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

belghast_daoc

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

wow_exeter_paladin

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

lodin_half_giantstalker

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

Belghast_pulling

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.

Bad Launches

Good morning you happy people… it is the beginning of another work week and I still feel sore as hell from the weekends adventures.  The odd thing is my thighs are killing me… and I am guessing it was from all the random times I had to squat down to take a shot throughout the wedding festivities.  I still need to sift through the photos and cull it down to a final set of “wedding pictures”.  As I just reached up to scratch my forehead… it appears that the sunburn is starting to peel… so I have that itchy mess to look forward to over the next few days.

Pre-launch Problems

ffxiv_animated_errors

The above animated image pretty much sums up my experience with the weekend pre-launch of Final Fantasy XIV a Realm Reborn.  Essentially I got to play a bit before the wedding madness started on Saturday morning, and then at almost every point afterwards I received some form of an error trying to log in.  Essentially I think all of the issues encountered can more or less be chocked up to the poor infrastructure we have seen at various points during the other tests.  Almost everything about this weekend could have been reconciled if they had the forethought to include an actual login queue system.

Sure there is a sort of queue that exists, but the highest number in queue my friends and I have seen is somewhere in the 400s… which leads me to believe that the queue is limited to something ridiculous like 500 members.  This leads to the very fun process of spamming a character login only to get the ubiquitous 1017 error stating the world is full.  That is hands down the most frustrating part about the whole experience.  It seems like complete blind luck as to whether or not you are going to make it in.

Bad Timing

Ultimately another large portion of the failure that was the FFXIV head start, was the fact that they were holding it entirely over a weekend in North America.  Normally pre-launches begin on a Thursday night and continue on through Friday… at which time they can begin to see what the scaling issues are going to be like and adjust accordingly.  Holding it on a weekend essentially means that all infrastructure resources in North America are closed for the weekend.  I feel as though if they could have thrown a few more servers at this issue a lot of the problems would have been resolved.

Instead the game team and infrastructure resources are operating on a significant time lag.  An example is that Sunday evening… at what would be 8:30 am Japanese time… they managed to stabilize the JP servers.  As a result I was finally able to roll a character on the Japanese network of servers and at least spent a little time before going to bed playing around on Ultima.  My friends think that this morning we will see the EU/NA servers stabilize similarly.  I still question whether or not they actually care about customer service, but that is part of a much larger issue.

Bad Launches

servers

So far this is probably the worst game head start I have experienced.  Normally when a game launches, we get a few blissful days of stability during the head start as only the pre-orders get to play… and then can chill out for the first day as the servers burn around us knowing you already have characters that are pretty far into the game.  Quite honestly this is the first time that I can remember ever experiencing large periods of not being able to play the game at all… during a head start weekend.  Lots of head start experiences have been riddled with lag or other issues… but the game was at least partially playable.  During the entirety of the weekend I got roughly 2 hours of gameplay.

One of the things I found interesting however is that while talking to friends over text and mumble… I did not realize just how subjective a launch experience was.  For me I herald the launch of Rift as quite possibly one of the smoothest I had experienced.  However talking to one of my friends… he remembers tons of issues during that launch.  This lead me to crawl back through my forum posts and blog posts from the time… and I literally found no mention of any issues brought on by the launch.  Did I just not notice the issues because I was enjoying myself… or did I really not experience the problems that he had made note of.

So this makes me wonder… how many of the bad launches I have experienced are purely subjective?  For example, I considered Guild Wars 2 an extremely solid launch since it was playable for me the entire time… albeit I spent most of that time on the overflow shards.  However the simple fact that we could not really play on our “real” shards made it an extremely frustrating experience for certain other players.  Do they consider that launch a failure… whereas I consider it a pretty solid success?  Additionally I struggled with massive amounts of lag during the SWTOR launch, but my friends consider that to be one of the more successful launches to date.  It felt like a rocky start to me, and as such I got extremely frustrated by it.

King of Bad Launches

blizzard_entertainment_logo

So far the two worst launch experiences I have played under are both from the same company.  World of Warcraft has gone down in history as the rockiest start.  I can remember the game being more or less unstable for a solid month.  I remember almost always being able to connect to play the game… but functionally the server side lag made it next to unplayable.  There were times I could level without issue… so long as I never attempted to loot anything I did not already have in my inventory.  Likewise the launch of Diablo 3 was essentially an unplayable mess for the first few weeks and constant error codes.  I had far less forgiveness in me around that launch, because after the rocky wow start… they should have had better preparations in place for another blockbuster success.

The thing is… at the launch of WoW more or less the gamers dealt with not being able to play the game… because it was in so many ways leaps and bounds ahead of what else was currently on the market.  It was “worth” waiting for.  I feel like companies simply do not have the luxury of time to fix their problems.  I posted a complaint about the Final Fantasy launch over on G+ and immediately people brought up the failure that was Diablo 3.  Gamers tend to hold a grudge against the games that floundered and while some of them will develop a short memory and return to your game happily once the issues are resolved, there is a certain percentage that will never again trust your company.

With these catastrophic infrastructure failures… I feel as thought Final Fantasy XIV has roughly a weeks time to fix everything and get the servers in a relatively permanent state.  The roughest part is the fact that this is occurring during the pre-launch and we are not even seeing the final launch day crowds.  Right now every one of these frustrated players has the opportunity to log into amazon, or green man gaming and cancel their preorder.  I know of a handful of players who have done just this.  The rough reality is that other than the Final Fantasy diehards, the title is just not good enough overall to make the masses wait to play it.  There are way too many other games on the market, and many of them without the subscription fee.

Wrapping Up

Here is hoping that the next few days see massive improvements in the stability of Final Fantasy XIV.  Right now I am extremely disappointed and this probably goes down as the worst pre-launch I have experienced.  The next few days will determine if it can compete with Blizzard for the worst launch category.  Hopefully they can throw enough hardware at the problem to fix it quickly.  I hope you all have a great week, and that you were able to get in more playtime than I have to date.

Open Data

Good morning you happy people.  I am mostly conscious today but feel like I am coming down with something.  While it has not fully hit me yet, last night I felt relatively horrible.  It is one of those mornings where I have been staring at the blank screen for ten minutes… finally comprehending that I am supposed to write something thoughtful or interesting.  It is mornings like this that I question my decisions in life… and why in the hell I ever decided to do this blog every morning thing.  However I shall persevere and push on… and try and be thoughtful and or interesting or at least something other than comatose.

