving right my Blades/Shotgun character in The Secret World, next on the bottom my Bahmi Warrior from Rift and stacked on top of him my Exo Titan from Destiny, beside that my Imperial Dragon Knight from Elder Scrolls Online, and finally my Lalafell Warrior in Final Fantasy XIV aka Lalabel.  I’ve played a lot of characters over the years but none of them have been named “Aggronaut” which to some extent means that I failed at least a little bit in naming this blog, since I have been referred to as “Mr Aggronaut” more times than I can count when this blog is quoted.

The name of your blog is probably the single most important thing that you need to stick the landing on, because it becomes increasingly difficult to change once your site gets out in circulation.  I named this blog Tales of the Aggronaut because at the time my intent was for it to be a very niche blog…  World of Warcraft Warrior Tanking and Raiding blog.  The name Aggronaut being a play on Argonaut…  or in my mind one who navigates the Aggro… aka the number one role a tank performs in a party.  I am not sure however if anyone actually picked up on that, and instead expected a way more aggressive and angry blogging style than I have.  I wonder how many people I have turned off completely with them thinking the experience they would be getting was a rant blog.  In fact what I consider to be “me ranting” is apparently super tame in the global internet sense so I have a very ill fitting name for myself.

To make matters worse I carried this sin forward when we started our podcast…  not really knowing what to call it and instead just referring to it as AggroChat until it stuck.  Again there is the problem that if you hear a name like that, you expect it to be an aggressive podcast which it very much is not.  In fact there has been a few times when people have commented upon how very rarely do we actually say anything resembling a curse word.  Generally speaking “bullshit” is the worst thing we say and even then its only when describing some particularly egregious stuff and not actually that common place.  Basically all I am trying to say here is that I failed miserably in properly branding my blog and that you should probably not follow my example.  The cuter and more precious the name… the more likely its meaning is going to be completely lost on the bulk of your readership…  at least until someone points it out to them.

What’s In A Name

So ultimately what is the ideal name for a blog you might ask?  The truth is I don’t have a perfect answer because it is going to vary wildly between people.  In my experience the best blogs have short catchy names, that vaguely remind you of something…  but are also not so specific that they cannot be super malleable if the writer needs or wants to shift subjects.  The majority of us are going to be writing gaming blogs, and there will be an extreme tendency for us to name them based on some bit of a game we love…  or at least a gaming concept.  This can be a double edged sword but I thought I would spend some time picking on names of my fellow bloggers.  In truth I am not going to be saying anything bad, just talking about decisions that were made.

  • Levelcapped.com – This is the site that Scopique runs and I have to say I am super jealous of the title and domain associated with it.  Capping your level is a fairly generic construct at this point, but it is also universally understood especially now that even first person shooters generally have some sort of a leveling mechanic with its requisite end game.  It conveys a notion without limiting options for taking the blog in different directions.  He could for example decide to reboot it completely away from gaming and turn it into a personal blog in his quest to “level up” or something of the sort.
  • MMOQuests.com – This one is easy to pick on given that Stargrace no longer blogs using it and has instead adopted nomadicgamerseh.com as her new home.  First off… it is a great name…  if all you want to do is write about MMO Quests for the rest of your blogging career.  I have to feel like this is probably exactly why she made the jump to a more general blog title… in fact she says as much in a post.
  • Bio Break – I have always loved the title of this blog even though for years I rammed the two words together and Syp can be mildly particular about doing that.  The need to take a bio break… whatever that means to you and walk away from the screen is something universal in gaming be in an MMO where the verbiage was popularized or in a console game when you just need to hit pause and do something else for a moment.  Every game groks this concept and as a result it is insanely sticky branding and has the benefit of rolling off the tongue well.
  • Blessing of Kings – I’ve read this blog since my first days in the World of Warcraft blogging community and love it.  However the name is very specific to that game and will never really be seen as anything else than a World of Warcraft blog, and more particularly a Paladin blog.   Now I don’t think Rohan has any intent to blog about anything else, but I am just pointing out that the blog is pointed into a very specific corner and doesn’t have much of a way out of it.
  • Inventory Full – Another great blog that I read almost daily and another great title that is instantly relate-able to anyone who looks at it and has ever played a game with an inventory management system.  While very much an “MMO Blog” it doesn’t have to be by the title and scope.  It could in theory shift to be any sort of gaming blog or even a personal blog talking about a busy life where it feels like your “inventory” is always full.
  • MMO Gamer Chick – An amazing blog that has sadly gone silent over the years apart from re-syndicating the Battle Bards podcast.  The name tells you a very specific story that you should expect MMO Gaming Posts from a female perspective, and it is that first part that once again limits the longevity of options for the blog.  In the crush of the 2000s… MMO Gaming was the new hotness that we never thought would go into repose…  but alas the age exciting new MMOs has eclipsed making a title like this rough to keep interested in as a writer.
  • DragonChasers.com – Again another excellent title that works in a bunch of different ways.  You could take it literally and interpret as a raiding blog where the person talks about taking down bosses or “slaying internet dragons” in common parlance.  You could also interpret as a metaphor or any number of topics that are difficult to tackle, or simply turn it into a more personal blog.  The name gives you enough room to shift it as your own interests have shifted.

