Loot Box Strikes Back

Here we go with day three of the experiment.  I just got out of the house, picked up breakfast and now I am settling in to a blog post.  Yesterday was pretty pitiful as days go, in that it either rained or was dreary all day.  Was the type of day that just makes you want to lay down on the couch and take a nap…  which my wife did in fact do at one point.  I on the other hand rotated between my laptop downstairs and my gaming rig upstairs playing pretty much non-stop games.

The Waiting Game

2013-04-26_234609

If you read my posts yesterday, you will at least know that I played a good deal of Neverwinter.  However the game did not open up to us folks unwilling to pay the “Drizzt Tax” until later in the day.  So for a good couple hours in the morning I was back in Rift smashing through baddies.  I am still completely taken aback by how big of a difference the spec change made.  Previously I was a Paladin/Warlord/Paragon spec weighted in that order, and the PkuDude99 spec is mostly Warlord with some Champion and Paragon as a zero point tree.

I have always leaned on Paladin like a crutch, because it offered so many cool things… like some measure of healing and stuns.  However it seems like Paladin has either been nerfed into oblivion since I last played… or is not working as intended.  I had a lot of the same talents already in Warlord, so in essence all the spec does is drop paladin and swap in the Champion DPS tree.  That change basically took the game from borderline unplayable, to extremely fun.

I’ve always loved Trion, and to some extent I have kept my account open as a way of supporting the company.  Since release two years ago, there has maybe been a 3 month stretch where I did not have an active account.  I really believe in them as a company, because they have done some truly amazing things.  However showing up and playing every now and then, without following every single patch note leads to the ability to create some potentially broken characters. 

I almost feel like the spec system is too complicated, but in the end right now for this very moment, and for as long as PkuDude99 keeps the forum thread updated…  I am happy.  I’m roughly halfway through 58 now, so at some point on the horizon I will have to begin shopping for a dps spec as well.  As much as I love to tank, I really don’t like doing so for pugs.  So I am resigned to play DPS roles at least until Alea Iacta Est picks up again, and we can get some guild groups going.

Neverwinter is coming

2013-04-27 22_40_14-GreenshotSo yesterday I broke the pattern and posted a big massive review post about Neverwinter Online.  I had a few friends asking me my take on the game, so I spent a few hours compiling the post and threw it up there.  As a result I have robbed myself of a lot of what I had to say about the game for todays post.  I am still apparently enjoying myself since I pretty much played the game from noon yesterday till around midnight.  I can’t remember if I managed to ding 16 before I logged last night, but if not I am pretty close.

I managed to find my happy slaughtery spot last night in the tower district.  I wandered around there aimlessly not paying attention to my quests, charging into packs of orcs and ogres with glee.  When I can ignore the objectives of a game, and just play it… this tells me it is succeeding at bringing me into its mechanics.  From my level I would say it has succeeded… since my friends who were doing the same content are only 12.  That accounts for a large number of ogre kills along the way.

Loot Box Strikes Back

2013-04-28 09_53_00-Greenshot

Yesterday in my review I talked about the cash shop system, and the loot boxes.  By level 9 I had seen my very first one, and when they drop they are rather hard to miss… as a huge glitzy gold treasure chest appears on the ground.  By the time I had hit 15, I had gotten 13 of these loot boxes.  So like I always do, I bent under the curiosity of what magical stuff might be in them.  The above image is of an epic quality companion that I was able to pull from the boxes.  So far it is pretty awesome, and does this fire AOE dive bomb attack on the mobs.

The other ones I have opened have mostly just had runestone/enchantment bundles, so that appears to be the common loot.  Like I said yesterday, the system is pretty nice in that you are always going to be getting 10 trade bars regardless that can eventually be saved up for the more desirable items.  I want to say the cheapest of these items was around 150 bars, so in opening 15 boxes you would at least be guaranteed the ability to purchase that.

Farmville with Swords

2013-04-28 10_01_27-Greenshot

So while the lockbox system does not seem terribly egregious yet, the crafting system more than makes up for it.  They apparently expect us to be crafting while at the grocery store, shopping mall and work, since they have given us a web interface, and no actual way to craft while in game.  This would be great other than the fact that it completely relies on materials you acquire as drops, or purchase from an in game reagent vendor.  The first thing I had to do, upon connecting to the web interface was to log in and immediately stock up on the various vendor bought reagents.