Armory

2013-08-16 06_10_03-Belgrave @ Argent Dawn - Community - World of Warcraft

I am addicted to armory systems.  When I am playing a game that has them… I happily check up on literally everyone I meet just to see exactly how they are doing things.  I am not a terribly competitive person by nature, but I love peering into the inner workings of other players.  I have learned so much from sifting through the specs of other players.  Additionally when I have gotten a good drop, I used to sift through the profiles of level appropriate guild members, to see if any of them could use it as an upgrade.  If they could I would send that doodad off in the mail, because I would always rather an item go to use than end up as pocket change when sold.

The funny thing is… I thought EVERYONE liked Armory systems.  I made a comment yesterday about how much I wished that Rift had one… and immediately got a couple of responses from twitter talking about how much each of the players disliked them.  One player took the stance that they had never seen any good come of them… and that in generally they only served as a point for players to trash talk or tear down others based on their gear.  The second player said she liked to keep her spec and gear secret, that she felt like it gave her an edge in PVP. 

I guess I can see both points, but they are also both foreign concepts for me.  Firstly I rarely if ever pvp, and when I do it is on a lark and only to help complete some world event or guild quest.  I am pretty much anti-competitive and want everyone to just get along and work together towards some glorious common goal.  That said I can also see how if you do not have a protective bubble of guildies surrounding you… how you could get exposed to players that want to pick apart your gear and “call you bad”.  I’ve always found armory systems to be amazing diagnostic tools that provide easy access information sharing of how exactly a player is out performing you by so much.

Open Data

2013-08-16 06_22_55-Belghast [90 Shadowknight] - Antonia Bayle - EQ2U - Character Details

I think the king of all armory systems exists in Everquest 2.  The odd thing about it… it was built by a third party developer.  I have a friend that works in the tools division of SOE, and I can remember all these early attempts to make a reliable and excellent mobile application.  Ultimately they decided as a company that they simply did not have the manpower to adequately support an extremely detailed data visualization and armory tool on all available platforms.  So instead they shifted their focus and made an amazingly intricate data service.  This would allow third party developers to build the ultimate armory application for whatever platform they chose to.  The end result I feel was a master stroke, and they have provided better access to data than any other company out there to date.

After the data service was released, EQ2Wire a long time supporter of the community and the best news source came along and released a truly phenomenal armory system.  Essentially it provided full access to everything you would care to learn about your character.  In fact in many ways it provided more information about your character than you could actually access in game.  It had all sorts of nifty auxiliary functionalities like lists of all the dungeon maker items you had collected, or all your spells with the ability to create a shopping list for reagents to upgrade them.  When EQ2 did a massive reworking of the AA system, they offered the ability to look at the previous version of your AA profiles so you could easily see just how exactly you had specced your character.

So when I say that I would love to have an armory system in Rift.  This is the system I would most like to see it patterned off of.  I would love them to take the data they already provide about the game to fan sites… but roll into it all the information about the players and serve it up as an active data service.  Hell I would even devote development time towards working on an armory system if one decided to pop up and turn into a github project.  Likewise I am sure lots of other people would devote their time to it as well.  It would be awesome to return to being able to scour the guild roster to see who can use an item, or who has an amazingly artful spec.

One of the nice thing that EQ2 did when they rolled out their system was adding the ability for your to go off the grid of sorts.  When you check that box, your character information becomes cloaked from the data feed.  This would satisfy those players who want to keep their spec and gearing close to their chest, for PVP purposes.  A scenario like this is the best of all worlds since it would finally allow me to integrate an armory system into our guild website.  I have been working on a social roll-up page that lists various pieces of meta data from our forum profiles in one place.  So I have been able to integrate WoW Armory, and TSW Chronicle… but am missing the game we are playing the most often… and as such is what prompted this whole line of discussion.

Redeemed

League of Legends 2013-08-15 20-37-32-38

Several of my friends are super devoted to League of Legends.  For the League E-Sports crowd, I am going to sound like a complete moron…  but my friends were watching whatever event was going on last night.  I pay about as much attention to e-sports as I do to traditional sports… which is absolutely none.  This was a funny realization for me, because I feel exactly the same way while watching both.  Zero interest in watching someone else play a game, regardless of what that game is.  I guess I get bored watching other people do things that I could just be doing myself if I cared enough to do them.

All of the talk of League however made me want to pop in for a bit.  I had some RP sitting in my account and Riven is probably the cheapest I have ever seen her.  I have been told multiple times that this was a champion I would probably like a lot.  Previously I would say my three favorite champions were WuKong, Garen and Darius…  all of which have an extremely similar play styles.  Essentially I seem to be unable to get into any champion that is NOT a top lane bruiser style champion. 

I fired up a quick 1v1 custom game to put Riven through the motions, and man… I have to say I love her.  I have never gravitated towards female avatars in any game I play… I just find an inability to really get into playing them.  However I had already found at least one female champion that I really liked… and that was the super murdery Vi.  I can now add Riven to that list.  Firstly she is another champion limited only by her cooldowns much like Garen.  I really love that style of gameplay, as I hate having to watch my mana bar…  and I think in many ways that is why I love Garen so much.  Additionally she has an extremely high sustain, especially once you throw a bloodthirster on her.

She is kinda like my perfect fusion of WuKong with his insanely ganky E-Q-W combo that lets him hop in and bash things then sneak away… with my love of Garen and his complete lack of resources to fiddle with.  I still suck horribly at League because I am diametrically opposed to its click to move control scheme… but when I play Riven I feel like I suck a little less.  Additionally her combination charge/shield attack is extremely awesome at getting out of jams…  like getting too close to a turret… which I may or may not do way the hell too often.  At least I can add one more champion to the arsenal of ones that I really enjoy.

Wrapping Up

Well this has rattled on long enough… and I should really be getting on my way.  Here is hoping that I get to feeling better, and that I really am not coming down with something.  I figure it is likely just allergies as it has been all summer.  My boss is out of the office today… which normally folks would think it is a good thing.  However in my case that just means I have to fill in for him when a crisis arises.  I really hope no crisis arises… I could use a nice and chill day.  I hope you all have an excellent one, and that it begins an amazing weekend.

Bank Overflow

Good morning you happy people.  Today is a day for rampant forced cheeriness because quite honestly I feel like crap.  My sleep patterns have been off for the majority of this week, and it has left me completely drained most of the nights.  Last night for example I wanted to do many splendored things… but ended up slumped at my keyboard fighting sleep.  Hopefully I will adjust to the environmental changes, like my wife starting the new school year…  but whatever it happens to be it is a pain in the butt.