Ultimately I gave myself a short enough name that I have been able to change things up as needed and folks don’t generally remember the actual name of the blog, they just remember Aggronaut.com.  I am saying all of this because if you stick with this for any length of time, your interests are going to shift.  I started my life as a World of Warcraft Tanking and Raiding blog… and shifted into a Raiding and Guild Management blog, then eventually into a more general World of Warcraft blog.

From there I moved into Rift and lost most of my readers over night when I made the change, because being part of a very specific community often means the folks who are reading you…  are only interested in that very specific community.  Sure I got an influx of new readers from the Rift community, but it was a pretty traumatic shift for me personally to go through.  From there I shifted into a general MMO blog and now when the whole “blogging every day” thing happened shifted into a blog about me and my adventures both in game and in the real world with zero pretense of trying to have a higher purpose.

Effectively Tales of the Aggronaut has become an extremely obtusely named personal blog when something like Belghast.com that I do in fact own probably would have been better to use.  However at this point it feels like it is too late in the game to make a major shift like that given the search engine traction that I have after blogging for going on ten years with the same website.  So again I go back to the statement I made at the beginning of this lengthy diatribe…  your name is quite possibly the most decision you can make when it comes to a blog and it will for good or bad ultimately dictate what sort of blog it becomes.

Protecting Sanctuary

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Tomorrow is the official launch of Blaugust and I am pretty freaking excited about it.  I think last I checked we had something in the vicinity of 52 blogs signed up and I am hoping once the first topics start rolling in that number will keep incrementing upwards.  July 25th through July 31st I have dubbed the Blaugust Prep Week, and what you can see from me and hopefully the other mentors is a series of posts talking about how to get started.  These may range from technical discussions of WordPress vs Blogger vs Tumblr to more general discussions of picking a format for your blog or coming up with a name you won’t immediately outgrow.  For the participants however, they should view this as a time to stretch their legs a bit and prepare for the month ahead.  Get some of those early posts in so that you can sort out your own personal blogging rhythms.

Since we had a few more folks sign up I figure I should link their stuff here as well.

New Participants

Once again if you have not taken the time to sign up, please do so.  Considering we have all been there before deciding if we should be blogging at all…  I promise you can do this thing.  When you have signed up make sure you pop by the discord and come hang out as we chat about bloggery things.

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One of the weird disconnects thematically that I have in Elder Scrolls games has always been the Dark Brotherhood.  For the uninitiated, the Dark Brotherhood is a group of assassins that answer the call of the Night Mother.  Around the game world individuals perform a ritual known as the Black Sacrament that calls on the Night Mother with a very specific prayer “Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.”  This prayer is heard by the Night Mother and relayed to the Listener of a specific sanctuary which then goes and seals the contract.  We as players traditionally carry out these contracts that involve taking the life of someone who has generally speaking wronged someone else.

So you would expect that from within the Dark Brotherhood everyone would effectively be blood thirsty assassins ready to kill at a moments notice.  While the last bit is true…  the Sanctuary has a very different feel on the inside.  The Dark Brotherhood represents some of the most weirdly sweet content in an Elder Scrolls game.  The members all take care of each other like a family, and when you return home the various other assassins are generally happy to see you.  There is something almost weirdly wholesome about the whole situation, and ultimately I think that is what makes the experience all the more unsettling.

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Ultimately every tale of the Dark Brotherhood tends to end in the same manner, and I am wondering if the tale told in Elder Scrolls Online will be the same.  There are several characters that I genuinely like…  like the Nord who sheltered a scared werewolf girl and adopted her as his sister.  Every game seems to have some characters that you just feel protective over…  in spite of the fact that they are legitimately cold blooded killers.  It is a bizarre juxtaposition that makes me completely uncertain how to feel about any of it…  but it is also one of those guilds that I always look forward to seeing the storyline.  It is progressing much slower than the Thieves Guild did, and I can’t say I am any better at getting a kill in without being noticed.  That said it doesn’t really seem to matter much in the grand scheme of things as I can simply hide out until the heat and my bounty clears.  The thieves guild and dark brotherhood skill lines are amazingly complimentary…  and my only complaint so far is that I cannot assassinate folks during the thieves guild dailies without triggering “being seen” and reducing my timer.

