Wildstar Attunements

Bon Voyage

Finally home and sitting on the sofa and starting to tackle the blog post of the day.  I ended up taking the day off from work to make sure I was able to do whatever my wife needed me to do this morning.  She however has been successfully ferried to the airport, and while I got turned around leaving the airport I got to flex my knowledge of the backroads of North Tulsa to get back home.  I am going to have to master highway 11 this summer during the Twitter Math Camp, where I am serving as a shuttle driver.  However for the time being I am nice and safe and home.

When I got here it was really nice out, so I opted to go for a little walk rather than having to do all of it this evening.  The thing this highlighted however is that I apparently need to try and find some earbuds with a longer cord.  If I moved my head too quickly they ripped out of my ears and went flailing to the ground.  If I am going to make it through the nightly ritual of walking I am going to have to do it to music.  So after while I guess I will make a trip out to target or best buy and see what I can find.  Once upon a time I had a set of head phones that had little behind the ear clips, so I am thinking I need to find a pair of those.

Wildstar Attunements

For some time now an infographic has been circulating around the internet outlining the “12 step process” for raid attunement in Wildstar.  I admit when I first saw it, I was extremely hesitant because it is quite the ordeal… however the longer I have “lived with it” the more I think it might be just want the doctor ordered.  I talked about my feeling regarding attunements and skill checks this weekend on the AggroChat podcast, but this mornings post is completely devoted to two excellent posts I read yesterday from Liore and Syl about the subject.  I am not going to preface or summarize the posts, because you really need to just read their own words on the subject.  Instead I am going to go off in my own rambly direction to talk about skill gates and attunements in general.  If you are curious about the 12 step image… it is spanning the right side of the page… for dramatic effect.

Evil Attunements

Once upon a time in another life I was a somewhat successful raid leader in World of Warcraft.  I lead a few raids during the 40 man era, but got really serious about doing it during the Burning Crusade 25 man era with the non-guild based raid groups of NSR and Duranub Raiding Company.  I know the pain that attunements can be all too tragically as a raid leader.  In order to get fresh blood into your raid, it meant either you spent time running old content and gearing those players up… or you resorted to stealing members away from fledgling raids that were maybe not as highly progressed as your own.

The problem with the World of Warcraft attunement system, was that it required an entire raid to complete.  This was a constant drag on the raid system, and meant lots of players would have to join one raid just to get keyed to be able to join a bigger one.  This system invoked so much animosity, just like it did back in Everquest where the system really saw the first light of day.  During the Planes of Power expansion, getting keyed for various planes became a power vacuum that only a few elite guilds allowed anyone to have.  Considering the raid designers for World of Warcraft were themselves the leaders of these elite raids… it was not surprising that the keying system ended up something very similar.

The Gatekeeper

The problem is that the attunements also served as a way to gate the content, and provide a level of gearing that you must be able to get past in order to proceed.  To some extent they have tried to do this with item levels, but that in itself is also inefficient.  Just because a player has a really high gear score, it tells you nothing about their ability.  I’ve known more than a few players who have reached high gear score out of persistence, and still perform horribly in a raid environment.  For ages these games have needed an objective measure for just how prepared a player is for the encounters contained within a raid.  Nothing feels worse than having to be that raid leader, and tell a player that they simply do not perform well enough for the raid to carry them along.

One of the best mechanisms I have seen in a game to gate based on player skill… is the not terribly creatively named “Gatekeeper” encounter in The Secret World.  In fact I have gushed about the need for this encounter on more than one occasion, but the latest is in the “WoW Needs a Gatekeeper” post.  This encountered required you to complete a specific test designed to exemplify your ability to heal, tank or dps nightmare level content.  Your reward for completing it, was literally the ability to get to the nightmare level gates in the game.  As a DPS player at the time, I have to say that the test fully prepared me for the rigors that would be Nightmare difficulty content, and I am sure eventually raid level content.

What was so great about the encounter was that it was entirely personal.  No one could carry you through it, or even assist you.  You had to come to a solution to the puzzle of how to complete all of the necessary tasks to progress forward.  This type of skill gate draws a clear line in the sand between the players that are ready and the players that are not, and takes a lot of the stress off the raid leader.  I don’t like elitism, but raiding was never one of those things designed for the masses.  It is designed to be an extremely rigorous skill based activity, much like high level PVP.  The harsh reality is that not everyone should be able to raid.  That is not to say that I don’t think there should be valuable high end content for everyone to complete.  But I don’t necessarily think that raiding should be something that every  player has the expectation of being able to do.

Why Wildstar Isn’t Evil

One of the coolest things about the Gatekeeper encounter is it gives players a shared struggle that they had to get through to be able to progress to the next level.  My friends and I still to this day talk about what a colossal pain in the ass the dps version was.  It took me 25 tries and I think it took my friend Warenwolf around 30… because we were both too damned stubborn to respec to the “optimal” path to complete it.  We beat the damned thing on our own terms, and now carry it as a badge of honor.  This is what raiding used to be, not about elitism, but about defeating something really hard together as a group and carrying with it a sense of pride in that accomplishment.  I honesty feel like Wildstar is trying to return to that era when you felt like you earned every inch of space in each dungeon or raid you completed.  I for one am fine with this change, even if it means I will likely never be able to raid again.  I just hope that they put in content to keep me entertained in my casualness.

The main reason why I feel like the Wildstar attunement process is just is the fact that for the most part it is a personal journey.  Steps 1-5 are entirely soloable, or at the very least zone events that will likely have other players completing them without the need for a premade group.  Step 6 requires a group but should be able to be completed through pugging if you need to.  To be honest every single achievement listed in the attunement, is either solo or something you can accomplish with either a freeform group inside of the zone, or puggable through the dungeon finder system.  Sure you can get your guild to help you out significantly on several of the steps, but the length of the quest chain means that not many guilds will be dragging players through it.  This means the onus of the entire event is on the player, and not on a guild or a raid to “catch them up”.  So while it is not a one stop shop like the Gatekeeper, I feel it creates a sufficient skill gate to make sure that the players are prepared for raiding in Wildstar will likely mean.

I feel like Wildstar is a game with so much casual but challenging content, that there is always going to be something for the players that cannot raid to do.  While World of Warcraft has made so many steps to make raiding an inclusive thing…  it feels like it lost the epic quality that it used to have along the way.  Some of my best moments in gaming came from Vanilla and BC era raiding, because when we FINALLY downed a boss… it felt like we had done something spectacular.  When I got that tier set…  it felt like it was a long fought struggle… and not something I gained by simply “putting in enough time” or “grinding enough currency”.  I feel like raiding could definitely use an infusion of hardcore again, even like I said earlier… if that means I won’t be able to participate.

#Wildstar #Attunements

Ramble About Content

Story Content

I was having a discussion yesterday with some friends about whether or not the MMO player actually wants carefully crafted story driven content.  When you look at the lackluster support that Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World have gotten overall, you could easily come to this conclusion… since each of them are deeply story driven and carefully constructed experiences.  I think we are maybe seeing something else at work.  If you look at a game like World of Warcraft, some of its deep story arcs have long been heralded as some of players favorite content.  However the vast majority of the content is nothing like this, and I think it is simply a case of not everything has to be “art”.

It is in essence the filler content, that is just good enough to keep you from throwing up your hands in frustration, that make you appreciate that gem in the rough of a quest.  Games like ESO, SWTOR and TSW attempted to infuse deep story and meaning into almost everything you do, therefore shifting story driven content to the status of a commodity.  I suggest that games need busy work, to make you appreciate the transcendent content when it is placed in front of you.   The “kill ten rats” quests are there to cleanse the palates so to speak, so that when a deeply engaging story arc is put in front of you… you actually take notice and don’t resign it to more content to grind through.

