A Grain of Salt

It is with some reservation that I make this post.  Always in the past I have tried my best to get verification from either Trion directly, or multiple sources before posting anything.  I plan on continuing this tradition, but this little nugget is so near and dear to my heart that I simply cannot resist sharing the info.  Namely I have to think Rilgon for tipping me off about this.

Knocking Out Number Five

Awhile back I made a post entitled “Five Things I Wish Rift Had” in which I outlined the features from other games that I most wanted in Rift.  As various commenter’s mentioned I left out a few, but this was the list that was especially important to me.  The number 5 item on the list, was the inclusion of an appearance slots system.

20110421090907 

Based on some chatter this morning on the rift forums, apparently this feature is now in on the Alpha shard.  The above image and some various nuggets of information was posted this morning by the player known as Festo.  This if true is a pretty amazing advancement in the game, and is one of the first bones thrown at role-players.  At this point there really is not a lot of information.

I titled this update “Grain of Salt” because this is exactly what we have to take this news with.  At this point there is been no verification from anyone within Trion that this feature is going into the game.  As the morning has gone on, and the original thread has grown in length, additional players have chimed in claiming that it is in fact on the Alpha Shard as Festo stated.

Original Post From Festo

http://img856.imageshack.us/img856/7…0421090907.jpg
First extra wardrobe costs 10p, next costs 50p, last probably costs 100p, I didn’t have enough plat to find out for sure.

Post From Lilliemunster Clarifying Pricing

1st slot (Free)
2nd – 10p
3rd – 25p
4th – 50p
5th – 100p

So based on this smattering of information from two players combined it appears that the system will give all players a single wardrobe slot for free.  Then much like bank tabs, or roles we can purchase the additional slots for a more expensive fee.  There is a bit of rumbling around the pricing being out of range, but in truth it seems about right for me.  In many games, you only have the option of a single appearance tab, so the ability to have multiple outfits that you can swap between is well worth the platinum sink.

We can only assume that if this feature does go live, it looks like it would go live with the rest of the confirmed 1.2 features.  So at this point, 1.2 is shaping up to be a very significant patch to say the least.  While I would have liked to have seen a guild bank in this patch, it is nice to at least have one feature off my wanted list.

Disclaimer Again

Just wanted to get this out here again.  At the time of posting this update, this feature has not been confirmed with by anyone at Trion.  So like every internet rumor take this one as questionable until we get official word.  However like I said, to me this is a very major feature, so I wanted to get this info up asap.  I know for alot of my readers, this too was a major feature.  I did take the time to read through the user Festo’s post history on the Rift forums, and based on the frequency and type of posts they seem as reliable as anyone is.  However, still proceed with caution until we get an announcement on this one.

Damming the River: Hotfix 19

Throwing up a quick post to get this information out there to those readers that have been relying on this site for their patch notes (I know I have a few).  Today the patch we have all be expecting is dropping.  Basically for all intents and purposes this shuts off the River of Souls event. 

The vendor will still be available for a few days so that folks can make purchases, but the items from the rifts and invasions have stopped dropping.  This also brings into play the “consolement” package that Scott Hartsman spoke about last saturday.  So when we all get home tonight, and log in we should have waiting in our mailbox the following…

Symbol of Purity – This item starts a quest you can complete to obtain

  • 250 Otherworldly Sourcestone
  • 1x – Purified Treasure Cache – Contains a random chance of obtaining one of the special world drop event rewards from the day of the event
    • Common – Grave Goods Bag -Unique 20 Slot Bag (NEW ITEM)
    • Uncommon – Shroud of Anti-Life – Lorn non combat Polymorph
    • Rare – Nimble Spectral Horse – 90% Speed Mount
    • Ultra Rare – Swift Spectral Warhorse – 110% Speed Mount
  • Shadetouched Weapon Cache – The starter item for the Rare Death weapon quests. You can choose whichever level appropriate one you’d like.
  • The following two Achievements, since not everyone who was (or wanted to be) present was able to obtain them.
    • Grim Hero
    • Grim Protector

Now for the actual Hotfix patch notes.  The original posting can be found here.

Hotfix #19: 4/20/11


RIVER OF SOULS
* Expect mailbox delivery of your River of Souls Event Reward Pack shortly after this update hits your shards, for each character that existed prior to the River of Souls Phase 2 start point – see the River of Souls World Event Wrapup thread on the General Discussion forum for more details on the reward pack itself.
* River of Souls event merchants will remain available for several more days to give you time for last-minute purchases. These will eventually be removed, so don’t delay too much!
* The River of Souls daily quests have been removed now that the event has concluded.
* Characters are now required to be level 50 to enter the River of Souls raid zone.
* Discordant Pillar can no longer drop loot.
* Plutonus: Adjusted the placement of the ‘lightning fence’ during the latter phase of this encounter.
* Plutonus: Thundering Fists no longer reduces Death damage dealt by Plutonus.
* Alsbeth now spends a bit less time on the ground between air phases.
* Shadetouched Weapon Caches have been renamed so players can tell which cache awards what level of items.
* Swift Spectral Horse from River of Souls Raid has been renamed to Swift Soulbound Charger.
* Swift Spectral Warhorse from River of Souls Raid has been renamed to Swift Soulbound Warhorse.

GENERAL
* Dueling works again.
* Fixed loot windows from accidentally closing, causing you to lose out on items.
* NPCs that can fly in the air no longer get stuck unable to cast abilities.
* Corrected a badd typo in one display of the ‘Riftblade’ soul name.

SOULS
* Resolved an issue where Distorted Shadows [Cabalist] and Shards of Light [Sentinel] could be exploited. These abilities should once again be available for use.
* Champion: Lingering Wounds: Fixed a bug causing this ability to stop applying.

GREENSCALE’S BLIGHT [Raid]
* Prince Hylas: Should now reliably drop a full four pieces of loot.

ITEMS
* River of Souls event currencies and quest item drops will no longer appear.
* Due to outcry from the Telara Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Spectral Horses can no longer be Runebroken.
* Shroud of Anti-Life: Corrected the text in this item’s buff tooltip.

Rift Patch 1.2 Rundown

Well folks I still feel rather horrible, so once more you guys are going to have to get a minimal update.  At least some good happened along with the pain, I am posting this from my new laptop.  So far I am exceedingly happy with it.  Being able to run rift on 1080 with ultra settings, all the while my laptop stays cool and quiet is pretty amazing.  I probably would have skipped today were there not news to share.

Over the last few days there has been a good deal of information being released about the 1.2 patch.  Going to give a summary of what is coming down the pipe.

Class Balance Updates

The first bit of information is a series of posts regarding each of the classes.

Cleric Update

original posting

Greetings, Clerics of Telara. I’m Zinbik, the guy in charge of Clerics. I am here to discuss… THE FUTURE! Before I begin, I just wanted to thank everyone for their feedback so far. Whether in-game or here on the forums, we really appreciate any insight we can get as to how you’re perceiving the game. Now, on to the changes!

We’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on the ranged DPS souls. For this next patch we’ll be focusing on the Inquisitor, working to make their DPS more reliable and comparable to other DPS souls.

Inquisitor

  • Life and Death Concord is just too random. When it procs a lot, you’re having a blast! When it hardly procs at all, you want to strangle me. We really want to make this more reliable so their DPS isn’t so variable.
  • The Armor spells don’t offer much of a choice. You’ve got “the damage and defense one”, “the different damage and defense one”, and “the mostly useless one”. We’re going to change that into “the defensive one”, “the offensive one”, and “the big stick”.

The Healing souls have gotten a fair amount of feedback as well. Right now we’d like to focus on the Sentinel with a little Purifier love on the side, examining how we can make certain abilities more useful and interesting. Below are a few examples of these changes.

Sentinel

  • Healing Breath, while fantastic for a 0-point ability, just isn’t where we’d like it to be for those heavily specced into Sentinel. As long as its HPS is inferior to Healing Invocation, it just ends up being a liability when you try to use it on the tank in response to a minor damage spike or stun. We’d like to fix this, but only for those with a heavy investment into Sentinel.

Purifier

  • Ward of the Ancestors is nice and all, but with its current setup ends up being something you only ever cast on the tank. We plan on lowering the cooldown, but adding a blocker to prevent you from casting it on the same person for the next 30 seconds. This allows you to use it on more targets without allowing one target to be shielded 100% of the time. Once we’ve had time to observe this change within the LIVE environment, we can evaluate the addition of scaling to absorption for a following patch.

Remember, just because I didn’t mention an issue here that you’re concerned with doesn’t mean we don’t share that concern. This is not an exhaustive list of changes that will be happening to Clerics this patch. We’ll be releasing more information when the ALPHA patch notes go live.

Mage Update

original posting

Hey everyone,

I have some information for you on some of the upcoming changes with the next patch. Most of the changes and fixes coming with this update have come from forum posts and feedback sent to us. While we’re always looking into issues and concerns of all sizes, those below are the ones with the largest impact that will be part of the 1.2 update.

First off, there will be a good number of fixes and updates. Among these are ones such as fixing the Pyromancer’s Combust so the effects now stack correctly, fixing the Elementalist’s Charged which wasn’t affecting the top ranks of Lighting Strike and several issues with weaker buffs overwriting stronger ones have also been resolved. We are also taking a look at pets and hope to resolve a number of the most reported pet bugs, such as pets no longer attacking after being stunned.