May the dread father guide your blade.

Traders Row

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This weekend the Discord was super active with folks talking about their blog and various related topics.  I am traditionally super bad at following any sort of social media or chats over the weekend.  I barely respond to instant message or text either because I am generally engaged in something that takes all of my attention, either that or running around.  This weekend we went out junking for a bit which was extremely fun, and got this amazing ice cream at a “from scratch” sort of place a town over.  I had English toffee and my wife had cotton candy and both were phenomenal to eat while we roamed around looking through the various junk shops.  I mean they are all labelled as “antiques” but really…  if it isn’t a junk shop I am not terribly interested in looking at it.

We had a few more people sign up for Blaugust which is awesome.  If you have not done this and are at all considering it… please fill out the form link and join us in this madness.  Onwards to the new blogs… one of which has yet to get complete set up but we are going to mention her anyways.

  • Alli – To Be Determined…  but think the name “The Parent Trope” was chosen via the discord this weekend.
  • Void – A Green Mushroom

One of my favorite things this year is seeing us spread out.  We’ve got several sign ups that listened to either the Massively OP Podcast or Geek to Geek and then I am seeing other interesting references showing some word of mouth from folks I am not sure if I even know who they are completely yet.  The other thing I find interesting is several of the comments are written in a way as though they think maybe I don’t know who they are.  If you are a long time reader of my blog and a regular favoriter or commenter regardless of the venue…  blog, twitter, wordpress reader…  I promise I know who you are and am super happy anytime I see you pop up in my notifications.

It isn’t often that I link my podcast from the weekend in my Monday morning post but maybe that is a thing I should do more often.  This weekend it is directly related to the sort of weekend I had, namely it is a show where we largely talk about Elder Scrolls Online and our recent renaissance with that game.  At this moment myself, Ash, Tam, Kodra, Void, Neph, Thalen and Lyle are playing it more or less in various states of “active”.  I believe ToadChild and Eliyon are also playing as well but I have not really seen them online…  either that or not as a name I would recognize them as.  We have a pair Miko and Uldane14 that seem to be leveling together in Morrowind because their levels stay synchronized but never respond to guild chat so not sure who they are.

One of the things you have to realize about House Stalwart in Elder Scrolls Online… is this represents the last great guild that I tried to build.  That is not to say that I have not done my fair share of recruiting for various guilds and continue to do so to this day.  Stalwart on ESO however was my last guild building experiment where I attempted to get all of the people who know me and all of the people they know together in one room…  and over night blossom into a guild of like 150 people at the launch of the game.  We had folks that I knew from various games I had played, folks who worked on said various games…  lots of members of the blogging and content creation community including Dulfy for a bit because we had bumped into each other during the alpha.  It was a massive thing and so long as folks were willing to abide by the three tenets they were welcome.

The only problem with that is there are a large number of people in the guild that I do not remember at all.  In fact there was at least one person I kicked recently that was the ex-husband of a good friend of mine who left her under some seemingly shady conditions.  When there is a situation like that I tend to punt the spouse as a precautionary measure just so at some point in the future there isn’t a moment when they are both online and forgot that they were both in that same guild.  Anyways this is not at all what I intended to be talking about this morning, but suffice to say there are a lot of people in the guild and since you can technically be in five guilds at once… not many have left.  I have two guild slots left, and in truth one of those could be easily pruned in a pinch because I think we only used it as a private extension of the guild bank.

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The thing I actually wanted to talk about this morning is how my opinion has shifted in relation to a topic from this game.  When it first rolled out I remember myself being extremely frustrated by their version of the Auction House system.  I had gotten used to games like World of Warcraft that had overarching global Auction House systems that allowed you to within moments search everything that was available for sale.  It felt extremely efficient, but in hindsight it also has lead to practices that I am not quite so down with like the various gold making schemes that involve playing the Auction House and looking for bargains.  This isn’t my jam… because I don’t really have that day trader instinct and as a result it always just seemed to unnaturally inflate the price of things making it harder for me to get what i wanted.  I remember receiving threatening messages in game from a bag making cartel when I dared to break their agreed upon price point and sold some bags for less to move them quickly.  I told them if they didn’t like it… buy my bags and relist them but otherwise I will do whatever the hell I want.