Basically the system revolves around training hirelings to do your work for you.  You have miners and various sundry artisans that will toil away on items for your needs.  The biggest problem I saw, was that nothing they could actually make was of any use to me.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine with crafting systems in general, I should be able to craft gear for myself as I level through them.  This one appears to be exclusively relegated to something you will use to make gear for your alts later on, because even if I had started doing this immediately… the “white” gear that you can make would be useless next to the “green” drops I was getting.

Time Sinks

2013-04-28 10_01_03-Greenshot

2013-04-27 15_41_39-GreenshotThe other component that is fairly egregious to me, is the fact that it is ungodly time consuming.  Not as in you sitting at the keyboard mashing buttons, but you setting something up to go and it literally taking several hours to complete.  This is going to be how they get us to buy lots and lots of Astral Diamonds.  You will be seeing the window above a lot if you intend to craft much.  Last night before going to bed, I had set the system to hire an additional miner.  The game UI said it would take 17 hours to finish, yes that is in fact seventeen real hours.  This morning when taking these screenshots, I still had over 7 hours left, but could rush the order for only 39,691 Astral Diamonds.

This logic permeates the game as a whole, with so many functions like leveling up your companions, tied to real world timers.  I believe there is also a timer associated with instance queues, that can be bypassed by just spending some astral diamonds.  I am not 100% certain about this, but I do know on my map there are several timers constantly in motion.  Every time I have seen a timer in the game so far there has been some way to speed it up by spending Astral Diamonds.  Usually the timers start out minimal, like the first time I leveled one of my companions it was only a couple of minutes.  Now it is 15-20 minutes each time I need to send my companion off to train.

I realize that the game needs to make money in order to support itself.  I have ranted at length before about “digital freeloaders” expecting to be able to play these games without ever dropping a dime on them.  However I just wish they would disguise it a bit more.  Playing Neverwinter at times, feels like a trip to Disney World, where everything is happy and shiny… but has a hidden price associated with it.  I guess this is the ultimate evolution of the term “Amusement Park” gaming.  I just wish the entire process didn’t have to feel quite so dirty.

The Sun is Coming Out

I’m hoping as the day goes on it will warm up outside.  Right now as I have just spent an hour and a half writing this up, it feels like it is starting to.  When I went out to get breakfast it was nice and sunny out already, but still 50 degrees.  It is my hope that we can get out and around today, maybe take some photos but at the very least go do something.  I never thought I would said that I want to do something other than gaming, but since becoming more active… I start to get twitchy when I sit in one spot too long.

If you’ve managed to make it this far in the post… I wish you the best of days, and hopefully you can get whatever you intended to get done this weekend.  My hope is that we go wandering and find something interesting to look at in the process.  Have a great day.

A Whole New World

It is a relatively dreary day here in Oklahoma as the experiment rolls onwards.  I’ve been out into the world, gassed up my wife’s vehicle and picked up some breakfast for the two of us.  Lately on the weekends we have been going out and indulging our recent photography habit, but unless things clear up I don’t see that happening.  It rained most of the night, and still looks like the sky could open any minute so for now I am hanging out inside blogging.

The Wrong Leather

WoWScrnShot_042613_201501

Initially I had intended to get in some League of Legends last night, but within moments of logging into mumble Drathis announced that he had to leave and would be back later.  Knowing the normal schedule, Tam confirmed that he too would be leaving shortly to go dancing.  This left us with four players that could commit to playing, and instead of pushing it further I just decided I would pop into World of Warcraft and continue working on Lodin.  I really enjoy LoL, but it is really only a worthwhile endeavor for me, if I am hanging out with a full team of friends.

I picked up in the Jinyu village where I had left off the previous night and started going through the paces of questing.  It was around this time when my favorite Aussie turned Malaysian 3D Content artist popped by the voice server.  Banzai is coming off a big project for Nintendo, and as such finally starting to filter back out into society.  This is a normal pattern for him, he goes into crunch mode on some awesome new project… then pops his head up afterwards and mingles for awhile.

When I am talking, I tend not to be paying attention to what I am doing.  As a result I ended up happily indulging my bloodlust and skinning anything I could.  So after a few hours of talking about 70s and 80s “Giant Robot” anime… I noticed my bags were insanely full with Pandaria level leather.  Normally this would be a great thing… but unfortunately I leveled way faster through the cataclysm content than I had intended and neglected to level my leatherworking past 460.

