Sponsors Unite

Class of 2013

nbilarge

Yesterday the 2013 Newbie Blogger Initiative officially kicked off and the new blogs are starting to trickle into the forum.  Yesterday I updated my blogroll to include the five blogs that had signed up to date, and over the night another two have joined the fray.  Here is hoping that the effort will continue to grow throughout the month.  Last time we ended up with I believe 110 new blogs starting the process, so we have a long ways to go before we see those numbers.

I will update my blogroll accordingly later today… but currently this years crop looks a little something like this…

Check them out and give them some link love.

Sponsors Unite

Similarly, yesterday kicked off quite a number of “advice” posts from the sponsors.  Like always these varied in topic greatly covering general tips, where to find inspiration, and various technical tidbits.  I am sure in the coming days we will be seeing a lot more of these posts but so far here is the run down of topics that were posted as of this morning.

I am sure as the month rolls on, we will see quite a few more sponsor posts as well.  I think for the first day, the program was pretty well represented.  My goal is to do a short daily synopsis of what all has been happening on the days I am not posting an advice article myself.

Heroic Characters

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A few days ago I had posted about the fact that October 1st was the beginning of the ability to create a free Heroic Character in Everquest 2.  Most of us initially thought this was for subscribers only… or in EQ2 nomenclature “Gold Members”.  However yesterday Stargrace of MMO Quests pointed out that ANYONE can log in and create a free level 85 character during the October 1st – October 15th period.  Additionally they have once again tightened the reins of the free to play restrictions.  Previously it was extremely frustrating to play a free to play character, because you could not equip Legendary or higher items…  which meant that essentially you could not equip anything that came from a dungeon or most world drops.

With the introduction of Heroic Characters, all of these item locks are gone… as are the various items that were sold on the store to unlock the ability to equip them.  Additionally as of yesterdays patch… much like they did in the past with other expansions… Destiny of Velious is now included for free.  This gives you access to content up to level 95, and covers all of the newer zones added into the game.  They have also broken up the Age of Discovery features into bite sized chunks that allow you to gobble up only the pieces you want, for example you can buy access to mercenaries only, or just the beastlord class.  Since they are removing some of the appeal for remaining a gold member, they have added in a permanent +15% coin loot bonus and +10% mount speed bonus to all existing gold members.  They have also mentioned they will be adding more perks into the equation to keep maintaining gold level a valuable thing.

The Swash and Berserker

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Wanting to take advantage of the free promotion, I logged in both of my accounts last night and created and or upsized characters on each.  For some time I had been trying to level a dps character on my main account, and had created Belgrifter a Ratonga Swashbuckler.  Namely the Swash is a very high survival dps, and I was having a decent time leveling him.  Ultimately I ran into the same roadblock I ran into with all of my characters however.  Once you have had flight in EQ2, you simply do not want to level a character without it.  So essentially I was stuck with a decision… either grind up tradeskills or grind up levels.  I managed to push him up to 55 before something shiny caught my eye and I abandoned the effort.

Since I could not really see myself returning to playing him until I had flight… I decided to go ahead and use that accounts token to super size my Ratonga.  The gear that they give you is extremely nice… far nicer than the gear I have ever started velious content in before.  I seriously doubt if I will replace any of it during the Othimir quests, it seems to be on par with that level of item.  The weapon choices were a little wonky, giving me a sword and a mace… but I can live with that.  The big problem is I have NEVER used a mace on my rat… but they auto leveled all of my weapon skills for me… so that really is not a problem.

If you look at the image from the above paragraph you will see Belglaive my new 85 Iksar Bezerker.  On my second account I mostly had support classes, as I used to regularly dual box before the release of Mercenaries.  As a result I really did not have anything “tanky” on that account.  If I ever wanted to dual box again, I figure it would end up extremely handy to have access to a tank, and Bezerker is the one I have never really played to high levels.  I have a very small dwarven one on my main account, but I think he is somewhere in the 30s.  The best thing is… the changes give me full access again to my Dark Elf Warden, since I had stopped playing him due to the item restrictions and not wanting to maintain a second subscription.

