NBIMMO: Resources and Final Thoughts

#NBIMMO

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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

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

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

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

Getting Started

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

Hosted Solutions

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

Self-Hosting

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

Pointers for Self-Hosting

  • Update Often

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

  • Stay Away From Package Deals

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

  • Google Analytics

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

  • Develop Good Relationship With Your Host

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

Welcome to Blogging!

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

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 06 – Atmosphere

Over the last few weeks I have been doing a series of posts highlighting some of those cool features of the game that make it so worth playing.  To date they have all been tangible features, that you can interact with.  Today we are going to delve a bit into the esoteric, and as such this post will probably have a gratuitous usage of screenshots.  Originally I had set aside fifteen shots for this, but I will be trying to pair down a bit.  Some of the images are used with permission from jensketch.com (because I don’t play Guardian side).

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Episode 06:  The Atmosphere

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In past articles I have covered a good number of features that show you why, rift is a game that is extremely polished and well thought out.  Problem is, these features alone do not add up to what makes a game enjoyable.  The reason why you get drawn into a game for any length of time is the environment.  You ask yourself if the world you are being drawn into believable and is the central conflict and its characters compelling.

Basically what makes or breaks a game is it’s atmosphere, and the world of Telara has it to spare.  Whether you start Defiant or Guardian you are drawn into a world at war, and into the heat of the battle.  You are dipped in conflict from the moment you set foot out the door, and ushered into a world torn asunder by factional warfare and a battle with elemental planes themselves.

There have been many games that have presented you a bleak, body strewn landscape.  Warhammer is a perfect example of this as it draws the player into a world of constant attacks between the forces of order and chaos.  Problem is, you see this world, so decimated that you have no clue why anyone would be willing to spill blood over it.  With Rift the player is given an apocalyptic vision of a possible future, only to be whisked away into the past where we the player can see exactly what there is worth saving.

A World of Beauty

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The world of rift is a truly beautiful place.  Even at low resolution, you can see that there has been some amazing work done on trying to bring about unique looking settings.  At high and ultra settings, the world is just breath taking.  As I have played various MMO titles, there have been many “ooooo” moments.  The very first of these that I can remember is coming out of the mist, in Butcherblock Mountains and seeing the Statue atop Kaladim in Everquest.

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With each new game, there have been more of these.  I sit back, take a screenshot and move on.  My rift’s screenshot folder has grown exponentially as I have leveled because each and every zone in Telara has two or three of these breathtaking moments.  Above is a picture I took, when I first entered Stonefield from Freemarch.  The sky had darkened, and it had just began to rain, but you could still see the strong shadows on the rocky faces.  I stopped leveling, stopped paying attention to questing, and just sat there for a moment enjoying the view.

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I tend to power quest my way through zones, and in other games have been able to ignore much of the scenery in my push for the goal.  In rift however, I just cannot help but stop and smell the roses from time to time. Part of what has made this world so compelling is the fact that each zone is unique.  In games like wow, you have prefab objects that get reused over and over.  In rift, the architecture, the trees, the caves, and the landscape feel custom fit just for each area.  Each board on the bridge in the above image, feels as though it were placed by hand, and is unique looking from the other bridges in Crimson Gorge (of which there are many).

A World of Danger

wysbpr_06_gloamwood One of the things that had been missing from MMO games for so long, that I did not even realize I was missing, was a sense of fear.  In games like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot I used to tread into unexplored areas with a sense of dread.  In the case of those games, I thought at the time, it was due to the stiff death penalties imposed on its players.  So when the modern crop of MMOs heralded by World of Warcraft arrived, with easy death penalties, I was happy at the time.

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What I am coming to realize now, is that those early games had a certain zone design ethic that lead to uneasiness in its players.  You know that you had to be extremely careful as you hunted mobs, both in the dungeons and the outside world because one too many would mean a certain death.  Rift has carried over this same old school ethic into it’s content.  As you move through the outside world, you have to have the same care as you would pulling a dungeon.