As many of you have been posting the Pyromancer ability, Ground of Strength, is an amazingly powerful ability. In many cases it is more powerful than it was intended to be, and as a result, is effectively the required choice as the mage PVP soul. It does need to be desirable, but also does need to have its power brought in line with its intended balance.

Another issue, that in many cases is connected with the Pyromancer, is the Dominator’s Controlled Opportunity. As many people have experienced, if you get Transmogrified by someone the next hit you take is really going to hurt. The main issue we found with this ability was critical hits on the target were receiving double bonuses, one from critically hitting and another from Controlled Opportunity, which generated much more damage than intended.

We looked into several possible changes that would help mitigate this while leaving Controlled Opportunity both useful and desirable. The change we have arrived at is having the damage bonus remain, and while an enemy is affected by the debuff the next ability used on them is guaranteed to hit and cannot be resisted but cannot critically hit. If when you attack an enemy with this debuff you are affected by an ability such as Nenvin’s Lament, which gives you a 100% chance to critically hit, your attack will hit the enemy and the Nenvin’s Lament buff will not be consumed until you attack again, preserving the special crit from Nenvin’s for the later attack.

Once we get closer to the patch day, a full list of the fixes and changes included with the patch will be available. We look forward to your feedback on all of the changes when the next update comes to the Test Server.

Rogue Update

original posting

To my fellow Rogues,

Thank you for posting your feedback and suggestions in the forums. I really appreciate your time and effort trying out various builds and sharing them with the both the community and us. Many of the changes we will be introducing in the next patch are a result of the community’s hard work and dedication to the calling.

Assassin
As we all know, the Assassin is the cold-blooded killer who selectively picks his target and vanquishes his victim with ruthless efficiency. Unfortunately, they lack the punch we want them to have. As such we are looking to improve both their initial burst and their overall DPS over time. In addition we have been working on many of the Stealth bugs people have been reporting and we hope to get them fixed for the next patch.

Bladedancer
While the Bladedancer is an excellent soul for soloing and brings some fantastic utility to the table, they are still not hitting the DPS goal we expect them to. As such, we are looking to tweak a number of their core abilities upwards to make sure the Bladedancer’s DPS is more in line with what we’d expect from a whirling dervish of destruction.

Marksman
Finally for the Marksman, there are two areas of concern we are looking to address. Firstly, the Marksman’s overall DPS is not at a level we are happy with. Secondly, the Marksman is too reliant on the use of cooldowns to get the most out of its soul. With these in mind, we are reviewing their situational long cooldown abilities and DPS abilities with the intent of improving their overall performance and reducing the number of buttons players need to worry about.

Once again, thank you for all your feedback. The preview above is an outline of our intention for the upcoming patch and does not include a complete list of changes and fixes. More details will be added as we move closer to patch day.

Warrior Update

original posting

Hello all, we have been following the forums and feedback over the last few weeks and I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to you all about some changes we are looking to make to the Warrior souls with the upcoming patch. We picked through the feedback and looked over the souls and we decided to make some changes to a couple souls that are not quite fitting in like we want them to. The Void Knight and the Warlord.

The Void Knight has always been intended as the premier choice in tanking magical mobs but we don’t feel like it does that as well as we would like it to, so we are looking at several changes to help it fill that role. Just a couple examples, though not by any means everything we are looking at.

1) Giving them a new self buff that reduces the damage they take from non-physical melee attacks.
2) A revision of the Pacts system in which we are ending the practice of using a full Pact dump for each ability. The goal is to make them easier to use, easier to understand, and more balanced.
3) Fixing Fusion of Flesh to be more useful. This change will be independent to the bug currently affecting Rank 5.

We always wanted the Warlord to be a solid tank that could be useful in more situations. He currently fits a dual role of being a tank while bringing useful buffs to the table. Right now we are happy with their ability to buff their party, but we feel their ability to tank is below where we want it to be. Here a couple things we are working on to help change him into the tank we want him to be.

1) Giving him a new high level ability that acts as Sergeant’s Order but as an AOE, allowing him to pull in multiple enemies.
2) Taking a look at his tanking ability and seeing where we can make tweaks to help his mitigation out.

We also have a whole bunch of bugs we are fixing across all the souls and we look forward to being able to give you more detailed patch notes on these changes and bug fixes in the near future.

PVP Changes

original posting

Evening!

We’ve gotten a ton of great feedback for PvP since we’ve gone live, so much that we’ve had quite a challenge weeding out which things we wanted to tackle first. Today I want to give everyone a preview of changes in our upcoming patch, as well as some hints as to where we are headed next.

Improving Reward Quality
There’s been a lot of concern about the quality of the Rank Sets, and the effectiveness that Valor has in PvP compared to the rewards from Tier 1 and 2 dungeons. With 1.2, you’ll find that Valor has received a significant boost, granting reduction in damage taken from Players. In addition we’ve also updated many of the PvP rewards. Here’s a few highlights:

• Retuning PvP items to have more offensive punch.
• Updated & added a number of items to Rank 1 & 2 that will be on par with T1 dungeons.
• Updated & added a number of items in Rank 3 & 4 so that this set is on par with T2 dungeons.
• Reduced the current Rank requirement for Rank 5 weapons to Rank 4, and introduced all new Rank 6 weapons that are on par with Epics from Raid dungeons.
• All Rank Set pieces can now be tinted.

Crowd Control
Crowd control continues to be an item we’re watching carefully. There is a fine line to walk between too much CC and CC being considered useless. With that in mind we’ll be making a few changes in the next patch:

• Increasing the window of time that Diminishing returns is effective, which should reduce the chances of being chain CC’d through an extended encounter.
• Adding a small immunity buff to Break Free in the PvP souls that way players are not immediately CC’d after using their abilities.

Warfront Notoriety
Another area of improvement slated for the next patch is improving the flow of Notoriety advancement so it’s more fun.

• Increased the notoriety rewards from warfronts and warfront related daily quests
• Updated the Notoriety rewards for Port Scion, with the goal of moving some of the better rewards to an earlier notoriety level so they are more in line with the new rank set progression

The above is the bulk of the changes we plan to release with our next patch. However there is no rest for the weary and we’re hard at work on adding some new PVP gameplay into RIFT. We’ll talk about this in more detail once we have things hammered out. That being said people should expect to hear more about things like PvP open world zone events, weekend events with alternate game mode warfronts, and PvP leaderboards & statistics soon!

Dungeon Changes

original posting

Hello my fellow Rifties. I want to give small preview to some of the planned changes to our Expert dungeons. Note: This is not a complete list there are plenty of other things that should be updated (such as various achievement bug fixes).
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, we’re generally happy with the overall difficulty but will be making a few adjustments for 1.2.
– Reduced Health on non-boss encounters
– Caelia the Stormtouched will be modified to be more understandable
– Gronik’s power gain will be nerfed
– Rictus ground target ability will be nerfed a bit
– Gatekeeper Kaleida will have the range of some of the crystal abilities reduced and will ignore line of sight
– Scarn’s smouldering bones will stay on fire longer
– Ice Talon and the Falconer will have their health pools slightly reduced
– King’s Breach Manticores will not instantly use their special abilities
– Shadehorror Phantasm will no longer spawn minions on pets

We will also be making some particular changes to make some encounters more melee balanced
– Ragnoth’s whips have reduced range, duration, and effectiveness
– Fae Lord Twyl will no longer have any ‘safe’ locations
– Sparkwing’s PBAE will have a reduced range. His chained bolt will now work properly on ranged targets.
– Konstantin’s cleave will no longer be 360 degrees. Players that are in melee range will get a damage bonus.
– Glubmuk’s poison bolt will no longer hit melee.
– Chillblains’ elementals will no longer prefer to spawn on the closest targets
– Queen Valnara’s ground effect she drops on her location will hurt less.
– Ouldare’s special abilities will share a cooldown.
– Luggodhan’s goo will no longer target the tank

The Wrap-up

Looks to be a lot of good and needed changes coming down the pipes.  These are a few days old but collecting them all in one post.  Hopefully soon the antibiotics will kick in and I will feel like writing up some of the various things I have floating around in my head.

Admitting You’re Wrong Is Awesome

Well this weekend was kind of horrendous for the aggronaut.  I am still in a lot of pain from my previously mentioned ailments.  One of my good gamer friends happens to be a doctor elsewhere in the country.  So prior to today I had simply been following her directions.  At the urging of my wife however I mad a second attempt at getting in to see the doctor, and was successful.

The positive that the doctor doesn’t think it is nearly as dire as originally planned.  The negative is, it is still a major infection that several days worth of powerful antibiotics will hopefully clear up.  As a result, since I am still very much in excruciating pain you my readers are going to get a rather crummy post today.  I figure it is better to post something than let a day lapse with no updates.  Here’s hoping I am right.

In the Blink of an Eye

This weekend the river of souls event wrapped up.  Like so many I was unfortunate enough to miss it.  I spent the early part of my afternoon performing necessary wife maintenance as we ran around town doing errands.  When I made it back around 4pm I got the privilege of sitting in a 1 1/2 hour queue.  After fighting through the queue, I logged in only to find the event was over.