So for the uninitiated instead of an Auction House system, Elder Scrolls Online has a series of Guild Traders that are located throughout the world and in clusters that can be found in most towns.  I tend to personally refer to these areas as Traders Row and in most cases they are fairly close to the Wayshrine making it easy to pop over and check them.  Now each Trader is bid upon by various guilds in a blind bidding scheme for a fixed bid cycle, and then that guild is charged a weekly rate to maintain the guild store.  I have no real first hand experience of this other than one of my guilds regularly has an active trader somewhere in the world.  When your guild has a trader you have the ability to sell items on the guild store to anyone who happens across your trader and decides to open the inventory and purchase something.

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This has a lot of interesting side effects… namely that all traders are not created equal.  The traders that are in higher rent districts for lack of a better term…  areas of that have higher churn from the player base tend to have much higher prices.  So I am sure over in Summerset, the brand new expansion the prices of items on those traders would be artificially inflated to account for the fact that in order to win that trader… the blind bid that guild had to put up was likely extremely significant.  Now the inverse is true as well… if you find some trader in a backwater area that isn’t even a main city…  the items you find on that vendor are likely going to be extremely cheap.  This creates a cycle of being able to find bargains…  if you are willing to go do the leg work.  There is technically a search engine for items… but it isn’t very complete and requires that people be running an addon that updates the pricing.

Instead what I did on Friday night was spent roughly two hours popping around from town to town looking for deals.  I was ultimately trying to complete the Dwemer crafting set, but in the process I also completed the outlaw weapons and the rest of my mercenary armor pieces.  This process involved taking a way shrine to what I thought I remembered as one of the main towns in a region, making my way to the traders row and searching each of the vendors looking for any of the items I currently was hunting for.  What should have been tedium…  honestly felt pretty enjoyable.  Each region has its own feel and its own group of people that prefer to frequent it.  For example like I have talked about how Shornhelm is my home in this world…  there seems to be people that feel that way about almost every city.

Over the course of several trips to various guild traders, I found myself noticing a lot of the same names hanging out around them.  It feels like a trader may anchor a guild to a location and with it gives the world a tangible destination feel that has been lacking from other games.  The world is massive, but it also feels lived in…  populated with players who happen to prefer one area to another and go there to deal with their “upkeep”.  Just like I preferred Iron Forge for years… and later the Dwarven Quarter…  you can prefer Elden Root to Daggerfall and it is perfectly okay because there is nothing that you can get in one location or other other that makes one superior.  I guess that isn’t entirely fair… given that you need to go to a faction Capitol to get your Undaunted dailies but that really isn’t that big of a deal.

In a game with instant travel…  it has been interesting to see how many things are there to keep you connected to one location over another.

Blade of Woe

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First off with some business to attend to that is Blaugust related.  The very awesome Chestnut has been maintaining a twitter list of all of the folks participating in Blaugust 2018 that are on that platform.  Next up I was asked to participate in a couple of blogs, one with recording a promo that they could edit in and another actually sitting down and talking a bit about the event.  Those have both made their way into production as it were, and first off you have my promo that appears near the tail end of Geek to Geek Podcast with Void and Beej.  Next up I recorded a bit with Syp at the tail end of the Massively OP Podcast, but in both of these cases you should totally listen to the entire show because they are excellent.  I always enjoy the conversations that happen between Void and Beej and then  Syp and Bree as well so two shows always worth listening to.

Over the last few days I have not done the whole morning Blaugust updates in part because the sign ups had slowed down a bit.  However with the spots on the two podcasts we seem to have had an influx of new folks.  On the sheet I ask where folks heard about Blaugust, and so far one of my happiest moments is when I get a submission that says something other than the equivalent of “Bel Told Me” because that means we are spreading out and expanding our reach.  At this point we have 48 blogs signed up to participate and we still have some time before the festivities actually start…  I am cheating a bit with that number because technically one has not signed up but I know it is incoming.  If you are wanting a list of all of the participants and mentors I am keeping a google sheet with only the relevant information in it for folks to use on blogrolls and the like.

New Mentors

New Participants

As always though there is plenty of time to get started.  Pop over and fill out the sign up sheet to get registered, and then pop by the Discord to hang out with other Blaugustans.