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On top of this, the dungeons themselves have a creepy natural feel to them.  You can almost feel the dust being disturbed under your feet as your party explores them.  The above image is from the end of Iron Tomb, the entry level Defiant dungeon in Freemarch.  Notice how each of the surfaces exudes texture, as they are filled with careful carvings and decorations placed there once upon a time to honor the dead.  Having run numerous other dungeons, I have yet to see any of the assets in Iron Tomb show up elsewhere.  Each zone feels like it was crafted just for its purpose.

A World of Substance

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One of the arguments I have seen on the WoW Fan sites, is that because Rift has shied away from the slapstick humor and blatant pop culture parody, that it lacks a “soul”.  I think the exact opposite is true, like the titles that influenced Blizzard, Trion takes it’s game world very seriously and to me it exudes soul.  So many times in an MMO you do things that seem to have no purpose.  If you are asked to go to a town and rescue the villagers, it is often times from generic cartoon thugs.

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From the very start of the game you are immersed in a diverse tree of factions, each with their own methods, goals and objectives.  To the best of my knowledge, Rift has no nameless faceless meaningless cartoon thugs. The world is besieged by the Dragon Cults, who collectively seek to spread the influence of the dragons they champion.  In other games, where the dragons represent elemental aspects, they are often times benevolent forces that shape mankind.  In the world of Telara, the Dragons are cruel selfish creatures that want to seize control of the world for their own means.

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In Freemarch you are introduced into this conflict first with the Endless Court.  This group of cultists worship Regulos the Destroyer, the dragon of death.  The Endless Court harness the power of death to bear against you a multitude of undead abominations.  As you move through the zone you begin to encounter the Abyssals, a cult waging warfare on Freemarch from the depths of the Lake of Solace.  This group is devoted to the water dragon Akylios, and with it brings an unspeakable legion of deepspawn and water elementals.

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On the Guardian side, in Silverwood you have two central conflicts, that of the Aelfwar and the Wanton.  House Aelfwar are a xenophobic group splinter cell of High Elves devoted to Greenscale, the Dragon of life.  Lead by Prince Hylas, they seek to destroy civilization and remake the world in a primordial jungle.  Diametrically opposed to the Aelfwar, are The Wanton.  These monstrous humanoids, namely goblins and dragonians, worship Maelforge, the dragon of fire and revel in senseless violence and brutality.  The Wanton will not be satisfied until every person has been slain, every forest burned, and every village ransacked all in a carnal sacrifice to their dragon god.

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So each time I read one of the complaints that this game lacks soul, I keep asking myself.  Are these players playing the same game I have been?  I came to Rift with a pretty open mind, because quite honestly I wasn’t expecting much from it.  I sat on a beta key for six months, and finally the discussions started to make me curious enough to download the 8 gig client on my crappy DSL connection.  Going into it, expecting nothing, I was shocked and amazed by the vibrant and polished world I found.

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Thing is a few months down the road, and a month into the live release I am still amazed by the world of Telara.  Trion has shown a level of attentiveness to its players that I have not seen ever during my tenure of playing MMOs.  Since release we have seen 10 hot fixes, 2 patches, with the first major content patch set to roll out this Wednesday.  This level of dedication, to the game and to the world they have created truly is, why you should be playing rift.

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 05 – User Interface

Instead of my customary cut & paste introduction to the concept of WYSBPR, today I thought I would throw out a thank you to Aenerb a friend of mine from my guild Eye of the Manastorm on the Shadefallen server.  When he submitted my series of posts to the reddit rift feed, I doubt he realized that it would actually grow legs and run (and I honestly didn’t even know about the reddit feed in the first place).  Yesterday my readership went from an average of 60-90 unique readers a day to over 700.  Reminds me of the few times I got featured on wow insider, certainly skews the analytics a bit.

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Episode 05:  The User Interface

wysbpr_05_default_userinterface For some time I had been a wow tourist.  As a new game came out, I would wander off and play it in alpha, beta, and very rarely release but always return home to wow.  The very first make or break component of any of these games was the user interface.  If the UI felt obtrusive, and difficult to manage it was not long before I quit playing.  The ones I have played for any length of time (WoW, Everquest II, Warhammer Online) all had one thing in common, a UI that was easily modifiable by the player.