So several weeks of lead up were gone in a flash.  I had been warned that this might be the case, that phases 2 and 3 would only take a matter of hours, whereas phase 2 took a matter of weeks.  All that said I was prepared to miss the event, and spending time with my wife was a better choice of my time.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I am any less bummed about having to miss out on the content.

Why I Love Trion

Interesting thing is, when Trion saw how fast phases 2 and 3 went, the immediately realized they had screwed up.  I give them massive points for trying to carry out an event of this scale weeks after the launch of the game.  As a result they had no real way of knowing how popular it would become, nor did they really have any live data to determine how to scale those last few phases.  Once built and deployed they were pretty well committed to the conclusion.

One of the things I truly love about Trion is the level of interaction they have with the community.  For example I know of several Trion employees who have read my blog, and I still feel like an unimportant voice in a sea of millions.  So if they are engaging with the little guys like me, that tells you they are doing it at all levels of the echelon.  However the biggest sign that they care came in a post from Scott Hartsman on Saturday after the events wrapped.

Official Thread on Rift Forums

When we set out to get this unveil event in front of you, it was all about some serious ambitions.
Great new types of content to unveil a brand new raid zone. Events that really push the edge of what’s possible not just in Rift, but in any MMO of its kind. All within an incredibly rapid amount of time following launch.
In this case, while we did get to "what’s possible" we didn’t get to "solid gameplay for the entire game universe." The later phases of the event were too concentrated and time-compressed, which caused issues on a number of worlds.
Ambition is important — It’s what keeps us improving day to day, week to week, month to month. But, it’s equally important to know when you walked too close to the edge and got cut.
Between our previous experience with zone events and now with world events, we have a much better idea of the range we can create "fun" for at a mass scale in the future, and the steps we need to take to continue progressing the more solid gameplay experiences that only happen in RIFT.
As I had posted earlier, our next world events will already be taking everything we learned, as well as all of your comments about the event, into account. Please do keep them coming — I guarantee we’re here reading them all, weekend or not.
As developers, none of us are happy when anyone who chooses to spend their valuable time in our game feels like they got the short end of our aspirations.
To that end, even if something goes great for some, when it doesn’t go great for all, we’re going to go out of our way to make it up in some way wherever we can.
We’re going to assume that if you are an active subscriber you were intending to participate in the final stages.
1) Operating on that assumption, later this week everyone will be receiving an in-game mail with the River of Souls Event Reward Pack containing:
Symbol of Purity – This item starts a quest you can complete to obtain

  • 250 Otherworldly Sourcestone
  • 1x – Purified Treasure Cache – Contains a random chance of obtaining one of the special world drop event rewards from the day of the event
    • Common – Grave Goods Bag -Unique 20 Slot Bag (NEW ITEM)
    • Uncommon – Shroud of Anti-Life – Lorn non combat Polymorph
    • Rare – Nimble Spectral Horse – 90% Speed Mount
    • Ultra Rare – Swift Spectral Warhorse – 110% Speed Mount
  • Shadetouched Weapon Cache – The starter item for the Rare Death weapon quests. You can choose whichever level appropriate one you’d like.
  • The following two Achievements, since not everyone who was (or wanted to be) present was able to obtain them.
    • Grim Hero
    • Grim Protector

2) The achievement for kneeling to Alsbeth will remain available in her incarnation inside the River of Souls.
3) Additionally, we’re also going to continue the Otherworldly Sourcestone drops for the next few days, for those who haven’t yet finished off their collections and would care to.
4) And since the question has come up quite a few times — the ability to complete the quests from the Shadetouched Weapon Cache will continue, such that you’re always able to finish them.
We do thank you for your patience with us during this first ever World Event. We know that patience isn’t infinite. We do respect that fact greatly, and you have our word that we’re listening and reacting smartly for the next round.
– Scott

Basically they realize that they misjudged the popularity of the event, and for all of us who could not participate fully like we wanted to they are going to give us some of the things we could have gotten from participating in the event.  This feels so much different than the Call to Arms debacle, this feels like a company who truly misjudged the scale of an event and is going out of their way to let us know that they will plan better in the future.

I managed to get almost everything I had wanted from the event prior to phases 2 and 3, so in the grand scheme of thing this is not a huge deal to me.  I knew that by choosing my wife over the game I would be giving up my shot at the cool stuff.  For me it was a good decision, but I am sure there are others who feel far more distraught over the chain of events.

I have faith that future events like this will be scaled in a way so that each phase lasts  a number of days instead of a number of hours.  Initially I was disappointed in the entire event, I was expecting non stop invasions.  But I have come to a point of peace on it, I did enjoy the new rifts and I hope they will stay in the rotation for awhile.  I was just expecting something more grand.

Make the pain stop

Well there you have it, that is about the best post I am able to muster while under pain.  I hope these antibiotics will work quickly and return me to a blissful state of not hurting all the time.  Hopefully this post will tide you all over until something slightly more substantial can be posted.

Bonus Stage: Tinfoil Hat

It has been an extremely long week for the Aggronaut.  I’ve been battling some medical issues, so today I am bringing you a wrap up post through the eyes of someone in pain.  Honestly I didn’t play as much Rift as I would have liked to this week.  When I am in pain I don’t really feel like I can be a responsible member of a guild and server community, so instead I just avoid interaction with people.  This has lead to a good deal more Minecraft than normal.

The End is Nigh

bonus_diablo3

The other day I was out on the Wal-mart website, and like a sirens call there was a link saying that Diablo III was available for preorder.  It isn’t like I would actually preorder anything through Wal-mart, but the link was shiny and reddish and begged to be pushed (not to virus authors, hide your payloads behind red shiny buttons).  I mostly followed the link to look at the pretty screenshots but once I arrived I saw something interesting.

Now if you go out to GameStop or amazon and look up the Diablo III page you just get some generic preorder information but no estimated delivery date.  However if you look in the above image (and I took the liberty of zooming in for you) Wal-mart lists an estimated delivery date for the game.  Do they know something that the other companies don’t? 

Honestly, chances are they do.  Wal-mart is known for their heavy handed practices at least in the music industry, so it is not a large stretch of the imagination that they would have the same kind of sway over the video game industry since they represent the single largest game seller.  I cannot see Wal-mart posting a date they have no background intel surrounding.

I am not immune to the irony that I am posting Diablo news when I have dedicated so much time lately to talking about the failings of Blizzard.  Thing is… this is Diablo, it is not like I won’t be playing it.  I ‘ve spent countless sleepless nights playing the first two, and if this one is half as good as those were it will be well worth the potentially brief ride.  You can take the info with a grain of salt, but just thought I would point out the date.  Would make a good deal of sense, considering that would mean a d3 launch just prior to Blizzcon.

Scary Numbers

4246453385_5147d41647Keeping with the tinfoil hat theme, I had read a couple of posts recently talking about the declining player base as represented on the WoW Census website.  So it got my curious about what numbers the realm I played on, Argent Dawn might show.  I can remember during the launch of Cataclysm, I went out to the website to see what kind of effect the normal post expansion bump did on our server population.  For Argent Dawn, it listed that we had roughly 20,000 active players.

This morning when I pulled up the same stats, it was registering only slightly more than 8,000 players for Argent Dawn.  The question is, what exactly does this represent.  Was there a massive drop off in the usage of the WoW Census add-on?  Did Argent Dawn really lose over half its player base since the launch of Cataclysm?  I honestly don’t have the answers, and am puzzled by the results.

If you look at the wider picture, WoW Census lists the total combined US and Euro player population at 4.5 million.  Now I don’t know what this looked like several months ago, but we have long heard the touted 12 million players figure spread around.  From what I had heard as far as a breakout, that represented 8 million US and Euro players and 4 million in the growing Asian markets.  So if you take that into account as the numbers, the figures from WoW Census would show a drop in players by nearly a half.

Problem is, I have no way of knowing how accurate the WoW Census data is.  Publishers have been reluctant to give out any real player numbers.  The last one I can remember showing how many players were logged into a server was Dark Age of Camelot.  WoW census gets its data from voluntary submissions through their custom add-on.  So what is uncertain is if we are seeing a true drop in subscribers, or just a drop in usage of the add-on.

All I can really base things on is my own incidental data from the Argent Dawn server community.  I know the guild I once lead has dropped on WoW Census from the 5th largest guild on the server to roughly the 12th.  These kind of numbers test out at least incidentally in my head, as we have had a large number of players quit for various reasons.  I myself left to go play Rift as did several others, however there is an even larger number of players who are quitting simply because they are tired of the MMO genre.

All of this taken into account, are the recent changes like Call to Arms, and the cosmetic changes to the Warlock pets simply meant as a way to bribe players to stick around?  Once upon a time I used to play this game called Horizons.  It offered the ability to play a Dragon, something no other game has done to this date.  As they began to hemorrhage subscribers, they started adding in additional content for the dragon players, knowing they were the ones who couldn’t get a similar experience anywhere else. 

2 years down the line, all that was literally left playing the game were the players who for one reason or another just wanted to play dragons.  So I guess my curiosity is, are we starting to see GMs putting in content for the sole purpose of trying to glue players to the game?  Like I said, I don’t really have any answers but it is food for thought nonetheless.

