Raid PTSD

There is an interesting effect going on with my guild. A few of our members have been super serious about gearing up, and done a few Eternity Vault runs. So of course the next logical step was to start up a thread about raiding on the forums, trying to organize a run or two.

The R Word

All of these things are expected in a normal guild.  What was not expected however was the massive knee jerk reaction many of us felt at the mere mention of the “R word” again.  It’s like even talking about it again, made us want to run off screaming into the night.

Problem is many of us are basically in a state of what we have come to call "Raid PTSD". Essentially what I am seeing including myself, are a group of 30 somethings that have been in serious raid groups during our time in WoW. Once we left the game however, we’ve been almost shell shocked about the notion of committing to ANY scheduled playtime.

I was the first to talk about it on the forums, but one by one some of the others chimed in saying essentially the same thing. Was the raid life so traumatic that it left all of us somehow scarred by it? I know personally I find myself cagey about even agreeing to run a specific dungeon on a specific night, let alone carving out a block of my week to devote to raiding.

Real Life Matters

It feels like personally, for seven years I lived my life around the schedule dictated by my raiding. As a result I had to juggle real life to fit into this raiding box, and many times juggle my spouse as well. I am just edgy about the notion of climbing back inside that box again. I had some truly amazing experiences while raiding, but also had some pretty horrible lows as well.

This discussion started over on Google+ this morning, and in it Pete Smith of Dragonchasers cut straight to the truth of it.  It sounds like you’re growing up. I could almost paraphrase your post as "I’ve decided my wife and my marriage are more important than a video game.".  While I had already basically summed this up for myself shortly after leaving WoW, it was pretty powerful to see it written out like that.  Even more overwhelming however, has been the stories of my various friends going through the same things.

I guess what I am finding interesting is, once we all left WoW (or whatever game), each of us has gone through this same experience. One that I am not really seeing mirrored in the rest of the gaming community, or at least not widely talked about. What caused each of us to develop this "Raid PTSD" and others not. Is it because we stopped raiding for a period of time? Is it because we allowed ourselves to get back into the normal rhythm of life?

I am honestly curious if anyone else has gone through this?

Planet and Bonus Series Level Ranges

It’s been quite a while since I last posted.  Mostly over the convening months I just have lacked the drive to really write about anything I was playing.  I’ve spent time in Everquest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, various sundry single player games and most importantly Star Wars online.  Pretty much from the moment I played Beta Weekend the rest of the time has been helping my friends organize our guild:  Order of the White Mask.

Best Grouping Experience Ever

So over the last few weeks since launch I have been playing Belghast my Jedi Guardian over on the Shien PVE-RP server.  Prior to launch a good friend and I made a pact to level as a duo, so we have been leveling Tank/Healer as he is playing a Jedi Sage.  So far it has been one of the most enjoyable leveling experiences so far.  The group bonus however has lead us to end up grossly over level at any given point in the curve.

This could be due to the grouping bonus, or the simple fact that we are religious about doing every quest, getting every bonus objective, and making sure to weave in the various planetary bonus series.  After a conversation last night that left us confused as to the order we are supposed to be weaving the bonuses in, I decided to do some research this morning.  In no place could I find a list of all the planetary levels, with the various bonus series weaved in between in the proper level range order.

As a result I took the time to compile this list, figuring if I was having trouble finding it, a good number of other people might be too.  Some of the level ranges might be slightly off, but this should be a good base order compiled from the level ranges shown in game, and various quest level ranges.

Republic Planet and Bonus Series Order

 

Tython / Ord Mantell 1-10
Coruscant 10-16
Taris 16-20
Taris Bonus Series 20-22
Nar Shadda 20-24
Tattooine 24-28
Tattooine Bonus 28-30
Alderaan 28-32
Nar Shadda Bonus Series 31-34
Balmorra 32-36
Balmorra Bonus Series 1 35-37
Balmorra Bonus Series 2 36-38
Quesh 36-37
Hoth 37-41
Alderaan Bonus Series 40-44
Belsavis 41-44
Voss 44-47
Voss Bonus Series 1 47-49
Voss Bonus Series 2 47-49
Voss Bonus Series 3 47-49
Hoth Bonus Series 47-49
Corellia 47-50
Belsavis Bonus 50
Ilum 50

 

Empire Planet and Bonus Series Order

 

Korriban / Hutta 1-10
Dromund Kaas 10-16
Balmorra 16-20
Balmorra Bonus Series 20-22
Nar Shadda 20-24
Tattooine 24-28
Tattooine Bonus 28-30
Alderaan 28-32
Nar Shadda Bonus Series 31-34
Taris 32-36
Taris Bonus Series 35-37
Quesh 36-37
Hoth 37-41
Alderaan Bonus Series 40-44
Belsavis 41-44
Voss 44-47
Voss Bonus Series 1 47-49
Voss Bonus Series 2 47-49
Voss Bonus Series 3 47-49
Hoth Bonus Series 47-49
Corellia 47-50
Belsavis Bonus 50
Ilum 50

SW:TOR Beta Weekend Review

Now that the NDA is officially lifted I am going to give the previous beta weekend a proper review. I will try not to give too many spoilers in the process, but there may be one or two that slips in. The history of me and Star Wars the Old Republic has been at times a love/hate relationship. When it was announced I formed a guild for the folks that were going to be playing it from my wow guild. However over time the hype surrounding the game just got to me.

For multiple reasons, mostly that I didn’t want to split folks up, and that I felt we needed someone truly excited about the game leading up the effort, I urged people to join the guild lead by another guild member. I did so as well, knowing that ultimately I would play the game if for no reason other than the fact that we had waited so long for it. At this point I was really skeptical about all the buzz surrounding it, and in general pretty damned dark on the MMO industry. As a result I have said some negative things about the game at several points, generally due to the grass roots hype machine. But all that said, I have been one to freely admit my mistakes… and I said I would gladly eat my words if the game lived up to the hype. So I went into this beta weekend expecting disappointment.

This is me formally eating everything bad I said about the game.

I have to say, I had more fun this weekend than I have had playing a game since the original days of WoW. The power of the game is in Biowares storytelling. From the moment you start you are wrapped into a unique storyline for your quest. Everything you do factors into that storyline. So while you are technically doing a Fed Ex or Kill 10 rats quest, you actually care about the outcome of your quest because it factors into a larger arc. Each step along the way makes sense from the perspective of who your character is and what your character is doing.

I think this primarily is what has been missing for me from games. Nothing you do in most MMOs has a real lasting effect on the storyline. While you may really matter to an NPC that asks you to go save his family, he suddenly gets amnesia as soon as you turn that ! into a ?. While you may spend countless hours of your life grinding up that faction to the max, it really has little effect on the world other than essentially giving you acces to the company store. Your decisions in TOR matter, and will determine what unlocks to your character and the paths you take.

Compelling Classes

Over the course of the weekend I purposefully set out to play several different flavors of character to level 10, which is the point you transition from the "newbie zone" experience to the next area. I played a Jedi Knight, Sith Inquisitor, Smuggler, and Bounty Hunter all the way, and then also spent a bit of time on a Republic Trooper and a Sith Warrior. Getting through the initial story arc on each area took me roughly 6 hours or so, so that is a good deal of playtime for getting to level 10. In other games i could get to 25-30 or so within the same block of time.

What impressed me by far the most was the fact that playing two classes on the same planet was a completely different experience. For example, while a Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor both start on Korriban, and you are essentially playing on the same planet, killing the same mobs, in the same dungeons…. the game play experience could not be more different. Since the storyline is wholy unique for each, by the time you get to each area it feels fresh and new even though you may have tread the same territory as another class.

On top of this another very impressive thing to me was how two mirror classes felt completely different. The Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior for example and perfect mirrors. You attain the same abilities at the same levels, so the are functional copies of each other. However each class has a unique style and feel. Everything in the Jedi Knight screams calm focus and skill, and your attacks are graceful lightsaber flourishes. Whereas with the Sith Warrior everything about the class screams hatred and raw brutal fury as your attacks are powerful slashes and hate filled strikes. While the two classes are perfect equals of each other, the animation and style leads to completely different gameplay.

The “Dungeon” Experience

For my Jedi Knight I leveled it in tandem with a friends Jedi Consular. I am the first to say that in most games I hate questing as a group with a passion. I find it a thoroughly frustrating experience, however playing together in this game was fun in that we each got equal say in what choices we made in the dialog trees. In a longer conversation it would flip back and forth between the multiple players involved making statements, so it gave a natural conversation feel to it. The biggest bonus was that we could participate in each others quests, seeing the storyline involved.

When we hit 10 and picked our advanced classes we set out to do the first Flashpoint. Now up to this point I had just figured Flashpoint was simply a rebranding of the dungeon concept. That really couldn’t be further from the truth. If you remember in WoW, the first time you did the original Deadmines, how dynamic moving through the heavily scripted zone felt as your interactions felt like they changed the flow of the dungeon story. This is the closest facsimile I can think of to how a Flashpoint feels.

Essentially you and your group participate in a segment of gameplay that feels like you are walking through a movie. While heavily scripted, everything you do feels very dynamic as you move through it. Each step in the dungeon, each boss you fight makes sense in the storyline. Every action you take fits into the larger story arc. Not really sure how I can go into more detail without giving blatant spoilers.