Wrapping Up

The ability to create a free level 85 character is an extremely amazing offer.  If you have ever considered playing EQ2, I highly suggest you make an account during the 1-15 period and create a level 85 even if you do not intend to play it right now.  You can do a lot of cool stuff with an 85, and even use it to feed lower level characters items.  I have always loved EQ2, and I will admit the prospect of fresh high level characters has gotten me pumped about playing it some again.  Just not sure how often I will do so… given my current addiction to Final Fantasy XIV.  If you do end up rolling characters, I highly suggest Antonia Bayle the Roleplaying server.  It has probably the best community I have seen in any game… other than potentially Landroval in LOTRO.

NBI2–So You Want to Blog?

October 2013 is Newbie Blogger Initiative month and you can be a part of the festivities!  Sign up as a sponsor or mentor for new bloggers, or consider starting up a blog of your own and soak up the wisdom and support.

There has been a small matter of confusion about kicking the second Newbie Blogger Initiative off.  The first few posts started trickling in yesterday, but to the best of my knowledge the official start is today October 1st, the beginning of a brand new month.  I have always been a person that sought out a community, be it a game forum or a guild or other denizens of the twittersphere.  As a result I have always tried to find connectivity to the various other bloggers operating in the same space as me.  So when I heard about the first NBI, I was all about its goals and motives.

I feel as a community we can go a long ways to making new bloggers feel welcome.  Much like last year however I am not sure how much sage advice I can really offer.  I feel like I am just figuring things out myself, and not really a role model worth following.  This month however I will make an effort to distill some of my experience being a blogger since 2009 into a few hopefully helpful posts.  Right now I am setting a goal of at least one new NBI related post a week, but knowing me there will likely be more than that once they actually get rolling.

So You Want to Blog?

I don’t really think someone wakes up one morning and says to themselves that they want to be a blogger.  I think for most of us it is something that happens over time, and we slowly transition into the role.  I for example have always expressed myself in an entirely too verbose fashion.  I was one of those guys who became a regular on whatever gaming forum I happened to be playing.  I‘ve written so many long form walls of text on so many different gaming forums that I have lost track.  It was a thing I was compelled to do, long before there really was a congealed gaming blogosphere.

It was late 2008 that I really became aware that there was such a thing as a WoW Blogosphere.  I had been playing the game since late 2004 and the guild that I lead was a day one guild on Argent Dawn, the busiest of the Role Playing servers.  So I felt like I had things to say about something I deeply cared about…  but I likely never would have coalesced into writing a blog without a nudge forward by the existing community.  I discovered Blog Azeroth and the wonderfully supportive people there, and finally gave me the courage to take a step out into this new world.  My hope is that NBI can be a similar community to help support and encourage other new bloggers.

Finding Your Format

If you are going to be writing… you ultimately need a SOMETHING to be writing about.  Generally it is this SOMETHING that attracts readers to your blog, gets them to care about what you are saying and keeps them coming back.  For me… Tales of the Aggronaut started its life as a World of Warcraft blog… namely a Warrior Tanking and Guild Leadership blog.  This was a nice clear niche that I could write about, and find enough topics to keep them coming on a regular basis.  As a main raid tank, that happened to be a warrior, that happened to be a raid leader, that happened to be playing World of Warcraft…  I had a naturally built demographic and hopefully audience.

Sure enough it worked… I posted and people came, because they cared about the things I also cared about.  I feel like it takes awhile for people to actually care about what you as a person are saying, and it is far easier to make them care about the types of things you are saying.  As a result I feel like the biggest piece of advice I can give someone is to find a “thing” that you care about, that other people also can care about.  People like to be able to enter your blog in their RSS feed reader categorized as one specific thing.