The Rifts are Closing

5335086294_080b2490cdThere is a well thought post over on Ardwulf’s Lair entitled “Rift on a Downward Spiral?”.  If you haven’t managed to read it yet you certainly should.  Basically there has been a lot of back and forth amongst the bloggers making significance that there has been a 20% drop in gameplay hours for Rift on the gaming communication Client Xfire.  To Quote Ardwulf…

To me, a 20% dropoff (not after 4 weeks but 6, mind,) along with reports of persistent server queues even to this day, seems spectacularly good. After two weeks of Warhammer Online you could feel players flowing out of the game. Remember, you can stop playing before your sub runs out, and many did just that, myself included. A loss of 20% (measured in playtime,) implies very strong ongoing performance in terms of retaining players who are actually active.

I personally have played many games in the past that were losing players faster than you could count.  I played Warhammer for about 6 months after release and Age of Conan for a month and a half.  In both cases, after the free month was over the servers felt noticeably lighter for the lack of players.  Rift most definitely does not feel like a dying game, at least not over on the Shadefallen server.

Another good take on the numbers is at Lowered Expectations, which presents some other data.

Really, is a 20% decline from a single gaming service like X-Fire indicative of the overall market share? The fact it is just one piece of the pie tells me no. Look at the Raptr numbers, which show a less than 10% loss. Look at the shard listings and see how a majority of servers are still at high…and even some queues.
Decline will really not be noted until we see merges or closure of servers.

I however present a completely different picture.  The main issue I see with judging the performance of a game based on a third party communication client is this.  These services are not nearly as popular as the regular users seem to believe they are.  I’ve used both at various times throughout my gaming career, and ultimately I get bored with them and simply quit logging in.  Currently I use Raptr as a chat client, but I have long ago turned off its ability to track my gameplay habbits.

On top of this, on Raptr I have less than a half dozen friends that use the service.  The greatest majority of my friends use Steam, and in reality even if you purchased your game through steam like I did, there is no solid reason why you should actually launch the game that way.  Ultimately I think the Xfire and Raptr communities represent a niche of gamers.  Quite possibly the game simply doesn’t appeal as widely to that niche as it does others.

What I am seeing on my own server is a decrease of the wow tourists.  I know them well, I was one for years myself.  A wow tourist is a player who goes out, plays a new game for the free month to get a break, then ultimately returns back to their core game feeling validated in their decision.  I was a tourist in every major MMO release since WoW shipped in 2004, I played my free month, maybe a month extra but ultimately I returned back to the mothership.

Who I am seeing glued to Rift are an older demographic, the players who remain nostalgic about Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and ultimately the good points of Warhammer online and miss those games as truly viable platforms.  It is less likely for me to be able to explain a boss fight in “its like this wow boss” terms, but more likely to be able to say “Iron Tomb feels so much like Muire Tomb” and get a response.

I know it is probably a bit hypocritical to dismiss claims that Rift is dying, in the same post I present numbers that show a decline in WoW subscribers, but to me you have to consider the two sources.  With WoW census you have a tool that takes a broad survey of players who are not even running the add-on, trying to come up with base numbers of who is available on the server at a given time.  With these guesstimates, you are looking at a third party tool that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual gameplay.

All that said, I have seen a decline in the player base in Rift.  However this is a good thing.  We have managed to shed a lot of the “barrens chat” types, and kept the seasoned mmo veterans who are willing to work for their rewards.  I have seen the high end public channels continue to grow and get more helpful with time.  So in the grand scheme of things, I think this decline will ultimately be good for the various budding communities.

A Safe Haven

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With the recent pain I have been in, I have like I said been shunning anything that would involve someone else relying on me.  As a result I have logged in for a bit, completely my event dailies and usually logged shortly thereafter.  The rest of my time has been spent over on the Stalwart Minecraft server.  Every so often I get an idea in my head that just has to be built, so my city of Belgarde has been expanded in bursts of creativity.

The most recent burst of effort has involved the left side of the image above.  Previously I had this open area, where a good number of monsters spawned each night.  The dock area that I had built up was unfortunately a part of this overall area.  So one of my goals for some time has been to find a way to both secure the docks and increase the protected space of Belgarde.

In a city like the one I have been building, not much actual food production could happen inside the protected walls.  Ultimately each city is ringed with a network of agriculture areas, that feed resources back into the walled area.  In a game like Minecraft, where any undeveloped land is sure to spawn monsters, simply dotting the countryside around Belgarde with farms really didn’t fit the bill.

As a result I decided to extend out the walls to loosely encompass an area of land that would ultimately be built up as farms.  So far I have managed to complete the wall, and a guard station.  In addition to this I torched off the entire area to immediately stop the monster spawns while working on developing it. 

javaw 2011-04-15 16-08-01-72

I cleared and terraced an area in the upper right-hand region of the new walled zone.  This has become the first farm in the area, and includes a large house, work shed, and a large fenced off field of crops.  I don’t want to create cookie cutter homesteads, so this will take some time to design and build each structure to feel cohesive but look somewhat unique at the same time.  I will post additional shots as I get more things built.  Right now the general region just looks unfinished.

Wrapping the Wrap-up Post

So that’s all the assorted bits and pieces that didn’t really seem to fit elsewhere thematically.  I finally managed to pull the trigger and order the new laptop, so next week sometime I should be blogging from it.  I have a number of topics swimming around in my head that should make for at least interesting posts next week.  Given my irregular posting habits in the past, I am still shocked that I have managed to maintain a month of posting something each day.  While it might not seem like much for the bloggers who have been hard at it for three years or so, but for me just being consistent for a month is a proud moment.

Reinventing the Quest

I think I killed most of my audience yesterday with the massive Minecraft thread.  Then again, I keep arguing with friends as to whether or not I actually have an audience in the first place.  I still feel most days like a little kid sitting in a huge cardboard box on the living room floor pretending to be on TV.  I say whatever comes to mind on a specific day, and out comes a blog post.

Comments from Community

One of the things recently that has been getting under my skin more than I should allow it to is a series of comments surrounding Rift.  I realize I spend a good deal of my time evangelizing the game, and a month and some change after release a lot of the new has even worn off for me.  Thing is I am still enjoying it more than I have enjoyed any other MMO in a long while.

All that said, the general frustration I have had, and have even posted about this before now, are those comments surrounding the lack of innovation in Rift’s quest system.  Tipa at West Karana gave a great run down of the game from the point of view of a player not yet max level a month into the game.  Problem is for me at least, deep down in the post are the same sentiments I have had trouble understanding before.

It’s just the same old, same old. Collect quests at a quest hub. Follow the map markings and click on the sparklies or kill what it tells you to kill. Return for the reward. I hate the artificial quest mechanic, which has as its only purpose giving you something to do when you can’t do something fun.

If you have read this blog for a bit I commented (in Three Things Rift Didn’t Get Wrong) on similar statements about the questing system from MMORPG.com.

I find it a little disheartening that questing in Rift amounts to basically: go to hub, get a bunch of quests, go to bright yellow circle, kill things, return to hub when objectives are met.

Ultimately I guess the question I pose is, what exactly do you want instead?  We have arrived at the quest system we have today through a long line of prods and pokes and tweaks over the years.  Granted the big evolutionary jumps came from World of Warcraft, but looking back I am not sure how someone can really improve on the system.  I think to bring things into perspective we should examine where we have come from.

“Hunt For the Quest” Era

quest_baldursgate

Granted, the screenshot I have chosen to illustrate this cannot really be deemed as “early in the era”, but it represents a time that I like to refer to as the “Hunt For the Quest” era.  During this time, questing consisted of a random process of trying to canvas every new town you came to looking for those precious few NPCs that actually responded to you.  More often than not, a quest was dumped in your log as you went through a mostly non-interactive set of text. 

The vast majority of these games lacked any real quest tracking system, and instead listed a generic journal showing which quests you were on with very arcane directions as to how to complete each one.  Much of the “gameplay” actually involved trying to interpret what the heck the quest authors meant in their tips. 

Ultimately, players got stuck frequently and ended up relying on websites such as GameFaqs to figure out exactly how to do that one step of the quest that was holding up their progress.  In the dark days before the internet, it involved relying on your friends just hoping they had figured out whatever step you were stuck on.  Guidebooks existed, but in general no one I knew actually purchased these, and at worse case next time you were at a bookstore you thumbed through the copy on the shelf just long enough to find your answer.

Everquest – Most Ironically Titled Game Ever

With the birth of the MMO genre, not much really changed.  If anything, quests became even harder to find as you roamed through a world populated with massive numbers of NPCs, few of which offered anything interesting.  As the title above states, Everquest was probably the most ironic title for that game.  Questing took an act of congress to do successfully because it involved a cryptic series of text prompts to actually trigger said quests. 

Here is an example of a quest text…

Give the sand to the fallen student.

a fallen student says ‘Where did you find this? Could it really be happening now, after all of this time? It couldn’t be. He had been defeated. . .there is little [time] left for us now I am afraid.’

You say, ‘Time?’

a fallen student says ‘Time for what? Time for us to find a way to defeat this menace that threatens our ways of life. Go out and find one that may know more about the [power of the Immortals]. Please do not return until you have found someone to help.’

If you are catching on to the pattern, initiating a quest involved saying whatever text was contained within [ brackets ].  This would trigger another line of text and so on until ultimately you needed to collect something.  This snippet of text for example was initiated when an item was handed in to the NPC.  Problem is there was no real way of telling which NPCs would accept an item and give you a quest, nor was it entirely certain that if you handed an item in you wouldn’t simply lose it.