Bank Overflow

rift 2013-08-15 06-17-12-54

My life’s mission… at least as far as gaming is concerned… has been to try and gather as many awesome and community minded people as I could together.   Then I abscond with them and stuff them neatly into House Stalwart.  My guild jokes that my “panel van has the best candy” as I am constantly finding someone else in need of a good home.  Last night yet again we welcomed a new member, and I am hoping he enjoyed himself.  I was a little off my game in the whole engaging people thing…  it was all I could really do to stay vertical.  In fact at one point last night I decided I was done being vertical… and went downstairs to try playing on the sofa.  Unfortunately that only hastened sleep… and roughly thirty minutes later I was logging out.

One of the negative side effects of putting all these awesome people in one place… is they tend to be extraordinarily generous.  The above image is a shot of one of our bank tabs.  They are absolutely stuffed to the brim with random things our guildies thought might be useful to other guildies.  As a result I am going to need to do a massive cleanout.  Some of the items are pretty easy… for example all that raw meat I will just ship to my survivalist and convert to level appropriate food.  Other things like the gear… I would really prefer to see them find a home.  The other option is to runebreak them and turn them into level appropriate runes.

We have long used tab one as an artifact exchange program.  Essentially the idea is that as you are out collecting artifacts, you dump the ones you already have in the guild bank and then extract the ones you need.  This has been a great program, the problem is… there are a lot of people that put in way more artifacts than they extract.  So hopefully we can induct a few new members into the practice that will hopefully soak up all the unused artifacts so we can start fresh.  I funded the first two bank tabs but unfortunately the third one is just too far out of reach.  I don’t have anywhere close to the 1500 plat needed to buy it.  So for the time being we are going to have to make due with the limited space we have.

Granted having a guild that helps each other so freely… is the kind of problem I enjoy having.  I think tonight I might start packaging up various tidbits from the bank into care packages and just sending out to guild members that are in the appropriate level ranges.  There are a lot of things in the bank that I view as clutter… like the on use scrolls that give a short term stat boost.  But if packaged with a rune and maybe some food…  it becomes a nice care package for a leveling guild member.  I just don’t want the generosity of the guild to go to waste.

Cthulhu Expansion

I am extremely late to the bandwagon of even bringing this up… but a few days ago Blizzard trademarked the name “The Dark Below” and that set the world a twitter…  pun intended.  At first there was some debate as to whether or not the name belonged to World of Warcraft, or if it was intended for the upcoming Diablo 3 expansion.  However additional data came out yesterday that pegs the name of the D3 Expansion as “Reaper of Souls”.  Prior to this however…  I assumed that Dark Below was going to be the 5th World of Warcraft expansion simply due to the fact that the name has roots in the Warcraft universe.  Apparently the term “Dark Below” was mentioned in the original Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans manual… as well as a section in the Warcraft roleplaying books from which WoWWiki References this quote.

The Dark Below is a place inhabited by demons, devils and infernal creatures, from where some sorcerers take their power directly and sometimes have a patron beast to foster their magic

So on that alone I assumed that this would be the beginning of the fabled “Burning Legion” expansion.  I hate to bring this list out… but I still find it curious just how closely the franchise has followed it all these years later.  This list first started circulating before the release of The Burning Crusade, and more or less was pretty accurate until Cataclysm.  I feel like the whole idea of rebooting the world was a complete monkey wrench thrown into the “master plan”.  But I am wondering with the release of Pandaria… are we going back to trying to pick up items from the list?

The Pre-Burning Crusade Expansion List

Draenor Set

Azuremyst Isle – 1 to 10
Bloodmyrk Isle – 10 to 20

Eversong Forest – 1 to 10
Quel’thalas – 10 to 20
Hellfire Peninsula – 58 to 62
Zangarmarsh – 60 to 64
Terokkar Forest – 61 to 65
The Deadlands – 63 to 67
Nagrand – 64 to 68
Blade’s Edge Mountains – 66 to 70
Netherstorm – 67 to 70
Shadowmoon Valley – 69 to 70

Northrend Set

Borean Tundra – 67 to 70
Howling Fjord – 67 to 70
Dragonblight – 69 to 72
Grizzly Hills – 70 to 73
Crystalsong Forest – 72 to 75
Zul’drak – 73 to 76
Sholazar Basin – 75 to 79
Storm Peaks – 76 to 80
Icecrown Glacier – 78 to 80

Maelstrom Set

Gilneas – 77 to 80
Grim Batol – 78 to 81
Kul Tiras – 79 to 82
Kezan – 81 to 86
Tel Abim – 83 to 85
Zandalar – 84 to 87
Plunder Isle – 86 to 88
The Broken Isles – 87 to 90
The Maelstrom – 89 to 90

Plane Set

Pandaria – 1 to 10
Hiji – 10 to 20

Wolfenhold – 1 to 10
Xorothian Plains – 10 to 20

The Green Lands – 88 to 91
The Dying Paradise – 91 to 94
The Emerald Nightmare – 94 to 97
The Eye of Ysera – 97 to 100

Deephome – 88 to 91
Skywall – 91 to 94
The Abyssal Maw – 94 to 97
The Firelands – 97 to 100

Legion Set

K’aresh – 96 to 99
Argus Meadowlands – 97 to 100
Mac’Aree – 99 to 100
Maw of Oblivion – 100+
The Burning Citadel – 100+++

Ozumat

As you can see from the list… up through the close of Wrath of the Lich King… everything pretty much synced with what we were seeing in the game.  Some of the zone names were inaccurate, but the list is too close for it to be a complete aberration.  So as I said above… when I saw the name and the reference from WoW WIki… I immediately thought this was going to be what is mentioned above as the Legion set.  But further evidence has come out that leads elsewhere.  Yesterday an article caught my attention pointing out that Ozumat the fiend in Throne of the Tides was in fact from the Dark Below.

So now I have to wonder… is this finally them doing a proper treatment of Nazjatar and Queen Azshara?  I almost immediately ruled out this concept when the name first started circulating… because just among my friends Vashj’ir was pretty much a hated experience.  So I really could not see blizzard returning us to an underwater setting again.  However so far the evidence points in that direction.  If the Dark Below lies beneath the crust of Azeroth… then it would make sense that the entry way would be some underwater trench.  My biggest concern would be if they do another confused expansion like Cataclysm where there is content scattered throughout Azeroth without one central point of focus.