A Story that Matters

The biggest thing is that the story matters. When you get betrayed you feel it, you actually care about the characters and your interactions with them. When someone dies, it sucks, because over the course of a story arc, you have come to be attached to them. Lord of the Rings Online is a similar game where story matters, but when you mix it with Biowares superb voice acting and story telling it is a truly amazing experience.

All this said, I have gone from being deeply skeptical about the game, to being completely pumped about it and anxiously awaiting the launch. I am looking forward to having fun with you all again, and looking forward to recapturing some of that magic that WoW sucked out of me. All in all for me, it was worth every bit of hype that I had heard leading into beta weekend.

Not Your Target Audience

This weekend I spend a good deal of time in the car while driving up to see my mother-in-law.  This always serves as the launch pad for numerous conversations, one of which was a long winded rant stemmed from disappointment over Rage, but that in itself is better left for another blog post.  My wife lovingly listened in spite of not fully understanding a damned thing I was saying, however at the end she left me with a cogent nugget of advice.  “Sounds like you just might not be the target audience for these games anymore.”

Leave it to my wife, the math teacher, the being of logic… to cut through my rant and say something that makes sense.  Sure enough that little seed sat there the rest of the weekend sprouting. The more I thought on it the more I realized it had become true.  I think much of my growing dissatisfaction with the direction of games is due to this fact, that either through the changes in myself or changes in the market I am no longer the target for what is being built.

Aiming Down the Middle

The problem is the more I thought on it, the less and less certain I was there really was a target audience.  In this current era of the mega game, the current focus seems to be to cram as many features as possible into a game for as many different player bases as possible.  So in trying to create a game that appeals to raiders, casuals, explorers, achievers, role-players, pvpers, griefers, gold-farmers, campers, snipers, and crafters they try and walk a line where none of the groups get upset with the others.  But by the same token, none of them are ever actually happy.

Aiming down the middle gives you the widest swath of market share, but it also creates a thoroughly mediocre and shallow game play experience.  Dark Age of Camelot for example was a game of PVP brilliance at times, but offered some thoroughly mediocre and boring PVE game play.  Everquest II is one of the most detailed and intricate questing and PVE gaming experiences, by has never created any form of PVP worth mentioning. World of Warcraft…  well it has been all over the map, systematically ruining one aspect of the game to improve others at various points during its 7 year run.  Currently you have a mediocre but enjoyable leveling experience, and the only real stand out being the raid experience, but it suffers from the been there done that treadmill.

Trading Geek for Greed

So much focus has been placed over the last few years on widening the market to more than just traditional PC mmo gamers.  As a result there has been a general lowering of the “cost of entry” to the MMO game, reducing the learning curve.  This has had many effects on the community, and average skill level, but namely it has removed a good deal of the “geek” from the game.  Making everything seem a bit more simple, a bit more cookie cutter and in many ways less unique.

Learning how to play an MMO game took an act of effort on the player, it took a commitment to learn.  That was an unwritten commitment to the community, that they would learn how to become a member of it.  It could be overwhelming, and the number of new concepts and jargon mind boggling but as you began to “grok” them it quickly became intoxicating and you craved more knowledge.  Not only did you sell a gamer on your world, but you also sold them on MMOs for life.

Granted I don’t want to return to the era of Everquest, but I think we have gone too far.  I fear that we are replacing what were living breathing worlds, with a disposable experience that is easy to learn but equally easy to forget.  When you ask nothing of the user, it takes nothing for them to leave.  But when you give them something to work for, a path to follow, something they have to figure out on their own that isn’t always handed to them…  I have to think more often than not they will stay.

The Money Equation

One of the biggest disservices to the gamers has been the fact that gaming has shown up on the radar of big business.  It has taken a business that previously was “for gamers, by gamers” and laced it with easy venture capital money with many strings attached, and as a result success has become a zero sum game.  Games like World of Warcraft with it’s once vaunted 12 Million player subscriber base and Call of Duty: Black Ops and its 5 day $650 million dollar sales record have set wholly unrealistic goals for the rest of the industry to live up to.

The game industry would be so much healthier as a whole if there were 13 $50 million dollar games, than one $650 million record breaking game.  The need to chase the big dollars has made the game industry very risk adverse.  Stick to a pattern that works, market it towards the majority, and win.  But the problem is this same business instinct is causing some truly bizarre results.

I’ve been playing Everquest II for the last few months, and by all accounts I would call it a success.  It isn’t WoW, but it is still there and has had a pretty wide following for the last 7 years, that to me is a win in any book.  It has an extremely loyal fan base, almost zealously loyal at times, and are very clearly a niche.  Explain to me then, why on gods green earth they have decided to focus EQNext (EQIII) at the PVP Market?  Everquest 2 is not a pvp game, has never had a viable PVP vehicle, and in general nobody much cares about PVP other than a shortcut to easy loot. 

Why on earth would you alienate your already loyal fan base by targeting the new game at a market they do not care about?  The answer is simple and dumb.  They don’t have the PVP market, and on some moronic level they feel they can do what no one has done yet. They feel they can manage to create a game that is equally compelling to the modern PVP gamer and to the PVE gamer.  Even though WoW is hemorrhaging users still, it still has more users than any other MMO, and they still feel they have to compete with it.

Myth of the One True Game

One of the things that needs to die for us to get past this rut in gaming is the myth of the wow killer.  Right now World of Warcraft is definitely on the downward slope of relevancy, much as I have seen all the other once great games go through.  But those great old games never actually die, they just get stuffed off somewhere on life support.  What we need right now is games like World of Warcraft, Rift, The Old Republic, The Secret World, and Guild Wars 2 to each gain a comfortable and sustainable share of the MMO gaming market.  Sure ultimately someone will be on top, but for the health of the gaming market there needs to be less of a difference than there has been to date.

I still don’t think in this generation we are going to see much innovation in the realm of the AAA MMO title.  They are still going to firmly be rooted in the past, with Secret World and Guild Wars 2 being the notable “Great Hopes” at breaking the mold.  However I think that if we can reach a state of market share equilibrium we will finally start to see some indie development in the MMO sector.  I think the first few might be simplistic Minecraft style derivatives, but they will come eventually.  Especially with the plans Notch has for the Adventure update, I feel Minecraft itself will actually become more “Indie MMO” over time.  The MMO genre got its roots in the MUD, and I think it might just return that way.

I think Indie games and the ease of digital publication are ultimately going to be what pulls us out of the stagnation.  Sure not every game will end up a success and sell millions, but many will serve as examples and showcase the talents of the next generation of developers and designers.  Others will server to prove that yes, that plan that has been sitting on the shelf for years really could work on a larger scale and turn into the next blockbuster.  While I love playing those AAA titles (like Dragon Age II currently), I am also out there supporting those great Indie devs like Dusty Monk (I need to devote some blog space to Atomic City Adventures: The Case of the Black Dragon, it’s really fun ).  I really do think it is the Indie games that will change the dynamic.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I has been roughly three months since my last post.  With Ariad starting up his posts I figure it is high time that I get over my writers block and begin anew as well.  Thing is for me, it hasn’t truly been writers block.  There is a post I feel like I need to make, but I have been looking for every opportunity not to.  I guess, in part since I have become friendly with several of the Trion staffers, the post I feel like I need to make almost feels like a betrayal.

Maybe It Is A Bit You

Bel and Mouse Vogue It feels weird to go from completely bonkers gung ho about a game, to just having no desire to play it.  But that pretty much describes my transition from playing and actively writing about Rift, to just not logging in and eventually cancelling my account.  The problem is, for the longest time I didn’t quite understand why I no longer wanted to play.  It felt like there was something missing, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

In my guild we had this cycle happening, that I none of us really understood.  We started the game with between thirty and forty players, so the future indeed seemed bright.  But as each new player managed to top the hill and hit 50, they all seemed to slowly begin tapering off their playtime.  So much so that eventually they just started disappearing all together.  As the months went on, it became harder and harder to maintain an active grouping force due to folks just dropping off into the ether.

At that point I was still doing pretty good, I had t1 geared my first 50 and was well on my way to my second 50.  It was on my way to the third, that finally it started to hit me.  Having done these zones 5 or more times, considering the time spent in beta… I just could not force myself to push through it a third time.  All the while, I am not really understanding what is going on, only that my desire to play at all is waning.  There were many a night that I logged in, and ran around Meridian for an hour or so before finally logging out for the evening, not actually doing anything.

The Missing Fluff

I know they can do housing...  need this for players tho The game is an amazingly fun rollercoaster ride the first time or two, but as I sat at level 50 with nothing that I wanted to do, something Ariad said hit me like a ton of bricks.  He was one of the first to taper off and eventually leave the game, and I will do my best to paraphrase what we talked about.  Essentially he said that one of his biggest problems with the world is that everything exists for a reason.  At first this comment didn’t make much sense, but as I sat at 50 bored… it finally did.

In most games, there are elements of the game that exist there, just to be there.  There are empty buildings in towns, there are art elements you can hover over that say interesting things, books in dungeons, etc that exist just to add flavor to the world.  In Rift, as the player you get a feel that nothing was added to the world that is not directly tied to some quest.  Essentially the game is this great lean core of mechanics, but it is missing the fluffy padding that adds atmosphere and gives players a reason to fall in love with something other than the game play.