The Dark Age Arrives

Dark Age of Camelot took this construct and made it one step better.  Everquest encapsulated the keyword used to trigger the quest in [ brackets ] but DAoC made the “revolutionary” jump of hot linking.  So instead of having to type /say Rutabaga, you could simply click [rutabaga] in the chat window.  While this may not seem like much, it was freakin cutting edge stuff at the time.  Unfortunately you still had to roam around the camp randomly right clicking on NPCs until you found the quest givers, but at least once you found one the steps that followed went a little smoother.

Dawn of the Exclamation

quest_exclaimation Questing for the most part continued in this fashion for years.  We accepted the frustration that it gave us, but dealt with it.  The end result however was that the majority of players simply ground their way through the levels by running dungeons or hunting various “camps” until there was a significant reason to actually try and track down a quest.  These reasons were often doled out by the various MMO help sites available like Allakhazam.

The first major advancement in questing since Everquest came with when the first screenshots of World of Warcraft were leaked to the public.  You can tie alot of innovations back to WoW, but it is funny that I think the most lasting of them is the act of sticking an icon over the heads of quest NPCs to clearly identify them.  Our little friend to the right side here, has literally changed the MMO gaming world.

Now instead of running around town humping NPCs until they gave us a quest starter, we were able to see from a distance whether or not there were quests for us to do.  This was a big deal, and for the first time in a fantasy MMO questing actually played a key role in the game play.  As players we came to expect that as we move through content, there was a constant flow of quests to keep ups propelling forward.  For years folks had wanted something other than killing mobs to do in MMOs and it had arrived.

Assimilation of the Idea

quest_ifitaintbroke

Quickly every MMO on the market adopted this method for identifying quests.  Above is a quick cut and paste job showing all the various implementations.  While some have clearly tried to set themselves apart by making the icons look more unique, the fundamentals are the same.  Go into a town, look for a recognizable icon and go off and do the quests.  The era of quest grinding had arrived.  No longer were you forced to kill an endless string of mobs for no good reason, now you had NPCs to go tell you where to hunt and for how long.

I resisted this era for a long time.  Having cut my teeth on EQ and DAoC, I still preferred to take out monsters with a blind and unfocused rage.  However, in WoW and other games I noticed that if you completed the quests, you could level far faster than through killing monsters alone.  In addition to this you had all these wonderful bits of story along the way to make you feel attached to the game world.

Thing is however, that no matter what game you played, the process was essentially the same.  While a lot of todays players seem to find this boring, and un-original.  I find it the natural progression of the system.  Each crop of games, has managed to tweak the system to fit into whatever design they wanted.  Questing has arrived at this point, because each game that has come before it added something new to the genre.

So with Rift, we have this rich UI that is far better than any previous game shipped with.  It is the synthesis of years of gradual change, and represents the best of all the ideas to date.  You have great story telling, clear objectives, and nice visualization to complete them.  Problem is, players seem to be tired of this system that has been in place in one form or another for the better part of a decade.

Other Systems in Play

quests_fallout3

I return to the question, that if this system is now tired and boring… what exactly would you replace it with?  The only other tried and true parallel in the PC gaming world is that of the dialog tree quest.  The above example is from Fallout 3, but these are the bread and butter of the ever popular Bioware games.  The user is presented a prompt and then given a list of choices to pick from as the answer.  Often times the choices are determined by the players faction, skill and level.

Problem is, for seasoned PC gaming veterans this system is just as well trodden as the quest giver system.  We have literally played dozens of games at this point where we navigated our way through the text options.  Regardless of how well written these systems are, there is never an answer to the prompt that is exactly how you would want to respond.  You are basically left with the renegade/evil response, the goody two-shoes response, or the aloof neutral response.

Hope For The Future

This is the kind of system that it seems like Bioware will be bringing to the MMO genre with The Old Republic.  it will be interesting to see how it plays out, but like I said for me at least this is already the “old way” of doing things.  The problem again is, how would you build a better breadbox?  What can really be done that hasn’t already been done before.

Right now I simply cannot imagine a better system than the one that keeps getting labeled as “un-imaginative”.  Sure we all know how it works at this point, and we can blindly do the quests without thinking.  But to me at least, there is comfort in the familiarity.  I know what to expect in the quests, I already walk into the room knowing the language that will be spoken.

WoW has tried to evolve the quest construct for years, but for the most part in doing so they have created a series of mini-games that he player has to deal with.  I would far rather have “kill ten rats” than pilot this annoying vehicle around the zone, and bomb various objectives.  That is just me however, I have always enjoyed the generic construct of the kill task.

My Actions Should Matter

quest_fablegoodvevil

I will admit that I would love for there to be some weight in my decisions in an MMO.  I would like to know that if I choose the good path, various NPCs will react to me differently.  One of the most frustrating and annoying moments in Cataclysm came in Twilight Highlands.  In Wrath you spend hundreds of quests working for the Red Dragon flight, and as a result you end up interacting a good deal with Alexstraza directly.  So it was almost game breaking for me to encounter her in Twilight Highlands, and for her to not even mention the fact that you did dozens of quests for her flight.  Don’t we at least get a handshake and a nod out of the deal?

I would like to play a game without the faction wall, where we as players choose our alignments, and the choices we make have massive ramifications on the entire game.  In Dragon Age: Origins you join the Grey Wardens, and from that moment forward every NPC in the game has a reaction based on that fact.  Imagine a world where various social organizations are vying for control, and each has a specific slant on the world.  In the case of Rift, along with Defiant and Guardian, we should be able to join the various dragon cults if we so chose, or the various organizations set aside to fight them.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately for me, Rift is an evolved system, that has taken in all the best elements of the other games I have played to date.  While it is not ground breaking, it takes all these “best of” elements I wanted from other places and places it squarely in the same system.  Problem is for many players these elements just feel old themselves.  I would like to see some evolution in the system, a leap forward as big as the exclamation point was, however I did not go into Rift expecting it.  I came here expecting best of breed game play, and in that it has delivered plenty.

My Other Obsession

Over the last week I have managed to gather enough shards to purchase the three pets, the shade touched doodad, and the trinket that turns me into a rogue skeleton.  Basically I have managed to get everything I wanted from the event other than the mount.  As a result, I have spent the last few nights mostly outside of Rift, to take a bit of a break.

minecraft_logo

Minecraft has been an obsession for a long time now.  At it’s core the game is basically Legos on crack, and you would have to be living under a rock at this point to have not at least heard of the game that has exploded like a creeper over the last year.  I wrote a review for the gaming blog Polygamerous some time ago titled “Minecraft:  Better Than The Hype”.  I figure this is as good as any to do a post with a gratuitous amount of screenshots.

Starting Out Alone

Like everyone I started with Minecraft Single player.  I learned to hide in fear from the barrage of skeletons and zombies, and scurry out during the daylight to gather everything I needed to keep going.  One of my friends, calls me the “game pusher”, and true to the name it was not long before I had started hooking various friends on the game as well.  So alone in our own private worlds we built, meeting up on Ventrilo to swap stories.

One friend in particular, Rylacus, and I started swapping screenshots of our creations.  It became a tradition to have new shots of what we were working on ready to talk about as we waited around on voice before raids.  Problem is, other than swapping worlds, there was no way for us to actually build together.  I had toyed around with a private server, but my connection simply was too weak to support it.

Enter the Stalwart Server

stalwart_server_map

A good friend of ours, Valkkon, had hosted his own websites and utilities on a leased connection.  With very minor bits of persuading, he installed and set up a new server for us.  Ry and I abandoned our single player empires and pushed our way out onto a new frontier.  Above is a zoomed in image of the area that Rylacus, his Son, his Daughter and I share.  In addition to this area there are between 20 and 30 other players with their own areas.

Being able to build together has been a blast.  For the most part each of us has our own territory, but the most interesting thing has been the way each of us have chosen to link into the others areas.  For example on the above map you can see a number of paths leading off of the main city area.  This gives the server a very ‘Sim City” feeling, in that each player controls their own settlement.

Founding of Belgarde

minecraft_harborcastle

Some of the players have focused on individual buildings.  We have towers, castles, pyramids, cottages and caves of all shapes and sizes.  However I wanted something different, I wanted to build an entire town.  I named my town Belgarde, and set out trying to build the seat of power of the Stalwart family.  I kept to the House Stalwart color scheme, since I spent 6 1/2 years with that, and green is my favorite color.  You can also see a large number of the “Stalwart Crosses” used throughout the buildings.

minecraft_lavawall

The general idea was to try and replicate buildings that would actually be needed to support a town.  To keep my citizens safe from monsters, I encased my town in a giant wall.  The above image is the wall that started it all.  I call this the “lava gate”, and it leads to the courtyard that is shared between myself and the area of Rylacus.  The original inspiration was the wall between Hillsbrad and Arathi Highlands in World of Warcraft.  While this wall is no way as big, I feel it has a similar feel.  The addition of the lava was mostly there as additional lighting.