As bored as I got with Pandaria… it was less about the content and more about my general malaise with World of Warcraft.  Everything about that expansion was well done… and had I really cared about the game I probably would have enjoyed it much the same way as I enjoyed the hell out of Northrend.  Cataclysm on the other hand felt like a haphazard journey across existing areas of the world.  I hope whatever they do for this expansion that they give the players an entire world to explore rather than more piecemeal crap.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to get on the road.  Today was a multiple cup of coffee day as my mind wandered quite a bit through the course of this post.  While I don’t play World of Warcraft, and I really have no intent of returning… I am still a sucker for Azeroth.  You can’t spend a decade immersed in a world and not care about its evolution.  I keep hoping that Blizzard will “do the right thing”, but they always seem to make decisions that are half-hearted.  It will be interesting to see what Blizzcon provides.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope I make it through the day without falling asleep at my desk.

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

HighSchool

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

pente

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

EQ_KaelLegionaire

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

stalwart_crusade

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.

Playing Without Rules

This is another one of those mornings where I am sitting here struggling to find purpose… or at least something to write about.  After a few nights of lousy sleep I managed to get a pretty solid one last night.  The Ceiling Fan has essentially died in the bedroom, but yesterday I hooked up an oscillating fan and it was actually quite comfortable using it.  Oddly enough though, even with a good nights sleep I am just out of it this morning.

Guest Posts

I have to say I was shocked that both of my guest posters had topics ready for me yesterday.  I apparently fail miserably at the concept of a guest post, since most bloggers use them for days when they don’t actually want to post.  I kind of feel like that would be cheating this little experiment I have been on, to see if I can manage to post every single day for a year.  I fear for November, since I plan on doing NANOWRIO this year… and I am not sure how I will be able to write every night… and then still be able to come up with something worth saying in the morning.  You guys might just get a lot of status updates to my word count.

Ariad and I don’t always see eye to eye, but honestly he said a lot of things I would have said.  Ultimately my problem is not removing the Trinity persay… but that when you remove it… it has to be replaced with something.  In his post he did a great job and outlining how various games both digital and real all have roles that are played.  So if you want to remove what World of Warcraft essentially distilled those roles down to… you need to replace them with something else.  The absence of role based play essentially turns everything into a mindless deathmatch, which while fun for some time does not lend itself to engaging gameplay.

Playing Without Rules

stalwart_scarlet

Sevok has been a pet class in essentially every game I have ever played with him.  He pretty much personifies what I think of when I think about that type of player.  There was a pretty good debate that spilled out onto Google+ as a result of yesterdays posting.  Essentially when dealing with a pet class, I get frustrated because I would rather just do it myself instead of sending my minion in.  That along pretty much identifies me as NOT being a pet class person.  While I raided on a hunter in WoW during Vanilla… I tended to lose interest once they fixed the pets and we actually had to use them in combat.

The above shot is from a run through Scarlet Monastery House Stalwart did a few weeks after the launch of World of Warcraft.  Essentially we had two hunters, a shadow priest, a dps warrior and a mage.  We had no real “healer” and we used a combination of the two pets to tank…. additionally if you look above you can see that I was a survival tree “melee” hunter.  I am in fact the dwarf banging on the Abbot with the polearm.   Everything we were doing was “wrong” but we didn’t really care.

Why did we play this way?  Quite honestly because we didn’t know any better… we had yet to be told by the internet that everything we were doing was not effective.  Honestly I think that has been more to blame with the stagnation within the MMO market than anything else.  The “Elitist Jerks” of the world quantify and distill everything about the game world, and reduce it to a series of equations.  Math is solid and unyielding, and extremely hard to argue with…  but also pretty boring at times.  It seems like in EQ, DAoC, and the early days of WoW we were extremely willing to make bad decisions… just to see what the consequences would be.

So what if I was a melee hunter… the brunt of internet jokes.  I had fun doing it… I made it work… and through a mixture of stubbornness and creativity we were able to make things work.  Sure there was always a point at which it became difficult… but even once the golden path was deeply ingrained in me… we managed to do a Blackrock Depths run with 2 rogues and 3 hunters and finished it off without much issue.  Additionally our raid used to do all hunter Upper Blackrock Spire runs for fun.  When 10 hunters cast aimed shot at exactly the same time…  mobs pretty much just evaporate.

Flexibility of Roles

stalwart_scarlet2

Ultimately what I am saying is that while we were using sub optimal builds and class compositions we were able to get through the content by the use of our wits.  While we did not have the things that people prescribed as a “tank” or a “healer” we adapted through the use of what we had.  We still very much had someone playing the role of the main tank, and someone playing the role of the healer, but we were doing so in non-standard ways.  Ultimately this is the sort of thing I feel we need going forward.  The ability to blur the lines of what is the tank and healer, and allow multiple people to fulfill these roles in multiple ways.

Ultimately to me it is not the failing of the trinity or role based combat, but the failing that the designers have allowed games to get distilled down to the equation of “only one right answer”.  Having a Golden Path is fine, but quickly there becomes way too much social pressure to conform your character to the most optimal path.  I think that is why I have enjoyed playing Rift so much over the years, is that there are literally thousands of possible right paths out there, that can be tweaked and tailored to fit the exact preferences of a specific player.

Sure there are golden paths, but they seem to change on a weekly or monthly basis.  With the ability to have an extreme amount of prebuilt “roles” you can switch to it allows players to have both their experimental builds and their tried and tested builds and be able to swap back and forth between them freely.  On my warrior I totally have a 61 paragon and 61 champion tried and true dps build…  but I also have a number of Tanky builds that have different personal flavors to them that I am using to test various things out.

No Right Answer

EverQuest-Next-Golem

Ultimately I think this is the hope I have for Everquest Next and its implementation of Storybricks.  I feel as though there will NEVER be only one right answer.  That we the players will be able to tailor a solution that fits the skillsets we have available.  But I still feel as though role based gameplay is one of the tools in that toolkit to allow us to build those solutions.  I think as Ariad, Sevok, and myself were trying to point out.. that each of us as players brings with us a certain favored role based mentality.  My hope is that we can apply those ways of thinking towards new and complex challenges regardless of the character abilities we happen to currently have and come out with interesting gameplay as a result.

Flexibility of purpose and the ability to shift back and forth between what role a given player happens to be playing at the time completely seems like a viable way to deal with smarter mob AI.  As evidenced by all the comments the other day regarding my wanting not to lose tanking as a thing that is done in MMOs…  some of us have very technical definitions of what that role is.  Much of that is rooted in the construct of the “Taunt monkey”.  But as I tried to explain in the “Tank is” post… I am very flexible in what that definition means as it is applied to a given games mechanics.