The storyline of the game is very well written, and I’ve become friends with some of the lore writers in this process.  They do a phenomenal job providing the connective tissue that holds the world together.  The problem is, the world just doesn’t feel alive.  Sure there is dynamic content in the form of Rifts, but none of the cities FEEL like cities.  Neither Meridian or Sanctum feel like they could actually support life.  They both feel like Military outposts more than actual living, breathing cities.  The scale of the world I guess, just feels off in some way.

Maybe It Really Is Me

... dancing on the ceiling.... well at least a statue One of the other things at work here is that I personally have changed as a player, from the beginnings of Rift beta.  When I started playing Rift, I was the leader of a 600 character guild and an active raider.  Rift literally was everything I ever said I wanted in a game.  Had it been released two years ago, before I had become horribly bitter and jaded towards raiding, then I think I would be gobbling it up left and right.

The problem is this, that me leaving WoW was a much bigger change in my life than I ever expected.  Imagine being the core support for a large guild, and them needing something from you each and every night you chose to play, which in my case was literally every night.  Imagine holding up a bridge, being friend, councilor, advisor, and mentor for 6 1/2 long years of constant interaction.  Imagine logging in each and every night to 10-20 tells, each of them wanting something different.  Then all the sudden, imagine it all going away and leaving nothing but blissful peace.

As much as I gradually morphed from a casual player, to a serious raider, I have changed back almost completely.  In Rift, much of the pay off at the end of the day is the massive amount of raid content.  Problem is, if you don’t care about raiding, all of this carefully tiered content quickly looks like yet another grind you have to suffer through.  This was multiplied by the fact that two separate times that I can remember, the cost of all of the tiered gear was increased by a large percentage. 

So flat out, for someone who was slow gearing, it is much harder to get ready for raiding than it was those first few months.  As we began dipping our toes in raiding, it became evident quickly that simply put we did not have the gear levels necessary.  Biggest issue was that with everyone tapering off their playtime and only being around for raids, there was no time to run the instances needed to improve the overall gear level.

Same As It Ever Was

Bel on his pretty pony.... standing bored in Meridian I was in the camp of players who warned against the inclusion of a dungeon tool.  If you have read any of my blog posts in the past, I tie the death of WoW back to the creation of the dungeon finder.  It was the single act that destroyed server communities.  I went into Trion’s decision to create a dungeon finder with an open mind, thinking that the Rift community thus far had been better than WoW and surely "we" could use it responsibly.  The problem is, we were all wrong.

In those first weeks after release, as folks topped out the level 50 channel became an active hot bed of conversation and grouping.  Within a few minutes you were able to assemble a t1 or t2 expert with players actively looking.  I am sure the experience for folks unwilling to go through the legwork of actually doing the forming is different, but quickly our guild built a steady group of regulars from other similar guilds.  Folks knew each other and had a long list of folks to substitute in if someone needed to go and the community as a whole flourished.

When the dungeon tool went in, for the first few weeks everything was pretty good.  At this point I was gearing up my rogue, and had both a bard and marksman spec actively playing whichever role the group needed of me.  In tier 1s, everything was great, and folks were willing to work together.  However when I made the transition to Tier 2 instances, the world around me changed.  I started seeing some of my old enemies from WoW, "the elitist" and "the rage quit" on a nightly basis.  I went from being able to run instances in an hour and a half to spending 4 hours in a tier 2 and never actually finishing it.

From what I have heard from guild members still active in the game, with the inclusion of cross server queues to the dungeon finder it has gotten worse.  All of the things that made running dungeons in WoW a frustrating experience are apparently now in Rift.  The power pulling egotistical tanks, the dps that cannot keep up and the dps that calls everyone that doesn’t meet their standards a failure.  I was on mumble the night the tool went in and heard tales of the very first group a guild member tried complaining at him to "pull big" just like they always did in Warcraft.  My ultimate fear is, that once again the dungeon tool has wrecked what was an amazing community.

I Still Have Faith

Granite Falls - Best Town In Game I am sure this probably seems like a flash back to the way I talked about WoW when I left, but honestly I feel like I am parting on good terms with the game.  The prime difference is, by the time I left WoW I had lost any measure of faith that Blizzard had a clue what they were doing, a trend that has continue on since then.  With Trion however, I have all the faith in the world as the company, part of the reason why I delayed this post is I did not want to contribute to any bad press about the game for the longest time.  Problem is, I have been deadlocked and unable to write much of anything until I got this one off my chest.

Trion has done so much right with Rift, and have an amazing group of people behind it.  I’ve come to know a good number of them, and each and every one really cares about the end product and is actively fighting to make it better for all of the players.  Erick "Zann" Adams for example is one of the absolute hardest working Community Managers I have ever seen.   LM Lockhart and Nicholas McDowell have done an amazing job reaching out to the community, and keeping the lore pot stirred to whip up interest.  Never before have I seen the level of interaction with the bloggers and social media that I have from Trion.

All of this said, I have all the faith in the world that they will figure out what exactly is missing from the game eventually, and add that final spark.  It makes it all the more bittersweet for me when I realize that I just don’t want to play it anymore.  I gave the game six months, and my subscription will be running out soon.  I wish them all the luck in the world on the game.  It was an amazing ride to 50, but there just wasn’t enough there to hold me after I reached the top of the hill.  With all the plans for player housing on the radar, and the new zones, I feel like it might push them over this hump and bring the much needed fluff to the game.

Moving On

CrushboneGroup I figure at some point in the future, I will fire the game back up and give it a spin.  It still has more right going for it than it has wrong, and those games I tend to remember fondly are the ones I end up going back to time and again.  This is evidenced by the fact that I am back playing Everquest II, a game I beta tested, and have played 4 different times since release.  Since I realized it was the fluff that I was craving, I went to the fluffiest game on the market as a counter reaction.

I am honestly having a blast.  I tested the game from early in beta, and when it came time for release the majority of my friends were going to WoW, so that is where I went as well.  However being an Everquest player for three years, made me a huge fan of the world of Norrath.  It has always felt more alive and vibrant that just about any other game setting.  In the past however when I played it, it was a side game while I was also playing WoW.  I would enjoy myself, but sooner or later the rigor of leading a guild would catch up to me.  Time and time again I would begin feeling like I was shirking my duties to my friends and guild mates.

This is the first time for me to play the game with nothing else siphoning away my time.  As a result I am probably having more fun with it than I have in the past.  My main is now level 71 and I am really enjoying Mistmoore Catacombs at the moment.  Expect to see a good number more posts about that game going forward.  I will probably also be reskinning the site to be something a bit more game neutral.  I am still playing a good bit of Minecraft, so I toyed around with the idea of trying to create the "Tales of the Aggronaut" logo in Minecraft for flair. 

Now that I have all this off my chest, I hope I can go back to regular writing.

Rift 1.3 PTS Merged Notes

These are a bit late being posted, came out initially on 6/10/2011 but I wanted to get them up nonetheless.  These are 1.3 PTS notes merged from all of the individual class forum posts. Some pretty major changes, and as a result gnashing of teeth all around the forums.  Time will tell how the changes actually shake out, but this seems to be the starting place.

 

COMBAT

* Stealth: Fixed a bug with toggling melee auto-attack would cause stealth to break.
* Fixed a bug causing the Class Mechanic UI to display effects from other players instead of just your own (ex: Stormcaller, Necromancer).
* Fixed some effects on pets to be lost when teleporting.
* Fixed an issue causing abilities to fail to work properly against players that had just been stunned while jumping.
* Mana: Changed the way mana-regeneration is calculated to now include diminishing returns. This should have little impact on leveling characters and is only noticeable once higher levels of gear are attained.

PVP/WARFRONTS

* Channeled abilities used in PvP against player targets will now break if the target moves out of the channeling caster’s range, or line-of-sight.
* Valor updates!
* All level 30+ PvP rewards now have Valor.
* Base Valor amounts have been adjusted to account for a significantly larger amount of damage reduction.
– Level 1-40 characters have 10% reduction.
– Level 40-50 characters scale through 11-20% damage reduction.
* Valor now reduces the critical hit damage bonus received from player hits, capping at 50%.
– Reduction scales based on character level.
– Level 50 characters with no additional Valor receive a 33.7% reduction in critical hit bonus damage.
– A full set of rank 2-3 PvP gear (356 Valor) provides a 50% critical hit bonus damage reduction.
* With the increase to base Valor, the amount provided by ranked PvP gear has been adjusted.
– Rank 1/2 sets provide 323 total Valor, for 26.9% damage reduction and 45.4% critical bonus damage reduction.
– Rank 3/4 sets provide 394 total Valor, for 32.8% damage reduction and 50% critical bonus damage reduction.
– Rank 5/6 sets provide 480 total Valor, for 40% damage reduction and 50% critical bonus damage reduction.
* Runes that grant Valor bonuses have their Valor stat values adjusted but still provide the same percentage of damage reduction.

CLERIC

INQUISITOR
* Armor of Treachery: Corrected the out-of-date tooltip to match the spell’s current functionality.
* Armor of Awakening: The Critical Hit chance increase now displays properly in the Character stat window.
* Divine Pardon: Now reduces threat by the proper amount.
* Lethargy: No longer applies to Harsh Discipline and Aggressive Renewal if you haven’t spent points in it.