The Escape Plan

The problem that I ran into with this notion… is that I ceased to care about the thing I started my blog about.  Granted I am still a tank, and I will always likely be a tank… it is something so instinctual and rooted in me that I will likely never NOT be a tank.  The big problem however is that I simply did not care about World of Warcraft any longer.  So while as much as I loved the Blog Azeroth community, it simply was not enough to sustain me blogging about WoW when I moved on past that game.  My new object of affection was Rift, so I briefly and somewhat successfully made a format change to being a blog about Rift.  I even got sponsored by Trion as an “official” blog of Rift for awhile.

The problem is… once breaking the monogamy of only playing this one game…  I was free to flit about madly.  So while I started off happily playing Rift, I started playing other games as well.  My format got confused, and I found myself not really sure what I wanted to write about on a regular basis.  So many blogs die during this sort of existential crisis, because the original format of the blog ends up not being something the blogger wants to write about any longer.  My next piece of advice is that when you pick a format…  do so knowing that there will be a time that you no longer care about whatever that format is.  Essentially have an escape route in mind… a direction you can grow your blog in to find new inspiration.

The Generalist

Earlier I said that you needed a SOMETHING that people cared about to write about… and this is true at least at the start.  You have to build an audience that is willing to keep reading you.  Granted many of us feel like we are writing into a vacuum, or at least I feel like I am talking to myself most mornings.  However it is nice to be able to look at your statistics and see that yes… you do in fact have people reading the words you are saying.  If you have engaged the community, be it through NBI itself, twitter, google plus, various game forums…  you can reach a point where people actually care more about you than what you happen to be saying on a daily basis.

I don’t necessarily feel like I have actually accomplished this myself… I am a tiny minnow in a huge pond and I have managed to keep that perspective as I go forward.  However I have managed to maintain enough of an audience through all my flights of fancy to feel like I am not entirely alone in this.  After trying to switch gears from World of Warcraft, to Rift… I finally rebooted by blog to be game agnostic and simply talk about whatever the hell interested me at the time.  Additionally I made a conscious effort to start trying to be more personal.  So now I write about things that are happening to me… most of them game related… but sometimes not.

Finding the Time

So while there will be occasionally times that you have next to nothing to talk about… the biggest problem I always had was that I had to carve out a chunk of time to be able to sit down and write.  Some bloggers can rattle off a paragraph or two, and make it seem like a full post.  I envy those folks so much, because I don’t feel like I have written anything worth reading until I have filled up an entire page full of dross.  As a result it takes a not insignificant amount of time for me to get through my writing process.  When I was not stressed with a deadline and I could blog over lunch… the content was flowing freely.  However when I was stressed out I tended to retreat from writing and absolutely clamp down on my content.

There were so many lapses in posting that occurred in Tales of the Aggronaut, before this recent blog every day experiment.  The big thing that I had to solve was finding a time that I could commit to writing something each day.  For me, I get up at 5:30 am in the morning, shower, make a cup of coffee… and then I piddle around for about an hour as I drink my coffee and try and wake up.  While I am seemingly able to write, I am barely verbal before 9 am.  Previously I would sit around upstairs and play whatever game I happened to be into for an hour before going into work.  I decided I would sacrifice this fragmented game time and focus on trying to churn out a new blog post every morning.

Finding Your Routine

While this works for me, and I have been able to keep up with daily posting since April of this year…  you have to find whatever routine works for you.  One of the things that I have figured out… or at least think I have figured out… is that it is far more important that you are writing regularly than necessarily writing brilliantly.  Of course… there are folks that write daily and do so brilliantly… and I am massively jealous of their prolific talent.  However if you keep giving folks new content, they will likely be back or at least get in the habit of checking your site regularly for updates.  It has gotten to the point where if one of my friends does not see a post from me in the morning, they are texting me to find out if I am still alive.