My initial fear with Everquest Next was that they would be going with the “Everyone is DPS” solution that Guild Wars 2 used.  This was most definitely not the path to interesting gameplay, and more or less over the course of several discussions since the weekend I have arrived at a point where I believe that EQ Next will have much more meat on its bones than that.  It sounds as though they are building in roles to replace the trinity… but we just simply do not know what those roles will be or what exactly they will entail.  I really look forward at getting my hands on Landmark as it goes through the beta process.  I am hoping it will help to answer a number of questions.

Wrapping Up

It is that time again, and I need to be getting on the road.  I have managed to turn a day where I had no clue what to write about into another long ramble.  I cannot guarantee that anything I wrote is really worth reading… and is likely just me working out concepts in my own head… but my readers should be long used to that by now.  I hope you all have a great day, last night we had a fun guild night running around and closing rifts.  Was fairly relaxing and had a great time hanging out on mumble with Rowan, Psynister and Fynralyl.  Hopefully we can get some dungeons going before too much longer, even if I have to start playing my cleric so we have a healer.  I will be happy when 3.0 releases and rogues and warriors finally have a main healer.

Out to Pasture

I need to hustle this morning so the post may or may not be disjuncted.  I had a generally lousy time sleeping last night as all sorts of odd noises kept waking me up.  The end result is that I gave myself 15 more minutes to sleep at one point… and now I am probably more than 15 minutes behind schedule.

Out to Pasture

Cow_female_black_white

Yesterday my post about EQ next, its removal of role based combat, and my subsequent despair caused a pretty large comment storm divided up between my blog, Google+ and twitter.  I have to say I had a vastly different gameplay experience than a large number of the posters.  But that said it does seem like there are a massive amount of people disgruntled about tanking in general or even the concept of needing one.  Rowan wrote a pretty great rebuttal with his post “Thanks, But no Tanks”.

I feel in many ways like I am being put out to pasture, like I am some relic of a bygone era.  It reminds me of the same kind of feeling I had when Warriors in World of Warcraft went from the only viable tank, to by far the worst one.  It’s like being told, “Thanks for tanking all of those years, but we really have no need for you any more”.  I am sure that a lot of my healer friends will be feeling the same way.  I remember going into GW2 with some of those folks, and ultimately they were extremely disenfranchised when they couldn’t find a healer to play.

Divide and Conquer

Breledorm Freezing Trap three mobs

All of this is to say that I am not open to new ideas, but more that I am extremely disillusioned with the alternatives that we have seen before.  Brian “Psychochild” Green who happens to be part of the Storybricks team, made a quick comment in my Google+ thread.

The holy trinity came about because of primitive MMO AI. Vastly improved AI means a new dynamic is needed. Wait before you despair.

And honestly I am completely fine with a new dynamic… but I want there to be a “Tanky” role in whatever it is.  This can mean a lot of things but so long as there is room for strong defensive and protective gameplay, I will probably be okay.  Taunt has always been a crutch, and a tool that the good tanks used only in situations where things were already out of control.  I can live without the artificial construct of instant threat generation.  Additionally I can live without the concept of the tank being the one person who gathers up all the mobs… in fact the “AOE it down” mentality while effective is extremely boring.

I want a role so that I focus on the biggest and hardest hitting mob, while the rest of my party burns down everything else.  I want to engage and keep busy the big guys while my team either through the use of crowd control, or simply dps juggling takes out the rest of the group .  I am completely fine with that kind of a paradigm.  I just want a beneficial role to play, and this really has not been the case in any other game that tried to blur the lines of the trinity.  A guardian in Neverwinter is about the most useless thing ever when it comes to grouping… I don’t want to be the sword and board guy that is dragging the entire team down.

Physical Mass

physical_mass

They could go down a completely different avenue and pattern the constructs off of pvp based tanking like Warhammer Online.  I am again completely fine with this paradigm as well, as I really enjoyed tanking on my Ironbreaker.  The different there and the construct that allowed this to function was that players had physical mass.  You could not idly clip through other players or npcs… and as a result “Tanks” could create physical barriers to keep players from attacking the squishier targets.

This was an enjoyable mechanic and there was quite a bit of synergy between the support functionality I was supplying and the damage dealing my friends were doing.  With the destructible and constructible world concept… I could definitely see a tank being an obstacle maker that slows down or impedes the enemy from getting to the party.  So long as I play an important role in the party, and the addition of my abilities improves gameplay rather than drags them down… I will find a way to be happy with whatever defensive gameplay it provides.

DPS is Boring

miltonbradleysimon

Ultimately I play a tank most of the time because I like being able to take tons of abuse.  I habitually level in every game as either a full tank or a custom tank hybrid build.  It is the style of gameplay I always gravitate towards.  The avatar I have in my head, always has a sword and shield and lots and lots of armor.  My time constraints often times push me into a mode where I simply cannot be the lynchpin of the group, and cannot tank…  so I fall back on dual wield dps generally.  The problem is I find that style of gameplay boring.

DPS to me is avoiding stuff on the ground while trying to execute a “Simon Says” like pattern as quickly as possible to do the maximum amount of damage.  Obviously from the comments in all the threads yesterday, this is a gameplay style that a lot of players enjoy.  For me if I am not having to juggle targets, manage aggro, and protect other players I quickly get bored and zone out.  My biggest hope is that whatever the new scheme ends up being with EQ Next that it gives me more to do than just run around idly and mash a few buttons blindly.

I realize that I am probably in the large minority of players that enjoy tanking, and do so even when NOT in a group situation.  I know we are out there however, and that tanking to me is just something we do instinctually.  I just hope was we move forward there is still a place for us to have a valuable team contribution without having to fall back on a gameplay style that just isn’t natural for us.  I like grouping with my friends, and in many ways I took up tanking because I wanted to protect my friends… it ties into my deep protective instinct.

The problem is this same instinct just doesn’t really apply in the same way to strangers.  The evidence of the lack of people who want to tank or heal that keeps being brought up are the long lines in the dungeon queues.  I present an alternate explanation…  those of us who tank or heal because of this protective instinct… simply do not want to tank for strangers.  I love tanking for friends and guildies…  but I have zero interest in ever queuing into a random because every experience I have ever had as a PUG tank was relatively bad.  The tank in these groups is the focus of everyone’s ire, and until that changes you will always have able bodied tanks like myself unwilling to subject themselves to the crap storm… especially when we can form groups

relatively easily within our own guild.