Epic Crafted Content

When I think about epic custom crafted experiences I think of the Mass Effect series.  I have gushed on this game so much, and watched friends play it over and over.  As much as I enjoyed the entire trip through the series… it is not the type of game that I would want to play every night.  That ultimately is the problem with MMOs, you are asking players to come in and inhabit your space… hopefully making it a nightly traditional to log in and play with their friends.  As much as I might like a Mass Effect or a Transistor… I wouldn’t want to play these games on a nightly basis.  I want a space that is much more malleable, and doesn’t require so much of myself to play it.  Essentially one friends assessment that MMO content “needs to be exactly good enough to be passable” is really not too far off the mark.

One thing that the busy work tasks excel at is helping drive your own personal narrative forward.  The players who inhabit an MMO and really live there on a night by night basis, whether they realize it or not, are crafting a custom narrative about their character based on their own actions.  Each time you kill some baddies, save a villager, or deliver a package to some far away mountain… these actions are complementary to whatever narrative you have in your head about your own character.  When you ask a player to participate in something longer, more story driven… the end results are predetermined and may or may not be complimentary with this personal narrative.  When you have a few of these long epics scattered throughout the game, they are welcome interludes.  However when everything you do is based on some narrative that you don’t necessarily fully control… it can be jarring.

Grouped Content

While I would not want to play Mass Effect every single night, I still want to play it often… so there sets up the paradox.  Right now I find myself compartmentalizing games as either “fun to play with other people” and “fun to play by myself”.  Elder Scrolls Online is very much fun to play by myself, with brief flurries of playing with friends when it comes to dungeon and pvp content.  This is part the game and part me.  Firstly I hate questing as a group, and it has been something I have tried to avoid like the plague since the early days of World of Warcraft.  I’ve always found the experience to be generally frustrating since someone is always a step behind or a step ahead of where you happen to be.  Trying to keep people in sync is madness…  but Wildstar and its focus on leveling the guild through grouped content is trying to change this.

They’ve given me a hook, a reason to group up that so many other games haven’t.  I greatly prefer to experience “content” by myself and then group up to do “group content” whenever I can.  But the fact that the only real way to level your guild is through players grouping up together and doing content, makes the entire concept of group questing much more friendly.  They’ve given me a shiny bauble for my troubles, and also given me tools to make the entire grouping experience more meaningful in the way the various “paths” interact with one another.  So this construct is making me re-evaluate the way I think about content in general, and start looking for ways to group up to accomplish things rather than solo everything.

In part my reluctance to group comes from my Everquest roots where your ONLY option was to group for everything.  When MMOs gave me the option to be self sufficient, I took it and ran with it and have simply never looked back.  So in a game like Elder Scrolls Online, I greatly prefer to be wandering around by myself.  I go AFK frequently, often have to take my headset off to respond to my wife, and am generally not always super engaged with what I am doing.  In short I feel like I am a liability for grouping, and in those cases I try and solo the entire night.  The problem is this becomes a pattern with me, and I simply NEVER group unless it is content that I can’t do by myself.  I find it interesting that Wildstar is somewhat successfully making me re-evaluate that point, and seeing that grouping is something that is beneficial to me, the guild, and the players I am grouped with.

Room For Both

Another thing I have learned about myself is that I seem to always need a “WoW”.  I am talking about this in super generic terms because the game has shifted at various times… but I always seem to be playing one.  Traditionally this has been me shifting back and forth between playing World of Warcraft and Rift… while at the same time playing a game like The Secret World or Elder Scrolls Online.  Wildstar seems to be my new “WoW” game in this equation, and it speaks to my desire to play that type of themepark/themebox type experience.  The thing is there is always going to be room for an Elder Scrolls Online as well.  I find myself right now wanting to pair down to just those two games, even though I have a ton of other games that I somewhat want to play.  It is like I have various itches that need scratching on a regular basis, and no one game ever quite covers them all.  However between a combination of those two games it might get close to covering all the bases.

The more I play Wildstar and enjoy it because it is new and shiny and exciting… the more I want to spend my weekend delving into Elder Scrolls Online and exploring Auridon and more of the Veteran level Aldmeri content.  I functionally need both experiences, because so far I have not been able to get both from the same game.  However after seeing the lackluster reception that Elder Scrolls has received versus the glowing recommendation of players for Wildstar, it is pretty clear that most players just want a better “WoW”.  There is no shame in this, because to some extent that has been what I have been looking for as well.  I want to visit these worlds with rich story, but I want to “live” on a nightly basis in one that is more of a “choose your own adventure” novel.  Wildstar inundates me with choices of things to do… and there is a never ending list of achievements and things to explore, giving me a constant stream of adventures to be had.

League Beginner Night

I realize this mornings post has been an odd rambling one…  without much of a firm point.  I blame a clear lack of sleep on my part, and a measure of exhaustion on another.  Hopefully there is something worth reading up there in that big mess.  Tonight is the Alliance of Awesome League Beginner night again, and if you are a member of the AofA community I highly suggest you check it out.  The start time is 9pm CST, but if we have a critical mass of players on mumble beforehand we might start a little early.  Last week we had enough time to play a 3v3 Twisted Treeline and a 5v4+bot Summoners Rift.  We had a ton of fun in the process.

If you have never played League of Legends before, and have been interested in getting into it… now is the ideal time to try it out.  Last week we had several first timers, and to make things easier we broke apart into separate mumble channels to help tutor the new folks in what they should build and where they should be focusing their efforts.  This in part involved me barking orders to Maric quite a bit, but he seems to have survived just fine and is signed up for this week again.  I am still very much a newbie myself, but as a whole it is a really fun time to be had and presents a wild divergence from the types of games I normally play.  I wish we had enough people in Heroes of the Storm to be able to have a similar night for that game.

Blame it on Lady Vox

This is happening a little out of the normal order.  Since I wanted to devote a long post to Everquest Next Landmark for Steampowered Sunday, I decided against cluttering the bottom of the post with a factoid.  So today I am doing a second really quick post as a sort of addendum.  On the days when I have an already existing “thing” for that day, I might start doing this.  The Friday Forum Fodder felt a little odd to have a factoid glued to the bottom.  I still question if this feature is worth doing, or if folks are going to get bored of me talking about myself.

Blame it on Lady Vox

Since I posted a big long lovestory to Everquest Next for my Steampowered Sunday post, it feels only fitting to chain this factoid on the same day.  My first real MMO experience was Everquest, and like I said in the other post it will always hold a special place in my heart.  I love the setting of Norrath and its places, peoples and legends.  That said I would have likely never gotten into the game on my own.  I was one of those people that watched the game as it was being developed with great interest, only to get a bit soured at the thought of paying a monthly subscription.  On my Amiga I had flirted with playing Air Warrior and EGA Battletech a bit over the GEnie service, and had already felt the sting of paying an hourly rate to play games.  So the thought of doing that again really didn’t set well with me.

