The Anchors Fall

Snowbound

Tulsa once again is buried under a thick coat of ice, with a dusting of snow on top.  Luckily we were prepared for it, and I did the traditional grocery store run Friday afternoon before the madness really started.  Saturday we got out early in the morning and ran the few errands we had to run, and made it in well before the crap started that evening.  It was predicted that the ice would begin around 6pm but it started considerably later.  Thankfully it was just sleet, and not freezing rain or we would have been in trouble.  When we got up yesterday morning it really did not look like we had much accumulation, and as a result my wife was convinced that they would be having school today.

However over the course of the morning, it started in hard and heavy with the ice and didn’t let up until late last night.  While we only got roughly 3 inches of accumulation, almost all of that was ice in one form or another.  One of the more interesting things is we had what they call “Thunder Sleet” and “Thunder Snow”.  Essentially it sounded like a rain storm with lightning and thunder, but as the precipitation fell it turns into sleet on the way down.  After a day of this I texted my boss about 9pm saying that I was not even going to try getting out this morning.  At that point I was apparently the third person to say the same thing, and he was not sure if he was going to try and make it or not.

I am really questioning if my wife will be having school tomorrow either.  At some point today I need to go out and try and clear the vehicles, as I am sure tomorrow morning I will be driving into work.  Honestly when a day like today happens work pretty much shuts completely down, and it is their own damned fault.  Once upon a time we would work remotely during a snowstorm, and things would continue moving forward.  However the current management made a point of stating that there was no official working from home policy, and as a result we all take vacation days and ignore email.  I think they were far better off the other way around, because at this point… it damned well better be a crisis for me to deal with it when I have spent a vacation day.

The Anchors Fall

eso 2014-03-02 18-47-32-30 I spent I would say the majority of the weekend in Tamriel.  Not that I really felt the rush to play, since I have been part of the private testing group for roughly a year now, but I did want to get to hang out with my friends as they played.  By the end of the weekend I think we had 35 members or so in House Stalwart, and for the most part everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few people who simply could not get used to the “action mmo” perma-mouselook interface but overall I think we are going to have a large and bustling guild for launch.  Really that is the most I could hope for.  I entered the weekend with grand ideas of getting to the 15-18 range of Spindleclutch… the first dungeon in Daggerfall.  However i didn’t even get close, ending the weekend around 9.5.

I am really bad at leveling in Elder Scrolls.  There is always this cool thing over here to look at and explore, or this camp of baddies to clean out…  or this bit of ore to mine.  The Elder Scrolls Online is distraction city, and I am a willful participant.  In World of Warcraft, I have learned to “quest grind” and push my way through content extremely quickly.  However in the much more immersive world of ESO I tend to stop and smell the roses quite a bit.  One of the interesting things about the game is that I actually somewhat pride myself on making my own gear.  So the tail end of the night since I was roughly half a level from 10… I was in a mad rush to gather iron ore.  Up to this point I have tried to have a full set of the next level of gear ready to go for when I ding.

I realize I don’t NEED to do this, as you can pretty much get by fine in several levels old gear.  However I like the concept of making my own stuff.  Firstly it levels blacksmithing, but more importantly I always know where my next upgrade is coming from.  Granted it usually means I am well over level since wandering around mining ore, tends to mean you are also killing a ton of bad guys and soaking up extra experience.  Right now I am just ready for this to launch.  It feels like I have been waiting for this to happen for so long, and now we have a month left before go time.  I am ready for my characters to finally be permanent and my choices to matter for longer than a weekend.  Since I didn’t explain it… the above image is of a Dolmen moments before a Dark Anchor is about to fall.  If you see this scene… go somewhere else… because if the anchor falls on you… you end up taking massive damage.

Not on Easy Mode

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 13-38-59-06 After my little Steampowered Sunday write up, my friend Ashgar informed me that even though it says “very easy” in the upper right corner… that is apparently a lie.  He said he could tell from the things on screen that I was not in “easy” mode, and that I should try that setting.  So sure enough I fired up the game a bit later in the day and noticed that I was not in fact on easy mode.  In fact when I DID set it to easy, I managed to get through the first level just fine.  Well “just fine” being relative, because the game is still maddening at times.  However after a few deaths I managed to progress to stage two “Sky Meadow”.

There I proceeded to die rather spectacularly over and over.  So while the game is a BIT less abusive on “easy”, it is still maddening.  I am probably going to fire this up every now and then, just because at this point I really want to see more of it.  I don’t know why I do… but I do.  This is like a puzzle that I want to crack, and I don’t understand WHY I want to open it…  but I really do.  Ash says this is one of his more played steam games, and I can see why.  There is just something about it that gets under your skin and makes you want to play more.  It is so brutally unapologetic in the way it kills you, that you want to keep getting back up just to try and piss the game off.

Micro Voxel Welding

Big Damned Beta Weekend

eso 2014-03-01 09-16-13-09 This weekend they seem to have completely opened the floodgates and then some as far as Elder Scrolls Online testing goes.  It seems like every person that signed up for beta before a certain point, got their invite this weekend.  In addition to that, pretty much everyone who has ever tested got a buddy key.  So essentially if you wanted to test the game, you should have gotten your chance this weekend.  Admittedly I was more than a bit disappointed to see we were testing on an old version of the client that did not include the changed introduction.  In fact it seems like everyone in the test was expecting to see the new and shiny progression.  However I love Stros and Betnihk so I am more than happy to play through them again.

I had all these plans of trying to play a caster, but when it came down to rolling one… I just could not bring myself to play one.  Instead I am playing “ole reliable” the build I have enjoyed the most up to this point.  Dragonknight + Sword and Board and honestly each time I roll one, I perfect my build order a little bit for the next time.  You would think I would get bored of playing the same basic character over and over, but instead it just makes me like it all the more.  Essentially I have arrived at a point where the very first ability I take is Puncture aka the taunt/armor debuff.  Essentially the first ability you place on your bar, means it is also going to be the first skill line you will have available for morphing later on.  Essentially my goal in doing this is to get to Ransack the morph of Puncture, which adds a new ability that increases my armor for 12 seconds every time I use it.  This makes the ability really good for survival and essentially my opening becomes a combo of Fiery Grip, Ransack…  then mostly basic attacks to burn it down the rest of the way.

I just like the feel of playing this specific build, it feels very much like I want a tank to feel.  I decided this weekend to cast aside my traditional human builds and go with a proud Orsimer.  Normally I rely on swords, but I decided to start crafting him maces… because smashing things seems more fitting an orc…. also I don’t like the orc racial “giant machete” sword graphic.  The guild is absolutely insane right now, when I logged in earlier to take a screenshot of my orc, we had 25 members and there are at least five more that have not accepted guild invites yet.  Doing pretty great for a beta guild.  If you are playing the game add @Belghast to your friends list, and pending we actually know each other… and you are okay with the Three Tenets…  I will get you into the guild.

Level 60 Monk Get

Diablo III 2014-03-01 09-20-11-35 I have to say my monk looks pretty badass.  I know eventually I will upgrade out of that sword, but once we get the ability to transmog with the expansion, I can totally see dual wielding that graphic.  Before the ESO beta weekend madness started, I managed with the help of Warenwolf to push the monk to 60.  Really I am happy just knowing I have a character at max level before the expansion,  but I can see playing it quite a bit more trying to get paragon levels.  Running around in our impromptu groups has really increased my enjoyment of the game… especially now that we are getting some decent loot.  It is funny how loot factors into my enjoyment so much, and in many ways the complete and total lack of meaningful loot is what killed my enjoyment of FFXIV once the questing was done.

We tried an experiment that didn’t really work yesterday as well.  While I was pushing my way to 60, we had a friend join us in level 60 content with his level 10 character.  We thought surely the catch up experience would be amazing, allowing him to fly through the levels.  Problem is… he was not alive long enough to really catch the benefit of the xp windfall.  Every mob seemed to make a beeline for him, and one-shot poor Banzai.  So after getting him three for four levels this way, we opted to switch to our own characters in the teens and play for real.  I had not really played my Barbarian much, but playing him I could not think about playing Olaf from League of Legends.  At one point I picked up a legendary leaf blade… to which we dubbed him “Growlaf” the plant defender.

Complete and total rabbit trail here… but we started talking about how amazing it would be to have a game like Diablo 3, that instead used the champions we have grown to love from League of Legends.  For awhile my friend has talked about how bad he wanted a PVE game set in the League universe… and really this seems like the ideal fit.  They really would not have to change the champions that much to make them work in a Diablo setting.  Additionally I have already noticed, that post League we all kinda play Diablo like we are laning in League.  We move like League players move, especially when we are kiting a bad guy away to try and separate it from the pack.  While I enjoy league from time to time, it is really the character design that I like, and not the game itself.  If they gave me those awesome characters in a setting like Diablo that I do actually enjoy… I would probably waste innumerable hours playing it.