I am by no means suggesting that anyone else adopt this insane daily posting schedule… but in order to keep me honest I had to do something drastic.  It is entirely too easy to say “I will just post something tomorrow” and then that tomorrow never really comes around.  So my suggestion is to go into this with a posting schedule in mind.  Start with maybe Tuesday/Thursday or if you are feeling your Wheaties… Monday/Wednesday/Friday.  I suggest you stick to mostly work week days… because my readership always falls off a giant cliff into oblivion on the weekends.  Keep it simple at the start, and keep it realistic.  You can always ramp up the number of posts you make at a later date.  The important thing here is that you keep the schedule and post regularly… when you do people will come out of the woodwork to read your work.

Learn from Others

The blogging community can be the greatest resource you have at your disposal.  So many times, you will be reading a post that ends up spurring an idea in you for a completely different post.  One of the things I have sought is to keep an updated Blog Roll, namely if it is a blog I am reading on a regular basis I want to let the world know.  This tends to be how readers dip their toes into the blogosphere, by finding a blog they like and then cascading out into other blogs that are similar.  So while you can learn so much from your fellow bloggers… also try make sure you are doing your part to help others in the blogosphere as well.

My ultimate goal with the Newbie Blogger Initiative is to create a better blogging ecosystem for all of us.  Blog Azeroth was this amazingly supportive and nurturing cocoon for bloggers to get their start in.  This is something we have been lacking in the greater gaming blogosphere for some time.  There really is no central place that each of us are connected back to, where Blog Azeroth was like an amazing country… the rest of us are much like independent city states.  I hope we can change that, and I hope I can be some small part of that change.  One of the greatest things about being one of the generalists is that you have full autonomy on a daily basis about what you want to write about or what matters to you.  However I often feel like I am lacking that shared sense of purpose that I once had as being part of a very specifically focused community.

Wrapping Up

Yes I realize the “wrap up” blog is a massive crutch of mine… but it works for me.  I figure in writing your own blog you will find your own crutches that you can use to move the progression of the post along as well.  In my case I am writing my posts in a very finite amount of time…  time that is now running out, so “Wrapping Up” is my mental switch that allows me to turn off the spigot.   As a result I am now trying to wind down my thoughts enough to write a halfway intelligible closing.

I feel like the first Newbie Blogger Initiative was a great success not necessarily because it had amazing consistency rates for the new bloggers posting… but more so that it caused many of us to start thinking of ourselves as being something larger than just our own blog.  If we can nurture this community and create fertile ground for other bloggers to follow along behind us…  I feel we will have succeeded in every conceivable way.  The goal this year is to essentially figure out how to keep the bloggers blogging that start down the path during the event itself.  I believe last year we had 110 new blogs started and roughly 30 were still active a year after the fact.  Here is hoping we can improve on that figure with this new initiative.

Return of NBI

Return of NBI

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One of the coolest initiatives that I can recall in the gaming blogosphere is returning, and this time the torch has been passed from Sypster of Biobreak to Contains Moderate Peril and T.R. Red Skies.  As a result they are asking for new bloggers and sponsors to sign up and be counted over on the newly relaunched NBI Forums.  You can check out the official announcement here… but the bulk of it is as follows.

Whether you’re a vlogger, blogger, podcaster, artist or whatever …if you own a blog dedicated to video games, the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2 needs your support! A great number of bloggers supported the Initiative last year and we are calling on you again to participate as well as imploring new bloggers to snatch this opportunity as well. The goals of the NBI are simple:  Find, visit, and promote new video game bloggers.  Create a friendly network of support.  Increase survival of new bloggers. (This is a new area of focus this year!)

I participated in the program as a sponsor blog last year and it was a great upwelling of community support.  I look forward to seeing what all comes out of it this time.  Back in May, Wilhelm did a post running down who all had survived the year.  We had 110 start new blogs during the program and a year later 30 had survived.  So as the above statement says… the focus this year is to find ways to help bloggers keep up with the blogging.  This rings true especially for me… who has embarked on this whole post something each morning madness.