So it was very reluctantly that I accepted a request from a friend and co-worker of mine to come to his house one night after work and run his second account during a Everquest raid.  The guild he was in had been preparing to take on the great dragon Lady Vox in Everfrost, and that night after work they were going after her.  He normally dual boxed Everquest with his Iksar Monk and Halfling Druid, but since he would be pulling the mobs clearing up to Lady Vox he really needed to concentrate on doing that one thing.  So I got what ended up being a few minute explaination of how to control my character, how to memorize spells… and which spells to cast… and we were off clearing our way through the ice giants and goblins on the way to the dragons lair.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I had never really played an MMO at this point, and very much never been on a raid of any kind, but I thought it was amazing how everyone in the party worked together towards a common goal of clearing the lair and finally battling the dragon.  I stood back and cast nukes, occasionally throwing a heal here or there when someone looked like they were getting low.  The battle was absolutely insane, with so many things going on at once that I had no clue what happened.  At some point things started to get really hectic when folks started dying left and right.  Sooner or later it was my turn, and my friend rather hurriedly explained where i needed to go to get back tot the fight.  Luckily a ranger died about the same time so I followed her back into the lair.

EQpic_Kaladim My friend told me to “mem a nuke” and it was a few minutes before it dawned on me what exactly he was saying.  I did just that and ran back in just in time to land the killing blow.  So on my first night playing any MMO…  I managed to slay an internet dragon.  On that night I also got to see my very first instance of loot drama…. as there was an argument that erupted over who got the “zero weight backpack”.  I have to say I was hooked, and the very next day I picked up a copy and rolled my very first character… Exeteroth the Dwarven Cleric.  Turning around upon exiting Kaladim and seeing the giant dwarven statue still is one of the most epic experiences I have had in a game.  Nowadays it looks so primitive, but at the time it was just staggering that something so big could exist in a video game.  While the forced grouping and frustrations that it caused ultimately lead me to quit the game after a few years, Everquest will always hold a special place in my heart, as will my very first dragon raid.

Tonberry Tactics

Not Enough Coffee

This is one of those mornings when I feel like there is simply not enough coffee in the world to make me out of this stupor.  In part this is my own making.  At 4:40 I woke up on my own accord, thanks to my very own bladder alarm going off…  and then I decided it was an awesome idea to go back to bed… knowing that I would be awoken by the alarm at 5:30.  Had I just gotten on up and proceeded with the day…  I likely would be just fine right now.  So instead I sit here staring at the screen trying to make thoughts coalesce into word form.

Today should be an interesting day for me.  When I was younger I was part of my high school gifted and talented program.  I feel as though maybe the entrance requirements were a little lax if they were willing to take me.  The gifted and talented coordinator, that we lovingly referred to as Jaunamama fought hard to get us some truly unique experiences, many of which I suspect came out of her own pocket.  One of these was the Tulsa Town Hall lecture series.

Essentially she would take two of us on the long trek to Tulsa to attend one of the lectures in the series, then make a grand day of it all.  We would go to lunch someplace nice, and usually finish the afternoon with a tour of the Philbrook or something along those lines.  For the last five years, I have worked across the street from the performing arts center without thinking much about it.  This year however upon listening to the advertisements on NPR, something clicked and I signed up for the lecture series.  Luckily I have a pretty awesome boss and he has filed this down in my PPR as “Personal Development”.

FATE Crack

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A few days ago I complained about the Dark Devices FATE in Northern Thanalan, but to be truthful…  once you reach about 45 the zone as a whole tends to be the best place to level.  So as a result I have been spending quite a bit of time out there doing the various fates.  There are a number of 25k-40k experience boss fates, one of which that drops a pet if you manage to get gold.  So as a whole the zone is really worth while even if it did not have everyone’s favorite… Dark Devices.  I guess to some extent… I understood why the fate was so popular but I never really understood its full potential until yesterday.

Over lunch I was working on leveling my Bard like I have been the last several days, and when I did the ubiquitous “BRD LF FATES” shout in zone, I got invited to be a part of a custom built dark devices group.  Essentially the eight man group consisted of 3 White Mages, 3 Black Mages, 1 Bard for mana song, and 1 Paladin for flash.  How the group works is a thing of terrifying brilliance… and totally relies on poor game mechanics.   Essentially the mission at hand is for the black mages to spam attacks, the paladin to spam flash… and the white mages to cast regen on opposing players.

Regeneration Tagging

While this does not seem too heinous at face value… it gets there quickly.  Apparently one of the ways that healing works is that when regeneration is ticking on a player, it causes aggro to be generated on the pull for the healer that cast it.  So far that seems to be working as intended… it has worked that way in most MMO games.  Where things go off the rails is the fact that apparently it also TAGS the mob to the healers party.  This means by keeping regen up on opposing parties, you can essentially siphon off their kills and give your group credit.  This is the king of all “dirty pool” maneuvers, and I do not condone it in the least…  however this is so prevalent that if you have a white mage in your party… they are more than likely doing it.

When it works… it works insanely well.  In Final Fantasy XIV there is the ability to chain kill mobs and each additional mob you kill adds a multiplier to the process.  I believe you are initially given 60 seconds once the chain begins, and if the counter is low enough, each additional kill resets the counter back to 10 seconds.  As a result a big AOE group can get some extremely high chains, but I believe eventually the multiplier caps out around 200%.  During the lunchtime group… we managed to get a 354 uninterrupted chain… meaning after the first 20 or so of those… every single mob killed was worth +200% of its face experience value.  As a result I made literally over 75% of a level on one single phase of a fate.

Regressive Gameplay

train-karnordeath

Dark Devices is a serious gimmick, and still one that I hope they break… because quite frankly it is a bit of an unfair advantage to those players that can get access to a good AOE group.  That said… since it is not considered an exploit I am certainly going to benefit from it as much as I can.  Yesterday at lunch I was level 45 and after a few more hours out in Northern Thanalan I am over halfway through level 49.  Granted I have the insane post 50 xp bonus going on for my bard, but that is some seriously fast leveling.  No wonder you see the same people out in the zone every single day farming the fate, over the course of a few weeks you could push almost every single class you had to 50.  I did not start out there until around 44, and as a bard you really don’t have all the tools you need to be successful until 46.  However I am seeing fresh 40s out there trying to make the fate work for them.  The method if nothing else… is brutally efficient.

The thing that strikes me the oddest about this entire process is how much it reminds me of the original Everquest.  Essentially I have leveled my Bard almost entirely through FATE grinding, and as a result that means sitting in a zone shouting for a group.  This is essentially the same sort of thing I can remember doing so many times in the Dreadlands.  Throughout the course of the night I would end up in multiple groups that would hunt mobs outside Karnor’s Castle, or various other key farm spots around the zone.  If you by miracle ended up with an extremely well balanced group, you might even brave the railroad that was Karnor’s Castle itself.  As much as you can solo in FFXIV, you can never beat the type of experience you can get with a party… especially while running FATEs.

I think to some extent it is this throwback to an earlier time… this regressive gameplay that has made the game so damned sticky for me.  It is like going back and playing Everquest, but taking with me all the bells and whistles and perks of a modern MMO.  Essentially the game is almost completely solo-able if you so choose to… but the group content is extremely good when it happens.  My huge problem with EQ2 is that while the soloing is amazing, any time you get more than two players together in the same place it feels like a facerolling mess.  Granted I have not actually played a lot of the Velious dungeon content, but even the big dungeons like Mistmoore have felt this way to me.  FFXIV does an amazing job with the dungeon content in making it feel like it requires effort and planning to get through it.

Tonberry Tactics

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A few days ago we took a group into Wanderers Palace and had some mixed results.  Over the course of the dungeon run we figured out how a lot of the tactics worked, but simply ran out of time before we could formulate a winning strategy for the final encounter.  We like to go into these dungeons completely cold, and figure out the boss mechanics on the fly rather than trying to rely on some guide to tell us how to do it.  So since we failed to finish the dungeon, there were several of us who had been plotting revenge.  Yesterday during the day, over IM we conspired to build a team to take on the challenge that night.