Wrapping Up

I have rattled on enough for the day, and I probably will have opened up a few more cans of worms that will work themselves out during the day.  I am open to new ideas, but every break from the trinity thus far has failed miserably in my eyes.  Here is hoping that Storybricks will be the magic sauce that makes non-role-based gameplay enjoyable.  I have a lot of hope about what Storybricks will do at least from a single player experience… but I just have yet to see any alternate scenario actually work as far as a grouping one.  If they can deliver fun and non-chaotic group play I will be more than happy to hitch my banner to their wagon.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope nothing I have said offended anyone.

Blizzard Edition

Good morning you happy people in internet land… I am struggling horribly to get up and around today.  I gathered up breakfast but did so while wearing a skullcap to hide my disheveled and unkempt hair.  This is feeling one of those screw the world days… it is nice out but I don’t really want to go out and experience it.  I am perfectly happy sitting on my comfy couch with my laptop and chilling out.  The week had an odd amount of stress for nothing major actually occurring, and last night I had a temporary relapse of the panic attacks.  Jury is still out on whether or not I will be drug out into the world to experience today kicking and screaming or not.

Blizzard Free?

activision_blizzard_logo

The big semi-shocking news of yesterday is that Actiblizz managed to bail itself out of ownership by Vivendi and now is a relatively free agent.  Granted for me so long as Activision is tacked on front of Blizzard it will never actually be a “free” company, but I feel that ship has sailed and the two companies will forever be joined at the hip.  There have been a lot of news reporting that Blizzard is now the largest “indie” company…  but I feel like these same outlets have zero clue what that term even means anymore.

Do I think it is good overall for Actiblizz to control its own fate?  Sure… I feel that Vivendi was directly responsible for pushing out games before in an “unprepared” state in order to recuperate some of its money.  Additionally there were several stories floating around just prior to this announcement talking about how Vivendi was planning in raiding its cash cow to try and repair its own bottom line.  In essence this move fixes both problems… Blizzard is free from pillage, and Vivendi got a shot of money in the process.

The Footnote

Almost as a footnote the press release also casually announced that the subscriber base of World of Warcraft had fallen once again to 7.7 million.  After watching the two stories play out in my RSS feed yesterday, there was a significant delay as individuals got over the shock of the first and began to Grok the second.  Basically this was no real shock to me, because somewhere… and I am seemingly unable to find the source I saw a quote after their last big drop…  that they were fully expecting to be at 6 million by the end of the year.  Another 600,000 subscribers seems like they are on course for that possiblity.

This is more “Bel talking out of his ass” time, because I don’t really have references to back myself up… but essentially what I have heard thus far is that Blizzard is losing China.  These losses are essentially the fallout of that problem.  What happened in China then?  Essentially there are so many WoW clones in the Chinese Market, that simply market and hit the culture touchstones better.  Even more… WoW is no longer an aspirational game in the way it was.  It used to be a brand that Chinese consumers wanted to identify, even Coke drew upon it to sell soda.  From everything I have heard… this has changed and WoW is simply “not cool anymore”.

A Change in Model

I have said it multiple times… and I will continue to say it until November when I may or may not have to eat crow… but I believe this year at Blizzcon we will see the announcement of some form of a free to play model.  They have already publically confirmed that a cash shop is on the way, and usually going hand in hand with that is a switch to one of the many now viable free to play options.  My only hope is that they choose to follow the lead of Rift and giving players a Carrot, instead of following SWTOR and bashing players down with a stick.

Do I think going to Free to Play would help?  Honestly I am not sure.  I would likely poke my head in every now and then pending the model is not egregious.  I figure there are lots of people with a mild interest in the game that would return every now and then and maybe spend a little money there.  What I do think however is that there are probably still enough extremely devoted fans that the model would still be profitable for them.  At this point I feel the subscription model is just no longer viable.

As I said yesterday a huge chunk of why I will not be playing Final Fantasy XIV is because I just don’t feel it is worth a monthly fee.  Right now we have only a handful of holdouts still charging a monthly access fee, and the vast majority shifting to pay as you go or pay for perks schemes.  I feel that regardless of when it happens, sooner or later World of Warcraft will convert and do so in a big way.  Given their flair for showmanship and ability to spin something that would normally play as bad, into a positive for the Blizzcon audience…  I feel that all the signs are right for them announcing the shift.

Vanilla Servers

Yesterday there was an interesting post by Syp over on Bio Break, asking if we would play on a Vanilla server if Blizzard created one.  Essentially the post was spurred by comments that Drysc apparently made back in 2008 that hey had been seriously considering the model.  Since that time however…  Everquest has made a killing by creating Retro servers that allow players to experience the game through the eyes of history.  Essentially SOE has proven that the model is completely viable, and viable enough that at last count I believe there were three different “retro” servers. 

The most interesting part about Syp’s post however is the large batch of comments that occur afterwards.  It seems like the majority of the posters essentially said “take my money now”.  A few of us however were more “sounds awesome, but not for me”.  I definitely fell into the second camp.  I like the concept of a Vanilla server, but I feel as if it is probably best leave our happy memories in the rose tinted past.  When I think about just how much WoW progressed as it went through its expansions… what would exist as a Vanilla server would feel like a primitive shell of what exists today.  So while you would lose heinous inventions like the dungeon finder… you would also end up losing quality of life changes such as the ability to trade BOP loot in dungeons and even the “Need / Greed” loot system.

Ultimately while I am still interested in the advancement of that game… as evidenced to the fact that I devoted an entire blog post this morning to little blips about Blizzard in general…  I just think I am done with the World of Warcraft as a game.  I might return every now and then to check in on it… but I am not returning for the game itself… I am returning for the few people that are still there and rabid about it.  I feel as if I have just moved past the limits of that game, and want more.  In my “MMO Must Haves” series of posts, I rattled out all the features that I wanted in a game… and expectantly WoW has very few of them.  On the converse Rift has damned near every one of them… so it is no shock that I am playing that these days.

I think eventually Vanilla servers will come to fruition, because there will come a time when Blizzard is trying to wring out every last drop of cash from an aging brand.  I do not however think we will see it until they change their business model.  There will likely be some access fee that you add to your account that allows you to roll characters on the closed Vanilla servers.  I think the same kind of people that find the Everquest Retro servers alluring will also find the old world WoW servers that way also.  I will admit… I would be more tempted if they started releasing servers for each era.  Wrath of the Lich King was my favorite time in the game, and after we killed Arthas… everything felt tarnished.