Signing Up

Once again I will be signing up as a sponsor blog, but quite frankly I still feel like a babe in the woods when it comes to blogging.  I shared a number of more technical topics last year, since that tends to be the end of the thing I am best at.  This year… I will likely share some of my experiences after setting down this daily blogging path.  I still think this is one of the most awesome community sponsored events we have, and while we did not keep many of the voices that started the process, I think it is a start in the right direction.

You can see a run down of the posts I made last year by following my newbie blogger initiative category link.  Additionally I made a post awhile back called Infertile Ground where I talked about how the gaming blogosphere lacks a real sense of cohesiveness.  Maybe during this years NBI, we can start to work on that as well.  During the last round, I added pretty much every blogger that had twitter to my personal feed, and while many of them dropped off the face of the planet… quite a few have become constant fixtures in my scroll.  Hopefully this year can do the same, and build our blogosphere into a more tight knit community.

Wrapping Up

Really don’t have a lot more to say this morning, so I am honestly using the NBI announcement as a bit of a crutch.  I ran a truly silly amount of low level dungeons last night for various guild members, and then wrapped the night up by doing a bit of questing.  My Warrior is almost 47 now, which still seems a long ways off from 50… but I am starting to pay attention to all the things I need to do once I reach cap.  Hopefully all of you out there have a great day, and that the week as a whole is turning out to be a good one.

Infertile Ground

On Thursday of last week Psychochild posted on his blog an interesting article, musing where did the MMO Bloggers go?  My immediate thought process is that they have not really gone anywhere.  There are lots of bloggers as evidenced by the fact that the Newbie Blogger Initiative brought droves of them out of the woodwork and a year after the fact roughly 35 were still actively blogging.  I think it is more an issue that the online community changes drastically on a regular basis.  Older bloggers have dropped off and newer ones come in to replace them.

The Lack of Community

I think one of the big problems at hand, and why it seems like the ecosystem is not nearly as fertile as it once was… is the fact that there is no one overarching community.  There is no single home base that bloggers check into, especially when it comes to blogs that are not so game-centric.  I started my journey into blogging thanks in part due to the massively supportive community that is Blog Azeroth.  Granted of the original batch of active bloggers, there are only a handful remaining, but that ecosystem has remained fertile thanks to the constant tilling of the volunteer staff and the works of podcasts like the Twisted Nether Blogcast always bringing new and upcoming blogs to the forefront.

The problem is… I no longer play wow as my primary game… and once I shifted away from that I lost my warm cocoon.  There are friendly people out there in the outer reaches of the blogosphere, but it is far less certain once you are no longer looking at a single game.  We have no broad gaming blogging community, because quite frankly we rarely get any form of consensus on anything out here in the black.  This frontier community is far less friendly to newcomers, and while I have been blogging off and on in spurts of activity since April of 2009 I still very much feel like an outsider in this community.  Instead of the attitude of "lets be lifelong friends" it usually feels a bit more like "lets be independent states with temporary alliances".

Infertile Ground

There is definitely a community out here on the rim of society, but it feels like it is mostly limited to the first pioneers to reach the outer rim.  So the same dozen or so blogs link to each other frequently, but seem very closed to newcomers on their territory.  Sypster did an amazing step forward by trying to reach a hand out through the cold black space, with the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  But for those bloggers that participated as mentors… I ask you… how many of those new bloggers do you follow on twitter or G+ or facebook or have on your blogroll and or RSS reader?  Basically I feel that we have made some steps, but have done nothing really to create a fertile colony out in the game agnostic reaches of space.

If we want bloggers to set down roots we have to make them feel a part of something bigger.  Blog Azeroth did an amazing job of this, and gave me the confidence I needed to venture out into the black once World of Warcraft was no longer giving me what I wanted.  But once I got out here in the outer reaches, I was just not prepared for just how different the community was.  Admittedly I have a bad habit of just assuming everyone I am friendly with, is an actual friend… but sadly out here in the black that hasn’t always been the case and minor conflagrations occasionally turn into full blown wars.  All of that said… I feel that the MMO and Gaming bloggers themselves could do a much better job of trying to help others out.