Overall I have to say the run went tons smoother, but primarily because we understood how the mechanics worked.  We went through the dungeon essentially wipe free and that left us with worlds of time to distill just how to defeat the final encounter.  After a few failed tries, we figured out the rhythm of the fight and managed to find a way to juggle the constant stream of adds, and the insane amount of damage the Tonberry King deals from his Grudge attack… that scales based on the number of adds you kill.  As a whole the entire encounter felt like a giant tug-of-war match, trying to keep me alive as the tank, but keep the adds off the healer.

I didn’t get much from the dungeon other than the experience of running it, but I believe both our Bard and Dragoon walked away with some really nice upgrades.  From the second boss a really nice chest piece dropped… but it was statistically identical to the one I received from my level 50 class quest.  So I passed and let someone else pick it up as a greed item… though honestly if it is the same stat wise, it won’t be of much use to anyone.  This is not the type of dungeon I want to run more than once a night, because it takes a lot out of you…  however I enjoyed myself.  Quite honestly there are not ANY dungeons that I really want to chain run, because even with the smoothest group these dungeons require more of you than previous games.

Wrapping Up

Well it is that time again and I need to finish this up.  I have not really posted much for the Newbie Blogger Initiative this week, but I have plans to do so this weekend.  During my Saturday and Sunday posting time I have much more time to work through a topic, so I figured I would use both days to post advice articles.  There is so much good stuff out there this year, and I need to get on with updating my blogroll to include the rest of the blogs that have signed up during the Class of 2013.  I hope you all have a great day and that it continues on into a great weekend.

Once upon a Cleric

Morning all you people out in internet land.  For the second day in a row I feel absolutely miserable.  I think overall it is just a massive overload of allergies, but it has managed to go and piss off my asthma.  As a result I ended up at home about halfway through the day yesterday and have been juggling breathing treatments ever since.  I have yet to decide if I am going to attempt going in today, but right now it doesn’t seem likely.  I feel worse than I have felt in a long time.

Once upon a Cleric

Today’s post has been spurred on by a comment on twitter to yesterdays post.  Essentially a friend of mine said that they would make a healer out of me yet.  To which I replied… that few would believe but I actually started out my MMO gaming “career” as a healer.  The friend of course could not believe that… so I figured today I would regale you all with the tale of how I ended up being so damned tank centric.  We are going to have to step into the way back machine and go backwards through the years quite a bit to around 1982.

My mother was a high school teacher, and as a result I spent large amounts of time milling around the high school after hours as she finished up with her lessons.  There was a traditional at the end of school each year… that essentially anything left in the lockers by the end of the day was thrown away.  As a result the janitorial staff and by proxy us teacher kids got to rummage through whatever was left in the lockers.  Stuffed in the bottom of the locker I found the thing that would begin my descent into madness… an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook.

From that point onwards I was obsessed with all things D&D and roleplaying, and I was especially hung up on the cleric class.  I loved the concept of a battle priest, fighting undead and wielding both weapon and holy spells.  This obsession was only further cemented when I read the novel “Pools of Radiance” and was introduced to the Tarl the Cleric of Tyr.  I loved the fact that he was just as good with a weapon as it was with turning undead.  I thought it was a cool concept and the idea was only furthered with the awesome images of battle priests in the Warhammer games.

Tiny Elvis

EQPic_OasisDorfonGiant

Scan forward a decade and in 2000 I got hooked on Everquest by a friend of mine.  He introduced me to the whole mythos by having me play his second character on a Vox raid.  Pretty much the most epic way possible to get introduced into MMOs.  I pretty much went out the next day and picked up Everquest, the Kunark expansion and the newly released Scars of Velious.  When it came time to choose a class, there really was no option but a Dwarven Cleric of Brell.  I was completely enamored with the concept of battle priest fighting undead.  That concept lasted pretty well into my late 30s… when I began to realize that my life as a cleric was that of a heal bot.

The end game reality for a cleric was the Complete Heal rotation.  For those of you who are not familiar with this concept… essentially each cleric establishes an order and it is agreed upon before the fight.  Each of us then set up a macro that shouted “Casting CH – Ready Cleric #X” whereas the X was replaced by the correct priest in sequence.  When that cleric saw their number scroll by they were to count to 12 and then press their own macro.  Then return to a watching for their number to scroll by state.  The end result is that the tank received a complete heal every 3 seconds… instead of the normal 12 second cast time of the spell.

I have to say this made combat in the dungeons and raids and extremely boring and binary system.  Watch chat for your number, cast your heal, return to not paying attention until your cool down was up.  It was not until I dabbled with EQ1 a bit recently that I realized just how much downtime that game had.  You were still chained to the screen of sorts, but I can remember healers knitting, reading books, all just waiting on their complete heal rotation.  The thing that soured me on the experience however was not having any control over my own destiny.  I essentially followed someone else into a dungeon and was there until they determined it time to leave.  This experience has forever soured me towards healing in general.

The Celt

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The game we played after we fell out of love with EQ and the hours spent standing around doing nothing… was Dark Age of Camelot.  The above image is the very first incarnation of Belghast Sternblade.  The Celt Champion was a really amazing class, in that it had ranged spells to pull with, loads of debuffs and was equally proficient in the tank, off-tank and dps roles depending upon how it was specced.  Most of the time I tended to favor two handed weapons and served in a dps and offtank in a pinch role for the various excursions.  My friend juggled the roles of both main tank and main healer by dual boxing a Dwarven Warrior and a Celt Bard together. 

This is the point at which I should note that the bulk of my time playing DAoC was spent on Gaheris… the carebear server… largely because it gave us three whole realms worth of zones and dungeons to explore instead of the rather claustrophobic single realm setup.  Adding to this trio we had a Lurikeen enchanter that served as our primary dps.  It was amazing the amount of things we could pull off with the small group we had.  There were many times I had to offtank a mob just to spread out the damage enough to get through the fights.

When I started doing Keep and Dragon raids… I got drafted into the full tank role a few times and really enjoyed it.  This is essentially the game in which I got my first tastes of tanking.  I liked the taste… and ultimately ended up doing quite a bit more with our alliance.  As we moved on to other games I started favoring the hybrid/offtank role because it gave me soloing versatility and a key group dynamic that I could fill.  When we played City of Heroes, I was a blades/regen scrapper which in many ways was one of the more tanky classes in the game.  Once again a friend played the full bore earth tank, and I alternated between dps and off tanking as needed.

Bait and Switch

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This is Exeter, a tankadin… and my intended main when World of Warcraft released.  In beta the Paladin had been the ultimate synthesis of Battle Priest and Tank.  I had so much fun running around with my friend who was playing a nuking priest at the time.  My attacks would debuff the target against holy damage, and he would come in for the kill and demolish it.  It was like the perfect symbiotic match…  then Blizzard completely destroyed it at the 11th hour right before release by introducing the “Seal” system to replace the “Strike” system.   Over night Paladin went from being the most amazing thing I had played so far… to feeling absolutely awful and confused.

With release… I stuck to my guns and tried to make a Paladin work… and so long as I had friends to level with I was doing awesome.  Then tragedy struck… we had a death in the family, and I simply was not around for a few weeks.  When I came back all of my friends had long since leveled past me, and I found trying to solo on the paladin a thoroughly frustrating mess.  Since the one thing above all else Hunters were renown for was their soloing ability… I started playing Lodin.  I was able to catch up to my friends with surprising speed and I played a hunter just effective enough to not be a horrible strain on my party.