Above is an image of the default Rift user interface elements.  I created a new character for the purpose of screenshots, so no worries folks I have not gone to the dark side and swapped factions.  For the most part, the above is also the source of the majority of “it’s just like wow” complaints, because visually the UI elements do look a lot like WoW and LoTRO went out and had a lovechild.  All the stock modern MMO constructs are there, the mini-map, the hotbar, the floating chat window, the bag bar, and for some reason all games seem to top-left dock the player fames.

Breaking The Mold

Personally I have never liked the stock MMO layout.  The unit frames for example seem completely foreign for them to be in the upper left corner.  When you are playing an MMO all of the action seems to happen at your character, so to me, having them player and target frames in the center of the screen makes more logical sense.  Less time spent looking away from your character, less lag in your reactions.  As a result I have very specific desires for what my UI should look like.  While it seems horribly wrong I will illustrate the point with what my raid interface looked like in wow before I quit raiding and left the game.

wysbpr_05_wowinterface To get things the way I wanted them in wow, was doable, but it meant I had to run over 50 different add-ons to get the various effects I wanted.  Each time a major patch would come out, it meant the long and annoying process of figuring out exactly what was broken, finding updates and dealing with the fact that your UI settings seemed to get corrupted on a regular basis.  On top of that there was always the fact that anytime you attempted to get support, the immediate first response was to blame any add-ons you were using.

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I am very happy to say the era of the add-on is finally behind me.  In Rift I was able to very quickly, a few moments after starting the game move things around and change the UI to look the way I wanted it to without any external modification.  If you look at the two screenshots, the layout is pretty similar.  All the key elements I wanted from WoW add-ons are here, and overall I feel like the effect is much cleaner.  Granted the screenshot above is pretty busy considering we were working on an invasion boss.

Making It Happen

wysbpr_05_UIsettings_editorAbove is a picture of the ‘Edit Layout” interface inside of Rift.  Since I am keyboard oriented I acces it by hitting escape to bring up the options menu, and then choosing the “Edit Layout” option.   This places the game into a mode where you can move components of your user interface around.  The concept is pretty simple, each UI element has a bounding box drawn around it, and you can drag them around the screen to place them where you like.

This is by no means a brand new concept to the MMO world.  I can remember while playing Warhammer Online thinking their UI layout editor was extremely elegant.  Rift however goes one step further.  One of the big problems with moving things from their default places, is that as the windows grow, they often overlap and cover up necessary parts of other windows.  Rift has solved this by allowing users to dock windows together. 

If you notice above some of the windows show a thick golden highlight alone one or more of the edges.  This denotes that these windows have been docked together.  For example if you move the window labeled “Group Portrait 1” in the above image, it will also move all the other group portraits and pet portraits keeping the group enact.  This means as your windows grow, your initial UI design stays neatly together.

While you cannot see it in this image, in addition to docking windows together, you can dock elements to the edges of the screen.  When you drag a window close to the edge, a green highlighted edge will appear.  This means that window will be docked to that edge of the screen.  Currently you can only dock a window to one edge at a time, but the nice feature of doing this means as you change resolutions, your layout will remain roughly the same.

Going Even Further

wysbpr_05_importSettingsMontageOne of the biggest frustrations that comes with running with a non-stock layout in most games is figuring out a way to replicate your design to other characters.  In WoW, you had to go through the process of copying LUA files from one character directory to another.  In other games, I never actually found a way and just had to try my best to replicate things by hand.  Trion thought ahead and included an elegant way of doing this out of the box.