Shining Beacons

There are several examples of people out there doing amazing jobs to bridge the gap and found communities.  I have to give @Sypster massive amounts of credit for the Newbie Blogger Initiative program.  For awhile it felt like we were really gelling into a nurturing environment thanks entirely to his efforts in bringing disparate communities together.  Unfortunately as a community we seem to have dropped the ball in keeping that effort rolling.  I wonder what we could do to bring things back up and running and jump start some life back in that effort.

Another person that I have to recognize is Rowan.  He does the most amazing job of trying to retweet people and give them recognition.  I have no clue why he has latched onto my blog posts, but he does a great job of rewording things to make entertaining and original retweets.  As much as I sometimes disagree with the quotes they choose, MMO Melting pot in the past has done a pretty good job of rebroadcasting and aggregating various topics from within the community.  Lately however even they have seemed to be slowing down.

As of this Friday I have started my own little plan of sorts.  Each Friday I have decided to do 5 #FF tweets, each singling out a specific blogger or member of the gaming community.  Instead of a generic blast of a bunch of names, I am trying to write some reason why you should follow each individual person, giving them their own 140 characters.  I am not sure if it will work, or make any difference, but I felt like it was a good thing to try anyways.  Additionally making something routine is a way for me to keep doing it… and I have been pretty horrifically bad at doing the #FF practice in the past.

By Will Alone

As Psychochild states blogging is a lot of work.  There are so many times where you are throw up against a choice… of do I blog about games or do I actually play said games.  My problem is that in the past I too often chose to play the games, and then at the end of the night I lacked the oomph to actually cobble together sentences to say the words I wanted to say.  In April I started a new experiment, where basically I would force myself to write something every morning as I am drinking my coffee.  It might not be the best post ever, but it would at least be constant movement forward.  I have no clue if the experiment is working other than the fact that 46 days later I have not missed a day… and on some days I have done extra posts like this one.

I made a commitment to blog about something, and even if I don’t want to… or it is extremely inconvenient as it was this morning…  I have kept up the vigil.  There are definite days where I am brimming with ideas I want to talk about… then there are other days where I have to make a post happen by surfing through my blog roll until "talky words" appear in my mind.  I might be posting pure crap, but I am posting something… and for me that is progress considering I have had some pretty epic lapses in content during these four years of blogging.

Where to go from here

If we want to do something to offset those leaving the blogging community… we have to nurture those just entering it.  This is where we are really failing as a "community".  We have made some amazing efforts for short periods of time… but we really need to come up with a solution for the marathon.  Individual game blog communities are thriving, and that is awesome for that specific game…  but we need to come up with a global community that supports all the games.  My only thought is to maybe create a permanent forum similar to Blog Azeroth that acts as a central home for all gaming bloggers regardless of their chosen game.  I have no problem building such a forum community… but I want to make sure it would even be used before going through the effort.

Would such a community get used?  Is there a community that already exists that is acting in this manner?  I am open to suggestions… but these are the problems as I see them.  Thanks for reading.

Bring On The Storm Legion

It is the beginning of a new month, and with it closes the #NBIMMO fun.  As a result Syp has posted a poll for the NBI Awards on Bio Break.  You can cast your vote in categories like “Promising Star, Game Specific” and “Most Interesting Angle”.  The categories have narrowed down the field with five blogs competing for each award.  I am not really sure how long the voting is set to run, but get over there are show all these new blogs some love.