Hunter Happened

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I never really intended on playing Lodin as a main character… I just intended on using him as something to catch up to my friends… then later leveling Exeter on my own and returning to the intended role of Tankadin.  However one thing lead to another… and a good friend of mine ended up starting a raid, that needed hunters… and before I really realized what I was committing to, I was a half GiantStalker decked out raiding hunter.  The funniest and most ironic part is… that I ended up on the one class that had a cast rotation similar to the complete heal.  Once we entered Molten Core I got indoctrinated into the Tranquilize rotation.  Just like complete heal… hunters would set an order and we would then “tranq” the next enrage effect.

I had a lot of good times raiding with the Late Night Raiders, and I met a ton of people that have become permanent fixtures in my gaming life… but quite honestly I was never a good hunter.  I could pass as one, and I could sit around 3rd in damage when compared to our other hunters if I really pushed it… but I just did not care about the class the same way the others did.  My instinct was always to get up in the face of the mob and beat on it with something…  and I hated pet management above all things.  I managed to get Exeter to max level… but it ended up feeling just horrible.  At that point Paladins tanked with Seal of Rage… which was a glorious mess that never really worked at all for holding aggro.

Priest Enabler

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Around about this time a good friend of mine mentioned that she would like to level a healing priest, but didn’t really want to go through the grind that was leveling a healing priest.  I had been kicking around the notion of leveling a tank, but again leveling as a tank was a painful experience.  So as a result we decided to level my human warrior Belghast and her dwarven priest Finni together to make the process easier.  This was probably a bad thing… because it was the first moment that I realized how amazing priests are.  They enable me to make really bad decisions… like pulling ALL THE THINGS in an area and then living to tell the tale.

I loved this new play style of making everything hate me… then getting bailed out of my bad lifestyle choices by someone else.  The two characters shot up extremely quickly, and before I knew it I was tanking the unofficial raid nights for Late Night Raiders.  The problem is… the more I got into tanking… the more I hated playing Lodin.  The only problem… Lodin was geared… and there was no way to get as geared as the LNR tanks.  So I bided my time, continued getting tanking experience and “apprenticed” of sorts under the various really good warriors that we had in our raid.

One of the best things about an expansion… is it is a complete gear reset.  As a result I used the Burning Crusade expansion to be my springboard to ditch the hunter and move forward as a “real” tank.  From that point onwards I have essentially played nothing but tanks as main characters.  Be it my Warrior in Rift, or my Marauder/Warrior in Final Fantasy… I always gravitate towards tanking.  It took some time… but I finally found that one role that really suits me.  Which I guess in a way is why I am so passionate about tanks being a thing going forward.  It is a role I feel that I play fairly well.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it… the tale of how I went from being the most healery of healers to playing absolutely nothing but tanks.  I figured it was a tale worth telling, especially since there are folks that still have trouble thinking of me as ever playing anything but a tank.  The ironic thing is… there are a group of folks I raided with at the time that still think of me as Lodin the Hunter.  I was a really horrible hunter.  At this point… I am going to go crash on the sofa as I feel absolutely terrible.  I sincerely hope you are having a much better day than mine.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

On Leadership

We have entered back to school shopping season and last night we ran around hunting for pants.  A nasty side effect of our collective weight loss is the fact that my wife currently appears to have no pants that will fit to start the school season.  This manifested itself yesterday when she was trying to get ready to meet some of her teacher friends for a presentation.  Of course panic ensued, but she managed to figure something out and as a result last night we began the process of trying to rebuild the clothing archives.

On Leadership

Yesterday I was having a long talk with Sevok about his interest in maybe joining us in the House Stalwart Rift contingency.  Sev has been a longtime friend of mine, lasting well over a decade at this point and been involved in many of the previous incarnations of House Stalwart.  The problem is he really does not want to start up in Rift unless he brings his wife with him.  She on the other hand has not been in a Stalwart guild yet, and is extremely gunshy of guilds in general, namely because we both have a shared moment in our history that likely changed both of us in different ways.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have talked quite a bit about how tanking brings out my protective nature, so I thought I might talk a bit today about what exactly lead me to guild leadership in the first place.  In many ways it is this exact same protective nature manifested in trying to create a wonderful environment for my friends to play in.  Honestly the roots have always been there, but as an introvert I am always loathe to step up unless I feel like some wrong has been committed.  I have a strong sense of justice embedded in me and equality that honestly should not have been there based on my upbringing… but that is a tale for another day.

High School

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I did not have the traditional “geek” upbringing of exclusion and ridicule at the hands of the popular masses.  In fact I could have very easily been another one of the popular kids.  I guess in many was from the outside it probably seemed I was one.  I essentially had my geekiness grandfathered into the popular culture of my small home town.  My parents friends ended up having what would essentially end up as our crop of “popular kids”, and as a result these were my play dates and birthday party goers all the way through elementary school.  So as my geek tendencies manifested themselves for the most part they were just accepted as “me being me”.

My mother was a fairly overbearing sort that insisted that I be involved with everything.  Essentially she was brought up in a poor household and had aspirational goals to be more than that and as a result ended up using me many times as the vessel of those aspirations.  So as a result I was in 4H, an Eagle Scout, Team Captain of the Academic Bowl, FTA, Student Council, National Honor Society, and many more acronyms that I can barely remember.  The result was frustrating for me, because I ended up in the local paper on a regular basis and everyone out in the community seemed to know my business.  I want to say I was on 26 pages in my high school year book thanks to all the random organizations I was pushed into being a part of.  I feel as thought my mother was trying to build herself a Kennedy… which I very much have no aspirations ever to be.

My Tribe

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I could have very easily fallen in the kegger madness that was the life of a small town popular kid, but instead I took a very different path.  My friends were essentially the geeky misfits of the town.  The edgy art students, the math nerds, the show choir kids… all bound together to form a family of sorts.  My mother was a home economics teacher, and as a result we used the small back room of her classroom as a private lunch room of sorts.  In there would would plan D&D campaigns, play Wolfenstein on the 486 computer, and a lot of Chess and Pente.  This room gave us a moment of sanity in a world that none of us really liked much.

The funny thing is… that as acknowledgement got around that these were my friend… these were my tribe of misfits…  each of them started to get extended an invisible veil of protection.  I was not a small guy, and at 6’4” the hooligans in high school seemed to fear me just by my seemingly powerful stature.  Each of my friends reported getting picked on a lot less, or at least no longer in the form of physical confrontation.  I had no clue when I started the little community that it would have the fringe benefits it ultimately did.  To some extend it only caused me to expand the group and pull in other people.  I feel like this is what started my “collecting people” tendencies that would serve me later.

Past Guilds

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When I got addicted to Everquest, I went through a couple of extremely unsatisfying guild experiences.  The first was an extremely exclusive group that dated back to a bygone era of gaming.  They were friendly enough and active enough, but they were also an extremely closed door society.  If you did not go through the initiation rituals to join their secret society… you were forever treated as an outsider regardless of how long and how many games you had played with them.  I went through the little initiation, but really did not see the world change much after doing so.  The problem is… as I got my friends into these games… they were forever destined to be outsiders… or not allowed in at all.  After seeing this injustice play out a few times I decided not to follow them into any new games.

While in Everquest I moved servers to play with a group of locals to Tulsa.  At first it was an extremely awesome having a group of locals that I could play with an socialize with.  However the longer I played and the more closely I got to the inner core of the guild, I started to see the same problem with injustice.  Essentially to be a member in good standing… you had to do whatever the guild leader wanted of you… and more often than not this was to do whatever would keep his wife happy.  I saw members miss out on rare drops for their epic weapon quest that would instead go to alt number 307 for his wife.  If she wanted this rep from this zone… the entire guild was expected to go there and farm forever until she got whatever she was wanting.