JUSTICAR
* Due to the below changes, characters with Soul Points spent in Justicar will receive a free soul respec.
* Devout Deflection: Now increases Parry by 30-90% of your Spell Power, and Dodge by 20-60% of your Spell Power.
* Doctrine of Valiance: Removed.
* Humility: Now available as a tier 4 branch ability.
* Interdict: Now available as a tier 5 branch ability.
* Resplendent Embrace: Now available as a 32 point root ability.
* Rebuke: Now available as a 44 point root ability. Causes up to 5 enemies within 7 meters of the targeted enemy to run to and attack the Justicar for 3 seconds. Does not affect players or player pets.
* Forced to Kneel: Removed.
* Commitment: Now available as a tier 6 branch ability.
* Thorvin’s Law: New tier 6 branch ability. Causes Precept of Refuge to reduce all magic damage taken by 5-10%. Requires Precept of Refuge and Safe Haven.
* Righteous Mandate: Will no longer be removed when the affected player changes zones.

PURIFIER
* Surging Flames: Will no longer be removed when the affected player changes zones.
* Disciple of Flame: Now adds a Spell Power bonus to your Caregiver’s Blessing of 5%, plus an additional 3% per point spent in Purifier above 36. Also adds a Spell Power bonus to all other Purifier absorption shields of 10% plus an additional 7.5% per point spent in Purifier above 36.

SENTINEL
* Marked by the Light: Will no longer be removed when the affected player changes zones.

WARDEN
* Tidal Surge: No longer wasted if cast just after Healing Current.
* Healing Current: Corrected mana costs across all ranks.

MAGE

ARCHON
* Lingering Dust: Now reduces melee and casting speed of the target by 20% for 20 seconds. The buff portion is unchanged.
* Casting speed debuffs will no longer cause Archon auras to gain a casting time if points have been spent to make them instant-cast.
* Burning Purpose: Damage procs are now affected by the Rising Vengeance ability. Reduced base damage dealt by Burning Purpose procs.

CHLOROMANCER
* Due to the below changes, characters with soul points spent in Chloromancer will receive a free soul point respec.
* Casting speed debuffs will no longer cause Bloom and Flourish to have a casting time if you have two points in Healing Slipstream.
* Call of Spring: Updated description to better indicate which abilities it affects.
* New Ability: Lifebound Veil – Causes Life damage dealt by the Mage to heal up to 5 allies within 20 meters for 15% of the damage done for 1 hour. All other spell damage dealt by the Mage heals allies for 5% of the damage done. Spells that damage more than one target have healing generated by Lifebound Veil reduced by 80%. Life based damage over time effects heal allies for 25% of the damage done by the first damaging tick of the effect. The Mage cannot receive healing from other Lifebound Veil or Lifegiving Veil effects while affected by this buff. Does not trigger a global cooldown. Cannot be purged.This is obtained after spending 11 points in the Chloromancer soul.
*Synthesis: Now increases healing received from Lifebound Veil by 100%. Reduced cooldown to 10 seconds. This cooldown is shared with Lifegiving Veil and Lifebound Veil. Now applies or refreshes Lifebound Veil when cast. Will no longer be removed when the affected player changes zones.
* Lifegiving Veil: Increased the base single-target Life damage to Healing conversion to 80%. This now shares a 10 second cooldown with Synthesis and Lifebound Veil. This can no longer be purged.
* Natural Fusion: Now increases the Synthesis bonus to heals from Lifebound Veil by 20-60%.
* Essence Surge: Debuff portion of this ability has been removed.
* Destructive Growth: Removed branch ability; the effects are now part of the base Wild Growth ability.
* Wild Growth: Reduced cooldown to 1 minute, increased radius to 25 meters.
* New branch ability – Nature’s Swiftness: Reduces the casting time of Nature’s Fury by 0.5-1 second, and reduces the cooldown of Natural Conversion by 30-60 seconds. Tier 6 branch ability.
* Entropic Veil: Removed cooldown.
* Empowered Veil: Now increases the damage bonus from your Entropic Veil by 13-19%, increases the healing generated by Lifegiving Veil from Life damage to 90-110%, increases healing generated from your Lifebound Veil by Life damage to 20-30% and increases the radius of Lifegiving and Lifebound Veil by 5-15 meters.
* Flourish: Reduced healing done.
* Bloom: Increased healing done.
* New root ability – Natural Healing: Single target heal with a 2.5 second casting time and no additional cooldown. Obtained with 51 points in Chloromancer.
* Circle of Life: Now affects Natural healing.
* Empathic Bond: Increased the mana return to 20% of the damage received by the Synthesis target.
* Nature’s Touch: Reduced base damage of this spell. This spell now triggers an additional heal from Lifebound Veil, instead of Lifegiving Veil.
* New ability – Living Infusion: A passive ability that increases the percentage of Life damage converted to healing by Lifegiving Veil by an additional 0.5%, and Lifebound Veil by an additional 1.5%, for each point spent in Chloromancer above 31. Obtained at 32 points in Chloromancer.

DOMINATOR
* Due to the below changes, characters with soul points spent in Dominator will receive a free soul point respec.
* Fixed an issue where enemies would sometimes be able to continue casting or using abilities when affected by Mass Exhaustion, Disorient, or Overpowering Will.
* Mass Exhaustion: Fixed a bug in certain builds where Mass Exhaustion would end on all enemies if broken on one affected target.
* Thunder Blast: Will now deal damage and interrupt casting even if the target is immune to the knockback portion of this ability.
* Charged Shield, Mass Charged Shield: Will no longer land on an ally who already has a mage armor buff other than Charged Shield.
* Transference: Now blocks energy and mana regeneration on the target for 7 seconds, up from 5. Damage is now a flat value influenced by Spell Power and is no longer based on the amount of Energy, Power, or Mana drained.
* Microburst: NO longer reduces the damage of Storm Shackle.
* Deny: Reduced cooldown to 10 seconds,
* Mental Shock: Reduced cooldown to 20 seconds.
* Empowered Presence: Now increases the radius of your Arresting and Reflective Presence by 2-6 meters. Increases the chance for your Reflective Presence to reflect spells by 5-15%. Gives Arresting Presence a 33-100% chance to proc an interrupt on up to 10 targets within range, each second.
* Priest’s Lament: Will now interrupt the target when it attempts to silence them. The interrupt will occur even if the target is immune to silence.
* Disorient: Now blasts the enemy with a burst of negative energy, dealing Death damage and leaving them stunned for 3 seconds and confusing them afterwards for up to 30 seconds. Damage done will break the confuse effect. 30 second cooldown.
* Memory Wipe: Now causes a group or raid member to appear less threatening, reducing their threat by 20% with all enemies within a 25 meter radius.
* Overpowering Will, Iron Will: Removed.
* New root ability – Incompetence: Reduces the target’s effectiveness in battle for 15 seconds, increasing the cost of healing abilities by 20% and causing damage done by the target’s abilities to heal up to 5 of the Dominator’s group or raid members within 15 meters. 15 second cooldown. Obtained at 20 points.
* New branch ability – Ineptitude: Increases the healing ability cost debuff of Incompetence by 1-5% and increases the healing done by target’s damaging abilities by 4-20%. Available after spending 20 points in Dominator.
* Chastise: Removed.
* New root ability – Traitorous Influence: Causes the enemy, and up to 5 additional enemies within 15 meters, to suffer Death damage and lose 30 Power or Energy, or Mana equal to 5% of the Dominator’s maximum mana, every time the target uses an ability. This can occur up to 5 times over 15 seconds. Available after spending 30 points in Dominator.
* Draining Presence: Removed.
* New root ability – Mass Betrayal: Generates chaos within the enemy’s ranks, cursing up to 10 enemies within the targeted area. Abilities used by affected enemies cause the target and up to 5 additional targets within 15 meters to suffer Death damage; they also lose 30 Power, Energy, or Mana equal to 5% of the Dominator’s maximum mana each time they use an ability. This can occur up to 5 times over 15 seconds. Available at 51 points in Dominator.
* Fixed a bug where pets spawned by Split Personality were not gaining benefit from the caster’s Spell Power or Spell Critical Hit.
* Split Personality: The pets spawned now take 95% less damage from area effect abilities.

ELEMENTALIST
* Planar Expansion: Corrected the description on the final rank of this spell.

STORMCALLER
* Lightning Field and Charged Field now only check for stacks of Electrified applied by the caster.
* Lightning Field: Reduced base damage of this spell.
* Forked Lightning: Reduced base damage of this spell.
* Static Discharge: Can no longer affect a target more than once per minute.
* The class mechanic UI for Electrify will now update properly if Lightning Field removes a stack of Electrified from an enemy.

WARLOCK
* Sacrifice Life: Damage: Can no longer be cast if Empowered Darkness is active.

PYROMANCER
* We’re still in the process of making Pyromancer changes specific to PVP regarding burst damage. These changes will have little to no impact on PVE.

ROGUE

BARD
* Motif of Regeneration: Now considered a spell, and can be Silenced.

BLADEDANCER
* Contra Tempo: Fixed the effect tooltip to indicate that it increases the damage of the next three Combo Point generating abilities.
* Deadly Dance: Fixed a bug where applying Saboteur Charges to the target did not consume the Deadly Dance effect.

INFILTRATOR [PvP]
* Cloudy Poison: Reduced casting speed debuff to 20%.
* Camouflage: Fixed characters being knocked out of stealth when re-entering a Marksman’s Pedestal.
* Step Into the Shadows: Fixed the cooldown being activated when using any stealth ability.