I consulted my favorite farming guide and decided that I did not want to take the amount of time required to unlock the Molten Front content.  So as a result I was bound for Tol Barad.  It was around this time that Banzai filtered out off the channel…  damned time shift..  and silence fell.  Farming spiders over and over is pretty boring.  I managed to farm up about 70 savage leather before the boredom hit me.

Pandaria to Pandora

2013-04-26 20_46_12-Greenshot

My friend Warenwolf had been happily playing Borderlands 2 while I was off in pandaland farming up leather.  Every so often he would comment about some spiffy thing he got to drop.  I thought to myself… I like cool things dropping *sadface*.  The biggest problem with Borderlands 2, is that for whatever reason I never got synced up with my friends.  They are all out doing the mega super extended content, and I am still stuck at level 12 poking around doing lower level quests.  With the boredom setting in heavily, I decided I really should be over trying to catch up my Commando.

Borderlands has always been such a great concept, and the second one is so much richer than the first.  However wandering around killing mobs several levels lower than me wasn’t exactly a stellar cure for my boredom either.  I managed to knock out four quests, all of which involved wandering back through areas I had already beaten the bosses of.  At this point I need to do some research in how to skip ahead in the content to something that is actually challenging and fun.

I managed to hold out as I did most of a level and a half, but this is the type of game that was really made to be played as a group.  I will admit that my fetish for Jacobs weapons in all their steampunky goodness is still in place.  As you can see in the picture above, I spent most of my time with a single shot tommygun-esc Jacobs assault rifle.  However after an hour and a half I was still looking for something fun to occupy my night.

Difference a Spec Makes

2013-04-26_224721If you were following any of my tweets, you will know that I wound up over in Rift last night towards the end of the evening.  Based on the excitement of those tweets, it went extremely well.  While we are on the subject of tweets…  why the hell has no one else integrated a twitter client with their game?  Seriously this is one of the killer features Rift has going for it.  Rift truly is the king of the “WoW Clones”, and I mean that with the utmost respect… because they have essentially gone around and latched onto the best practices of everyone else in the  industry.

One of the things that always hits me, when I boot up Rift on my gaming machine is just how amazing the game looks.  The subtle features of the title are just gorgeous to look at.  Inevitably I hit /tweetpic and comment about this, and someone chimes in agreeing.  Again someone else needs to make a /tweetpic command… it is absolutely brilliant.  A few weeks back, I had been reading a blog post by Wilhelm on The Ancient Gaming Noob talking about how he was just having a hard time getting into Storm Legion.

This resonated pretty solidly with me, because from about 56 onwards it has been like pulling teeth to try and level.  The mob hit points increased at a rate that was far greater than either my dps or survival.  I had been leveling with somewhat of a forum sanctioned spec, that was supposedly the best survivability to dps ratio.  Even at that it was still taking me roughly half my life to chew through most even level mobs.  I really want to hit 60, and try some of the endgame content…  but essentially leveling through the higher content was pure torture for me.

In the same post, after I had chimed in another guy (pkudude99) came in behind me and posted a spec that folks should try.  This week Wilhelm made a new post talking about trying out the spec, and how successful it was.  After reading this, it had been in the back of my head to do the same and this present boredom was the perfect opportunity.  After about 30 minutes of respeccing, rebuilding macros, resituating hotbars…  I was off to Camp Cyclone in Morban.

I hopped on my white tiger and rode up to the first mob I encountered, a 58 Storm Legion trooper of some sort.  I charged into battle, and in within a few seconds I had torn the mob asunder and taken next to no damage.  In that moment, a game that had felt like an extremely soulless grind only an hour before had become a magical playground of bloodlust and dismemberment.  The spec was in fact amazing, and over the course of the evening I happily ping ponged back and forth between packs of mobs slaughtering them with a smile on my face.

I have mentioned that I have quite the bloodlust when playing a warrior right?  My happiest moments in games is when I am not paying attention at all to the objectives I am supposed to be completing, but instead just bouncing around the map killing everything that crosses my map.  This totally happened last night, and as the dust settled around my warriors feet I had somehow put on half a level and gotten three planar attunement levels.  I was a happy boy, but also noticed that it was almost midnight so I figured I should probably start winding down for the night.

Extremely long story short… if you are playing a Warrior like me, and found yourself losing a battle to the grind of Storm Legion…  I highly suggest you check out this spec.  Thank you Wilhelm and thank you PkuDude99 the author of the spec…  for pointing it out.