Entering the Storm

There had been some rumors circulating about this, but yesterday Trion dropped a 100 megaton bombshell on the community announcing their upcoming feature rich expansion: Rift: Storm Legion.  The announcement of a new expansion is never that huge of a surprise. We have come to expect them roughly a year after release. However this is one of the most ambitious and feature packed expansions that I have seen in recent memory.  Some of the features include:

  • Two huge new continents, reportedly more than tripling the size of the existing game world.
  • Dual-faction island city of Tempest Bay.
  • Four new souls, one for each of the callings
  • Level cap raised to 60
  • Ability to “Instant Adventure” your way from 1-60 if you choose.
  • Greater variety of onslaughts, rifts, and events.
  • Seven new dungeons zones.
  • Three new raid zones.
  • A new single player Chronicle.
  • Massive colossus battles that supposedly effect the world in ways we have not yet seen.
  • Personal dimensions:  Guild and Player Housing.
  • New “Cape” inventory slot.
  • New Grandmaster tier of crafting.
  • New puzzles, artifacts, collectables, achievements, mounts, pets, titles and more.

The Past Year

screen_img3A little less than a year ago, I made on post on this blog titled “It’s Not You, It’s Me”, where basically I admitted to cancelling rift and outlining some of my reasons for doing so.  There are multiple reasons, some of which I have come to realize really were about me, and my lack of wanting to commit to doing any form of organized gameplay.  I can’t hold any game responsible for that, because honestly it has been an evolution I have gone through, from very serious raider, to very serious casual player.  Since then I have played a ton of EQ2, LoTRO, gotten bored with SWTOR, and been dabbling in Guild Wars 2 and Secret World betas.

The primary problems I had with Rift, was the lack of “fluff” the world had.  Nothing in Telara seemed to exist, just for the fun of it.  All things seemed to be tied to some purpose, or needed by the single questing patch per faction.  I enjoyed the game, but just ran out of things I felt worthy of doing.  There were plenty of collections and achievements that I could have gone after, and I had many factions I could be running dailies with, but when I ran out of quest storyline, I just ran out of things I was interested in.  Rift events were a blast, but after a point they also became old.

Trion Listened

screen_img5I can’t say that Trion listened to me, I don’t have the ego to even imagine that, but what I can say is that my entire guild seemed to go through the same gradual leaving that I did.  We went from having 50 active players, to 10, to 5, to none.  So while they may not have listened to me, I can tell they heard the community as a whole that wandered off, because in the last year they have been insanely busy.  I stopped actively playing the game sometime last June.  Here is a list of some of the major content achievements as taken from this amazing “welcome home” thread, for folks coming back to the game.

  • PVP Rifts.
  • Cross Server Looking For Group.
  • 3 “Sliver” 10 Man Raids.
  • Chronicles Solo/Duo Instances Added.
  • Planar Attunement Post 50 Advancement System.
  • Master-Mode Dungeons.
  • Support for player made Add-ons.
  • Ember Isle – New questing zone for level 50 characters.
  • Instant Adventures – LFG open world adventures.
  • Cross-Faction Auction House.
  • Rift Mobile App.
  • In-Game Character Weddings.
  • 6th Role Slot.
  • Crafting from bank.
  • Mercenary System to balance the sides in PVP Matches.
  • New Fishing and Survival Trade-skills.
  • New “Seal” crafted Inventory Slot.
  • Nameplates for mobs and players.
  • Streaming Client.
  • Guild Finder system.
  • Leaderboards.

Expansion before the expansion

screen_img6So in one year they have added an entire expansions worth of content already.  I’ve always respected the folks at Trion, and thought given time, they would turn the product into a really amazing place to be.  I subscribed for roughly a years time, even though I only played the game roughly 4 months.  I had faith in the team, and figured my subscription was a “donation to the cause” of sorts.  Seems like that “donation” has been repaid in massive amounts of hard work.  Even before the expansion proper launches, 1.9 is waiting in the wings and seems to fill up any of the remaining gaps in the game.