Again being keyboard oriented, I usually access the options menu by hitting the escape key.  From this menu choose the Import option, as shown in the above montage image, which will bring up the import settings interface.  On the left side of the screen is a listing of all your characters with some pertinent information about them and on the left a series of checkboxes.  This will let you import key bindings, ui layout, macros, chat settings, game settings, and misc settings from the target character to your currently logged in character.  When you hit the import button you are given a prompt, also shown, that warns you any changes will be permanent.

wysbpr_05_importsettings_afterimport Now if we return to my dwarven placeholder, you can see that I have applied the UI settings from my warrior Belghast, and the UI layout has changed to match my preferences.  Several minutes of awkward cut and paste work done in seconds with a nice clean UI.  One of the weird things to get used to with Rift is the fact that, ALL of your primary settings are stored with your account information on the server.  I’ve never played a game in the past that had done this, so it was equal parts shocking and awesome when I logged in for the first time from my laptop and everything about Belghast was set up the way I wanted it.  The only glitch however was that my laptop and desktop run at different resolutions.  So as a result I use different UI scaling settings on each machine. 

After a few minutes of digging around I found a simple and elegant solution for this.  Rift has a pair of commands, /exportui <filename> and /importui <filename>, that help to bridge this gap between my systems.  Doing an exportui, dumps all of your user interface settings to a file on your hard drive, and doing the importui command refreshes those settings from the file.  So when I log into my desktop I type /importui desktop, and when I log into my laptop I type /importui laptop to quickly scale things to fit either machine.

The Future

One of the neat benefits of this system, might not be apparent at first.  Since these commands dump and import your settings from a file on your file system, it will allow you to trade UI layouts with your friends.  Currently there is not much that can be done in the UI that could not be replicated quickly by another user.  However since they have already added additional features to the user interface since release, I can see at some point the level of customization will allow users to create a very unique look and feel they might want to share.

Without a doubt, this is the most robust user interface in an MMO to date.  No other MMO ever comes close to letting its users have this much control over their environment without installing third party modifications.  Currently Trion has hinted that add-ons might be something for the future, but with an interface this well designed I am not sure exactly what can be improved upon.  If they do choose to do add-ons, it would be nice to see them plug-in cleanly into the existing interface, instead of replace it. 

I can imagine a time where the user might be able to browse in game a list of available third party add-ons and snap them in without having to hit external sources.  An internal “app store” would allow Trion to assure the quality of the add-ons, and keep them from doing anything terribly exploitative.  This way add-ons that do more than re-organize data, can be nipped in the bud before actually having an effect on the community.  As a reformed add-on junkie, it is my hope that Rift stays clean and free of “make or break” third party features.

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 04 – A Dusty Sack

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Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 04: A Dusty Sack

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I think I first heard rumors about my friend the dusty sack, a few weeks from the launch of the game.  My guild has a fairly active server forum, and someone posted about its existence and the wonders it contained.  I’ve commented in other posts about how this game has some ideas that just make you sit back and think, why has no one thought of this before now.  I will admit, I didn’t quite believe that the rumors were true until at some point during head start I encountered one myself.

What pray tell is a dusty sack, and why am I being so ambiguous?  It is a wondrous bag of loot that can contain, at any level a green, blue or epic item tailored for your class.  Granted some of the items you get are less than stellar, such as the way too prevalent “of the fortress” endurance items (which I am convinced are the default in the switch case statement).  How does one get one of these magic portals to loot?  Well there are several ways.

How Puzzling

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Honestly it was late in beta that I heard hidden within the game were a series of puzzles.  These puzzles when completed gave you a treasure chest, that when opened produced the mythical dusty sack.  The picture above shows the first puzzle obtainable by Defiant players.  Part of the challenge of the puzzles is getting to them, and the above is located on the bottom of the deep Lake of Solace. 

This puzzle is deviously simple, in that you just have to turn on all of the lamps.  The trick is, that the lamps phase in and out at different intervals, some phasing every few seconds, and some considerably longer.  The finite resource is the amount of breath that you have.  If you locate the puzzle first, and then swim down with a full bar of air, you should have more than enough time to complete it.

wysbpr_04_moonshaeAs you move through the levels the puzzles get more and more devious.  The above puzzle, located in Moonshae Highlands was both difficult to get to (guarded by elites) and extremely difficult to figure out (without using a guide).  At the point in which we solved the puzzle as shown here, my friend and I had probably spent an hour and a half trying different ways through the problem.

If they keep getting harder you might ask yourself are they worth the effort?  Hell yes they are.  When you finally click the solution into place, you are rewarded with this triumphant explosion that causes the treasure chest to show up, along with an achievement and a title.  So far my favorite of the titles, is “the Hare Brained” but I am a little off in the head. 