"Perfect Solo" updated for 2.1 Hotfix 7 changes

Slaying Saturday

It is day two of the experiment, and roughly an hour later I have another blog post about nothing.  Our hope was to be able to go out wandering today and take some photos, but looking out our window it looks extremely dark out there.  In fact I think I just heard thunder, so I am guessing that is off the menu.  I believe Neverwinter is now available for me to play, so I may indulge that for awhile.  Essentially I purchased the cheap package, to be able to get in and play the beta events out of curiosity.  Honestly if I could have refunded that purchase I likely would have.

I played just enough in beta to decide I didn’t really enjoy the game as much as I thought I would.  But now that I have access to it, it feels like a colossal waste not to at least try playing it again.  Maybe I will care more about my characters with they are not throwaways?  I honestly liked the Guardian fairly well, but the thing that kept getting on my nerves was the fact that forward momentum stopped as soon as you performed an action.  This just felt like a needless break in motion.  Ultimately I guess I was expecting it to control more like Skyrim, and less like SWTOR.

If you’ve made it this far… I hope you all have an amazing weekend.  Here is hoping to the skies clearing and us being able to get out and about.  Being about to get out on the weekends for some exercise and fresh air has been beneficial to my waistline.

The Grand Experiment

Over the years I’ve developed a certain false assumption about blogging.  For whatever reason I have felt that in order to sit down and write anything…  I had to have something exciting or somehow epic to write about.  This combined with the fact that I have picked up a plethora of design and managerial responsibilities at work, has lead to these massive lapses in content.  There have been multiple times lately that I have wanted to blog, but felt I had nothing really to blog about.

So instead of doing a massive “what happened to Bel” post, explaining all the shit I have gone through since September 11th of last year…  I am just forging forward into unexplored territory.  Usually I have a bit of free time in the mornings as I drink my cup of coffee, or as I try and wind down at the end of gaming each night.  My experiment is just to sit down and write about what I did the previous day…  even if I find it immensely normal and unexciting.

Cute and Potentially Disturbing

2013-04-25_174531As soon as I got home last night, I sat down and reserved the new Raptr reward pet for Rift.  I am really digging the rewards system, in that so far I have gotten some pretty nifty things through it.  Last promotion they offered the Dwarven Smithy Goggles that I had been coveting ever since they gave them out as a reward at PAX.  This time around they were offering a really bizarre in game pet that looks exactly like the Raptr mascot.  Pictured above, I am not 100% sure if it is really adorable, or really disturbing looking.  In game it almost looks like the various balloons that are available during the anniversary event.  In addition I am wearing the Stone Spaulders that are another promotion this time around.

I’ve used Raptr for years without much expectation for reward.  I just liked the fact that it was a really solid multi-protocol IM client that seemed not to tax the various games I was playing.  When they started giving me rewards for the games I played… that was just icing on the cake.  Yesterday I had used the /tweetpic functionality in game to post this shot on twitter… and I got a response from a live Raptr employee, which was a really nice touch.

The rewards presently available that you should check out…

The Monkey King

A few weeks back my friends managed to get me playing a game I had never played before, and thought I never would.  Over the course of the last few weeks I have been joining them almost nightly for 5 player games of League of Legends.  I had been absent from the game for a few nights, mostly because my internet connection has really gone to shit.  But I was coaxed back into the fold last night.

Once again my internet was being shitty, and I was warping all over the maps…  but I still enjoyed myself.  I’ve developed a particular affinity for Wukong, the Monkey King.  I really like leaping in an doing massing amounts of damage only to throw up a decoy and escape away into the shadows.  I am not particularly good at any champions so far, but I am mostly passible with Wukong, Garen, Darius, Shen, Alistair and Volibear.

There is a definite pattern with the champions I end up liking.  One of my friends… the one who got me hooked on the game has successfully created a roadmap of all of the champions he feels I will be happy with.  So far, one by one he has been right, with the exception of Blitzcrank.  After a warm-up map against bots, a 6th friend logged in and we decided to do 3v3 twisted treeline.

I had never done this map before last night, and while enjoyable… it really feels super claustrophobic.  The other bad thing I noticed about it is that if one side gets underfed…  it just snowballs as running around the map catching up on minion kills doesn’t really feel like a possible thing.  Even with the frustration, playing with friends is always fun… and it cracked me up as certain players definitely disliked killing their friends.