Micro Voxel Welding


Watch live video from EQNLandmark on TwitchTV

Hopefully this embeds just fine.  I wanted to share this because I thought it was really cool.  In last Wednesday’s livestream Dave Georgeson showed off a really cool “glitch in the matrix” of sorts that players have figured out.  One of the interesting characteristics of the voxel engine that Everquest Next Landmark uses is that it tries to buffer between differences in two objects and naturally fill in the gaps.  This can be something really cool or something really frustrating depending on how you use it.  Out in the wild, players have been using this to stretch the boundaries of the engine and create something that has been dubbed the “micro voxel” or as Dave calls it in the livestream “pips”.

The idea is to take a single square voxel of the smallest available size and reduce it using the square smooth tool to get a smaller base size to build with.  Having a tiny square is not that cool, but what is cool is the behavior you get in the engine when you place two of these beside each other.  The engine draws the gap between creating a thin bar.  This can then be used to craft really interesting things.  In the video Dave Georgeson shows off a steampunky claim that he has created making metal ladders and metal grating in all sorts of shapes.  Where I find this extremely cool is what this means for player crafted furniture.  In the video he makes a few book cases and desk that looks far nicer than anything I have been able to craft so far.

It does seem like this takes a lot of trial and error… and copious amounts of patience.  However at some point I want to get in and start trying to make furniture for my keep.  The other really cool thing mentioned is that we will be getting the ability to add on to our claim in the next patch.  So at this point I am trying to figure out which direction I want to grow things.  I like building large structures, so I was already to a point where I was feeling extremely boxed in.  I could very easily grow my existing property out to four total claims.  This might be the kick I need to get back in and do more crafting.  I am currently hung on a point where I need to farm just truly silly amounts of burled wood to complete all the things I want to complete.

Burn It All Down

Diminishing Returns

Wow-64 2014-02-24 06-17-22-04 This morning I am feeling absolutely horrible.  My lungs have conspired to rebel against me again, and since there is a good chunk of weather on the way this weekend, I am hoping I can get it under control before then.  Yesterday the world was all a twitter about the blog post that Blizzard was going to release at 6 pm PST…  see what I did there?  Twitter was was full of speculations of what this news announcement might mean.  Some predicted the start of Warlords preorders, but eventually Rygarius the coffee bird eventually explained that it was going to be more of a roadmap type post.  With that I believe most of our fearless brits opted to get some sleep and just check it out in the morning.

At least I am really hoping that they ended up getting a good nights sleep, because what ended up posted really did not feel like it was worth staying up until 2 am for.  Don’t get me wrong I am not trying to disparage the blog post itself, but it was not the shock and awe that players were hoping for.  For me personally there were a few things that concerned me.  Firstly the tweaking of the Racial abilities.  I wholeheartedly agree that some racial perks are better than others… however many of us chose to PLAY those races for that reason.  When this goes love will they give everyone a free racial change for each character?  Some of the racial perks that I am personally most attached to are some of the fluff ones.  For example I am still reeling from the loss of Find Treasure on my dwarves…  but not sure how I would feel if we lost Explorer as well.  I mean I fully expect to lose Every Man for Himself, but I would hate to lose the fun traits in the process as well.

The part of the post that worries me the most however is the talk of crowd control.  It starts off with the statement “One other big takeaway from Mists of Pandaria is that there is currently simply too much crowd control (CC) in the game, especially when it comes to PvP.”.  Now are they only talking about removing CC for the purpose of PVP here?  Or is PVE once again getting the shaft for the sake of a game I have no interest in?  I have to say my favorite era of dungeon running was burning crusade, in part because crowd control was absolutely mandatory.  Even in tier 6 gear, you needed to CC or you would die.  The problem with that era however was that crowd control was not distributed equitably, and over the years each class has gotten some form of permanent or temporary crowd control.  Problem is the dungeon design has just not required doing anything other than smashing into objects with your face repeatedly.

My hope was with the return to Draenor, and the focus on heroics as a way to gear up for raiding…  that we would see a return to this more strategic era of dungeoning.  However if they feel that Pandaria had too much CC…  and by that I mean no one CC’d anything at all EVER…  it gives me great concern for what dungeons might look like going ahead.  Maybe I am coming off a bit half cocked here, since they did qualify the statement with PVP, but the diminishing returns changes would keep a fight like the PVP encounter in Crusaders Coliseum from really being viable in the future.  The one thing I did notice they left completely off the list of diminishing returns mentions…  taunt.  This was honestly the secret to us beating the crusaders coliseum fight, that the tanks would swap off taunting the hardest hitting mobs and kite them around.  A druid taunt, warrior taunt, deathknight taunt and paladin taunt all had unique diminishing returns stacks, so we could swap targets to keep them tied up.

Burn It All Down

As a programmer, I read these changes in a completely different light… because I have been them before.  When you get dropped into a situation where you have some severely outdated code, the knee jerk reaction is to burn everything to the ground and build it from scratch.  This reaction is in part because no one still exists that remembers why the code worked the way it did.  This is what this current phase of Blizzard development feels like.  No one remembers why they had hit and expertise and all these other things…  so lets just simplify everything and get rid of all things that are not strictly needed.  As a programmer I totally get this, because it feels like they are trying to minimize the variables that they have to deal with.

I figure at this point there has been a prodigious amount of turnover in the folks that are working day in and day out on World of Warcraft.  The guy that wrote this or that code is simply not around any longer to explain why exactly he named that variable “Football” when it is just passing data around.  My fear is that in this minimalistic approach we are going to lose some of the things that make Warcraft feel like Warcraft.  I am trying my best not to fall into “change is bad” mode, but in many ways the sequence of changes feels like knocking down a 300 year old building, to put up a mini-mart.  Maybe I will be wrong, and maybe the end result will feel fresh and shiny… in the same way that Diablo 3 2.0 has felt for me.  At this point… you can just file all of this in a bin called “concerns”.

Fun With Demons

Diablo III 2014-02-27 19-29-26-32 Last night my friends and I continued our trek through the demon infested realm of Diablo 3.  The big thing we have noticed is that the game gives players insane catch up experience when the level ranges are not even.  This accounts for how I went from 37 to 50 in a night, because most of the players were significantly higher level than that.  Last night the experience curve flattened significantly, so during the course of the evening I managed to go from 50 to 58 before I just felt too lousy to continue.  As a result however I am knocking at the door of 60 and have no doubts that I will finish off leveling my monk before the expansion.  Granted most of this weekend will be spent in Tamriel playing with the multitude of folks who are getting in for the weekend test.

Diablo III 2014-02-27 22-13-29-27 We managed to get a second puzzle ring, so for most of the evening both myself and my friend Warenwolf were running around with our treasure goblin pets.  We managed to get a ton of legendaries, but oddly enough I got three different versions of the same item… the Saffron Wrap.  Apparently the game thinks I need a lot of belts… maybe it knows that I actually only have one in real life… that I keep punching new holes in as I lose weight.  The score of the night came from when we beat Belial.  There were several points through the night where we learned just how impressive “ignores durability loss” can be, as we took a number of chain deaths to freezing, poison bomberman, electrical orb mobs.  The sad part of the evening however is that I no longer have my ghostly fallen champion pet, because I reached the point where I absolutely had to upgrade out of that axe.

The Final Factoid

Well as I was reminded by my wife, today is the final factoid.  I have somehow made it through an entire month of writing these.  As a result I think it is fitting that I close this factoid off with one relating to the purpose of this entire month.  I do not like writing about myself, at least I do not like talking about personal details.  Talking about gaming is a space of comfort for me, and I have no problem discussing me the gamer…  but I always shy away from talking about me the person behind the screen.  I guess in a way I feel like what I have to say about myself is pretty boring, and the more people know about me…  the more likely they are to reject me as a friend.  I grew up as an “only child”, and we lived just far enough out of the city limits to greatly limit the number of kids I had to play.

For years I craved having someone else to be there and play with, and that craving has carried through to my gaming life.  I end up trying to collect people into my little digital family.  I have deep anti-social tendencies that I struggle with, but online I can have just as much interaction with someone as I want, but then still be able to shut down the game, or twitter and walk away and have seclusion time as well.  2013 was a year of great personal growth for me.  I completed NaNoWriMo, started the daily blogging thing and ended up losing 70 pounds.  In a way Factoid February was a way of trying to get used to opening up and talking more about myself and my life in my blog.  For the most part I think it has worked, and I did manage to complete the month writing something new each day.  There were times I had to sit and think for quite a bit before deciding what to write about, but I struggled through.