The most beautiful thing about these puzzles is that you are guaranteed a piece of blue or purple loot from completing them.  Each set of puzzles has a different maximum cap for the level of loot you can receive.  So if you want to optimize your gear, you can wait and complete all the ones of a certain range when you ding the cap level.  I did this for Iron Pine Peaks, Stillmoor, and Shimmersand which all can reward level 50 epics, but for the others I simply did them as I got to them.

Paying Your Respects

wysbpr_04_gloamwoodcairnIn addition to the puzzles, there is another way to obtain the illusive Dusty Sack.  Above is an example of an Ancient Cairn, this one located in Gloamwood.  They are always hidden in locations well off the beaten path, that usually involve extreme mountaineering to reach.  In addtion to this you sometimes have to dodge extremely dangerous creatures along the way.  The cairn in Shimmersand for example, was guarded by a level 50 elite dragon along it’s high mountain path and required deft maneuvering to keep from aggroing it as you continued up the path.

As I mentioned before, the payoff for reaches this long forgotten places is a dusty sack.  However these seem to be a little less lucrative than the puzzles.  Instead of a blue or a purple, you can get a green, blue or purple, which by nature means you will probably see a good number more greens than purples.  Nonetheless they are fun to try and get to, and worth the bragging rights and an achievement if you visit them all.  I know personally I still have a handful left to visit.  The one in scarlet gorge is especially rough as it is on top of one of those bluffs, and involves some Super Mario like reflexes to get up there.

A Wet Sack

wysbpr_04_discardedstrongbox There is a cousin to the dusty sack, the wet sack.  These can be found hidden in items strew on the bottoms of lakes in the game.  Currently I only know of them existing in the Lake of Solace, and according to the achievement there are 8 of them.  Personally I have only found 6 of the 8 without using any of the guides available.  These often require extreme control over your ability to descend quickly and ascend after looting, as at least one is extremely deep within a trench.

When opened the wet sack produces similar results as the cairns.  In the six I opened I received 1 epic, 2 blues, and 3 greens.  I am uncertain if there are more out there in the world than the ones in Lack of Solace, but the ones there seem to have a maximum level cap of 25, as when I completed them on my lvl 35 warrior each item was a lvl 25.  Now that I have reached my level cap, I hope to go exploring more looking for more sunken treasure laying around the waterways of Telara.

Wrapping Up

This is another prime example of why I love this game.  Like I said, this is a “why did no one think of this before” features.  There are other games out there with puzzles, but to this date I have not played one that has turned them into such a fun and valuable mini-game.  I can only hope as we move forward additional puzzles and hidden items will be patched into the world for explorers to find.

I’ve heard many complaints from friends that this game is just not revolutionary enough for them.  To me, it is little things like this that are very much innovative and evolutionary that keep me enthralled.  I am anxious to see how this game evolves over time.  Based on the number of little tweaks and content updates we have already seen in two patches in the last 3 weeks since launch, I have great hopes that Trion is a company that truly cares about its customers.

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 03 – Wardstones

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Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 03: Wardstones

 

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When you first roll a character in Telara, and you notice that there are these odd looking crystal structures all scattered throughout the various towns and camps.  Like all players, I thought they were mere decoration, since I had played through the Burning Crusade era of WoW, and lord knows the outland had gratuitous usage of crystals everywhere.  However these are far more than pretty baubles to look at, each wardstone at it’s most simple level represents control.

The wardstone is a physical extension of the Ward itself, and both factions use them to strengthen their outposts.  Players within 20 meters of a friendly or neutral wardstone receive a 20 minute duration buff that scales based on the level of the stone itself.  The base buff is that you deal 10% more damage and receive 5% less damage from planetouched or planebound enemies.  Because of this, the wardstone is the primary target enemy invasions as they sweep over the countryside attacking towns.