Wrapping Up

I have a feeling that my wife is going to want to go out and explore the world… and as much as I do not want this at all… I figure I will end up being a good guy and aggressing to it.  As a result I really should get up and around and get ready for the day.  It is a lovely day outside at least, and the temperature is an unseasonable 80*.  I just have zero interest in the outside world and would prefer to sit at home on my sofa.  I hope you all have great weekends, and that you get accomplished anything you need to.

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.

5 Biggest MMO Disappointments

This is one of those days I have zero clue what to write about… but as not to break the chain of constant posts I am going to push through and post something anyways.  In part this post about nothing has been brought to you today by the letters N, D and A.  So instead of a normal post about what I did last night, or what I want to do today…  I am going to make a post about my top five biggest MMO disappointments.  This is kind of the bookend to my post about my five favorite MMOs, so hopefully I can do this without coming off overly negative about each.

The Disclaimer

Some of my picks for this list will be rather controversial… but they are my picks nonetheless.  This list is not about what I consider to be the worst MMOs, or even bad MMOs at all.  In fact most of the ones included on this list are games I have played over and over again… and will likely play again in the future.  On the converse… these are the games I have been the most disappointed by over the years.  This could be due to lack of content, lack of depth, lack of features… or just simply lack of follow through.  This is by no means a death sentence for an MMO…  it wouldn’t be on the list at all if I didn’t care.  For example… I do not care at all for TERA or Aion… but I was not necessarily disappointed in either because I was not expecting to like them in the first place.

5 – World of Warcraft

World-of-Warcraft-Mists-of-Pandaria-Thunder-King-patch If you remember… I included World of Warcraft as number five on my five favorite MMOs list… and I think placing it in the number five spot on this list adequately represents the love/hate relationship I have with this game.  Without a doubt I have had some of the best times playing WoW, but I have also had some of my biggest disappointments in the path they have chosen to grow it.  It feels like an old high school friend… that you were extremely close to… but after years of being apart you grew in two completely different directions.  While you want really badly to be happy for it… you can see the potential that was there… and how it has been squandered.

World of Warcraft was a game that I expected not to like in the first place.  I remember my very first thought when I heard about it… was where the hell would they get their story.  Until Warcraft 3… every Blizzard game had essentially only had enough storyline to keep the game from completely falling on its face.  After experiencing the deep and rich world of Norrath… I did not think that Blizzard could pull off anything that engaging.  I was wrong… they wove together a world that was deep, rich, and filled with lore.  Additionally they incorporated the best features of every game that had come before it… and remixed it in a way that truly represented the absolute best of breed for the time.

However over the years… they have butchered the lore…  and instead of continuing to incorporated the best features on the market… have instead created half assed versions of them.  I have to keep coming back to the Transmogrification system… because it personifies this concept of the modern Blizzard approach.  They took something awesome… alternate appearance systems… and instead turned it into an extremely cludgy money sink.  The same thing happened over and over as they tried to incorporate features of popular mods… but the official version was never anywhere near as solid as the original mod that inspired it.

Then on the other side of the coin… the content was just lacking.  When new content was introduced… it was too little to late.  Like a quick appetizer that never quite turned into a meal.  Shortly after the release of Cataclysm… I started a brand new Worgen Druid… and managed to level it without much effort in under 5 days played time.  Additionally the raid content just felt more and more uninspired…  remixes of previous encounters.  So I will admit… at times I am one of those guys… that views the golden area of vanilla through rose colored lenses.

For certain players the new mix of content and the pacing works.  I have a ton of friends who are still knee deep in the thrall of this game… and more power to them.  I just reached a point where I could not view anything but the disappointment.  As a result I am not playing, and trying my best not to complain on a regular basis about the game.  But… additionally I do not feel this post would be honest if I did not include WoW in the mix.  I feel like it still has so much potential, and maybe if they changed to a content driven DLC style free to play model… they would have the endorsement to build content other than the raid ladder and dailies.

4 – Guild Wars 2

guild_wars_2_allotment This is another title I did not really expect to like when I first heard about it.  I was never a huge fan of Guild Wars 1 despite everyone telling me just how amazing a game it was.  I liked some of the concepts presented, like the Magic the Gathering style ability system and the ability to multi-class…  but everything else about that game I really despised.  If I do not like your games user interface or control scheme… no matter how awesome a game it is underneath  I just cannot bring myself to play it…  no matter how many times I try.  So all of this said I really had written off the concept of Guild Wars 2.

This all changed however when the folks at Arena.NET posted their Design Manifesto.  It basically said everything I thought I wanted to hear, and laid out a great vision for a new game.  So I was amped when I was able to get access to the testing program.  However I was immediately disappointed in the experience I had there, and lack of what honestly felt like a game.  I was disillusioned enough that I actually resigned from testing and wished them luck.  One of my friends remained in the test a little bit longer than I did…  and eventually bailed himself.  I hoped they would find some direction and turn the project around.

When it came time for open beta testing… I gave the game another shot.  The lowered expectations of expecting to dislike the game… caused me to view it through slightly different eyes.  I enjoyed the game enough that I picked it up when it came out.  The problem is… there just was not enough meat on the bones to hold my attention for long.  There are definitely some aspects of the game that I enjoyed, but the whole experience felt very disposable… more so than any game I had experienced. 

Additionally it did not feel like I was progressing my character at all.  By the time I reached level five, I had unlocked all 5 abilities for my primary weapon choices and the signets and other related abilities… just did not feel like they had enough weight to them to make them something worth striving towards.  The game set out to abolish the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps… but the problem is that it didn’t really replace it with anything in the process.  Group content felt like a chaotic mess, and I was extremely disappointed when I did my first dungeon and realized the zerging a boss down from a spawn point was totally a viable tactic.

In the Manifesto they proposed that – Shouldn’t Great MMOs be Great RPGs too?  The only problem is the key means for moving the story along in a role playing game is the questing construct…  but they sought to abolish that as well.  Once again… it is fine that they wanted to change the game… but they didn’t really replace it with anything meaningful in the process.  As a result I felt extremely disconnected to the world around me.  Things were going on around me… on scripted timers… but I didn’t really care about whether or not we won or lost.  I didn’t care about the people and place… and the lack of questing did this.

In the Manifesto they stated that it was time to make MMORPGS more social.  The only problem with that is that they introduced so much passive grouping, and took away any need for player roles…  that the end result is one of the least social games I have played.  When roaming around the world… you may be fighting along side other players, but you do not have to interact with them in any meaningful way.  Each player is a self sufficient independent state… and as a result has no real need for anyone other than themselves.  The game just feels like it is lacking reasons for players to actually be grouping together.