The odd thing is… it seems as though people have enjoyed it.  Looking through the blog statistics, it seems as though my average daily readership has increased a bit during the month of February.  I am not sure if this is in part because I am writing more personally… or if I have just gotten more exposure thanks to the amazing folks who regularly retweet me like @RowanBlaze and @AlternativeChat.  It gives me huge fuzzies when I see people are reading what I have written, but I have to say at this point… even if I had zero readers I would likely keep doing whatever it is I am doing.  I find the process of waking up in the morning and dumping my thoughts onto the page while drinking my coffee amazingly therapeutic.  On the weekends when I am forced to vary my schedule a bit, the day just does not seem entirely right… until I have done my blog purge.  I want to thank all of you for coming along with me on this journey.  Not entirely certain where I am going next, maybe more features…  maybe more of the same, but I appreciate that you all are on the ride with me.

Playing With Dolls

Goodbye to Justice

Yesterday the ever amazing Qelric posted an interesting video surmising that Justice and Valor points may be on the way out.  This of course was a conclusion drawn based on various tidbits of information that has been released over the last few days.  I don’t think Blizzard is terribly happy with the current Justice/Valor situation, but in truth I think this is mostly because over the last couple of expansions they have lost sight on why it existed in the first place.  The pinnacle of the system “working as intended” I feel arrived during Wrath of the Lich King.  At that point if you were completely unlucky in getting the right dungeon drops, you could save up and eventually buy even set pieces with this “consolation currency”.

Sure it also modified how we viewed gear, since only certain pieces could be bought with valor but generally speaking you could get a two piece bonus with the current tier without actually having to rely on raid drops.  I did not play much during the cataclysm era, so I cannot really recall how the system worked then, but during Pandaria it has changed into something mostly useless.  The gear you can get with Valor is a much watered down version of what you can get through even the latest tier of LFR.  As a result Valor has become a currency almost exclusively reserved for spending on item upgrades.  So quite honestly… I don’t think the valor/item upgrade system is really working as intended either.

I feel like right now Blizzard is going through a lot of growing pains, in part due to the fact that there has been a fairly constant changing of the guards when it comes to decision making.  I feel like we are seeing a classic case of “I don’t know what the original intent was, so lets just get rid of it.”  As a programmer I completely understand this, since if you look at some code and you cannot fully grasp what is going on, the instinct is just to gut it and replace it with something that does make sense to you.  As a result we are seeing a lot of these “re-writes” going on, tanking stats not working the way we want them… lets get rid of them.  Juctice/Valor mutated in purpose over the last few expansions… well lets get rid of that too.  I feel Justice points used to fill a niche that was highly needed in the game, so my hope is that we can return to the way things worked during Wrath.

Massive ESO Beta Weekend

eso 2014-02-17 13-53-20-16 For those who do not know already, this weekend there will be another massive beta test weekend over in The Elder Scrolls Online.  They have also announced that by participating in the testing you will be eligible for an in game Monkey pet at release.  Millions of beta keys have been sent out at this point, and most of them came with a buddy key attached.  So hopefully all of you that are reading this will be in this weekends testing.  I have my public beta client tested up and will be popping in to hang out with you all.  If you are playing this weekend feel free to throw @Belghast a friend invite.  You can do friends lists in two ways, either you can friend a specific character or you can friend the root account identifier.  They follow twitter like syntax so prepend all account invites with the @ symbol.

I believe that weekend testers will be able to see first hand the new starter experience, as well as the new collision detection.  This is something that had been in the works for awhile, but since it had also been a major weekend test complaint they were able to get the collision detection in before launch.  Essentially now you can no longer run through NPCs, enemies and other players in PVE settings.  This has been disabled for PVP however since managing collision detection with hundreds of players in the same area becomes problematic.  Additionally and some of my readers will appreciate it, what were essentially Midi tracks have been replaced with the full orchestral equivalents.  The game feels and sounds amazing.

I have a spare buddy key that I would love it to go to one of my readers.  So if you are interested in testing this weekend, and do not mind downloading a roughly 30 gig beta client…  post in the comments and we will figure out a way to get you the key.  I think most everyone I know already has access to this test, and I look forward to seeing them all over the weekend.

Playing With Dolls

Yesterday my good friend @Gypsy_Syl posted the above video to twitter in response to another friend.  Without really meaning to, she helped to pick out today’s factoid.  As a kid I played with dolls, in fact I owned a Barbie and a Ken doll and eventually down the line a Cabbage Patch doll as well.  I am thankful that my father didn’t make a big deal about it, and I obviously grew up no more scarred than any other kid is by their childhood choices.  In part a good chunk of it is likely that I was “mostly” raised by women.  My mom and dad were busy working all of the time, so my caretaker and playmate was my Grandmother, where I spent most of my early years.  Next door there was a little neighbor girl, that became my best friend and constant companion.

So instead of forcing the issue and playing Gi-Joe or Star Wars, I just went with the flow and played whatever she wanted to play.  While Crystal was not really a “doll” type, my cousin most definitely was.  So I can remember playing barbies and strawberry shortcake and whatever else she wanted to play.  At this young age I just got used to relating to women, and even today I am far more comfortable in the kitchen come holiday time than sitting around the living room having to pretend to know anything at all about sports.  While I am 6’4” and have a mountain man beard and can generally pass as one… I am most definitely not the “manly man” archetype.  So when it comes to long-term friendships, I tend to flock to either women or other guys like me that are not drenched in an overabundance of testosterone.

One of the things that frustrates me is that gender is associated with toys in the first place.  The whole topic of boys playing with dolls started when another friend, @MMOGC mentioned that it was impossible to find pictures of girls playing with train sets.  I have encountered the problem myself when dealing with Lego sets.  It is damned near impossible to find Lego sets that include female minifigs.  My niece has decided she is into lego, and while she is a huge fan of the “Friends” line of mutant minfigures… I am trying to also provide as many cool normal minifigs as I can in the process.  While they exist freely in the minifigures packs, it is almost impossible to buy a Lego City set and see a woman performing any role there.  Why can’t there be Women Fire Fighters or Police or hell… even Sanitation workers?  Somewhere over the years it was decided apparently that Lego was a “boy toy”, and while there are “pink” Legos, they simply do not have the same variety as the normal kind.  However I am still going to do my best to support the habit of building and creating things, even if it means the really cool stuff is harder to find.

Rise of the Trade Cartel

Starter Islands Optional

eso 2014-02-15 11-38-45-72 I hinted about this yesterday, but I have since checked in on the NDA and everything is cool to talk about.  Currently up on test is a number of changes to designed to improve the game play experience for those who felt that it was simply too “tutorial” for too long.  It would not be an Elder Scrolls game were it not for a prison sequence introduction.  So you still spend your few moments in Cold Harbor but instead of being deposited on a “starter island” you are deposited in the city of Daggerfall, Davon’s Watch or Skywatch depending on your faction.  Once again I use the term “starter island” but each faction has a slightly different setup.  In this city you have the option of starting quests there, venturing out into the country side to kill random stuff or going back to the docks and returning to the starter island experience.

The end result definitely feels more like a traditional Elder Scrolls experience, as when you exit the prison introduction you are usually dumped out to decide your own fate.  I will also say however that fending for yourself in Daggerfall for example, is significantly more difficult than working your way through Stros M’Kai.  I worked my way through a series of the city quests, but several of them were rather difficult considering at this point you really do not have much by way of gear having just finished Cold Harbor.  I will likely always do the Starter Islands, because I really like the experience… but for those players who were expecting a much more “manifest destiny” experience the way is now open.

I have to caveat all of this with “subject to change”, because this is still on the test servers and nothing that we are seeing is absolutely guaranteed to happen.  However the complaint about the on rails beginning has been a constant thread throughout the various tests I have participated in.  Zenimax is taking this criticism to heart and tweaking the game as a result.  Really they have been extremely responsive to critique, and I’ve watched as a number of things have changed based on tester input.  They do have a few holy grails that I wish they would abandon, but most of these are fixable with addons.  I am not a huge fan of minimalistic user interfaces, so I know I will be modding the crap out of mine to display more information more clearly.