House Stalwart

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If you were not in the inner circle, your opinion did not matter.  When the wife had a falling out with a member, it was expected that the entire guild would shun them or else you would get kicked out on your ass as well.  None of this sat well with me, but I was torn.  My group of friends were still mostly in this guild, but I felt as though nothing about this situation was fair.  Somehow I ended up as the sounding board for all the players who were sick of the leaders shit, and made some extremely deep ties within the “resistance” of sorts. As we moved on past Everquest and into other games I kept contact with the members of this undercurrent and in many cases they all ended up as members of Stalwart guilds  eventually.

World of Warcraft was the next big thing on the horizon that I knew everyone would be playing.  As a result I wanted to gather up as many friends under one banner as I possibly could.  Prior to launch I started a brand new forum unconnected from any guild or game.  Through it I organized all my friends from EQ, DAoC, Horizons and City of Heroes towards the goal of forming a new guild for World of Warcraft.  Essentially I never wanted to end up in a situation like i was in the previous two guilds… either with abusive leadership or and elitist inner circle.  After talking to some friends about it, I decided that the only way I could ever guarantee that, was to be the leader myself and keep it from happening.

So here we are roughly a decade later and there is still an active House Stalwart presence in several games.  World of Warcraft damned near broke me for leading anything.  As a result I took roughly a two year break from guild leadership, as I wandered around and joined up with lots of other pools of friends.  I am extremely thankful to each person that sheltered me and invited me into their own organizations during this time. Sadly however in each new place I visited… there was something missing… and I would go back into my old ways trying to recruit everyone under a shared banner.  I was missing my home, was missing my guild, and was ultimately missing the freedom to make an awesome home for everyone involved.

As a leader I have always tried to enable people to do awesome things and be awesome in the process.  As a result I have always tried to keep things simple, only adopting the barest of rules that instill a sense of the larger community rather than a list of “thou shall not”.  For the most part this has worked over the last decade.  We have had a lot of amazing moments as friends and I have built more of an extended family for myself than a guild.  These are all people that I talk to regularly outside of the game, when we travel I try and meet up with ones in the area… they are the family I chose for myself.  Still to this day… I have an overwhelming desire to bring new people I meet that are also awesome into the fold.

Wrapping Up

I feel as though this post kind of developed a life of its own.  I am not really sure what I intended to right.  To some extent I was writing so that Sevok’s wife could see that our time spent in the horrible EQ guild had adverse effects on both of us.  I just chose to take that bad experience and roll it into building a long standing family of friends and a much larger community.  Hopefully this tale will be at least interesting to other people out there.  I hope you all have a great weekend.  I desperately need a haircut so that is the number one priority on our list.  Also hoping to coax my wife into another trip to the place where she found all those Legos.

Evergreen Content

After some technical difficulties caused by the fact that my upstairs computer appeared to have come back in a half alive state after what I can only assume was a power blink caused by last nights storms…  aren’t run-on sentences awesome?  I am finally sitting down at the computer to write this mornings post.  Additionally I am drinking the sweetest cup of coffee ever… because in my half awake state… I dumped the Splenda designated for my wife’s cup into mine.  The end result is a cup of coffee with like six packets of sugar in it.

Evergreen Content

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One of the things that has always frustrated me with MMO design is the fact that the higher up in level you are, essentially the fewer options you have for where to spend your in game time.  What I mean is that usually games spend a good amount of time to provide alternate starter zone experiences, and then those usually funnel into shared zones for your faction before dumping you out into a ladder of zone progression towards the “end game”.  Once you arrive at the end content you experience the same thing… everyone is pushed towards the same few content items.

When an expansion is released the same thing happens again but even more limiting.  You are pushed out of the “old world” content and into a much smaller new world with the same very vertical progression path.  Everything about the old content becomes completely disposable as it is immediately replaced by the shiny new things from the expansion areas.  Not only is the new content separated by distance usually, but it gives players absolutely no incentive to ever return and revisit the older content.  As a result each time an expansion is released the players are ultimately throwing more and more content in the dustbin.

A Better Way

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Granted some games do a much better job at addressing this problem than others.  In Rift when mentoring down you receive xp and rewards as though you were doing content at your level.  The same is more or less true with Guild Wars 2 and its always mentored system of scaling the player down to the content level at all times.  But in neither system do you really address the problem of lost dungeon and raid content.  Ultimately you can get rewards similar to what you could earn at level, but you will never actually be able to progress your characters in the same way unless you are always doing the latest and greatest content.

With the advent of systems like StoryBricks that allow for smarter AI encounters, I keep wondering if this is now the time to have a much better system.  Ideally this would work better in a system without hard level ranges, and more a “tiers of gear” approach like The Secret World has in place.  What if a mob could perceive you as a greater threat based on your “tier” and ultimately fight “smarter”.  This would make the old content scale to whatever level you happen to be at the time.  The old encounters would be evergreen in that beating them at Tier 1 would be significantly easier than beating them at Tier 4.

Horizontal Progression

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As a result you could continue to “pay out” the best tiers of gear, because all content would essentially scale up to meet the level of the players taking it on.  In a mixed level group it would get far more tricky.  You would have to do some sort of an average level for the encounter, but ultimately the base idea is that as you level your character you continue opening new doors to experience, rather than constantly closing permanently the doors behind you.  I feel in part that this is so enticing as no amount of hard worked content provided by the designers would ever be considered “throw away” or “leveling” content again.

This of course is a massive pipe dream, and I am sure there are all measure of technically limitations to what I propose, but I have always wanted a world that scaled to me that I never outgrew.  We can have this concept in single player games like Oblivion, I just think its time that we see a proper implementation in the MMO world.  One added benefit is that being able to progress regardless of the content you are doing… incentivizes players to do the right thing socially… and assign their friends and guild members through that “old world” content.

Socially Beneficial

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Being one of those players that regularly helps out the “young-ins”, it can be frustrating knowing that you will not actually progress your character while doing this thing that was “socially” the right thing to do.  Games like Rift or EQ2 provide alternate advancement paths that make it much more enjoyable, since you know you are ultimately still making your character better in the process.  However… would it not be that much cooler if you could provide a system that allowed for both the low tier player and the high tier player to receive the best type of rewards they could get… together in the same group?

It is always awesome watching a new player get their first really awesome item, because you grouped up with them to help them through a challenge.  Would it not be equally exciting for them to watch you getting the same because you chose to help them?  I have had a mantra for awhile… “anything that prevents me from playing with my friends is bad” and this is exactly the opposite of that.  It makes sure that playing with my friends will always benefit me in the same ways it benefits them.  Sure the content might be ultimately more difficult when you have 3 tier 1 players and 2 tier 4 and the end difficulty level is something in the middle…  but as group you will be able to work through the challenges.

The Problem

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As I sit here to write this post, it feels like it is coming out super esoteric… and as a result I am hoping to place it more firmly on the ground.  In my office on the wall are lots and lots of maps, and many of them are from MMOs.  There is one above my monitor that came from the Kunark expansion to the original Everquest for example.  As I look at the glorious landmasses that are all these games… I am bit sad thinking that so many of those zones I will never have a valid reason to return to.  They will never again be truly important to me, the same way they were when I was first leveling through them.

I would just like to see a design scheme that makes it always valid for us to return to the content we know and love and have conquered and find completely new challenges.  This goes double for dungeon and raid content.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zone into Blackwing Lair in WoW with a group of friends… and get an encounter tailored to fit YOUR level… and not a “roflstomp” soloable mess?  The worst part about the “e-sport-ification” of raid content, is that we are constantly having to throw away fun experiences for whatever the newest tier happens to be.  Sure you can always return to the older stuff, but it has been trivialized by the progression you have made since then.