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In gaming news, last night I started the Dark Brotherhood series of quests and so far they are pretty freaking cool.  This was always one of my favorite guilds in the Elder Scrolls games because I like the whole Sithis and the Night Mother thing going on as well as the fact that in spite of being a bunch of blood thirsty killers…  there is this interesting family dynamic happening.  This sanctuary is no different and there are some really cool things happening from the sounds of it, and I am interested to see how the events fold out this time.  The Dark Brotherhood quest lines tend to go in a specific direction…  as do the Thieves Guild to be honest.  The Elder Scrolls Online Thieves Guild was in fact a traditional Elder Scrolls Thieves Guild story…  so I have certain expectations of how things are about to go here as well.

I am not very far into the quest line and have only done a few contracts, but I am absolutely and completely down with how Blade of Woe has been implemented in this game.  I like that it just gives me an assassination ability instead of making me wield a freaking dagger.  I am not a stealthy character, but the truth is…  Dark Brotherhood is probably going to make me one because I am not sure how long I can pay the upkeep of constantly having a couple thousand gold in bounties on my head.  Now the first trait in the DB skill line seems to reduce the amount of bounty gained when someone witnesses a murder…  but regardless I need to be at least a little stealthy in my hits.

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I do not really like forced stealth mechanics, and my brand is more about charging into battle in a nonsensical manner and as a tank gathering up all that enemy hate.  This is not conducive to the Thieves Guild, but you can absolutely go in that direction with the Dark Brotherhood.  If you want to complete a mission by making sure there is 100% body count… then by all means that is a thing that can happen.  However it becomes painfully obvious that every one of those kills is going to cost you in the long run, with a very tangible bounty associated with it.  I came out of one mission with roughly 5500 gold in bounty on my head…  and while I could have waited awhile for that to drop I made my way to the nearest outlaws refuge and took care of it rather than be hassled by the guards.

Now that I have gotten slightly better at using Blade of Woe I am doing a better job of getting those kills in unnoticed and as a result reducing that gold footprint.  This game is teaching me to be stealthy and while it is weird for me to say it…  I am actually enjoying it more than I have in pretty much any other game.  I was extremely proud of myself the first time I got into a building unnoticed and back out without having to use one of the magical stealth baskets.  The mission I ran at the beginning of the night involved roaming around a palace and it mostly felt easy to go where I needed to go because I am starting to develop the reflexes needed to sneak about.  There is a certain muscle memory that I am developing that I have never really had in the past.  In other Elder Scrolls Games the only reason why I ever used sneak…  was to land a bow shot with the damage multiplier.  This time it feels like it allows me to move around freely and avoid entanglements I might not want to deal with.  All in all… still having a blast even though I was initially grumpy with the forced stealth.

Understanding Hew’s Bane

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I’ve officially hit my first snag in Elder Scrolls Online since getting over the Stonefalls hump… and to be honest it is mostly my own damned fault.  I have been playing through the expansion content in the order it was released, which means after the amazing experience of Orsinium I immediately started work on the Thieves Guild content.  I approached it as though it were a fully realized expansion area, and I think this is where the issues arose.  I have been at times frustrated when it did not seem clear where the next quest in the sequence was after completing the previous one.  I thought this was just a quirk of the design and part and parcel with playing through what is effectively a clandestine group.  I would come back to base and there would be one or more notes for me to read, which would ultimately lead me to the next destination.

Now this has worked more or less because my play time has been limited the last few days, meaning I am not making a ton of progress in any given night.  I have also been doing the daily quests that involve recovering some artifact in a very tomb raider style, or stealthing your way through a dungeon to collect some items and then getting back out before the timer runs out.  Apparently the fact that I am doing this… and my recent slow progression has been masking something that I did not grasp at the first.  The Thieves Guild is not DLC content in the way Orsinium was where it is a self contained storyline and a bunch of supporting quests that ultimately weave themselves together into a fully realized brand new zone.  It is adding another guild to the game… much like the Mages Guild or the Fighters Guild…  and as a result it requires you to progress to a certain rank for you to get the next bit of quest.

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Last night was the first night that my sequence of running missions and daily content did not push me far enough to hit the next rank… and as a result unlock the next bit of the main story.  As a result I am starting to really rethink my process of playing through the content and it makes me feel like I should really be starting the Dark Brotherhood content as well.  Since that is also a new guild being added to the game, it is likely going to roll out its story in a very similar fashion meaning there might be lags between batches of content.  So I feel like tonight I will do my batch of things that I can do in Abah’s Landing and then move forward to the Dark Brotherhood content and see how far it will take me.  Ultimately if I hit stopping places in both guilds then there is always the Imperial City for me to give a shot, as I spent the other night roaming around Cyrodil trying to collect some of the Skyshards I was missing from there.