The two big things for me that are coming in 1.9 are Conquest Mode, and Mentoring.  Conquest promises to take us back to DAoC style 3 faction PVP.  I have long held the opinion that what is wrong with PVPin general, is the fact that games focus on the Red Vs Blue mentality.  I can remember in DAoC, the factions to some extent self balanced.  If one team was a bit stronger, the other two would temporarily gang up to even out the odds.  I think the Conquest mode will be a shot of adrenalin to a languid PVP culture.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you have heard me go on and on about mentoring and how great it is.  Literally this is the one feature that I think every game needs.  Being socially focused, it gets frustrating when new friends start and you can’t really help with out without absolutely steamrolling content for them.  This is really no fun for anyone, for you laying waste without consequences is boring.  For your friends, they end up just following you around aimlessly never actually learning how to play their classes.  When you can mentor down to your friends, and run the content for real, you get to relive the experience and do so with your buddies.

A Pat on the Back

It is so easy to focus on the negative things in the game industry.  Trust me there are plenty, and I have been a bitter ass for a very long time when it comes to the flaws in games.  That said, I feel that it is all the more important that we point out what is going right in the industry.  With the expansion, Trion will have added in every single one of the “must have” features I could even muster.  On top of that, it triples the size of its game world, and with that comes a flood of new content for players to experience.  Essentially they have answered the challenge posed by all of us who unsubscribed, and have done so in really heroic fashion.

I still very much love Norrath, and am having a blast still in Everquest II, but I almost feel like I need to resub to Rift just to applaud them for their efforts.  At this point I have been gone long enough that essentially I will need to completely re-roll to remember how the hell anything works.  That said I think I will be doing just that, and taking a tour of all the changes first hand. 

I had already decided that I would not really be playing Guild Wars 2 or Secret World anymore until the launch.  I played enough of the games to realize I liked it, so I don’t want to wear off that new game smell.  So between the ever present EQ2, Rift, Diablo 3, and piddling around with SWGEmu… I think I will have plenty to do for the foreseeable future.  It needs to be said:  Great job Trion.

NBIMMO: Resources and Final Thoughts

#NBIMMO

nbilarge

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

The Cutting Room Floor

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

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

Gaming Tooltips

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

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

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Torhead

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

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

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

DarthHater DB

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

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

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

KnoTOR

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

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

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

World of Warcraft

WoWhead

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

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

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

Multi-Game Support

ZAM

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

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

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

Experimental

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

Those Amazing Fonts

nbi_fonts

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

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

Blambot

nbi_blambothttp://www.blambot.com

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

DaFont

nbi_dafonthttp://www.dafont.com/en

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

Smashing Magazine

nbi_smashinghttp://www.smashingmagazine.com

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

Software Resources

Gimp

nbi_gimphttp://gimp.org

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

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

Inkscape

nbi_inkscapehttp://inkscape.org

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

Windows Live Writer

nbi_livewriter

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

NBIMMO: Be Open Minded (…Unlike Me)

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

Some of the blogs to come out of NBIMMO already

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

Belghast’s Are Bitter

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

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

Enter TERA

TERA_ScreenShot_20120502_195810

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

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

Bel Admits He Was Wrong

TERA_ScreenShot_20120502_200344

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

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

Remember Guild Wars 2

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

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

Basically, I Am Wrong Often

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

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

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

Learn From My Mistakes

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

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

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

NBIMMO: The Google Reader Blogroll

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

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

Manually Updating Your Blogroll Sucks!

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

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

Google Reader to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

Getting It On Your Blog

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

Dark Art of Bundling

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

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

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

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

Making the Bundle Do What We Need

reader_clickcreatebundleclip

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

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

reader_gamingbundle

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

Getting It On The Blog

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

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

Making It Better

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

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

One Final Thing

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

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

Now you can enjoy your relatively hassle-free Blogroll!

Newbie Blogger Initiative

nbilarge

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

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

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

Getting Started

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

Hosted Solutions

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

Self-Hosting

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

Pointers for Self-Hosting

  • Update Often

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

  • Stay Away From Package Deals

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

  • Google Analytics

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

  • Develop Good Relationship With Your Host

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

Welcome to Blogging!

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