The Market Economy

eso 2014-02-17 13-38-43-90 I recently watched the latest of Beau Hindman’s series of Gamer Hangouts in which the show focused on Elder Scrolls Online.  Actually he had asked if I wanted to join in, but since I do not have a webcam I opted out… something that should be resolved this week.  One of the big concerns late in the show was what exactly the player driven economy would look like.  While I am not auction house wizard, and I generally only have enough gold to keep my armor repaired…  I can already see that Elder Scrolls as a whole is going to have a very craft centric economy.  Firstly this game has probably the most detailed crafting system I have seen anywhere.  This is primarily due to the heavy research component in the game.  While Maevrim talked a bit about enchanting in the video, the bulk of my experience is with Blacksmithing.

As you move about the world you will get various dropped items, sometimes these items include a trait.  For example you might get a dropped axe with the word “Precise” on it that means it increases melee and spell critical.  Now you can deconstruct every item in the game for raw materials, and this is going to be key for getting some of the rarer crafting components, however there is a special kind of deconstruction you can do called research.  This allows you to learn the trait from the item, and it takes a significant amount of time…  namely the first trait you research for each weapon type takes a minimum of 5 hours, and increases from there.  Since traits are unique to a weapon type, and there are currently eight for each type… it takes an extremely long amount of time to learn them all.

What this means is that by nature crafters will be forced to specialize, working on learning the traits that matter the most to them… or if they are purely motivated by profit… learning the ones that players want the most.  So I fully expect to see people advertising themselves as a master axe-smith, or a master sword-smith… instead of a general purpose smith.  Granted the game does not distinguish between the two, and given enough time and resources the same person could learn every single trait in the game.  Additionally each player starts off crafting only their own racial style, but through the acquisition of dropped books they can learn to craft items in any style available.  So basically the ability to craft specific items with a specific stat is predictable… but requires a huge amount of work on the crafters part.

What makes the system even more interesting is that the best gear can only be crafted in certain places.  I talked about this awhile back, but this also factors into the economy.  Essentially players will likely be paying that master sword smith to go with them to some forgotten crafting station so that they can have crafted the best item for their specific chosen build.  Additionally since you can improve a crafted item from white to green, blue, purple or orange quality, I imagine there will be a brisk trade in the reagents needed for that.  Trying to improve an item with limited resources gives you a very slim chance of success… and if you fail you end up destroying your shiny new bauble in the process.  As a result players at the end of game will be wanting to make sure they pour enough of these reagents into every attempt to give them the highest chance of success.  These reagents are likely going to be among the most frequently traded items, and folks who farm them will likely be a pillar of the player driven economy.

Rise of the Trade Cartel

eso 2014-02-17 13-38-31-15 One of the more interesting things of note about Elder Scrolls is that as far as I know there is no Auction House system.  What they do have instead is an interesting system called the Guild Store.  Once you have at least 10 members (someone correct me if I am wrong on the number) you can start to list things to sell to your guild members.  Since guilds are account based, and you can be in multiple (current limit is 5 guilds) I have a feeling that we will be seeing a whole new kind of player driven economy.  I fully expect we will see a rise of large Trade Cartel guilds that allow players access to a larger marketplace to sell their wares.  This is a different line of thinking on how an economy should work, since these trade guilds would essentially be part tradechat and part auction house rolled into one.

I also feel like similar to games without auction house systems, we will see players congregating in cities offering up their wares.  This happened in Everquest and most recently I saw this happening a lot with crafters in Final Fantasy XIV.  Since gear is so granular and specific to however a player chooses to build their character, I really don’t see a huge market for “premade” items.  I think the real money will be made doing custom order crafting, and these trade cartels will be the way to find crafters for those purposes.  In every game I there have existed various groups that colluded to control segments of the economy… so it will be interesting to see exactly how this plays out in a game that supports entirely player driven markets.  I don’t really have the knack for this sort of thing, but I do hope I have some friends that do, because it will be interesting to see played out.

Of Bel and Grudges

Today’s factoid came to me in an interesting fashion last night.  I had been playing Belganon my little Warlock, and was just about to shut down for the night when I saw a shout from a player name I recognized.  He was trying to get people to run all nine challenge modes in one night for the purpose of getting gold in each.  His message was a little oddly worded, and while I doubt he intended it… it sounded a bit like he was wanting to be carried through them.  Granted my personal feelings towards the individual likely colored my interpretation.  Thing is, once upon a time I raided with him in Vanilla, and while I thought he was a bit of a jerk…  I always figured he was just mostly misunderstood.  When he came back to our server during Wrath of the Lich King, he joined one of the uber guilds at the time…  but since he was not well enough geared to raid with them, he pestered me for an invite to Duranub Raiding Company.  During the middle of the raid, he was talking in a social channel about us… and said that he was slumming with us until he could get a real raid.

I punted him from the raid and have not talked to him since.  He desperately tried to back pedal in tells, but the damage was already done… he was worthless to me.  Just seeing his name come across chat brought up this boiling cauldron of anger.  I still hold a grudge against him for his actions, and while he may have matured or changed… I will never know, because I will never give him another chance.  The weird thing is…  had he just done something that was only against me…  I would likely be waiting to forgive him over and over.  When you do something however that negatively effects a person or group of people that I care about…  my protective instincts kick in and I will forever hold a grudge over it.  I realize this is not a healthy behavior, but it is just something I have never been able to let go of.  So I have a catalog of people that have wronged my guild or my friends, and every time I see that name or someone mentions one of them this flood of anger washes over me that I have to force back down.  So while I cannot seem to root this instinct out of me…  I can do my best not to act upon it. 

Bad Warlock

Vampire Wife

bloodspatter For awhile I have talked about my rockstar teacher of a wife and the forensics class she is pioneering with another teacher this year.  Yesterday I got drafted into helping her make various kinds of fake blood.  Essentially we needed to find a ready simulacrum for the real thing, that could be produced cheaply and efficiently.  So for awhile yesterday I kitchen turned a little horror show.  I was employed in the mixing part, since I could shake the bottles fast enough to get them to mix.  This is my preferred way of mixing almost anything, including the constant flow of cherry pomegranate drink mix that I imbibe.  Some of the mixtures were winners and some were very much not.

Of the various recipes available we tried three primarily.  The first one I had experience with in the past, and I didn’t think it would be the kind of blood she was wanting.  I used to work in a fundraiser haunted house and we mixed buckets of water, karo syrup and red food coloring to make gore to slop on everything.  This of course is way thicker than human blood and as a result doesn’t perform in any way similar.  Next we tried a mixture of sweet condensed milk, and red food coloring.  This was a little better but still way too thick, but it was a big grizzly to watch my wife eat spoonfuls of the red ichor.  Apparently she thought it tasted good.

The final winner was evaporated milk and red food coloring.  Granted all of these produced pinkish blood but apparently adding a little bit of green will correct the color.  She tested the products against a vial of simulated lab blood that she got from a forensics supply house and the evaporated milk performed similarly.  Today over lunch  I have an errand to go pick up a pint of fake blood from a local party store.  We had tried this earlier but the only place that had it was in gallon size… and extremely expensive.  We wanted to test it out before committing to buying it in bulk.  My hope is that the premade stuff will be best so we don’t have to mix anymore at home.  But at the very least it lead to an interesting evening.

Bad Warlock

Wow-64 2014-02-24 06-17-22-04 Among other things, lately I have been poking my head onto my little Dwarven Warlock a bit.  I am still phenomenally bad at playing casters, and the warlock is no exception.  However having a Felguard makes up for a lot of my own mistakes.  He just quietly kicks everything’s ass while I flail around trying to mash the correct buttons.  Something I find interesting, is that in the past I have tried my best to skip outlands entirely… I am actually enjoying the content.  Maybe it is the idea that I know I will be revisiting everything in Warlords, but the entire expansion somehow feels fresher.  I have a feeling with this guy that it will be Wrath that becomes pure skull drudgery.

I am not really sure I landed on this character to level, after all I have both a Discipline Priest and a Hunter within striking distance of 90.  Ultimately I would still like to get everything up to 90 before Warlords but my Mage.  The mage is my intended boost target, because while I struggle playing a Warlock, I would be an absolute disaster playing a Mage.  Characters that can be described as “glass cannons” have never appealed to me in the least.  However I hear that frost provides a much sturdier alternative, given that they now have a permanent pet to watch after them.  To say the least I have been enjoying being bad at warlocking.