When We Fail to Defend

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Player towns become the focus of huge battles and enemy forces attempt to batter down the wardstone weakening our “foothold” on the region.  Above is a picture from Lakeside Outpost in Freemarch.  Players have neglected the invasions as they swarmed the area, and in this case Abyssal Cultists have taken down our wardstone, and created their own foothold.  When one of your towns wardstones is destroyed, no only does it allow for the enemy to gain ground, but it also keeps your NPCs from spawning effecting shutting that quest hub down.

These enemy footholds begin to spread planar creep on the ground, which allows more invasion forces to spawn from them.  If players are not on top of the invasions, this can quickly get out of hand, as each new foothold will start spawning more invasion units until eventually even the capitol cities can fall under the influence of the invading army.

For me this is one of the great features of Rift.  We play in an unpredictable world, where at a moments notice your towns can be ransacked by creatures.  As players we are forced to constantly stop what we are doing, band together, and push back the planar forces to regain our territory.  Games in the past have tried to carry out the “world at war” theme, but none of them have really succeeded.  Warhammer came close, but the world you were fighting over left you wondering exactly why anyone would die over it.  In rift we have these magnificent landscapes, that are well worth protecting, and we the players are constantly called to do so.

Ancient Wardstones and World PVP

wysbpr_03_ancientwardstone As you explore the land you encounter multiple kinds of Wardstones.  At the head of the article, the telltale green of a neutral ward is being shown.  Defiant footholds and towns are protected by the ruby red wardstone and Guardian footholds and bases are protected by the bright blue wardstones.  However once you reach the contested lands of Scarlet Gorge, a special kind of wardstone begins to appear.

To the right is a picture of an ancient wardstone in its neutral state.  Through a quest line you gain an ability called ancient wardstone activation, which allows you to spend one planar charge to activate an ancient wardstone to your faction.  You can gain up to three planar charges by closing rifts.

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Above is an example of an activated Ancient Wardstone.  While towns wardstones were destructible by players in early stages of beta, they are no longer valid targets.  However these ancient wardstones become physical control points for PVP in any zone they are located in.  The victor faction gains access to lucrative daily quests as shown above while holding one of these stones. 

While I am not seeing a ton of PVP happening over them yet on my PVE RP server, I have heard they are extremely contested on the PVP servers.  Currently in most of the zones I have found them in, they are located in poorly defensible locations.  Which would make it hard to hold the stone against opposition for long.  But hopefully there will be some ancient stones in areas that can be held much in the same way as keeps were in Dark Age of Camelot.

The Future?

Since the wardstone is at is most simple level a control point for your faction, I think in the future these will be the way to work more world pvp into the game.  Access to daily quests is nice, but to get players actively controlling them there needs to be a bigger carrot at the end of the stick.  In Warhammer online, controlling keeps gave you access to the tier vendors.  While I am not suggesting going that far, I think holding an ancient wardstone should give the players access to something unique and otherwise unobtainable.

One of the concepts I have always liked is that of the frontiers from Dark Age of Camelot.  It would be nice as we go forward to see Trion implement a series of zones with towns and defensive structures that can be taken and held by a specific faction.  I agree mostly with their decision to make player town wardstones off limits from the opposite faction, I feel there should be an area of the world where that is completely viable.

One of the big things holding many of my friends back from joining Rift is what feels like only rudimentary support for the pvp community.  I am not saying world pvp or RVR is going to necessarily fix it, but I think with the existing infrastructure in place for taking and holding an ancient wardstone it is a logical step forward to implement something like that.  I am not the kind of player that can be swayed much by battlegrounds, but I have always enjoyed keep raids because of the epic feel of taking and holding a world objective as opposed to an instance that only lasts as long as the match.

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 02 – Porticulum Network

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Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 02: Porticulum Network

 

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The Porticulumn Network is one of the coolest features of the game, but is also one of the most indirectly complained about systems for players coming from other games.  I will admit at first I was one of the complainers, even going so far as to post on the beta forums about it.  However after living with the system, I have come to appreciate exactly how amazing it is, both for rapid transit and the way it very gently nudges the player population to be community minded.