I would just like to see something that fixes this.  So that a zone stays epic regardless of when you tackle it, and that there will always be new and more exciting challenges and rewards to be found there.  With the construct of scalable AI and encounters…  I think that maybe finally this concept is ready to be explored.  I have no desire to stay in the starter zone, grind boars, and become amazing like they did in the South Park spoof… but it would be awesome to be able to go back to that low level content and have a reason to be there.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap up and get on the road.  I feel as though I have laid out a huge rambling mess.  Hopefully this will make sense to someone.  It has been a concept bouncing around in my head for awhile and all the talk of Storybricks and EQ Next and Scaling Mob intelligence has dislodged it enough that I wanted to try and put it down into words.  I feel like I am fairly grossly unsuccessful at doing so.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope you can grasp the crux of what I was trying to say.

Everquest Current

Good morning everyone, hopefully you got a bit more sleep than I did last night.  I ended up with another minor round of panic attacks and as a result did not actually make it to bed until after 1 am.  However I seem to be mostly functional.  Thanks a ton for all the warm wishes I received yesterday through either the blog, twitter, google+ or in game.  We didn’t do anything really insane… just went out to dinner and then came back and chilled out downstairs.  I piddled around a bit in Rift and eventually made my way over to the SOE Live twitch stream.

What Happens in Vegas

 

Normally we think of what happens in Vegas… stays in Vegas…  however at SOE apparently what happens gets live broadcast over Twitch.tv for free.  Having been a long fan of the SOE franchises, namely Everquest 2 I figured I would tune in last night for a bit and see if there was anything interesting happening.  I have been immensely curious to find out what is coming down the pipe with Everquest Next.  I have so many fears about how the game will turn out…  sandbox can mean so many things and not all of them good for the long time survival of a game.  So I like many tuned in thinking I might see a teaser for EQNext before the official unveil at Noon PST today.

You could tell that pretty much the only thing the crowd wanted to hear about WAS EQ Next and when Smedley took the stage… he did a pretty thorough job of baiting and teasing the crowd.  However he did bring out the very famous Jeremy Soule of Skyrim fame to showcase his work on the Everquest Next theme.  Within moments of it happening in the live broadcast the above theme was available on Youtube.  I have to say…  I am more than a little disappointed.  Granted this is “sketch” as they called it, an early synth only version of the theme… but quite honestly it feels a little generic for lack of the better word.

If you listen to the Everquest 1 and Everquest 2 themes… there is definitely a shared lineage there.  I expected this theme to carry on in a new way with the original “Everquest Notes” much in the same way that Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim take the same skeletal core of “TES Notes” and make them their own.  But what we have is something vastly different and really does not feel at all like “Everquest” music to me.  It feels way too ethereal, and not bombastic enough to represent an over the top franchise like Everquest.  Apparently however gauging opinion from twitter and Google+ I am in the minority of my opinion.

I listened to the track over and over trying to find some shared lineage back to the original themes… and I think maybe just maybe I figured out what Jeremy Soule was trying to do.  In the original Everquest theme… there is an odd little segment that always felt a bit out of place… that starts at roughly 0:46 and continues to 1:06.  The more I listen to the EQNext theme the more I think he chose this odd little section to expand into a larger theme.  I guess my hope is that Soule was starting with this segment and fading his way into the “EQ Notes”, and that the part that did the unfinished fade down is where the theme would pick up and grow into something we recognize.

I have a lot of faith in Jeremy Soule, I have a 4 disc set of Skyrim music that I listen to at work on a pretty regular basis.  I was just shocked at what I heard and how little it represented “Everquest” for me.  It also makes me afraid that they are really distancing themselves from the past, and kinda abandoning the Everquest lineage that came before.  I love Norrath and probably always will, and while I don’t think I could ever return to playing Everquest 1 I am still a huge fan of everything that Everquest 2 has become.  I want Everquest Next to draw upon this pedigree and not just completely abandon it.

Everquest Current

 

So much emphasis has been placed on Everquest Next, but last night was really about showing off Everquest Current.  Both Everquest and Everquest II are seemingly unstoppable juggernauts of content.  In the video above they announce the 20th expansion for the original Everquest, Call of the Forsaken.  It is completely staggering to think of any MMO in todays climate making its way through 20 separate expansion packs.  That is really one of the things that the SOE model has done… is allow aging communities to survive and be nurtured by what seems like extremely dedicated product teams.

I don’t really play Everquest other than occasionally logging in to my station account and remembering just how primate the old days were, so the first half of this trip down “everquest current” was interesting but had no real meat on its bones for me.  I started to get a little excited when the EQ2 portion came up.  While I am knee deep in Rift and living it… I will always have a deep nostalgia over EQ2 and all that it represents.  As a result I want it to be awesome, and I want to to successfully draw players.  In the above video they announce the 10th expansion for EQ2, Tears of Veeshan.

I remember spending a lot of time farming the North Temple of Veeshan for rep and gear back in the original game… and to some extend I always knew that EQ2 would take us back there.  Additionally they will be opening up High Hold Keep, a zone that I travelled through numerous times on my way to the Karanas but never actually leveled in the area surrounding it.  Apparently in the storyline we have dug too deep below the keep… and uncovered a band of Goblins that have taken it over.  As a result it looks like similar to Kaladim, it will be a former city turned dungeon as you “retake” the keep.

What I found extremely interesting in the talk of going to the “Nexus Core” supposedly an area that powered the Nexus on Luclin.  I have always hoped that one of the expansions would take us back to moon and see what remains of it, so maybe this will open the door to that actually happening.  I really loved Luclin, I guess in part because this was the first expansion I was actually a loyal player for the release.  I started playing Everquest just shortly after the release of Velious, and there was something magical about experiencing my very first MMO expansion pack.

The big reveal it seems was the addition of a 26th character class The Channeler, which is apparently on the SOE Live floor.  The shots they showed of the class looked pretty cool, but it also seemed extremely confused.  It is a priest archetype, but has a giant mage like elemental construct  but wears leather and wields a bow.  It will be interesting to see what the class plays like, and whether it feels like a ranger turned pet class or not.  The unique mechanic is that the construct is customizable with the ability to swap abilities and appearances to make it into whatever the player wants.  Again it will have to be something I see in action to be able to make sense of it.

Finally at the TAIL end of the video Holly Longsdale teased what was coming for expansion eleven.  Based on the images shown… I would guess that the Everquest 2 timeline will be discovering the lost continent of Taelosia as see in the Gates of Discord expansion to the original game.  I could be wrong… namely because I was not actually playing EQ at that time, but based on some of the artwork I remember…  these odd tribal lizardish men look to fit that theme.  I am not sure but I believe Taelosia is the last major landmass that has not made an apperance at least in part in the broken world setting.  It is good to see that they have a long range plan of where to take the game next.  I still would love to get a trip back to the moon however.

Wrapping Up

I am looking forward to seeing the actual Everquest Next announcement today around noonish pst.  Additionally from Quake Con there is supposed to be a live demo of Elder Scrolls Online at 1:30 EDT so that should be awesome as well.  I will likely be listening to both in the background as I work on various things today.  I really hope that both are as awesome as I have built them up to be in my head.  I hope you all have a great Friday, and that it leads to a great weekend.  Hopefully other than picking up around the house and doing a few chores mine is pretty relaxing.  Tonight at 8pm CDT House Stalwart is hosting a League of Legends beginner night for anyone that wants to get their feet wet, so that should be enjoyable.  It has been so long since I have played that I am really looking forward to doing it for a few hours.