Interesting Changes a Brewing

eso 2014-02-23 12-41-25-63 I am honestly not sure how much of this I can talk about, so I will have to get some clarification on the NDA I am presently under before delving into it too deeply.  However I will say that there are some significant changes in the starter experience in the works that will hopefully make a lot of people happy.  One of the big complaints from the various test weekends is that it feels too on rails for too long.  While I said you can hop off the rails at any point you like and level away.  I have done a fair bit of my leveling by just killing random mobs out in the world and mostly ignoring the quests, it still feels like you are lead down a slowly widening tunnel until finally at some point you get dumped into what is the “real” game for the rest of the 50 levels.  One thing I have to say is that overall… the Zenimax folks have been extremely responsive to feedback.

That is one of the aspects of this testing process that most people just won’t understand.  The game has changed a lot over the last year, and for the better.  While there are features missing that I would have liked to see, almost all of those are User Interface based and have been successfully added back into the game with addons.  The core game itself is extremely clean, and if you play the game on a server that is not screaming because they are purposefully stressing it to the maximum… the game performs admirably and combat feels great.  The negative is a lot of the clunky combat comments that people have are during weekends where they are purposefully trying to break the systems, and combat fluidity decreases under extremely stressed situations.

I think a lot of people are going to be happy with the proposed changes.  I however have been in the minority and felt that the starter island experience for each of the races was an extremely good experience.  Each of the islands, and I use that term loosely since each faction starts slightly differently…  is chock full of interesting things to find and quests that you would not receive if you did not go out and explore off the beaten path.  I still cannot say with any certainty that I have ever gotten 100% of the content on any one of the islands, let alone all of them.  But I can understand the complaint that it just doesn’t feel Elder Scrollsy to exit the prison sequence and be dumped into another controlled setting.  Cold Harbor does a good job of teaching you the basics, and a prison intro is one of the key requirements of “being an Elder Scrolls Game”.

Belghast the Band Geek

The title pretty much says it all, I was a band geek.  For those not familiar with the American education system, the term Middle School refers generally to grades six through eight, and is some what of a transition period to get students used to having specific classes with different teachers, rather than a single teacher doing everything.  As part of this time period we were essentially funneled towards various electives.  During that sixth grade year we had to take a number of elective classes including vocal and instrumental music.  While I did manage to get a lead role in one of the musicals… which I did horribly at, I was far more comfortable behind an instrument in a much larger group.

trombone I began my musical career, if you can call it that.. playing the trombone, because face it… trombones are cool.  I did well enough to be second chair, and I was fine there… good enough to be recognized as being decent, without having to deal with the pressure of leading the section.  This was fine and good until I had a major sinus surgery in seventh grade, and buzzing sound needed to play trombone was something the doctor said would be extremely painful for me for quite some time.  As a result I ended up transitioning to the percussion section.  To be honest… I had always wanted to be a drummer, but my mother played percussion in high school and told me that by far the short end of the stick as far as band goes.  I should have listened, but of course I was smarter and knew better.

marchingcymbals She was absolutely right…  when you march a several mile parade route with a woodwind or a brass instrument you spend most of the time carrying it by your side.  If you march as a drummer, you end up playing a cadence non-stop the entire route.  Being a big guy, I somehow ended up being picked to play the cymbals during parades.  Sure you are thinking… cymbals are a joke of an instrument…  but imagine marching for miles while carrying a 20 pound cymbal in each hand… attached by a leather thong that makes it impossible to get a good grip on it.  Then having to bang them together… all the while not dropping the beat of the cadence.  It was absolute hell, and by the end of a parade route like that I literally could not feel my arms for hours.

Timpani Luckily however parade routes like that were few and far between, and namely during the Christmas season only.  After coming back from Christmas break I finally got to have some fun.  It began concert season and somehow I managed to get picked to play the Timpani drums.  I loved the sound of them, and it felt so primal to bang on them with my tiny felt donut covered sticks.  This was the part of band that I really enjoyed.  I finally felt like I had a real purpose.  I got good at tuning the Timpani drum, and as we did the various contests that came with concert season I became a critical part of the setup crew.  Some kids are truly gifted in band, but I did just good enough to be respectable without ever really shining.  I managed to make all district several times, but never really pushed hard enough to make all state.  While I played drums for a few bands, I never really kept with it… apart from occasionally drumming on my steering wheel while driving.

Rails Are What You Make of Them

Going Off Script

eso 2014-02-17 13-54-30-89 There was a topic yesterday that started with Tobold’s post and wound up in a G+ comment stream.  While I believe Tobold’s comments about on rails gaming were initially about a certain game that is still under NDA with a space theme…  it eventually wound its way to Elder Scrolls Online.  To which I added the information I posted yesterday on my own blog, about the fact that the majority of quests are skippable, and that there are a very few that actually need to be completed to move to the next area.  But the root of the problem here I think is that after a decade of playing themeparks…  we have gotten extremely good at seeing rails.  Moreso I think we are so trained to stay inside of the lines that we are afraid to break out of the little protective cage the themeparks have built for us.

For the longest time I fought the “quest to level” construct and then over time I managed to get extremely good at mindlessly grinding them.  There was a time when I could take a character from 1-85 in less than seven days in World of Warcraft.  The problem is… this is a thing I do to level quickly, and not something that comes instinctual.  I am constantly deviating from the path, and poking my head into places I shouldn’t be.  If I have 10% to go to a level, my instincts are not to grind some quests, but instead to go kill some really high level mobs.  You can blame Everquest for this type of “go kill things” upbringing, and I am still happiest when mindlessly slaughtering bad guys.  So when I am out questing, skipping that bad guy for the sake of speed is not usually a thing that ever enters into my mind.

So when I was plunked down on Stros M’Kai in the Daggerfall Covenant for the very first time… I willfully and gleefully ignored the quests that were given to me.  I wandered off and explored the island, gathered some crafting bits, found lots of treasure chests and leveled happily oblivious to the fact that there was a rail.  Sure eventually I reined myself in and did a few quests, but the vast majority of that first couple hour play through was aimlessly exploring.  If I found a cave I poked my head in to see what was there.  The little voice in the back of our head that says “don’t go there yet, you will have a quest for it later” is something that we end up doing to ourselves.

Rails Are What You Make of Them

eso 2014-02-17 13-36-59-84 For the most part I would agree with Tobold’s assessment of that space game, but since so many people love it I continue trying to give it a second and a third and a fourth chance.  I went through this same thing with Guild Wars 2, I kept trying to see what people liked about it… because I honestly didn’t understand it.  Over the weekend I maybe landed at how to enjoy it.  Once I finished the tutorial, I went completely off the rails, wandering around aimlessly killing lots and lots of things and getting nifty bits in the process.  That mode of play made the game enjoyable for me.  Quests are a really good way to level, and I think they also do an excellent job of telling the story.  However something we have forgotten along the way is that they are mostly optional.

We can blame World of Warcraft for this to be honest, but not in the way you might think.  WoW brought quests out into the open, where they had always been something for insiders before.  In Everquest you went around /hail-ing every single mob you encountered because maybe just maybe they might have a quest for you.  In Dark Age of Camelot, you did the same thing trying to locate the “Kill Task” quest giver for a specific area.  City of Heroes gave you specific contacts you needed to talk to that acted as a hub for running future missions.  Finally World of Warcraft gave us the now ubiquitous golden exclamation point… taking complete all of the subtlety out of it.  Still… even in WoW it was not until Burning Crusade that I really started to lean on quests as the crutch that they are.  I got a good number of my levels by going off the beaten path and looking for neat things out in the world.

To some extent it is also the fault of games that have stopped giving us things to find just over the next ridge.  There should always be things just out of the way for us to go looking for, because this act reminds us that there is another way to play the game than just mindless questing.  This self directed fun is crucial, and is what ends up making a game stay fresh.  I tend to cycle through two modes of gameplay…  aimless wandering and mindelss questing.  I find both to be really enjoyable when I am in the right frame of mind.  I think this is why I can return to WoW all these times and still be happy with what it is.  That said I am constantly going off script in that game as well.  There are so many nooks and crannies that often lead to treasure or at least interesting things to kill.  Basically… these rails that we keep seeing, are something we’ve allowed ourselves to see.

Dungeons of Belgrade

BelgradeKeep_Update With all the talk of ESO lately, I am still very much playing Landmark on a daily basis.  Last night I got in and worked on Belgrade Keep for a bit.  I tweaked the exterior a bit adding supports to the first balcony and then building out an entirely new balcony from the top of the castle.  Additionally I added some more of my custom columns to the corners of the ramparts to tie the visual theme together, as well as adding some to the ground floor to mark the entrances to the ramp leading up to the keep and the entrance to the crafting undercroft.  I thought I was nearing a point where I needed to simply grind out the various accoutrements to decorate the keep.  I was completely wrong however.