RANGER
* Killer Focus: Damage bonus should be correctly applied to ranged weapons.
* Prey on the Weak: Fixed the buff triggered by this ability not being removed when the character dies.

RIFTSTALKER
* Shadow Stalk: Fixed a bug where this would sometimes be available while under control effects it cannot break.
* Shadow Assault, Shadow Blitz: Now properly affected by damage modifications from buffs and debuffs.

SABOTEUR
* Remote Clipping: Fixed a bug where the range of Detonate was being increased by 1 meter instead of 2 meters.

WARRIOR

BEASTMASTER
* New ability – Companion’s Call: Makes the next pet summon ability instant-cast.
* Greater Primal Companion: Claw Swipe: Fixed a bug causing this to occasionally only hit one target.
* Fixed some bugs with the icon display for Summon Greater Primal Companion.

CHAMPION
* Deadly Strikes: Now increases the damage of attack point builders by an additional amount for each point spent in Champion over 30.
* Bash: To better match up with other interrupts, the cooldown has been increased to 8 seconds and Power cost reduced to 10.

PALADIN
* Warden’s Protection: Will no longer be removed when the affected player changes zones.
* Face Slam: To better match up with other interrupts, the cooldown has been increased to 8 seconds, damage reduced slightly, and Power cost reduced to 10 Power.
* Improved Paladin’s Devotion: Fixed a tooltip bug that reported the wrong amount of cooldown reduction on Paladin’s Devotion. Tooltip now properly shows a cooldown reduction of 10-20 seconds. This is a cosmetic fix only.

PARAGON
* Strike Like Iron: Moved to a 38 point root ability.
* New root ability – Reaping Harvest: Available with 2 points spent in Paragon. Attack point consuming ability that requires dual wielding.
* Path of the Wind: Now requires the Paragon to be dual wielding.
* Way of the Wind: Now triggers a second weapon attack after using any attack ability that requires dual wielding.
* Paired Strike: Now causes the next follow-up strike to critically hit.
* Flinching Strike: To better match with other interrupts, the damage is no longer based on weapon damage, cooldown reduced to 8 seconds, and Power cost has been reduced to 10 Power.
* Bend Like the Reed: In addition to enhancing Parry, now also increases the damage done by attacks that require dual wielding. To support this change and put this in line with similar finishers, the cooldown has been increased to 1 minute.

RIFTBLADE
* Rift Storm: Fixed a bug causing different icons to appear in game compared to the Soul Tree version.
* Fiery Burst: Should now reliably trigger Enhanced Burst.
* Riftwalk: Fixed a bug causing this ability to not break stuns. Now deals damage to the enemy. Due to this there are now multiple ranks of Riftwalk which can be trained at your nearest Warrior trainer!
* Improved Riftwalk: Now enhances the damage dealt by Riftwalk in addition to reducing the cooldown.
* Rift Storm: Reduced cooldown to 2 minutes from 3.
* Avatar of the Rift: Increased the amount of Attack Power contribution.
* Surging Energy: Fixed a case where this could sometimes not trigger.

WARLORD
* Intimidating: The debuff tooltip should now actually work.
* Fixed a typo in the Warlord Soul tooltip.

VINDICATOR [PvP]
* Advantage: Tooltip changed to more accurately describe what the ability does; increases the chance to get a critical hit by 1-5%.

VOID KNIGHT
* Furious Rage: To better match up with other interrupts, the cooldown has been increased to 8 seconds, and the ability damage is no longer based on weapon damage.

on Crafting Systems

The last few weeks I have been pretty lax with my daily blog post.  My friend Ariad has managed to churn out some posts to fill the void, but in the end I have just been slacking due to some fairly significant deadlines.  I’ve also noticed that when I have been incubating a large post, I seem to get thrown into a minor writers block.  In the past these are marked by the days I have posted patch notes and nothing much else.  However in the post E3 / Pre 1.3 lead up, there isn’t a lot I have felt like reacting to.  After several weeks, I am finally posting this topic.

How Randomness Ruined Crafting For Me and Rift Revived It

I know that is a big subheading, but over the last few weeks I have come to realize a few things about crafting in general.  I have always respected crafting in MMOs but in general I have never been one to hang out at the forge as it were.  It has been a fun diversion, a nice break in the adventuring action at times, but never really something I sought out.  I think a good deal of this is the way that WoW and other games have treated crafting in general.

Crafting has always fascinated me.  The ability to gather up seemingly unrelated bits and through an interface bind them together into something new and usable by my characters.  There almost seems to be an arcane thrill to it, and your serious crafters carry with them an aura of sage respect.  Many folks look to crafting as a profit center for them, but for me it has always been either a nice way to augment my characters gear list, or simply something I can do to make myself useful for the guild as a whole.

The Basics

minecraft-crafting-700x394Above is an image from the game Minecraft.  This pretty much shows the kind of crafting that first enthralled me.  I could not find a really good image of the Everquest crafting system, but for the most part Minecraft is a good facsimile.  EQ featured a system that I can only think of as crafting off the rails.  Later crafting systems became stratified, with certain classes and recipe books, but in the beginning it was just you some gathered materials and a machine.

Fishing was pretty straight forward, and I think everyone in Everquest spent some time on the docks fishing for fun and profit.  However for me at least, the serious crafting came far later.  It was not until I started getting random ore drops from the Orcs in Crushbone that I started to wonder exactly what I could do with them.  Thing is in Everquest, there was no instruction manual.  You never knew whether an item was just there to be sold, or if it could be repurposed in some amazing way to craft something for you.

The crafters in the game, had not only managed to raise some numeric skill, but also figured out and memorized a vast number of patterns in their head.  Later on Allakhazam took a good bit of this trial and error out of the equation as players began to share resources.  However it was still up to you to gather up all the needed materials, and remember how to combine them once you got back in game.

The biggest problem with crafting in Everquest however was that it was an extremely expensive and or time consuming venture.  Materials were either purchased from players or vendors, or farmed in dungeons.  This was not a fast process at all, and the weight of ore made it so you could not carry much of it at any given time.  As a result we would spend hours in zones like Beholders Maze farming the mudmen for hours on end, trying to get enough ore to turn into metal to begin to craft anything at all.

The Big Shift

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The biggest problem with Everquest was the acquisition of materials.  The first big shift in crafting was the creation of the “resource node”.  The first game I can remember playing that had unique resource harvesting nodes was Horizons: Empire of Istaria.  Almost as insanely difficult to find as the Everquest shot, was one of Horizons, now renamed Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted.  The above shot shows a basic resource area, with little bits of rock scattered around the land.

While the game itself had many shortcomings, it had an amazing crafting system.  In addition to resource nodes, Horizons also introduced the concept of crafter only gear, that increased your skill and the ability to carry crafting items.  It also introduced a system of sleds, that you could load up with resources and then drag like a cart back to town.

In addition there were numerous “public works” projects, like building towns and bridges that opened up new content areas to the players.  The big problem however is, crafting was extremely tedious.  You spent literal hours harvesting materials in the field, then dragging it back to town to craft components, then additional hours spent applying them to the projects.  Building bridges for example, took literal weeks of players crafting nonstop to create.  While the game play was very unique, and intricate, it was also a bit dull.

The Mini Game

Crafting2 While extremely detailed, crafting in Horizons quickly became a chore and after the first few times doing anything it really lacked much fun.  With the release of Everquest II, I honestly feel the developers were trying to take this concept and make it fun.  As a result they introduced what I can only call the crafting mini-game.

On the right is an image of an item being crafted in Everquest II.  As you started crafting you reached certain milestones, each producing a slightly different version of what you were attempting.  Each step you managed to reach, produced a higher quality item.  If the item was part of a multi-step process, it ultimately determined the maximum quality of the final product.

As the player crafted an item, they would encounter various events that would impede their progress.  If you look below in the window you see the event “Loss of Concentration”.  Each crafting profession gave the player a set of new abilities for their action bar, each with an icon  that would correspond with a certain kind of event.  To counter “Loss of Concentration”, the player would mash the corresponding button on their hotbar.

While in some ways this made crafting seem a bit more like an epic struggle versus your materials… the realization was that ANY time you wanted to create even the most simple item, you had to deal with this interface.  Items never “grayed out” and became truly trivial.  There was always a chance of getting something that you couldn’t use from the process.  Over time they streamlined the process to reduce the number of useless items that got created in the process, and removed many of the 5 or 6 part processes to craft an item.  However it still retained the sluggishness of knowing, any time you needed to craft something for a guild member you were committing yourself to 10-20 minutes worth of slogging through the crafting mini-game.

Dumbing it Down

ptr-al-epicgemcd The release of WoW was game changing on all levels, and crafting was no different.  Prior to WoW the trend with crafting seemed to be to make it more and more intricate, giving players the option to make crafting their primary game play experience.  WoW went completely the different direction.  Everything about the crafting process was streamlined compared to its predecessors.

WoW kept the resource gathering system that was node based, but managed to greatly streamline the item creation process.  Sure there were very painful leveling experiences that involved lots of odd items (leatherworking I am looking at you), but for the most part the process was straight forward. 

You chose a gathering profession, and a crafting profession that complimented each other.  Gathering collected the items, and crafting spit out the finished items.  As the game moved on the leveling of these professions became even more streamlined.  However from day one, wow leaned on a crutch that would ultimately become the source of all of my frustration with the system.