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What the Porticulum Network gives you is the ability to transfer from between any two ports on the network instantly for a nominal fee (that gets less and less nominal the further away from your current hub you go).  This is what we loved so much about the Dalaran portals in WoW, Fast Travel devices in Everquest II, and the various Plane of Knowledge portals in Everquest.  This allows you to move quickly to wherever in the world your guild needs you to be.

The player starts with no portals connected to his or her network.  They receive the first connection on their hub by visiting the Porticulum Master for their faction’s capitol city.  From that point on, they can connect additional ports to their hub by talking to the Porticulum Masters in each of the zones explored.  The above image shows a complete network for the defiant side (minus the new Porticulum at Knight’s Stand added in 1.01 patch). 

When you talk to any Porticulum Master you are given the option to Bind Soul for a small charge.  Doing this will give you the Soul Recall ability, and allow you to return to your bound porticulum.  This ability has a hour long cooldown and a brief cast time.  With the Total Recall guild perk you are able to reduce the cooldown to 50 minutes.  This allows you to rather quickly get to anywhere in the world once an hour.

What You Give Up, And Why It’s a Good Thing

Now we get to the point of complaint many users including myself initially have.  The zones in rift are fairly massive, and take a large time to cross.  If you notice, most zones have only one portal.  What the game lacks is an intra-zone taxi system, like flight points and horse paths that have been utilized in various other mmos.  Initially this seems like a massive thing to give up, players like to be able to go where they want to when they want to with minimal effort.  However, like the heading alludes to, not having these ways to travel intra-zone safely is a good thing.

Taxi systems general allow the user to skip large areas of content safely.  In a game like rift, where part of the design is a constantly changing world where rifts and invading armies besiege towns, it requires community interaction to turn the tide of events.  As you move through a zone, you are forced to confront these forces head on to survive.  As a result I have seen random groups of players gathering to take down rifts on a regular basis.  This kind of impromptu interaction is what I feel will keep the player community active and thriving.

As you move into some of the larger and more difficult to traverse zones there are multiple porticulum in the zone.  For example Iron Pine Peak a 40-45 zone, had 3 well spaced portals allowing you to pop between major questing hubs easily.  When you enter this phase of the game, the lack of an intra-zone taxi system really goes out the window.

It’s All About Immersion

One of the things has been amazing about this game is the level of immersion the player has.  As you travel across a zone you carefully cling to the roads, knowing that just off the path lies your likely death.  The game brings back the edginess and fear factor that so many early MMOs had.  In Everquest, I knew that if I went wandering off in unexplored territory I was likely to find something that would squash me like a bug.  However in the World of Warcraft era, we as players have become lazy as we are used to being able to wander zones with godlike impunity, or simply fly over the top of them ignoring all of the would be pitfalls. 

I’ve come to appreciate the uncertainness and randomness of encounters this game has brought back to the MMO genre.  I remember the sheer fear I had the first time I stepped foot into Muire Tomb in Dark Age of Camelot, or cautiously running the zone boundaries of Kithicor Forest trying to get through to the safety of Rivervale before nightfall.  While I considered it inconvenient at the time, and was happy to see things like that gone in World of Warcraft… I have come to realize now that I have it back how much more depth it gave the game.  After all, isn’t the reason why most of us play these games to have a break from our normal lives and be thrust into epic battles that just don’t exist in real life?

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 01 – The Map

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Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 01:  The Map

wysbpr_01_mapshowinginvasionsOne of the running themes with Rift seems to be taking the best features of other titles, improving on them and presenting them in a very solid interface.  The in game mapping system is a perfect example of this.  Above is an example of the main map during a Freemarch Death Invasion.  It gives you a nice live heads up on what is going on with the world.

In the above example I have hovered over one of the invasion units represented by the crossed swords icon, you will come to be familiar with.  When doing so, the map highlights the trajectories of all the current invasion forces that are on the move.  This lets the players quickly see where these forces are converging upon, so you can cut ahead of the push and be ready to present a defense.  In the above example it appears that all of the enemy units are converging on Eliam Fields and Kelari Refuge.