I decided that Belgrade keep needed a proper dungeon, so I spent the majority of the night watching episodes of Arrow on Netflix and hollowing out the basement by hand with the remove tool.  One of the things I have noticed that removing large blocks of material with the select tool often ends up leaving weird fragments.  So I tend to do it manually simply because I like the results better.  After having spent hundreds of hours hollowing out tunnels branch mining for diamonds in Minecraft… I find I have an affinity for that sort of work.  The plan is to divide up the sub basement into cells, maybe with a torture area…  but that all depends on how creative I am.  I am curious if I have enough room for a second sub basement to be honest, because I can seemingly dig down further.

My Father the Builder

I really need to sit down and brainstorm out the rest of the month, because when I am not staring at a blank page I am full of ideas with factoids.  However when I sit down to write at 6 am, my mind is mush and devoid of any good ideas.  So today’s factoid is going to be a little odd, be warned.  I am not a terribly handy person, as in I am not a manly man builder type.  I can watch a youtube video and figure out most things, but I have a bit of a mental block about things that are mechanical.  In part I think it is because my father is so damned amazing at it.  I realize he grew up in an era when if you didn’t fix it yourself it stayed broken, and my grandfather was the king of tinkerers.  For me however, since I spent most of my childhood sick… I just simply was not exposed to it…  apart from getting to be the loyal “flashlight holder”.

At a young age I think I told myself I couldn’t do this.  There are things that are well in the realm of my mastery.  You give me a few boxes, scissors, magic markers and tape… and I will build for you a GI-Joe base that will make you weep.  However you dump a heap of mechanical bits on the table and I cannot see the same possibilities.  Growing up with a machinist for a father was a really interesting and awesome thing.  When I broke a wheel off one of my hot wheels… he would take it away to a magical land where it would come back with a shiny new wheel better than the previous.  He would take it over to work and machine out of scrap aluminum a wheel, then carefully wrap it in electrical tape for traction…finally carefully attaching it back to my hot wheel.  My father could make magic happen.

I just wish I appreciated it more at the time.  When Star Wars was all the rage, I wanted nothing more than the Death Star play set.  I did not grow up with a lot of money, so spending $100 on a cheap plastic and cardboard play set was really out of the question.  That Christmas instead my dad hand crafted me a Death Star that was far cooler than anything store bought ever could have been.  I am still not sure exactly how he built it, but he had some long screw running down the back of the unit with a crank up top. and a machined elevator that rode up and down on the screw.  So that I could crank my action figures up and down between the floors.  Now I appreciate just how ingenious it was, but probably at the time I wished I had the “real thing”.

As my father is getting older, I am starting to have to figure these things out on my own.  I know at some point he won’t be there to call for advice.  Someday I will have to learn the lessons he had to learn.  I admit it scares me, to think about a world where a master builder like my father doesn’t exist.  I don’t think he really knows how in awe of his abilities I am, and how much I wish I had his natural intuition for how things should go together.  I should really remedy that, but my father is a lot like me, and not really great at saying these sorts of things in person.  There are times I think that maybe he DID pass on his legacy to me, but that it just changed over the years.  I am good at computers and hacking around with software to get it to work the way I want it to work.  Then when I can’t find whatever it is that I am looking for, I know that I can crack open Visual Studio and build it myself.  So maybe just maybe I have some of that same magic too.

Belghast and The Ark

Horribly Sidetracked

eso 2014-02-16 13-11-46-68 Saturday when I wrote my little impressions piece on the Elder Scrolls Online, I managed to get horribly sidetracked in the process of explaining the questing section.  At one point I said “Generally speaking the side quests serve two real purposes” but only actually managed to give you a single purpose.  I managed to get myself on a tangent and forget what I was saying.  So let me take another stab at explaining the questing system.  Generally speaking when you go into an area there is a critical path that you can take to go through it with the least number of quests.  If you want to piddle around and carve your own path this is a good thing.

For example in Stros M’Kai the Daggerfall Covenant starter zone, you are asked to find one of three crew members before continuing on.  You can literally just find one crew member and be just fine, and the game will allow you to continue forward.  However you can find all of the crew members, and each one will do something for you in the final quest before leaving the desert island.  Additionally your choices matter going forward.  If you choose to kill someone, or fail to save someone… they won’t be there later on at a critical time when you could use your assistance.

That is one of the things I like most about the questing system.  It works much like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, in that you get introduced to a character that keeps popping back up in later quests and even later zones.  Failing to save a character, means they will no longer exist in the later stages.  Occasionally the game will force you to make a hard choice, between two sets of NPCs.  When this happens one of those paths will forever be sealed from you.  I you choose to help this person, the other person will either die or be so infuriated that they will never help you again.

Basically your decisions matter, and they matter a lot.  So while it might not seem that the immediate consequences are all that bad, they will have future ramifications.  So while the first purpose of side quests is to get gear, the second purpose is to unlock future story points.  You never know when a person you have helped will show back up and lend assistance later.  Often times this is in the form of making a future quest a little easier as they lend some unique ability to the fight.  However in a few cases this means you may have missed out on a really cool quest chain because the NPC was not there to give it.

Turret Orchestra

portal2 2014-02-16 15-13-06-97 After my little write up yesterday about Portal 2… I got a whole lot of responses that amounted to “no wait, you haven’t even gotten to the good part”.  Then that they apparently couldn’t tell me about the good part without massive spoilers.  Sure enough I managed to play through to the beginning of chapter 5, and the game has changed once again ever so slightly.  Now I think I want to know what is going to happen enough to continue playing.  I have my assumptions of the end result, but who knows they might be completely wrong.  For the most part I have managed to stay blissfully unaware about the ending of the game to this point.

There were a few really annoying levels, but now I am in a part that is more freeform.  The coolest thing I have seen to date is the Turret Orchestra.  While roaming around in this new free form area, I kept hearing this music playing that sounded kind of like a bunch of accordions.  Finally I was able to see what it was, and it was several of the turrets playing in unison.  I have a feeling that I will somehow be freeing the various robots under the control of GlaDOS, or at least that seems like a potential subtheme for the game.

Like I said right now I have no real idea where exactly I am heading apart from following what seems like an obvious path carved out for me.  I am sure at this point I will plan the game to its conclusion, so it managed to get its hooks into me.  While I am not sure if I would call it a truly great game yet, it is enjoyable.  I am sure there is some grand reveal to happen down the road, that will make me shift my opinion again.  However I stand by my original assessment.  Fun game with a cool gimmick.

Belghast and The Ark

It will come as no real surprise to anyone who has ever followed me on the various social media platforms that I use… that I am a pet person.  That said there are probably few people who really know how deep that particular rabbit hole goes.  As it stands right now, neither my wife nor I plan on having children.  My wife swears that teaching high school is the strongest form of birth control known to man.  This is not to say we don’t have children, they just happen to be covered in fur.  I personally have always had a close affinity with pets, and even if it is something I would not want for myself… I seem to be able to befriend animals quickly.  While I would never have a bird, each time I went over to a friends house one of his birds would hop up on my shoulder and stay there until I finally placed him back on his perch.

kitties_sunningCurrently we have three cats, all of which are pictured above sunning themselves in the afternoon light of our stairwell.  On the left is the mammoth monster cat Chloe, in the back is our mostly black Calico Allie, and if you have been reading these factoids you have already met little shit.  Each of them is a rescue, because I believe all animals deserve a second chance at a great home.  Each rescue especially has its own personality, and comes with its own quirks.  These “quirks” can be frustrating at times, but they make up the complex personality of each animal… so even the annoyances you come to love.  Chloe for example obsessively licks anything and everything…  which can be sweet at times until she hops up in bed with you at 3 am and licks your arm.  Seriously there is nothing freakier than waking up to that.  She however is the most amazing snuggler, when you can succeed at the complex game of keeping your arms and hands away from her mouth.

threeheadsinablanket Similarly we also have three ferrets, and they are some of the most adorable animals you could ever have.  Here they are snuggled together under a blanket in their playpen.  At this point I have woken two of them… and moments later they will be bouncing around the cage like mad.  This is the problem with ferret photography… you get one chance to take a shot before they go super sonic.  From the left we have our old man… Smokey that came to us as part of a rescue pair of littermates.  His sibling Bandit passed away some time ago, and he himself is nearing the end of his journey as well… but we are trying to make him as comfortable and happy as we can while we have him.  Next to him is Shiloh, that was a returned to a local pet store and put back up for adoption.  I cannot fathom why anyone would ever return her because she is so adorable, and has a little badger face.  Finally we have miss “Bella” which is short for Bellatrix, the name her original mommy gave her.  She had a much older ferret named Judah that Bela apparently upset regularly, so it was with many tears that she gave her over to us.