Some Additional Shots of Belgarde
minecraft_belgarde_towardsharborminecraft_belgarde_towardsobservatoryminecraft_harborcastle_towardsbelgarde

Temples of the Elements

minecraft_watertemple

Early on, one of the structures that Rylacus first built was this obsidian and lava structure.  Since Ry has an affinity for using lava various creative ways, we dubbed this first structure the “Lava Temple”.  Over time of calling it this, the idea of an elemental fire temple started to set in.  Across the courtyard from it I decided to build the polar opposite.  I had a blank wall that needed filling, in our quest to make sure every corner of our realm was safe from monster spawns.

minecraft_watershrine

The above two images are the main water temple entrance, and what I have begun to call the “water shrine” on the backside of the main temple.  Since the lava temple was build out of obsidian and lava, I chose to build this out of the color palette opposites in sandstone, lapis lazuli and water.  The water shrine area has a reservoir, which I tried to juxtapose with the lava area on the side.  As I describe it, I am wondering if I maybe over thought things, but nonetheless the lapis and water mixture make it feel like there is flowing streams of water through out the structure.

The Wind Temple

minecraft_smugglershold_windtemple

Zoom ahead to last night, I decided that I should continue the theme and build a wind and earth themed temple to add in to the mix.  Problem with wind, is there is no real block in the game that represents it well.  As a compromise I decided to rely on large amounts of glass, to make a see-through structure.  What I wound up building is a tall spiral staircase surrounding a column of glowstone, leading up to a round glass and glowstone structure on top.  Just to add visual distinction, I decided to stream some water down from it to give the feeling of a rain cloud.  I think the jury is out on whether or not it worked.

The Earth Temple

minecraft_earthtemple

To do the Earth Temple, I decided to build it across the boardwalk from the wind temple.  This mirrors the placement of the lava and water temples in another area.  I started by burrowing out a path that leads down into the earth.  From the beginning, I decided that I need to build this as a dug out structure since this is supposed to represent the terra-firma.  I went with sandstone, glowstone, and dirt for a color palette.  In the center of the structure is a lava shrine, tying the structure back to it’s aligned element of fire.  I like this end result here far more than I do with wind temple.  In the future I plan on burrowing additional chambers out from within the temple structure.

The Smugglers Hold

minecraft_smugglershold_entranceunderdocks

When I was building the boardwalk area I discovered a natural cave system.  The cave structure went from under the boardwalks, out to my wall traveling underneath it and coming out on the other side.  Rylacus and I had avoided this tunnel system and close one end off just to keep from having to deal with it.  In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go do something cool with it.  Above is an image of the entrance to what I am dubbing the Smugglers Hold.

minecraft_smugglershold

In theory since Belgarde is a heavily protected structure, there is more than likely going to be a thriving black market that smuggles things in from the outside.  As a result, this enterprise would need a way of doing this easily.  Above is an image of the storehouse, which is the main chamber of the structure.  The walls are lines with storage for the various items being smuggled in or out of the city.

minecraft_smugglershold_outwarddock

The storehouse leads its way to a second dock outside of the city walls.  My theory is that items would arrive here and make their way into the tunnel structure to be distributed and sold in the bazaar in the city.  Items being smuggled out of the city, would be stored in the chests on the dock until transit arrived to take them on to other lands.  One of my other friends, Shadoes built this pirate cove off the coast of my city, so this all fits in well thematically with that.

minecraft_smugglershold_spongetunnel

To carry this theme even further I decided to experiment with sponge and build a searoad to secretly connect the outer dock, and Shadoes pirate cove.  Working with sponge has been extremely interesting.  When you place a sponge block, it will remove a 5×5 block of water with the sponge at the center.  I leaned on my go to glowstone, to provide the lighting.  From above it gives this cool effect of a stip of light deep down in the water.

image

I completed the path, and connected up to the pirate cove, creating a path that now connects Shadoes area into the hidden tunnel structure.  Since the smugglers need a hideout, I built a shiplike structure on the bottom of the ocean, that connects up to the searoad.  In the basement is another storage room where the very precious contraband would be stored.

I’ve Shown You Mine, Let’s See Yours

Now I have shown you my insane little world crafted inside of Minecraft.  Funny thing is, on the Stalwart server there are a dozen other players that have equally intricate and story rich worlds they have built up for themselves.  We all exist in this general tapestry, all add up to a shared narrative of the server.  While I don’t play Minecraft nearly as much as I once did when it was fresh, it is still my go to game when I need a break from someone else’s world.  I get to escape into one I have built up for myself, one I have control over.

Minecraft is one of those games, that is only as good as you make it.  Just like building with Legos, you can make this world be anything you want it to be.  Personally, I chose to craft an epic realm that protects its citizens from the roving zombie hordes.  But I have seen players build space ships, sports arenas, and just interesting sculptures.  If you have not experienced Minecraft yet, I sincerely suggest you pay the ludicrously small price and join the legion that fears the hiss of the creeper.

Five Things I Wish Rift Had

Rift has managed to take all of the essential “must have” bits of various games I have played, and roll them into one easy to use interface.  I think this is many ways has lead to the “familiar but different” feeling so many players have had. However, as I play the game, often I have a moment where I think, “man what I wouldn’t give for this feature from this game”.  As a result I have built a list of the top five things I miss from other games.  I have listed these in order of least to most important.

5: Appearance Slots and Items

Appearance_slots How many times in an MMO have you had to replace a really amazing looking green item, with a horrifically bad looking blue or purple?  I know for me, this has happened over and over in every game I have played to this point.  In a game with appearance slots, this is no longer a big deal.  You upgrade the item, and drag your old item into the appearance tab for that gear slot and presto, you have the good stats without the horrible graphic.

The first game that I encountered the concept of appearance items in was Everquest II.  I had fired up a new account, for my third time playing and noticed the added tab.  I pretty much ignored it for several weeks until one of my guild members explained how it worked.  On the right side is an image of the default EQ2 appearance interface.

Their implementation included a mirror of every cosmetic slot available, displayed here as a second tab of equipment.  When you placed an item there, your character took the appearance of whatever that item was.  For example, as a Dirge I preferred the look of dual wielding Katana, to the daggers I actually used.  This gave me control over the way my character looked without being forced to gimp my potential performance.

They carried this concept further, in that through various holiday events, and from the station store you could purchase appearance only items.  They would have cosmetic benefits, but no actual stats associated with them, or at the very least be extremely low level.  Through this you could completely change the way your character looked, you could be a plate wearing mage, or a robed warrior.  Your appearance items became a way of setting the stage for your character in general.  In an already intricate game like Rift, adding this extra layer of depth I feel would give us so much for so little additional work.

4: Player and Guild Housing

I was relatively slow to jump on the housing bandwagon.  We had it in DAoC, and it was nice, but not really a game changer for me.  My first few times playing Everquest II I did not really get involved with it much.  I had friends that were big on player housing, and I saw them shell out what I felt were silly amounts of money to keep multiple room houses going.  They were cool places to go to and visit, but I never really could see myself becoming a housing freak.  When I joined the Discord guild on Crushbone, all of that changed.

Above is some footage from our Guild Hall on the Crushbone server.  The first time I set foot inside of it, I was simply breathless at the amount of time they had spent and the creativity they displayed.  This unlocked a whole world for me, and finally lead me to start thinking outside of the box.  The items you could craft in EQ2 were nice, but always left me somewhat wanting.  However what I saw inside our guild hall was a creative “misuse” of various items.  Rugs became floating platforms, shelves became stairs, and slowly piece by piece I began to dissect the through process behind it all.

After a week I had lavishly decorated my 2 room starter home, and moved up into a 6 room home in the neutral Sarnak town.  I poured over the various housing websites, figuring out which rugs could be used as second floors, which walls worked best for what, and which holiday events have you items that mimicked glass.  Before long I had a rich pirate hideout, with Kobald bartender that greeted patrons as they entered the room.  It became this grand meta-game that added so much to the overall enjoyment of the MMO experience.  Player houses became this rich tapestry for each player to craft into their own environment to match how they saw themselves.

Critics of player housing have always said that having it in the game causes your capitol cities to become vacant.  But for me, I can say that I never saw this aspect of it.  The towns I experienced were always bustling with activity, and the housing area became an impromptu block party as players spent almost as much time just hanging outside, than they did in the homes themselves. 

Sure we spent plenty of time using the craft machines in the guild hall, but it gave us a firm connection to the guild.  The guild ceased to be this intangible grouping, and became this firm construct where we all saw each other in a regular basis as we were passing through to other places.  Each of us had a hand in making our environment look better, and there was never a question of where to meet when you needed something from one of the other members.  It gave us a central focus, that I can only see Rift benefiting from.

3: Threat Meter

Omen I’ve learned to live without it, but this is one of the tools I miss most from World of Warcraft.  The threat meter gave tanks a readout of how close other players were to them in threat.  In MMO games, there are often time reactive abilities you can use to either increase your threat or reduce the threat of other players.  In the case of the first, you should be doing that already.  In the case of the second, threat reducing abilities usually are too little too late when a player has already managed to pull the mob off of you.

As a warrior tank in Rift, I have abilities that let me transfer threat that another player is generating to myself.  Problem is, especially while pugging, it is difficult to figure out which player you should proactively give these aggro dumps to.  Without threat meters, or at least in game dps meters, it is difficult to assess how much of a risk each player has in pulling aggro.  Currently we just have to wing it and hope for the best, but it would be nice to make an educated decision on the matter.