In addition to the invasion tracking there are numerous other things being shown on the big map.  You can see there are a number of purple death rifts that have popped up.  The player can mouse over any of them and get the status, level and whether they are major or minor.  Each of the NPC towns is marked with a star icon, and each enemy fortress with an icon denoting the faction, dungeons marked with a green jewel and each major mob center marked with a castle like icon.  I’ve not seen another game that gives the player this much information without having to rely on add-ons.

Waypoints

wysbpr_01_minimap_waypoint All of the above is nice, but where the system truly shines is in the waypoint system.  The player has the ability to right click the map and set a waypoint.  On the main map this is shown with a line drawn between you and that location.  If you noticed on the image of the main map, at the bottom there is a simple and clean coordinate system.  The addition of being able to set a waypoint makes it extremely easy for you to travel to a precise location in the world.

In addition to it making it easier for you to travel to specific locations, waypoints work while grouping.  If you notice on the minimap I have highlighted the X> icon of the waypoint, and it pops up various information.  In a party or raid you receive the waypoint of your party members.  For traveling from rift to rift or coordinating defenses, this is a super simple way of letting folks know where you will be heading.

You can also see in the tooltip shown in the screenshot you are given a distance away.  The most amazing thing about this is that while tracking quest objectives, it also denotes whether or not the location is above or below you.  How much time have you spent in other games roaming around on the wrong floor of a dungeon looking for the quest mob that just isn’t there?  I will probably cover the quest tracking system in another post, but the mapping system makes it simple to figure out exactly where you need to be to complete an objective.

But Wait There’s More!

Every so often in this game, there is an idea that just makes you think “why didn’t anyone else think of this?”.  In the 1.01 patch Trion added in an extremely powerful feature without much fanfare.  By opening a chat window, and holding shift as you right click the map to set a waypoint, it now sends that waypoint as a link over chat.  When other players click on your link, the waypoint is set on their map as well.  Take a step back for a moment and ponder the power of this.

How many times have you been sitting in guild chat, as a new player is leveling through an area and asks where a hard to find mob is located?  Instead of having to do the “its by” dance, as you clumsily try and explain where it is, you can simply open up your map, from anywhere in the world and link to them a close approximation.  Since this went in last week I have already used it a dozen or more times in guild chat and zone chat to answer folks questions.  I find this kind of attention to detail simply refreshing.

Tracking

wysbpr_01_minimap_tracking While not as sexy as the waypoint system, the tracking system in this game is everything you would expect it to be.  If you click the magnifying glass icon on the side of the mini-map you are given a clean checkbox list of available tracking options.  While tracking these appear both on the mini-map, and on a zoomed in view of the main map.

For the most part these are the standard set of options that were presented with games like Warhammer and in WoW with the Cataclysm expansion.  It is just expected that at this point any game on the market will allow for tracking of multiple items, and this does it well.

One thing you will notice missing from the list is professions.  Profession resource tracking is handled a little bit differently in this game than that of WoW.  When you learn a profession you get spells that toggle on and off the tracking for that gathering profession.  This was a little weird to get used to, but I appreciate it in the long run. There are various kinds of conditional tracking like the Reaver “Track Death Creatures”, that if included in the checkbox list would make it extremely cluttered.  Trion has done a great job of presenting lots of information in a very clean interface.

I mentioned this feature for waypoints and quest objectives, but the above or below tracking works for resource nodes as well.  How many times in other games you have spent tracking to figure out where exactly that node was, only to find it that it is in a cave you didn’t know existed?  If you simply mouse over the mini-map icon you can tell immediately whether or not the node is aboveground or not.

Wrapping Up

The Mapping system is one of those things players just expect to work.  When it doesn’t work, it is one of the first things players try to augment with addons (Cartographer / EQ2map project etc).  Why is the Rift mapping system so amazing?  Well mostly that it gives you all this functionality, in a clean, easy to use form factor… and completely out of the box without any user modification.  It is functions like this that make me think Trion actually plays its own game, which is a point I question about many MMOs.  It is this attention to detail that really has me so enthralled with this game.

Sidenote

Since this is the first one of these features, please let me know what you think.  Was this useful?  What would you like to see in the future?  What overlooked features really have impressed you?  Comment below and I will respond.