Over the years we’ve had lots more animals, including a hamster, a guinea pig, and a pair of sugar gliders.  All of them have been our babies while they have been with us, and we have sought to give them the best home we can.  Often times it is these little guys that are the reason for me getting a slightly later start than normal.  When one is begging for attention… and they are damned good at giving you a guilt trip… how can you possibly say no?  The best at begging has to be Bela.  She will run over to the edge of the playpen and press her body against the ground sticking out her snout in his pouting “poor pittiful me” look.  You would think she NEVER got played with ever.  The moment I reach down into the playpen she will bolt over to me and wait to be picked up.  All she really seems to want is to be picked up and carried around for a bit before finally going back into the playpen and snuggling up for a nap.

Elder Scrolls Online Impressions

Feels Good To Talk

eso 2014-02-15 11-16-04-16 This is one of those posts that I have been waiting to make for quite a long while now.  Over the last few months there have been various naysayers, and with the lift of the press beta there was quite a bit of negativity towards The Elder Scrolls Online.  As usual when someone has something bad to say, they seem to be willing to defy all the rules to do it.  However those of us who have been anxiously awaiting the release of the game and been abiding by the rather strict NDA have had to sit and watch silently as all the negativity circulated.  Finally this morning they announced that we were free to talk about any experiences from the Beta Weekend content.  This means I can now talk as much as I would like about the 1-17 game as it stands which is quite a bit of content.

The Conundrum

eso 2014-02-15 17-53-21-72 Firstly let me start off by saying, that The Elder Scrolls genre is a really difficult one to make into an MMO.  Over the course of the beta while listening to player complaints, I have come to realize that there is no one way that people play these games.  To some people TES might be a game about stealth and carefully stealing goods out from under the shop keepers nose.  For others it may be the grand narrative experience or the lore.  For others still it might be about wielding arcane magicks or making deals with Daedra.  All of these things are gameplay styles that are possible in the excessively moddable single player experience.  However through all of these years the Elder Scrolls setting has felt somewhat lifeless.

The one thing I wanted more than anything else… was the ability to experience all these grand settings with my friends.  But as you craft a cohesive mulitplayer experience, how do you make all of these things work with hundreds of players participating in the same experience.  This game will not be for everyone, and as I have learned from social media and the forums… the game itself is very divisive.  However for me at least the experience is something I am just not getting from other games.  At its core this is in fact The Elder Scrolls…  Online.  This game lives and breathes the Elder Scrolls Lore and settings, and is immediately recognizable the first time you see a creature made famous by the series out in the wild.

Questing

eso 2014-02-15 11-40-57-21 At its core the game has a questing system very familiar to the Elder Scrolls setting.  As you move around the compass rose at the top of your screen will highlight points of interest that are near you.  You have the option to go over there and engage in the quest, or continue onwards on your own.  The very first time I sat down to play the game, I completely ignored the quests wandering off on my own exploring the island of Stros M’Kai in the Daggerfall Covenant.  This is completely supported as far as a play style goes.   In general there are a handful of quests that are required for you to progress to the next area, however in addition to these there are many side quests that are completely optional.

Bthzark Generally speaking the side quests serve two real purposes.  Firstly they give you a chance at gear, and point you in the direction of places that you might want to explore.  For example… above is an image of the amazing Dwemer ruins of Bthzark, which I might add looks and feels like a Dwemer ruin should.  You can gain access to the ruins through a quest chain, but in most cases these small dungeons and ruins can be explored by simply clicking on the front door and going in.  The game is chock full of hidden places that contain treasure chests and skyshards and all sorts of neat things to find along the way.   There are books to read, satchels to root through, and crates to crack open.  All of which can have really nifty things.

So while you can play entirely without questing, and there are times I do this…  there are also a lot of really epic stories in the game that can only be accessed by questing.  One of the things that makes this so enjoyable is the fact that everything is the game is fully voiced.  Lyris Titanborn is a character that you will see a lot of through the course of the game, and especially with these signature characters they have spared no expense.  Lyris for example is voiced by the ever popular Jennifer Hale of “Femshep” fame.  You come to love the characters over time, I cheer inside each time Sir Cadwell as voiced by John Cleese appears in the storyline.  The characters live and breathe and you really care about them.  The Elder Scrolls series in general has had some really amazing characters, and this just continues the lineage.

Crafting

eso 2014-02-15 11-20-16-57 Over the course of the time I have been participating in the testing process, the crafting system has gone through a number of changes.  The current version is probably my favorite crafting system to date in any game.  If you are familiar to the way crafting worked in SWTOR, it is somewhat of a cousin.  The difference being that while learning all of the really nice patterns in SWTOR involved silly amounts of random chance, everything in ESO is completely logical and predictable.  Smithing for example in its most basic form requires you to go out into the world and gather ore and then take it back to a blacksmithing station and smelt it into bar form.  From there you need an item purchased from a vendor that relates to the style of gear you are crafting.  Redguard require star metal, Dunmer obsidian, so that each racial style requires a unique reagent.  These are purchased for 21 gold, which is not a huge sum of money.

eso 2014-02-15 18-13-21-72 The quality and level of an item is determined by a number of controllable factors.  Firstly the level is determined by how much of a given material you add.  Whereas 3 iron bars might create a level 1 item, but 6 iron bars a level 4 and so on throughout the level range.  Additionally you can add a reagent of sorts to improve the quality of the item, shifting it from white to green or blue and upwards.  Finally you can add a statistics package to the item, and these are learned through research.  When you get a drop out in the world there are a number of things you can do to it.  Firstly of course you can sell it for gold, but as a crafter you are generally better off taking it to the crafting station.  There you can either extract resources from it, or if it has a stat package on the item you can research that trait.

eso 2014-02-15 18-15-06-28 Researching takes a significant amount of time, generally a number of hours to as much as a number of days.  However in the end you are granted the ability to apply that trait to that item type.  The traits that daggers can have are different than the traits that a chest piece can have for example.  The rewarding part about it however is that once learned you can reliably add that trait to level of that item.  Another really cool thing is that you can improve your items at a crafting station similar to how you could in Skyrim.  In doing so you have a chance of losing the item, but you can increase the amount of reagent you are using to greatly improve the chance of getting your item successfully.

I feel like I am not really doing justice to how cool the system works.  Generally speaking when I roll a new character I can piddle about gathering iron ore and craft a full set of gear far faster than I could earn one from questing.  The biggest bonus is that you can craft helm and shoulders at level one, whereas you do not begin to receive these until pretty far into the content.  I highly suggest you check out the crafting simulator that is on the newly released esohead.com. I could talk about the nuances of the system for paragraph after paragraph, but it makes more sense if you can actually see how it works by fiddling with the widgets.

Welcome to the Frontiers

I am not normally a fan of player versus player in any game.  However Elder Scrolls has me more than a bit excited to be honest.  We are finally returning to the most successful pvp set up that any game has had…  the Frontiers of Dark Age of Camelot.  Essentially the factions each control their own completely sealed territory, and this represents what the players quest through on their journey to level 50.  However in the center connected to these realms lies Cyrodil.  The map is absolutely huge and would take you significant amounts of time to run across it even mounted.  The overarching story of Cyrodil is that the faction that can take the keeps bordering the Whitegold tower, can then place an Emperor on the throne, giving that faction special benefits.

This however really sells what Cyrodil is short.  This zone is a living breathing questing destination with all sort of things hidden for players to find.  Just like the frontiers in DAoC, there are reasons for crafters, explorers, adventurers to go out here.  The excitement is that in doing so you risk getting rolled by one of the packs of players trying to take the keeps and other objectives.  Cyrodil of course can be completely ignored if you so choose, but I look forward to going out there with my friends and trying to find out fortunes.  From what I have seen in action, PVP in Elder Scrolls Online works just as well as it ever did in Dark Age.

The video above is from the mega guild Gaiscioch, and it shows their guild taking over a keep.  Unlike the zergfest that we have seen in the past years brought on my World of Warcraft, this is slow and sustained warfare.  If you cannot hold a keep you are of no benefit to your faction, and holding a keep is an extremely difficult proposition.  At one point in the video they are being sieged by two different factions at the same time.  This is going to be something that is extremely common, but if you can take and hold a keep… there are benefits to your guild for doing so.  I am not really sure if House Stalwart will ever pvp enough to hold keeps, but I can definitely see myself helping out as another group does.