The other side of the coin is that threat meters allow good dps players to control their own aggro.  If you see yourself edging close to the tank, you can back off slightly or do your own abilities that will help to curb your own aggro.  How many raids have “Must Have and Use Omen”, in their application?  It became important enough, that eventually blizzard added in their own lackluster threat meter to attempt to bridge the problem.

I realize that as a tank you should know which players are likely to be the ones in need of your help.  However issue at hand is that with all of the rebalancing of abilities, each time a patch of hotfix happens the situation on the ground can completely change.  For example, mages never used to be an issue either in single target or AOE damage.  However after the recent round of buffs, they can rip a mob off the tank faster than anyone. 

I am all for trying to keep this game pure, and keep from dumbing down the content.  But I think a threat meter is a beneficial tool that helps both the tank and the dps make smart decisions about their own actions.  I would far rather Trion introduce an official system for handling this, that meets their own standard than have some third party parser come forward to fill in the gap.

2:  Better Nameplates

Tidyplates_CombatSingle This is hands down the thing I miss the most from World of Warcraft.  While the default nameplates, for the most part sucked, with the addition of the third party add-on TidyPlates, your name plates became an amazing resource for tanks.  At a glance, you could see the health bars of all of the mobs, and with the ThreatPlates add-on it plugged into your Threat Meter, displaying which mobs were currently aggro’d on you.  In addition, the nameplate showed the castbar of the mob, which made switching to a specific target to interrupt considerably easier.

One of the things tanks have had to do throughout the ages is tab through the targets in an attempt to maintain aggro.  The problem however is, tab target routines have been mercilessly lacking in sophistication.  I cannot count the number of times I have seen an extra pack pulled when a player accidentally tabs out to a group of mobs they are not currently fighting.  I myself have been guilty of this on more than one occasion.

However with a good set of nameplates, you can do the same function as tab targeting but do so more intelligently.  In wow, you could target the mobs based on their nameplate, and as a tank this let me keep swapping targets to whichever mob was dropping the lowest to keep up aggro.  In addition to this, it became far easier to pick individual targets out of a pack, and pick up adds when they got into your group of players.

In Foul Cascade, the final boss on Expert is a spider that periodically impregnates a player.  A few moments after this attack, a spider add spawns, which needs to get picked up by the tank.  Traditionally the groups I have been with stack the ranged on one of the pillars, and have the tank kite the spider in a circle around the pillar. 

If the spider adds spawn from a melee player, your normal cleaves and AOE attacks have no problem picking it up.  However when the spider comes from a ranged player, it is always slightly difficult to target this new and relatively small spider in the midst of your players.  Having a targetable nameplate would make it easy for me to target this new add, throw my shield, and continue kiting without losing a beat.  If not full fledged nameplates, I would love for Trion to at least make it so you can target a mob by clicking on its name, now that you an at least scale those to make them more readable.

1:  Guild Bank

guildbank The fact that I have to include this one on the list is pretty boggling to me.  At this point in the MMO game, a guild storage system should just be considered as one of those must have features.  The fact that Trion did not get this functionality in before release just seems like a massive oversight.  However this blemish, is on the record of an otherwise flawless launch, at least by MMO standards.  The reason why this is a major problem, boils down to something simple.

Your guild, should be a group of players that ultimately want to help each other.  As a result, guilds tend to want to be able to pool their resources to help one another out.  For example, as each of us leveled a smithing profession, we tried to make sure all our lesser metals were going to the aid of another guildmember still in need of them.  As I completed cobalt, I started sending any I got to the next person in line, and by the same token I was getting fed Titanium from those ahead of me.  Having a communal store of resources makes this process easier and more transparent.

Now that we have gotten into the realm of experts and beyond each of us has a stockpile of useful items that ultimately could go to the benefit of other players.  However with them taking up space in individual player banks, it became far more difficult to coordinate things like enhancements when a member finally gets the rare mats together for that much needed upgrade.  If we were able to keep a tab full of item enhancements we could literally have stacks of whatever anyone in the guild needed, ready for the crafters to augment gear with.

I think this seems as such an issue to me because of the fact that I am very community minded.  I think I was broke all the time in wow, because instead of hitting the auction house I dumped every rare resource I managed to get my hands on in the guild bank to share with others.  While it won’t make me rich in the long run, I like helping my guild family anytime I can.  Not having a way to share freely, feels like a step backwards in MMO evolution.

I have seen posts hinting that this functionality is indeed on the way, but it will easily take the “most needed” spot until the day it is finally patched in.  Rift is an extremely social game, it requires players to coordinate on a regular basis and actually develop a sense of community.  In this environment, it just feels foreign to have no way for a guild to pool their resources.  I look forward to this feature, and I hope whatever implementation they take, outshines all the many examples of guild storage to date.

Wrapping Up

ArkInventory-Bag Now that you have seen my top five and explanations for why I believe each is crucial, I am curious to hear what your most wanted items are.  The big one for me that came close to making the list, is some form of a “one bag” system.  I detest having to juggle individual bags, and ArkInventory (pictured to right) was one of the first mods I installed each time I rebuilt my wow interface.  However I felt the above list would give more benefit to the game as a whole.

Soon I plan on doing another top five list, but this time the top five add-ons I hope Rift never gets.  Those who know me, I am sure can guess at what some of those might be.  Basically I am hoping that overall the game stays pretty pure, because this return to MMO roots is a lot of what has appealed to me.  However in the post-wow environment, I realize that it will be hard to hold up to the “no add-ons” mantra forever.  I hope they really do continue to add features to the robust default UI instead of letting the add-on community run wild.

Bel Gets Real: Laptop Debacle

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Today’s blog post marks a first for the Aggronaut.  In the past I have made mention of various bits of my actual non-digital life, but never actually written about anything on a detailed level regarding what happens in the game of life.  Since this is a new kind of post, I made it a spiffy title.  I will attempt to use it from now on when I make a very reality laden post.

This Laptop’s Gone to Heaven

bgr_angelfx I realize that a lot of the readers out there have to make the choice between either playing on a laptop, or playing on a dedicated gaming pc, but for the last several years I have had the best of both worlds.  While upstairs in my office, I use my gaming desktop and when downstairs hanging out with my wife I play from a laptop.  It wasn’t until I lost this ability that I realized what a privilege it really was.

It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon several weeks back, I was hanging out downstairs in my comfy chair with my wife catching up on school work when the video froze on my laptop.  I had seen my machine get hot before, but this was positively steamy.  The video on screen looked like one of those checkerboard wipe effects that were so popular during the 80s.  I powered my machine off thinking initially it had just over heated.

Several hours later I tried booting up again only to find no video on the screen, just a combination of white lines on the screen that looked much like a UHF test pattern.  Long story short, the laptop was toast.  After further diagnosis determined that the video was pretty well fried.  Since video is on the motherboard, that meant a new motherboard and for a 3 year old laptop, that was pretty much a non-starter.

Hello Craigslist My Old Friend

Being the cheapskates we are, my wife immediately began looking on craigslist to see what was available.  In the past we have both had phenomenal luck getting good deals on Craigslist.  In fact, three years ago I purchased this laptop from a local individual at a bargain basement price, and it had performed admirably until now.  There was nothing really in our city, so my wife being the craigslist aficionado that she is extended the parameters to include some of the nearby areas.  After some hunting we found a few good deals roughly a 2 hour drive from the house. 

Flake 1: The Veteran

gi-joe-11 The first deal we found was an Asus G73JH reportedly months old, and $900.  Looking at the specs, it had everything I needed and wanted so we made contact.  Turns out the guy was enlisting in the Army and bouncing around to jump through the various hoops dealing with entrance.  I definitely understood the idea that he really had no control over his time, so I left it in his hands to tell me a time when it would be good to meet up.

We exchanged texts back and forth for about a week, each time he was uncertain of when he could meet.  He finally tried to find a friend that would be willing to meet up with me to sell the laptop.  Problem is, apparently his friends were assholes, since after several days he couldn’t find a single one willing to help him out.  Finally after several days, he said that he honestly didn’t know when he would be back in the area, and it would be better for me to find another option.

I appreciate his situation, but he still gets scored as the first flake of many that I have had to deal with.  I appreciate the fact that he was honest in the end instead of stringing me along for weeks.  However all the time spent dealing with him, cemented my desire to get an ASUS G73 series laptop.  So basically at this point I knew what I was looking for.

Flake 2:  The Meth Head

crack_ho_barbie_doll In the same basic area as the previous posting, there was a new one.  This time it was even better, the same exact laptop as the Veteran, but this time they only wanted $600 for it.  If I was willing to buy it for $900 I absolutely leapt on this one.  This was on a Wednesday, and after a few texts back and forth we agreed to meet up Saturday morning.  I considered this a done deal, and went on with my life, making plans to drive up on the weekend.

Thursday night I got a text about 10:30, saying that someone else had offered them $50 more and they were going with that.  Needless to say this pissed me off more than a little bit.  I was raised with an ethic that when you agreed on something, you had a verbal contract that you were honor bound to fulfill.  On top of that, the fact that they were willing to flake out on me, for only $50 more just added to the frustration. 