Abolish Faction Walls

Good morning you happy people out there.  I joked yesterday about opening a real life air rift, but in reality I guess it felt a bit like that.  We managed to get through the storm relatively unscathed, but not everyone did.  Yesterday the report was that roughly 100,000 customers were without power, and in on the drive in there were numerous intersections that were reduced to four way stops.  The neighbor across the street lost the entire fence on the front part of his yard, and the shopping center my favorite game store is in was pretty much demolished by the winds.  It is so odd to have tornadic style damage without the Tornado.

Race and Class Restrictions

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Yesterday Rowan posted a thought provoking pieces on whether or not there should be class and race restrictions in games.  Namely this was spawned by Wildstar, but the question carries over to every game.  Why does it make sense that fanatical characters should be limited by some sort of pseudo real world logic?  In an example he gives… why CAN’T a robot do magic…  isn’t that just imposing some kind of logic on fantasy gaming that doesn’t really exist?  Is it not just as fantastical that humans can perform magic?

Ultimately I am against class and race restrictions…  but even more so I am against faction based restrictions.  My general theory is… that in every situation… ideology never breaks down solely along racial boundaries.  There will always be people that play across the lines and are branded as either Sell-swords at the best, or Traitors at the worst by their own faction.  One of the worst experiences you can have is when a new game comes out… and you are super pumped about one specific race…  only to find out that every single friend you have wants to play the OTHER faction.

My mantra has been anything that gets in the way of you playing with your friends is bad.  Faction based race restrictions get in the way of you playing what you want to play… and also playing with your friends that might have different tastes.  I will go one step further and say that Factions in general… are generally bad, but more so games that try and set up an artificial “red versus blue” faction wall.  That essentially feels like imposing artificial limitations on your players just to solve poor design problems.  If have to rely on polarized faction based combat to keep your game moving, you made some bad decisions somewhere along the process.

Abolish Faction Walls

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Some of the most liberating gaming experiences I have had come from games with much more flexible factional boundaries.  The Everquest series probably takes the cake for its ability to give the player malleable faction alignments.  Essentially you start out as either aligned as an Evil race or a Good race… and that sets up certain default racial relations that you have with other factions in the world.  Given the time and the inclination… you can perform tasks that will alter these boundaries through lots and lots of player faction work.

Iksar for example started off hated by everything and could do business nowhere but the neutral Nexus and Cabilis their home city.  However I had a friend who through lots of work managed to become maximum reputation with the Halflings… and he was treated as a favored guest in their territory.  I myself took my Half Elf ranger which is natively a good aligned race… and managed to get him the same reputation with the Evil Erudite city of Paineel.  This experience of letting the player dictate their alliances through their interactions with the world is the best possible scenario I have seen.  Sadly… no one since has adopted this model.

In Everquest 2 you had something similar… defacto good vs evil racial set up… but over the course of the game you could decide to betray your home faction and begin gaining rep with the other.  While this was not as rich and robust as the Everquest system… it was still a far better choice than the archaic “red versus blue” mentality.  Additionally no where in the Everquest realm are you ever limited in who you can group with, communicate with, and trade with.  All players can interact regardless of their personal choices.

Faction as Fiction

Singlehandedly one of the best choices Trion has ever made with Rift is to release the fabled “Faction as Fiction” patch abolishing strict faction walls in that game.  While not as open as a game like Everquest that was designed NOT to have firm factions, it was a great way to “hack” that functionality into an existing game.  Essentially in one pass they allowed Guardian and Defiant characters to group and guild freely, and set up a new neutral three faction based PVP system called Conquest.  Players essentially act as mercenaries for three different political factions and wage proxy battles for them.

I feel like this decision point more than anything has allowed House Stalwart to grow so much recently.  Many of the players that we were pulling in, tried it shortly after the release of Rift, but felt limited by the race and faction based choices.  We were a Defiant guild, but many players just feel more comfortable with the kinder, gentler, greener… Guardian starter experience.  Being able to tell them that “faction no longer matters” has almost become a rallying call as I get new folks invested in the game again.

I cannot help but think that games like World of Warcraft and Wildstar would not be far better served if they threw off the mantle of “red versus blue” and embraced letting players choose their own alignments.  While we have extremely rabid Horde and Alliance players… I was one of those players that had friends on both sides of the pond.  When Stalwart originally launched with the release of WoW, we had an Alliance Guild on Argent Dawn and a Horde Guild on Silverhand.  The intent was to play in both places, so that we could stay together… but over time the majority greatly favored Alliance… leaving a skeleton crew manning the Horde bulwarks.

So instead of having like Fifty players all happy and acting together… we had 35 happy alliance players, and 15 unhappy horde players that felt abandoned.  Any design choice that forces potentially pits players against their friends… is ultimately a bad one for the sake of building long lasting communities.  Had we been able to BE an Alliance guild, but also had a number of “Horde” race sell-swords… I feel as though this would not have been a problem.  The players didn’t care about the faction… they cared about the available races to play… and ultimately went to the side that they could play what they wanted to.

Looking Forward

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One of the biggest detractors for me in everything I have heard about Elder Scrolls Online is the fact that once again there will be three distinct and insular faction groups.  While choosing which faction to align to was easy for me… since I always play a Nord, Argonian or a Dunmer…  it will not be quite so easy for my friends.  I have a few friends that prefer Altmer for example… and I tend to go out of my way to kill them when playing Skyrim.  The Elder Scrolls is a setting where there have NEVER been absolute race based factional boundaries.  There are always Nords that are willing to sell their blade to the highest bidder, as well as Altmer that throw off their heritage and adventure freely in the world.

My biggest hope is that there will be a way for my friends to be in Ebonheart Pact where I plan on building the House Stalwart guild… but be able to play whatever they want to play.  This will ultimately determine whether or not a Stalwart guild succeeds in this game.  I realize that this is probably just a pipe dream, because everything that we have seen to this point seems to enforce the strict racial boundaries.  But I guess I can hope… I realize factional boundaries are easy for companies to enforce, that they greatly simplify many aspects of the game.  However this does not stop me from feeling like they are bad for the players.

ESO is still a long ways off, so I have the smallest glimmer of hope that they might rethink the firm racial limits, however Wildstar feels as though it is right around the corner and has set up the same tired walls.  We are going through the same problems with that game as we have every other faction based title.  Granted I am only really mildly interested in the game…  but various Stalwarts are EXTREMELY interested.  The problem is… each of us seems to natively align ideologically with one faction or the other… and currently it the sentiments seem to split down the middle.  All of this is generally because we prefer to play one type of race over another. They could really serve to take a book from Trion and make guilds transcend factional boundaries.

While we are on pipedreams…  one of the biggest flaws in The Secret World is the fact that Cabals are faction locked.  This game is so liberating in certain fashions…  you can group with any player on any faction or shard.  However the fact that their guild system is limited based on a specific faction really throws a monkey wrench in this whole openness scenario.  It has essentially forced guilds to manage three separate factional units… and then try and communicate between them using server channels.  Everything would have been far simpler had they just said that cabals were free floating.  I really hope this is a decision they revisit in the near future.

Wrapping Up

Well it is that time again… I have wasted another perfectly good morning rambling on.  I had intended to talk about all the awesomeness that we did last night as a guild, but that yarn can wait for another day.  On a related note however.. I totally suggest you check out Fynralyl’s blog post about her entry into the guild and reentry into Rift in general.  Warms my heart to see that folks are enjoying themselves in an environment I have pulled together.  Any questions I had as to whether or not forming a House Stalwart in Rift was a good idea… have long since gone out the window.  I hope you guys have a great day, and that the weekend comes quickly.