Only Scratched the Surface

eso 2014-02-15 18-27-24-13 There is just so much that I want to tell you, but at this point I have rambled on at length about the game for a bit now.  I am sure the moment I publish this, I will think of another dozen things to say.  Like I said at the beginning… this is not the game for everyone.  Elder Scrolls single player purists will be frustrated by the addition of all the people around them.  Hardcore MMO players will likely be frustrated with the minimalistic user interface.  Personally I admit I have that problem a little bit, but since this game is to support a WoW style LUA add-on system, pretty much all of my woes with the Spartan interface can be corrected easily.  I’ve already seen add-ons in various states of progress that will let you have all the bells and whistles you could want.

This is the type of game that grows on you over time.  The biggest problem is you cannot go into playing it with the expectations of it being something else.  I feel like this game is trying to start its own little genre.  There is more than enough meat on its bones to allow players to happily explore it for hundreds and hundreds of hours.  I can’t talk about it much but there is an extremely extensive post 50 game that adds more content than I can really even wrap my head around yet.  This is not going to be a game that we can “finish” in a few weeks time.  Getting to 50 is only part of the journey, there are months of content waiting you after that point.  That is not to say that someone who is absolutely crazy will not make it to the absolute end within the first month.  But the average serious player will be chewing on this one for a long while.

It feels extremely awesome to finally be able to talk about it.  At this point we have been cleared to talk about the first 3-4 zones per faction.  So if there is anything you would like to see me talk about, please drop me a comment and I will try and work it in during a future post.  I am happy to see the veil lift so we can hopefully start getting a positive buzz going among all the players who are out there enjoying themselves.  The beta weekends have been full of players happy to be in the test and happy to be exploring the world.  The game is still charting extremely well in its presales.  If you plan on getting the game, I highly suggest you put in your preorder.  The ability to play any race in any faction is going to be a huge boon going forward.

International Cupid

Short term commitment

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me if it would be okay if she played Elder Scrolls with the House Stalwart group.  She was not sure how into the game she was, so might only be around for a month or so.  She wanted to make sure no one would be upset with her not staying terribly long.  She was afraid that House Stalwart were more dedicated members and might take offense to that.  I of course assuaged her fears, since Stalwart as a whole is super casual and primarily a social guild.  However what came next was a realization that I am not sure I had actually admitted to myself.

When I go into one of these games I don’t really expect folks to last more than a few months.  That has been the track record with new games and our guild especially.  This was so much the case with Final Fantasy XIV that I even started what I feel is going to be a new thing for me.  When I subscribed to that game I chose to do so for three months and then immediately went into the back end and cancelled my account.  That way it would essentially self destruct after three months unless I made some form of manual intervention to renew it.  While you might think this is me not having faith in the game… it is more that I am not having faith in myself.

Other than World of Warcraft, each game I have played has been a three to six month encounter.  While there are still games that I play semi-regularly, the tempest of activity has usually died down into a spring breeze at or around the three month mark.  It feels to me that we are inherently either gaming lifers, or game jumpers.  If you look at my own guild our I would say we have roughly sixty players that have only ever played WoW and cannot imagine playing another game.  Then there is a pool of forty or so that tend to play whatever happens to be the next great game in the internet cultural zeitgeist.  This experience has lead me to the new stance of giving a game three months of subscription and then evaluating where I stand after that.

Cash Shop Expansion

rift 2014-02-13 06-28-17-76 Yesterday the big 2.6 patch went in over in Rift and I have to say I have been watching this one with a bit of excitement.  There are a ton of new features going into the game and you can read highlights of them over on this little info blurb created by Trion.  This is the point at which I am going to be a bit of a downer, because after logging in last night I realized… the things I am most interested are really freaking expensive.  A big thing they added in was the ability to start applying cosmetic skins to your pets.  This has been one of my key frustrations with the pet classes that unlike the WoW Hunter we had no real control over what our pets looked like.  There have been some really ugly pets as well… I am looking at you emaciated beastlord blue tiger thing.  Most of these have improved to where the base pet is at least passable, but I would never turn down the opportunity to tweak the appearance.

Problem is that they are really expensive, in order to get all of the new skins… something that admittedly not everyone is going to want… they are running a special on them for roughly $70 worth of in game currency.  Once the special is over however that price quadruples for the full unlock.  Individual class based unlocks are more reasonable at around $7 per class.  These are of course guesstimates based on the fact that in the $20 bundle it breaks out to be 160 credits per dollar.  I feel like the whole budgie mount thing has maybe unfairly colored my opinion of the cash shop as a whole.  Once upon a time it felt extremely reasonable, but now everything just seems more expensive than I want to pay for it.

The biggest thing I was interested in during this patch was the Dreamweaving profession.  Once again however I was hit by the realization that in order to play with that it would involve me plunking down some cash to buy another trade skill extension.  I don’t want to roll a brand new character just to be able to play with the profession, and I don’t really want to unlearn any of my already max level professions from my characters to pick up this new one.  I realize it is a first world problem, and in a game like WoW we would have no choice at all but to do just that.  However last night I was being irrational and felt extremely frustrated by having to make that choice.

Basically the only thing left that really made me excited after having the other two shiny baubles behind a paywall I didn’t feel like crossing… was the bounty system.  I will admit I am pretty excited about this.  One of the features that I loved from Dark Age of Camelot that no other game has really gotten right was the ability to create trophies of certain mobs out in the world.  Our guild hall was full of these because I was constantly going out and collecting the “remains” needed to craft them.  Rift seems to have finally created a version of that system that looks like it will work in modern terms.  However after the frustrations up until that point, I just didn’t feel like sinking in the needed research to figure out exactly how the system worked. 

I am sure at some point soon I will revisit it and be happy as a clam hunting down trophies.  I just fear that this is he new reality for a game like Rift.  When we get a patch, it will involve a little bit of free content and a lot of content you will have to hit the cash shop button to be able to truly enjoy.  My frustration mostly is due the fact that I am a patron and have been one since the transition of that program.  I feel like overall that is a “bad deal” since the loyalty accrual is excessively slow, there is no monthly credit allowance, and we still end up having to buy the new baubles when they come out.  Sure the various daily buffs are nice, and I likely would not have made it to 60 on my rogue without them…  but it feels like there should be at least some regular allowance of credits that can add up over time to be able to buy stuff from the store.

International Cupid

Today in light of Valentines being tomorrow, I have a factoid that I rarely tell.  It is really weird how chance, fate, kismet… whatever you want to call it works sometimes.  My wife and I grew up thirty minutes apart from each other in neighboring towns.  It turns out that we knew several of the same people, went to several of the same places, and were probably in the same room multiple times during our lives.  We would not have met however were it not for a mutual friend in Belgium.  During the early days of the internet, we were both IRC junkies.  Internet Relay Chat opened up a door to a world much larger than our own, and let us converse with people around the world…  breakout out of our very limited small town upbringings.

Chatrooms in truth were a lot like we view guilds today, as a little social family that you hung out with.  People shifted back and forth between them freely, and much like running content with some friends guild you hopped back and forth between channels freely.  I’ve always been interested in programming and for awhile I got really into writing IRC bots.  I would build little games into them, with dice rollers, character sheets and combat.  It was through one of these bots that I met Hans.  He asked me to come help him out with one of the bots on his channel, and it was one of the nights I was in his channel working on it that I saw a familiar address pop into the channel.  Back in that day, you could see what internet service provider someone was connecting from, and over time I learned to immediately recognize all the local ones.

Out of the blue I messaged the new person who had entered the room saying something dumb to the equivalent of “not often that I see a local”.  Apparently I freaked her out a little, since at the time I was logged into the bot.  Observational skills were never a strong point.  Hans apparently verified that I was a nice guy, and non-stalkerish because over the course of the next few weeks we struck up a friendship.  Over Easter weekend she was heading back to her hometown, and we decided to meet up and go to the movies together.  At this point it was just two friends hanging out and meeting in real life.  We got along just fine, but neither of us was really looking for anything at that point so dating didn’t even dawn on either of us I don’t think.

As fate would have it, I was planning on transferring to the university she was attending, so at the very least it would be awesome to have some friends on campus.  It was not until I had actually transferred that sparks really happened.  To be honest we moved very quickly from “dating”, to being essentially inseparable from that point onwards.  There were no long drawn out courtship rituals for us, we were far more practical than that.  I still marvel at just how odd it was, that we had grown up so close to each other, but that it took someone half a world away to introduce us.  Years later as we talked about our childhoods we have come up with several points at which we were likely in the same place at the same time.  Thankfully we have an international cupid to thank for finally connecting us.