A series of texts back and forth, ended up with me giving up on this one.  Each time I would say I would match the offer, and they would text me back saying that the other person had raised theirs.  Basically as I came to realize the Meth head as I have dubbed them, needed as much money as they could get as fast as they could possibly get it.  So whereas I needed to plan my trip, and as such could only really do it on the weekend, the other person bidding against me could be there at 9:00 in the morning.

Basically I figured it was one of two things.  Either they needed to make rent, as it was the first of the month, or they were just an unethical schmuck.  Either way I was basically out of another laptop option.  So back to the drawing board, and back to Craigslist.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson after two of these incidents, but at the suggestion of my wife I dove back into the cesspool once again.

Flake 3:  The Runaway

FU2106lg Early during the process, we found this posting for what would be basically my ultimate laptop.  Solid state main drive, GeForce 460m 1.5 gig video, Bluray drive, etc.  The only thing that kept me away from the positing initially was the fact that it was $1150.  Like always we were trying to get most bang for the buck, but considering that $1150 is pretty much top dollar for Craigslist, I figured surely this one would be legit.

I sent the user a text message on Friday, and after a brief exchange we set up a time on Tuesday evening to meet up.  The timing was pushed out because the poster was on a business trip, and would be flying in on Monday.  I went on to explain that I had 2 other users flake out on me, and I wanted to make sure that since we had made a deal that it would be a done deal.  Poster said he understood, and far as he was concerned as long as things went as planned on Tuesday it was a done deal.

Here is where things start to go off the rails.  On Sunday evening I got a text back from the poster, saying that he was about to board a 9 hour flight, and was considering not working Monday.  Wanted to know if we could meet up.  Since I had arranged to drive my wife’s vehicle on Tuesday (better for longer trips), I responded back saying that if at all possible I needed to keep it to Tuesday.

This is the last communication we received from the poster.  Each day I texted, trying to verify whether or not the meeting was still good.  I tried to give the poster the benefit of the doubt, there are a lot of things that can happen to keep you from being able to respond.  Tuesday came around, and still no word.  We gave him an hour and a half past the time I normally would have left town to get word to us as to whether or not it was still on.  Since it was a 2 1/2 hour drive, we opted not to go since we were never able to get in touch with the guy.

I tried texting and calling, but to this day I have yet to receive any form of contact back.  Initially my wife and I were concerned that something tragic might have happened.  But since then, the same phone number has posted other items on Craigslist and removed them as well.  Basically this guy is a schmuck, and has been ignoring us.  Who knows why, but currently the laptop is still posted on craigslist, I am guessing the guy was trying to make another deal on the side.

The Compromise

bgr_g73jw One of the biggest frustrations I have encountered with the Asus g73sw laptop is there are thirty bazillion different configurations and each and every retailer seems to have their own flavor.  Over the course of these weeks of annoyance I have torn apart each and every major online retailer, trying to figure out what each one has over the others.

Best buy for example has one of these that is available in store.  However, it is gimped in many ways including the fact that while most of the g73 configurations can run 1920×1080 the Best Buy flavor can only run 1600×900.  The lower resolution could probably be dealt with, but turns out that to further add to the limitations their models only have 1 gig dedicated to the video card and use a 128bit bus instead of 192bit like the other models.

Then you have issues like Amazon, that for some reason only give you a 1 year warranty, whereas most Asus laptops have a 2 year warranty.  Since navigating the features of the various models, and figuring out where the shortcoming of each has been a massive undertaking a compromise was proposed by my wife.  Locally there was a Gateway p-7811 FX laptop posted for a couple hundred, that was the upgraded big brother of my original p-6831 FX laptop.  While this is not what I wanted for the long term, it did solve the problem of me not having a laptop anymore.

Luckily this fourth person was not a flake, and was an MMO gamer.  Very nice, in fact they attempted to convince me to going back to WoW, and playing on their server.  Funny how ALL wow gamers are instant friends.  Anyways the basic idea is to use the laptop until I get things sorted out in my head as to which model I am planning to order.  Then rebuild the laptop with a fresh OS and pass it off as a hand-me-down to my wife. 

Her laptop is more than a bit dated at this point, and what was a relatively beefy game machine for its time will do all the office applications and web surfing that she will ever need.  I got things up and running yesterday, and after about 2 hours worth of tweaking got the settings at a happy medium of performance and pretty.  Rift looks far better than it did on my previous FX, and I am able once again to enjoy hanging out downstairs and gaming at the same time.

Back to Digital World

2011-04-11_064816 This was my first real, reality based post so hopefully no one is running to remove me from their RSS feeds at this point.  I promise we will be returning to Rift news, and gaming features this week.  However since this epic hunt for a laptop has consumed most of my personal processing cycles over the last few weeks I felt it warranted a post.

In Rift news, today the iPhone version of the Rift Mobile authenticator has been released.  I have the software already on my iPhone and will go through the process of binding it to my account this evening.  Having an authenticator again is like a warm blanket of security.  At this point, Rift honestly is one of the most hack proof games out there, and we are already seeing the effects of this. 

The frequency of classical gold farmers has increased massively, and while I still don’t like them, they almost feel quaint and old fashioned compared to the horrific gold hackers we have gotten used to dealing with.  Not saying I am willing to welcome them.  But I would far rather have to deal with farmers in zones, than hackers trying to invade my account through viruses.  The only way we can ever be rid of either is to remove the demand for the virtual currency in the first place.

Bonus Stage: Shortcut

During the course of the week I have had a number of little bits and baubles that I wanted to share, but didn’t really feel like fit with the thrust of a certain post.  In Rift, if you complete the objectives of a stage in a timely manner you get bonus stages.  I reserve the right to post a long rambling mess at any time the mood fits me, but I think for now I will try and relegate them to my “bonus stage” posts.

Foul Cascade Shortcut

I have been trying to find a good way to work this in for a week now but having zero luck.  Once you hit 50, one of the things you will inevitably do is run experts.  One of the easier and more rewarding of these tier 1 experts is Foul Cascade.  As a Defiant player, getting to this instance is a thorn in our side as it involves running north through guardian infested territory from the Scarwood Lift porticulum.

While making the run for what felt like the hundredth time I decided there had to be an easier way.  In other games, players would get banned for “wall hacking” their way across zone lines.  But in Rift, Trion actually rewards this behavior since when you get up to the top of mountains, there are always cool things to see.  At the very least there is usually a wealth of artifacts along the way.

Above is my recording, using the in game /record system, of the route I take between Chancel of Labors in Iron Pine Peaks and the Foul Cascade instance.  Of note, I got confused while running across the lake as to where the road met up, and got dismounted.  Also of note, when you get to the Gloamwood / Scarlet Gorge zoneline, I drop down off my fast mount to my slow mount for a significant reason. 

If you are moving at fast mount speeds it is way too easy to drop down too far at once, and end up killing yourself.  Luckily, if you happen to do this, there is a soul forge at the bottom of the hill, at the same level as Foul Cascade so the run back is extremely short.  Honestly you would do just as well to simply dismount and hop down by foot, than to even mess with a mount.

I know there are other paths, but this one is pretty quick and relatively simple.  Would be interested to know any other shortcuts to either Foul Cascade or other instances that my readers have.  I know Caspian, one of my guildmates has a path that he runs to Foul Cascade somehow from Moonshae Highlands, but I do not know the specifics of it.  However according to him, this path involves no mobs in between, so that would cut down on the getting dismounted factor.

Nerd 202

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One of my blogger and twitter friends, Kadomi branched out on a new venture this week.  She is making the scary transition from blogging about WoW, to blogging about geek life in general.  Just like her wow blog, Tank Like A Girl, the posts are well written and always interesting.  Initially I thought this meant she would be leaving the other blog behind, but since then she has updated posts on the wow site as well.  If you do not have Tank Like a Girl and Live Like a Nerd in your RSS feed, you should add them.  Both are extremely good reads, and I hope that she continues to have great success as a blogger.

Week Without WYSBPR

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I realize it has been a long time now since I have posted an episode in the “Why You Should Be Playing Rift” series.  I have a few things still in mind, but in general at this point, players are either hooked on the game or well stratified in their opinion that WoW is the only game on the planet.  It has come to the time where I trim back some of my evangelism and start just reporting MMO news, and my own brand of commentary.

I think before all is said and done I would like to have a nice even 10 episodes in the series, so expect to see more things.  However the post I have been working on in the background, is somewhat the reverse of “Why You Should Be Playing Rift”.  The idea is to create a post outlining all the questions players can ask themselves, to determine if Rift is wrong for them.

Since release we have had a handful of players return to wow, because the game just didn’t scratch whatever itch they needed scratched.  For some the game play in Rift was too difficult, for others they missed the 3D chat room that WoW had become for them, and as a result missed too many of their friends still playing WoW.  Rift is by no means the “one ring to rule them all”, it expects a lot more of its player base than wow has since the burning crusade era.  As a result, this game just is not the right game for certain personalities and player styles.

There should be some cool things in the weeks ahead.  I have been shocked at how quickly this blog has revived and regained readership.  All along I thought I was just burnt out with blogging, when I went on hiatus from the Aggronaut.  Turns out, the game I was playing just did not make me excited enough to write anymore.  Now that I have pushed that game aside, I feel like I have a world of ideas swimming in my head.  Hopefully I continue to have success, but I just wanted to thank the readers.  I am slowly beginning to believe that I actually do have an audience.