Randomness Sucks

For some reason, Blizzard developers LOVE random chance.  If this were used primarily for those nice to have items, it wouldn’t be so bad, however every major crafting recipe relied solely on random chance.  Instead of making resources hard to get to, or drop off difficult to kill monsters, they placed a random loot game into the equation.  This was seen in the need to find the holy grail ore node like Khorium or Titanium, or the need to skin and herb for those annoyingly rare Arctic Fur, and Fel Lotus (or any Lotus for that matter).

There are many ramifications with a system like this.  Firstly, the rare must have items become ridiculously inflated in price in all of the markets.  This was especially noticeable with the rare Lotus drops, due to the fact that every raid on the server needed multiple each week to craft flasks.  Secondly there is a social cost to the random element, especially with the rare ore spawn.  Players will do anything and everything in their power to beat others to these spawns. 

The policy of fastest fingers win, ultimate leads to frustration on the whole.  Ultimately, I had reached a point where I really had no interest in crafting.  It was something I did, because ultimately as a raider I felt like I needed the various crafter only bonuses.  However once max level, I rarely did any crafting for fun.  Doing the daily quests, just seemed like skull drudgery due to the massive contention for resources.

The other major point of frustration with the WoW crafting system is actually two fold.  Firstly crafting has always been something you could do while leveling to augment your gear, and ultimately lead to a more enjoyable leveling process.  Problem was, that in general, past the first 75 levels of a trade skill, the items you could craft were greatly under your usable level range.  On top of this, there was the annoyance that very rarely could you ever craft a complete set of armor for any given range.  You could get one or two pieces, but never a full suit like most other games had.

Restoring My Faith

Due to the amount of loathing that I had built up towards crafting in general, I never really messed with it much during the first few betas of Rift.  Honestly it wasn’t until guild members started talking about being able to create weapons they couldn’t equip for several levels, that it peaked my interest.  So when I finally managed to start crafting during the head start, I was amazed at how enjoyable I found the process.

There have been complaints from those used to the more complex systems, that Rift crafting is too simple.  However for me, coming from the streamlined system of WoW, I appreciated that fact.  As I began leveling, I was impressed with the ease of resource gathering, and the ability to craft full sets of gear for any particular level range.  In addition, like my guild members talked about, I was able to craft items that I would grow into as I leveled rather than those that were of no real use to me.  This alone fixed several of my annoyances with crafting systems in general.

However, the big fix was still to come.  As I was harvesting copper nodes, I noticed I got a quest item: Unusual Ore.  When I took it into town, the Mining trainer gave me a quest to gather up 10 tin bars  and 10 copper bars.  Upon turning in, the trainer gave me a recipe for crafting bronze bars.  Instead of relying on random chance, all of the rare crafting materials in the game are similar to Bronze Bars, being an “alloy” of two existing items.  This pretty much knocks down my other major problem with the WoW system, it removes most of the randomness on a daily basis.

Universal Currency

One of the other nice systems that rift introduced was a universal crafting currency.  Artisan’s Marks are gained from doing work orders in the crafting center of your faction’s capitol city.  These are then used to purchase various “nice to have” patterns, especially the ones that use the rare materials.  You can level from 1-300 in any of the crafting professions without ever using these patterns, however they unlock often times higher quality items.

Having a universal crafting currency was a massive step in the right direction.  In WoW it became extremely frustrating that there was a unique currency for each profession, that could only be gained by doing daily quests.  With a universal currency, you can pick and choose which professions patterns to purchase.  On my rogue I am doing 2 rune crafting and 2 outfitter quests a day, but as a result I am saving up the currency to buy those expensive outfitter patterns. 

Where the system becomes counter intuitive however, is with the crafting Plaques.  Basically crafting plaques undo a lot of the good of having the universal system.  When you complete master level work orders, you have a random chance of gaining a plaque for your specific trade skill.  These plaques are used to purchase the most sought after epic quality patterns.  There is no construct in game that allows you to trade one flavor of plaque for another.  It seems to me, that Trion would have gone with a single crafting plaque currency rather than tying things down again to specific professions.

Ultimate System

As a whole, I can’t really call the Rift system the ultimate crafting system, but for my purposes it works.  Crafting for me is something that I like to use as downtime.  I go out adventuring in the world, gathering materials, and then go back to town and craft a few things up.  It acts as a much needed pause in the action, before going out again to kill more baddies.  However I have heard from others that they really miss the level of intricacy from systems like Everquest II. 

Problem is I am not sure where the happy medium would lay.  Adding complexity also adds to the amount of time that a player is forced to sit at the crafting machine.  For most of us this is not really a win situation.  In EQ2 I loathed having to craft anything for a guild member, because not only did it mean porting back to a central location, but also tying up a good amount of time that I could be off doing cool stuff.  With rift, I am always game to knock out whatever is needed, because I know that once the materials are pooled I can do a combine in a matter of seconds and be on my way.

I hope given time, additional patterns can be added that are more complex that will help give the craft-centric players more of a sense of ownership in the process.  As a whole, there really are not that many plaque patterns to gather.  I know on my armor crafter I have already purchased everything available, and simply do the dailies for money and the hope that eventually new patterns will be introduced.  However were the plaques trade-able I would be gladly handing them off to guild members to help them complete their sets.

Quality of Items

My other complaint is the fact that without dungeon drops, you cannot create high end gear at all.  In other games, I am used to those rare item patterns being equivalent to the first tier of dungeon/raid gear.  Problem is, that in Rift the epic crafted items are as a whole below Tier 1 dungeon level.  The player funnels all these resources into an item, and quickly finds out that it will be replaced the first time they run an expert dungeon. 

As a result, one of the big complaints is that none of the gear crafters can create is really valuable and worth selling.  Personally I have never used crafting as a profit center in games, but I can definitely see this as a problem.  Crafted epics as a result are becoming the stock and trade for secondary characters, and thoroughly useless to mains.  I am hoping that one of the patches manages to buff these up to at least Tier 1 level, giving them a slightly longer shelf life and worth more.

Long Ramble

I realize this post is extremely long, far longer than most of mine.  However I wanted to dig into the various systems before arriving at Rifts.  I like most of what I see in the Rifts crafting, and it has like the subtext said revived my interest in crafting as a whole.  I almost always have a stockpile of materials in my bank, and that is something I never could have said back in previous incarnations.  I can definitely see some weaknesses here and there, and some things I don’t like, but overall I think it managed to strike a “happy medium”.  Also anyone who actually managed to make it to the end of this post has some serious fortitude.

Trion’s Blitzkrieg

Apologies for the recent lack of posts.  I’ve found myself irrationally tired lately, and to make matters worse I have not been sleeping great only making issues worse.  On top of it all, my Grandfather has been in the hospital, so not exactly prime time to be thinking about blogging.  I have a half written post on crafting, that I need to find the train of thought to go finish at some point.

Trion’s Master Plan

With all the hype surrounding the game world that E3 brings on, I had a realization yesterday.  Trion for me at least was this juggernaut that came from nowhere.  I never really followed any information on the company, and I had never heard of them prior to getting into one of the Rift beta events. 

All that said, it felt to me like this company stepped out of the shadows and right out of the gate assumed a position of dominance over the MMO market.  Thing is, it finally hit me that Trion is not just gunning down World of Warcraft with Rift, but instead making a push at the entire Blizzard game structure.  Trion has fairly quietly been aligning to strike against each of their core game markets.

The Rise of Rift

 

The fact that Rift was aligned to directly compete with WoW has been evident since the first marketing blows.  With slogans like “We’re Not in Azeroth Anymore” and the more recent “Join Our Horde” they have very overtly been throwing jabs here and there at the big blue giant.  They managed to pull off a near flawless launch on a bigger scale than we have seen in years, and immediately followed it up with an uppercut of constant content updates. 

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, in the amount of time it took Blizzard to release the 4.1 patch Trion managed to launch Rift and release 3 content updates and around 30 hotfixes.  The 4.1 patch itself was comprised primarily of recycled content, whereas the Rift updates have introduced numerous raids, and a slew of new world content in the form of rifts and events.  This level support is a roundhouse to the slow and unresponsive player Blizzard environment.

Like always there was an initial drop after the opening sales, but since then the Rift player base has stabilized and continues to grow.  Earlier this week Trion released that they are nearing the 1 million sell-through mark, meaning units actually sold in various outlets and not just shipped and encumbered.  While some of those sold only stayed for the first month, there has been a serious dent in the available player pool by this newcomer.  Blizzard itself came clean, stating that they are down 600,000 players, so it isn’t hard to see where a large chunk of them have arrived.

End of Nations

 

What I am coming to realize however is that Rift is just the first strike in a greater war against the Blizzard/Activision bottom line.  Quietly gaining player focus is the new MMO-RTS title End of Nations.  Similar to the Trion strategy with Rift, they brought on veterans from the RTS industry, Petroglyph Games.  The company is made up of mostly Westwood Employees, some of which notably worked on the grandfathers of the genre:  Command & Conquer, and Dune II.

End of Nations itself is shaping up to be a game that feels very familiar to those who have played Command & Conquer in appearance but taking it on a much larger scale.  All indications at this point make this title look to be another AAA RTS title.  It brings to the field a server infrastructure that seems more scalable than that of the Blizzard standard in Battle.net.