Classic “Home” Tour

WoWScrnShot_042513_210202WoWScrnShot_042513_221337WoWScrnShot_042513_214613

Finally the constant lag, and ending up in the wrong place… fighting the wrong thing in League of Legends got under my skin enough to cause me to call it a night.  One of the big things I do lately… is follow whatever whim happens to hit me.  While I cannot really explain it fully, I had a whim last weekend to play one of my oldest characters.  Lodin is the Dwarf Hunter that I spent all of classic World of Warcraft raiding with, and had neatly put to bed with the release of Burning Crusade and my transition to tanking fulltime.  I had made various attempts to level him in the past, but really never got any traction.

Over the course of the weekend I managed to push him from 75 to 85 and actually enjoyed myself.  One of the realizations I have come to is that World of Warcraft is the fast food of MMO gaming.  It is bright, and happy and very enjoyable… so long as you don’t think too much about what you are consuming.  It is the second part I always fail at.  I end up thinking about how half assed so many of their implementations are.  The transmogrification system for example is hands down the worst version of cosmetic items, in ANY game.

Since World of Warcraft is so much more of a casual experience than League of Legends, I figured I could tolerate the shit internet a bit better there.  While I have been super nomadic since leaving the game, the guild I founded back in 2004 is still extremely active.  I had intended to go out to Jade Forrest and continue my push to 90, but logged into the statement coming across guild chat “It’s Bel’s Fault”.  I assured the guild member that I am certain it was in fact my fault, but inquired exactly what was my fault this time.

Turns out they decided on a whim to run old raids to show a friend that was relatively new in the game.  Not that they actually needed my help, but a trip down memory lane is something I am almost always down for.  We proceeded to clear Karazhan, Magtheridon, Gruuls Lair, and ended the night taking down Kaelthas in Tempest Keep.  All of it was stupidly easy, and posed no representation of what it was like to do those instances when they were real… but it was still fun seeing it all again.

A Wild Blog Post Appeared

It is now 6:48 am, and I have run out of coffee.  I started writing at roughly 6:00 am, so it appears that the experiment worked.  I did in fact have enough time to prattle on about what happened last night.  I did nothing terribly interesting, but I did manage to piece together a narrative of the events.  Right now most of my gaming nights look just as spastic as this one.  I’ve been ping ponging back and forth between whatever games end up suiting my fancy.

Right now I don’t really intend to set down permanent roots until Elder Scrolls Online releases.  I’m currently plotting my return to guild leadership with that game.  In essence I miss the camaraderie of House Stalwart, and while I can’t be 100% happy returning to World of Warcraft and assuming the hat there…  I feel like ESO is the game we all want to play.  In effect I feel like I want to “get the band back together”.  I’ve tried this before in the past, but in all of those cases I tried my damnedest NOT to be the guild leader.  I wonder if those guild excursions failed, because I was not putting the same effort into making sure things were happening.

I could ramble on about this past for hours I am sure, but right now I know that pretty much everything for me until the release of Elder Scrolls Online is going to be “appetizers”.  If folks are interested, I have been using Tamriel Foundry as a way of planning for the Elder Scrolls House Stalwart instance.  I really loved the pre-launch guild building tools that were provided by SWTOR, and this gives a very similar feeling.  As always it is like pulling teeth to get any of the Stalwarts to actually sign up for anything, but we have 8 signed up…  and even more in the recently launched Google Plus community

Makes me feel all fuzzy inside thinking about the potential of the game and guild.  As far as the blog goes, I will try my best to keep this experiment up.  It seemed to work, and I had enough time to write a really long post.  I will attempt to keep writing even if I don’t particularly find it interesting myself.  If you have made it this far in the post… 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)

nbilarge

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

nbilarge

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.

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).

wysbpr_logo

Episode 06:  The Atmosphere

wysbpr_06_chanceloflabors

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

wysbpr_06_greygardens01

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.

wysbpr_06_stonefieldrain

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.

wysbpr_06_crimsongorge1

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.

wysbpr_06_Stillmoor

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.

wysbpr_06_ITEnding

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

wysbpr_06_FaeGrove

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.

wysbpr_06_icewatch

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.

wysbpr_03_abyssaltakeover

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.

wysbpr_06_Silverwood

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.

wysbpr_06_thingar

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.

wysbpr_06_crimsongorge_firerift

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.

 wysbpr_logo

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.

wysbpr_05_myUIlayoutMidRift

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.