In truth as far as pure story content goes I guess the proper order would be… the first three faction chapters of the game based on your starting faction, then Orsinium, then Morrowind and finally Summerset.  I am not really sure how the Clockwork City works into the sequence of events.  I believe it is an offshoot from Morrowind and considering I don’t specifically have a quest starter for it yet, I may need to be progressed to a certain point before being able to start it.  Ultimately I should have been working on Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood while I was wrapping up Ebonheart Pact…  but I guess I will know this in the future as I alt.  Consider the Champion Point system, alting seems way more viable than I had originally thought.  There is also tons of content that we have not seen related to the dungeons, so we might need to set up a more formal dungeon night to start working through that.

Launches and Lurching

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Initially I had planned last night on poking my head in on various characters within Azeroth but like many I was greeted with a lot of this screen when I first got home.  It seemed like a combination of a couple of things… first being that there were apparently some rather nasty DDoS attacks going on with the hosting providers… and secondly this was a major patch in WoW.  I mean I’ve been going through this cycle since 2004 and this is far from the first time a major patch rendered the game unplayable for one reason or another.  Just the simple onslaught of a bunch of players coming back to do like I was planning is enough to take down servers.  I have no idea when it was fixed and when the servers came back up…  because I did what I have learned I need to do to keep from getting ragey…  I moved on to playing something else.

Though that said I heard that the community was particularly toxic to the BlizzardCS account last night.  There were apparently people calling for the firing of employees and all of that nonsense…  while those of us who have been through far worse launches sit back and eat our popcorn.  I think the reality is that Blizzard has spoiled us of late with a string of relatively smooth major patch cycles.  So as a result when folks see what I would consider a normal MMO patch rollout…  they lose their shit.  There have been times when I too was losing my shit… particularly during the relaunch of A Realm Reborn when you had to effectively stay logged in if you hoped to play the game at all.  In this scenario however I happily wandered off to play Elder Scrolls Online after a few rounds of attempts.

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So I have been working my way through the ESO content as it was originally released and after finishing Orsinium… that lead me down the path of the Thieve’s Guild.  Now I had accidentally already done the intro quest to this content because I quite legitimately thought it was just another quest in Windhelm.  That is one of the challenges you have coming back this far behind the curve is there are quests everywhere… and a good deal of them are trying to lead you off to start expansions and DLC without ever fully announcing that is their intent.  Sure I probably could have looked it up in the quest journal, but for the most part I find myself not using that at all while playing Elder Scrolls Online.

One of the challenges with Thieves Guild is the fact that it is more or less a stealthy expansion, and I Belghast…  am not a stealthy person.  I am one of those charge into the fight and taunt all the things type person…  and the thought of sneaking around in full plate seems hilarious to me.  That said I have tried my best to embrace this game play style because the content essentially forces you to do so.  Getting detected in a good deal of the missions means that you are going to get swarmed by city guards that you have no way of actually soloing.  Now thankfully it employs the Assassins Creed “instant hiding container” sort of thing, which allows you to evade attention at just the right moment.  Now unfortunately if you already have guard aggro you are going to have to wait a bit until the “heat meter” dies down before popping out and continuing the mission.

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Now it is not like I have never done a thieves guild in the past Elder Scrolls Online games…  in fact to my knowledge I have done them all since Oblivion.  The problem is in those older games there was always a path of “kill all the things” that got you through the quest as opposed to constantly sneaking your butt around.  For the most part however I have managed to do the quests as intended part from a few times when I killed someone instead of just not doing that.  While the gameplay is not my favorite thing in the world, I have to give the game credit for completely hooking me with the storyline.  This is in fact an Elder Scrolls Thieves Guild story…  which quite honestly tend to be some of the better written and more interesting guilds out there.

I am completely hooked on the characters and the story as it is deciphering due to my interactions.  It is part pirates, part heist, part Indiana Jones and a whole of fighting back against an oppressive evil empire…  all of which make for a really interesting sequence.  The way it plays out is interesting as well as there is no one constant thread that you follow but instead a sequence of what seems to be disconnected actions that ultimately weave their way into a main story quest.  I get the impression that I am reaching about the halfway point in the story as there was a major revelation last night, that seems like it will begin the end phase where I start narrowing down and working to righting the great wrong done to the guild.  I am completely hooked…  in spite of needing to creep about unbenefiting a warrior of my stature.