 

All these things add up to place this squarely on the field as direct competition for the Starcraft players attention.  If this manages to ship and release as smoothly as Rift did, and have a similar level of player support and content updates then I can see End of Nations pulling away a good number of Blizzard loyalists in the process.  I am not a huge player of the genre, so I may be wrong, but having played through Starcraft I can see this title drawing away the old Westwood fans.

The Defiance Experiment

 

So far we can see clear lines on the battlefield placing Trion in direct competition with Blizzard in the MMO and RTS market, but wait… there is more.  Trion in additon to all the other work, is teaming up with the Syfy channel to embark on a unique experiment.  They are creating a multiplatform MMO-FPS title that will somehow be linked to a TV Show.  Supposedly the show will effect the gameplay, and the players themselves will ultimately effect the TV show.  I will be honest, it is somewhat hard to really wrap my head around the ramifications at this point.

What we do know however is that Defiance is a third person mmo shooter, set on a future version of the earth transformed by decades of conflict.  There isn’t alot of detail yet on the title, but like every company they state they are looking to produce a AAA shooter.  Ultimately the success of the title will rely on so many issues, such as the ability to merge console and pc game play into one cohesive environment.  Many titles have promised this, *cough* DC Universe *cough*, but so far not a single one has delivered.

Why this is interesting particularly within the scope of this post is the fact that Blizzard also is working on their very own MMO-FPS title, dubbed Project Titan.  Funny thing is, there was another Project Titan… the ill fated Ensemble Studios Titan, which was the Halo MMO.  MMO Culture gives the basic rundown of the theory, but the quick version is:  some of the disbanded Ensemble staff joined Blizzard Entertainment, Activision and Bungie announce exclusive worldwide partnership, and this document is leaked showing a Blizzard release schedule with Project Titan on it.

 

With Blizzard now working on an MMO-FPS, this places Trion yet again competing directly.  From all indication however, it seems likely that with a TV show tie in, this will probably be coming out well before Blizzard’s normally sluggish schedule (which is also shown on schedule as late 2014).  How many years have we been waiting for Diablo III for example?  If Trion can beat Blizzard to the MMO-FPS market, and deliver the same kind of performance they have shown possible with Rift it will definitely soften the later’s potential market holding.

Wrapping Up

Basically that is three major titles with two in hardcore development at the same time from Trion.  Each title seems to be directly aligned to take down a Blizzard market.  It honestly leaves me wondering, if we will soon see information about a similar title to take on the Diablo III market.  I am just still floored that this company, that I had not heard of prior to Rift has come out of the gate and is presenting serious competition.  I look forward to seeing more information on the above to come out during e3.  Hopefully Trion will continue to delivery quality products and keep up with the same level of support.

On Server Transfers

I want to send out my apologies for lack of updates this week.  I had been on a pretty religious schedule of posting at least some new content five days a week.  If you followed the last post you know my world has been pretty rocked by the recent events in my neck of the woods.  My time has been spent in the evenings either worrying about incoming Tornados or alternatively mourning their devastation.

Quite honestly, with everything going on, it just didn’t feel right be be blogging about video games.  Joplin as I said earlier has for all intents and purposes been removed from the map.  The series have Tornados that hit Tuesday night left plenty of its own carnage, leaving a 3 year old boy missing, presumably sucked up by the storm.  This morning they mentioned on the news that this storm system has produced around 80 distinct Tornados over the last week.

The “Big News”

All that said, life just has not felt normal.  The concern and worry has left its toll, and frankly I am pretty worn out and just plain “fried” at this point.  However for the rest of the world, namely the rift playing public the “Big News” has been the announcement of free server transfers.  I realize I am well behind the new cycle on this one, and most of the blogging community has weighed in one way or another on it.  However this has been in the back of my mind while we have dealt with all our issues.

For those living under a rock, or dodging Tornados like myself… the original announcement can be found here.

RIFT™ TO OFFER FREE CHARACTER TRANSFERS

Gather your friends in RIFT and play anywhere, any time

When the next major RIFT™ update hits early this summer, subscribers will be treated to a surprise – free character transfers. Trion Worlds announced today that with RIFT 1.3, players will have the ability to move to select servers in their territory once each week, taking all items, achievements, and titles with them. Additionally, guild leaders will be able to move their guild’s level and experience.
“MMOs are all about playing with your friends no matter which server they’re on, and that’s why we’re offering this as a free service to our subscribers,” said Scott Hartsman, Executive Producer. “RIFT is both a game and a service, and adding free server transfers is just one more way we can make this the best possible MMO experience available.”
Whether you want to play with friends, check out a new server, or avoid queue times on highly populated servers, you’ll be free to move about Telara. As a part of this grand experiment, there will initially be no limits on the number of times you can transfer your characters or guild.
Character transfers will remain a free service for the foreseeable future, and could become a permanent addition to the RIFT experience. Subscribers will be able to perform the transfers inside of the game itself once the patch is live.
For More Information – Read the FAQ

 

Then a few days later they followed up with an FAQ outlining all of the changes (post here).

Hi all,
As announced, Free Character Transfers will be released in RIFT Update 1.3. These Free Character Transfers will be available to players on select shards via a new in-game feature. We are pleased to be able to offer this service to our players and hope you find it to be a great way to further enrich your experience and connect with others, we have provided a brief FAQ outlining this new feature below.
We’ll continue to release additional details as we get closer to the release of 1.3 and we encourage you to ask any questions you might have, we’ll do our best to answer all we can – thanks!
What are Free Character Transfers?

  • Free Character Transfers will allow you to move your characters to select shards through an easy to use, in-game feature.

How often can I transfer my character?

  • We’re allowing one free transfer, per character, to a select shard every 7 days. Please note this is subject to change while we continue to develop and test the new service.

What do you mean “select shards”?

  • We want the shard you select to provide the best experience possible. It is important that there remains a balance between Guardian and Defiant players and to that available shards do not become too over populated or unbalanced. For this reason you will only be able to move to specific shards we’ve selected to accept new transfers, please note the shards available for transfer may change over time.

Can I move from a PvP shard to a PvE shard or vice-versa?

  • Of course! The rule set of your current shard will not prevent you from moving to a shard of a different type. So PvP, RP, PvE, or RPPvP to your heart’s content – Just remember, you’re subject to the rules of your new home! (For example, non-consensual PvP on PvP shards and stricter naming policies on RP shards.)

What about my stuff?

  • We’ll have specific details later, but have no fear! You’ll be able to take your items, currencies, achievements, titles, pets, collections, and heck, maybe even the kitchen sink!

Can I transfer from a North American Shard to a European Shard?

  • Not right now, currently transfers will be restricted to select shards in your territory.

I’m a guild leader, can I transfer my guild?

  • Absolutely, we know you and your members work hard to level your guild and make it your own. We’ll announce more details about this feature closer to its release, stay tuned!

Will these transfers always be free for everyone?

  • For the forseeable future – yes! They could even become a permanent addition to the RIFT experience. This is very much an experiment we want to try and we feel this feature will add a unique way to play RIFT unlike other MMO’s. We’ll see how it goes and keep an eye out for any issues that arise.

So, when will 1.3 be released?

  • 1.3 is the next major installment for RIFT and will arrive early this summer. Keep an eye on www.riftgame.com and here on the forums for more details as we get closer to its release!

Updated – 05/23/11 @ 12:13PM PDT
What if my character or guild’s name is already taken on the shard I want to transfer to?

  • You’ll be warned in the event of a naming conflict, should you decide to continue with the transfer you will be forced to re-name your character or guild before playing.

Will I be able to change my characters faction (from Defiant to Guardian for example) when I transfer or transfer my Character to another active account?

  • Not at this time, while these options are something we might look into in the future they will not be available for the initial release of the Free Character Transfer feature.

Wide Variety of Responses

I have seen everything from elation and praise, heralding Trion as the saviors of game kind, to frustration that we will have to wait for this feature at all.  The cynics have seen this as a clever way of skirting the need to merge under populated servers, by allowing players to jump to new servers on their own.  I guess I can see all of the points, but tend to take my own view.

What I see that stands out is the fact that a server transfer system is being put in place, to allow players to move more freely between server communities.  In fact based on the information, they will be able to do this once per week, which can let you hop servers to play with friends and then return to the main server at will.  The most impressive thing about all of this is the fact that Trion will not be charging for this feature.

Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual however thinks we should re-evaluate our expectations.

Listen, if you are cheering because Trion has decided not to punch you in the face (charged transfers), you need to reevaluate your expectations. You pay that $15 for a reason, and it’s not (unless we are talking SOE) just to keep the servers online. Free transfers are, to me, about as special as a monthly content patch. It (should be) expected.

I understand the cynical view of the actions but honestly…  to me Trion has been giving us far better support than I have received playing any other game.  If you are thinking, I have not played many games then…  let me point you over to my gameography page.  While this may be the level of customer support we as gamers should expect, and I agree with this point, it is nothing we have ever received in the past.

One thing Trion has done, that no company to this point has done for me at least is make me feel like I am being heard.  After getting to know a handful of people in the company either through twitter, or the community outreach programs, I feel that they honest to god drink their own Kool-Aid.  I feel like they actually care about us, and care about our happiness.

Here is an example of an interaction between Assistant Community Manager Erick “Zann” Adams, and Rilgon a gaming blogger.  Shows the level of care these individuals take.

Rilgon: @3rickZann So did you guys find the Fountain of Awesome or something? Like I don’t get how you are routinely so awesome.
Erick Adams: @Rilgon No, but they put something in the office water that compels us to try and make our players happy. :p
Rilgon: @3rickZann It shows. 🙂

I guess I just have a hard time being cynical when I see this and other things on a regular basis.  There seems to be an Esprit de corps in this group that I have not seen in a video game company in a long time.  Blizzard definitely used to be that kind of “by gamers, for gamers” shop but since the activision merger they have changed in many ways. 

I regularly bought the pay per view Blizzcast feed, and I have to say the way they treated players this previous year shows the level of disdain (pretty much anytime Alex Afrasiabi spoke) they seem to have for us the gamers these days.  So while we as the gamers, should be expecting more from game companies, I am definitely going to support the ones out there that are doing it.

Brilliant Marketing Move

What makes this a massively brilliant marketing move, and extremely unique is not the fact that they are giving us server transfers, it is the fact they are doing so without a fee attached.  Basically Blizzard got us used to the concept of paying a premium convenience tax for getting things like this in the past.  Each new feature that gets added seems to get an increased fee, and players have been willing to pay up.  I’ve transferred characters, and race and faction changed them as well.

If you are playing World of Warcraft you are well aware of the number of premium fees associated with their monthly subscription based game.

  • Remote Access – $2.99/month
  • Name Change – $10.00
  • Cosmetic Pet – $10.00
  • Appearance Change – $15.00
  • Character Transfer – $25.00
  • Race Change – $25.00
  • Cosmetic Mount – $25.00
  • Faction Change – $30.00
  • Guild Move – ??
  • RealID Grouping – ??

Every company that has implemented a similar on demand service structure has followed suit.  So Trion could have easily put server transfers in place and dinged us with a money grab to do so.  However the most important thing as a take away is the fact that they didn’t.  While we don’t know for certain how the “selected shards” portion will work out, this definitely seems far more wide reaching than when a company in the past has offered free transfers off higher population realms to lower ones.

Most obviously the big difference is the fact that they have stated this would be an event that was throttled on a once per week basis.  This will let players test out a community and be able to move again if it just is not a solid fit.  Being the community minded player I am, normally I would be afraid of such a free form server move system.  At the end of the day this places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the players on a given server to make something that players do not want to leave.  I feel sure that Shadefallen is an amazing server, and the community we have is such that it itself will glue players to our shard.

The Real Logic Behind It All

It was stated by Willhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob that this may be a way for Trion to allow players to handle server mergers on their own.

Meanwhile, here is Trion Worlds, with Rift a couple of months old now.  I have to wonder if they are being clever about dealing with a contraction of population, if the initial rush has peaked and they now have more servers running that are really viable.

Announcing server mergers is always viewed as bad news.

If this really is the reasoning behind the addition I still applaud it as a great idea.  Personally I have tried to avoid the Rift forums, other than the patch notes and Shadefallen server forums.  However from what I hear, there is much gnashing of teeth going on about under populated servers.  Personally I have not encountered this, Shadefallen has remained a vibrant server since release, and if Rift Status is to be believed our numbers seem to have remained extremely flat.  We have not experienced queues since the first weeks of launch, but there have always been more than enough people online at any given time to get something done.

I think players are going to complain no matter what, and the forums always give you a snapshot of the people who are most angry in any game.  However I imagine the same people who complained about, and refused to play on a server with any queue time are now the ones complaining about there not being enough people around.  At launch queue times are the sign of a healthy server, and purposefully going off on a low population server will mean in the long run not being able to do certain things in an MMO. 

Low population servers are always slow to grow, because the majority of the experienced playerbase generally avoid those servers for that reason.  I played on a high population server in WoW, and quite frankly it spoils you.  During wrath you could trip in Dalaran and manage to fall into a PUG raid that could clear half of Icecrown.  If you thought of an item, you could search the auction house and find plenty for sale.  So to go from that, to trying to roll on servers where friends ended up with dismal economies and no pug culture to speak of, was a shock to the system.

So if Trion is giving players a way to abandon sinking ships, then Bravo.  Forced server mergers always end up disrupting a community far more than voluntary moves.  Players have a fresh start without abandoning the work they have already done.  Knowing that your decision isn’t set in stone, will allow players to try different server communities until they find a niche that really fits their play style. 

On Argent Dawn, there were many times we were offered free transfers to cull the herd.  If I knew I could have transferred back without charge, I might have considered taking them up on the offer during those 3000 player queues.  Problem is, these were a one way ticket off, trading a known evil for completely unknown ones.  In most cases, for the players that jumped ship, they ended up transferring right back, as the grass was not in fact greener on the other side of the fence.

My Overall Take

This is getting to be a really really long post, so I will try and wrap things up.  Basically I see this as a good move for the community.  Trion is once again giving some excellent support to the players, and in doing so giving us the freedom to spread out and find the server that works best for us.  The ground breaking news is the fact they are giving this to us for free.  While this will diminish some servers, it will cause others like Shadefallen to band together and build something worth staying for.  I think overall, this will be a major positive for all players.

Bel Gets Real: Finger of God (Updated)

I’m taking a bit out from the normal game posts to throw up something very important, and very near and dear to my heart.  Yesterday we were sitting at home, completely oblivious to these events until my wife started seeing some messages come through on Twitter.  It had been such a lovely day in the Tulsa area, that I never even thought that Tornados might have been a brewing.  They apparently were, and just across the Missouri state line Joplin was completely devastated.

joplin

This one hits really close to home for me.  Joplin is one of two towns that I would move to in a heartbeat if given the chance.  The town has an amazingly cool vibe, and before these events had 6 amazing used book stores we would frequent.  In fact we were there just two weeks ago, when we took my wife’s mother shopping for Mothers Day.  So when I sit back and realize that we have bags in the kitchen that we never unpacked, from stores that simply no longer exist is pretty hard to take.

Our first panic moment was trying to get hold of my Wife’s mother.  She lives near Joplin just on the other side of the Oklahoma line, and the town has always been her major shopping destination for when she needs to run errands.  When we couldn’t reach her on the cell phone, we began to fear the worst.  Luckily she had travelled to Tulsa Sunday, and was also blissfully oblivious to the nightmare happening just across the state line.

I’ve lived in “Tornado Alley” my entire life, and I have seen the devastation they bring on numerous occasions.  While in the past I have known the towns they have hit here in Oklahoma, I’ve never had a really close personal attachment.  This one hurts so much, because I know this town so well.  The town had so much personality, packed into a compact area.  I am really hoping that everything bounces back and the new Joplin is an even better place.

Here is the thing, it is going to take a lot of work to get there and the groups are going to need help.  As a result I am devoting this post to getting out information for how folks in the surrounding area can help.  When stumbling around for the support numbers I came across a post on a political blog (The Source), something I would never normally read.

You can donate to the State of Missouri’s Red Cross Fund for Tornado and Flood Relief, or you can call 800-427-4626.

Those with medical skills looking to volunteer in Joplin are being asked by the Missouri Emergency Management Agency to visit showmeresponse.org to sign up.

From the Missouri Department of Public Safety:

A list of major non-profits that operate regularly in Missouri can be found by visiting the National Donations Management Network Web site. At the site you can donate directly to your preferred charitable organization by clicking on the organization’s name. In addition to making financial donations, you may donate products and services, or lend equipment to relief efforts. For more details or to make a donation, click the link above or call (800) 427-4626.

Additional information about donating or volunteer opportunities is available from 211 Missouri, which can be reached by dialing 211, or (800) 427-4626. This information is also available at the 211 Missouri Web site.

Click here to donate to long term recovery efforts in Missouri. Often it takes a long time, months and even years, for communities and individuals to recover from a disaster. Your donation can make a difference.

Thank you, and please keep the people of Joplin in your prayers

Here locally in Tulsa, donations are being collected at:

Catoosa Police Department
208 S. Cherokee St.
Catoosa, OK 74015
8:00 am til 5:00 pm (or when trailer is full)

Owasso Keller Williams Realty
12150 E 96th St N
Owasso, OK 74055
donations will be transferred Tuesday morning.

I know this post is well out of the ordinary but I felt like considering the scale of local tragedy caused by the Tornado, I wanted to get the word out somehow.  I promise to return to normal posts shortly.

Edit: 5/24/2011

I am leaving this post as the top post for another day.  Above is an image that photographer Aaron Fuhrman took of the main area of devastation in Joplin.  The above image is pulled from google streetview to contrast the total devastation below.  You can see other pictures of Joplin on his flikr photostream.

I realize it is unusual for a gaming blog to be posting this kind of stuff, but like I said in the above post, this one really hits close to home.  Honestly it might hit closer than that.  Right now we are glued to the television as another supercell is heading our way.  The storm has already produced 3 tornados and appears to be on target to hit our town.  Here is hoping it skips over us like it has so many times in the past.

I want to personally thank everyone who has donated already.  I noticed there were several click-throughs to the Red cross link in the post above.  There has been a massive out pouring local.  I ended up taking a load of stuff to the Keller Williams drop point and was just taken aback by the volume of donations.  As I drove across town today I saw either the Tulsa or Jenks firefighters collecting donations as well.

Anyways thanks for understanding as I give this cause a little bit more screentime.