Let me reiterate, there is a lot to like about the game.  It runs amazingly well on low end hardware, and presents a very fluid gaming experience.  It has one of the prettiest worlds I have ever explored, and has a lot of things that incentivize exploration.  While it is presenting a ton of new content in the form of now bi-monthly updates… the problem is most of it is limited time only.  Instead of growing their world… they are creating disposable episodes that only serve to make the game play experience all the more disposable itself.

3 – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star-Wars-The-Old-Republic-screenshot I’ve loved Star Wars since before I could even fully verbalize it.  My parents tell stories about me seeing the movie when I was one… and then coming home and jabbering endlessly about “Darfa Bater”.  So if there was any game that has enough storied lore to hold my attention… it should have been SWTOR.  I was a huge fan of Knights of the Old Republic, and as a result I was completely committed to the genre they genre they chose to set the films in.  Additionally I love the Bioware style of storytelling, and am a pretty huge Dragon Age and Mass Effect junky.

All of these things should have made SWTOR be the next 8 year game for me.  The problem is… the experience while amazing… is overall disposable once you have made your way through the content.  So much care and feeding were placed on making sure the quests were just right… and the voice acting was flawless… that it greatly cut into the total amount of content available.  The three chapters that were available at launch… felt like an awesome introduction to the game…  but the main course never really arrived.

I hear the Makeb release is extremely nice… and the continuation of the storyline extremely successful.  The only problem is…  that content came a year too late to stave off the players leaving.  I feel like had they had more content in the pipeline and ready to release a month after launch, they would have been able to keep the majority of all the players that started playing.  We just burned through the content way faster than they had expected.  Additionally the fact that there was only one path per faction… and that essentially all the quests were the same minus the handful of class specific ones…  alting became extremely tedious.

Additionally when they chose to go free to play… they adopted one of the most blatantly abusive models I have seen.  Essentially with free to play, you can choose to take the carrot or the stick… and things like gear locks, pay walling what should be base features, and rolling out a never ending stream of unique lockbox gear just feel too much like being beat with the stick for me.  It has however been extremely lucrative for Bioware… and enabled the game to keep its doors open.  If it means they continue to release new content… then in the long run it could be good for the game as a whole.

I am still disappointed however at what could have been.  Had they been able to launch a continuation of the main storyline each month or so…  it would have kept me glued to the game.  The original storyline was amazing… and there is no taking that away from the game.  The Jedi Knight storyline is probably one of the most epic story arcs I have experienced in any game.  It was just over way too soon, leaving me nothing really left that I wanted to do.  The problem is… that content was extremely expensive to produce.  There was never a way that they ever could have kept up with the demand.

2 – Champions Online

champions_online_screen_4 One of my all time favorite pen and paper games is Heroes Unlimited by Palladium games.  I had early experiences with D&D and AD&D… but this was the game that really hooked me on the possibilities of role playing games.  What made the system so cool is that it had rules to create literally any type of super hero or super villain you could imagine.  Of course I created my share of Wolverine or Batman clones…  but the game system was this fertile group that through a series of roles I could create some unique characters as well.  What made the game so engaging was that the sky was literally the limit in the types of things you could create.

I was a huge fan of City of Heroes, because it gave me some of this same rich character building…  but did so in an easy to digest MMO form.  That game however had a lot of short comings… and when Champions Online was announced it looked to be addressing all of these base issues and creating this wild open ended super hero creation system.  You could mix and match power sets… creating your own custom mix for your character… and this was placed on top of a character generator that was even more robust than City of Heroes.  Everything sounded like the perfect super hero game… and I was hooked on it early.

The problem is… the power sets were grossly imbalanced.  This is the first game I had ever played where certain power sets were literally unplayable.  You could reach a point where you just simply could not progress any further due to the choices you had made.  On the other side of the coin… certain power sets were so grossly overpowered that they completely removed any challenge from the content at all.  You could steam roll over the top of anything, while your friend that chose one of the broken ones… could not even fight the lowest rank mobs.

The major disappointment is that they did a very poor job of mitigating the different power sets.  They would buff one…. but then another power set would become the broken one… making it a constant cycle of your favorite power set potentially becoming the unplayable one.  The game had all the potential in the world… and just became grossly mismanaged.  Instead of understanding that this  constant state of power flux and un-playability was what was driving their players away…  they instead decided to streamline the content.

I really do not remember the timing, but I believe this happened around the time of the free to play conversion.  Previously there had been a pretty interesting storyline that had multiple paths your characters could take.  The end result ended up with everything being a big jumbled mess.  The thing that ended up as the nail in the coffin however… is that coming back as a free to play character… I could not play any of my existing characters.  Each and every one included some costume bits that were not open to free players.  This should be a lesson to anyone… grandfather existing characters…  because holding players characters hostage behind a pay wall is never a good call.

1 – Warhammer Online

warhammer-online-1 I had to put this one at number one… because really this game turning out the way it did is one of my biggest gaming regrets.  I love Warhammer… have since I was in middle school and painting my very first citadel miniatures.  I love the world and the lore… and the sheer brutality of the chaos gods.  They took a failing IP and placed it in the hands of MMO veterans… Mythic games… who had brought the world Dark Age of Camelot.  It seemed like a no-fail proposal.  I thought they knew exactly what players wanted… and could borrow from the success they had with DAoC and all the nuts and bolts that make a game work.

Unfortunately Warhammer Online is really the tale of two games.  The one to twenty experience was amazing.  The PVE content rich, the new public questing construct extremely fun, and the early battlegrounds extremely inventive and enoyable to play.  I still think that the early experience in Warhammer Online ranks among some of my favorite leveling experiences.  The problem is that when you hit about 20-25 the bottom fell out… the PVE content ceased to be interesting… and became increasingly more sparse.  The game changed from this fun questing experience to this “go grind pvp to level” experience.

I feel like the game as a whole was a clash between these two seperate games… one of which I enjoyed immensely… the PVE experience… and one I really could care less about.. the PVP experience.  Had they given me a pure PVE warhammer game… I would probably still be playing it.  The game as a whole did so many innovative things, and there were so many mysteries around the world to unlock for your book of deeds.  Additionally it shipped with an Addon system that was on par with World of Warcraft, and presented some extremely interesting class and race choices.

If only they had focused on giving equal time to both the PVE and PVP experience.  The only problem is… I feel like the makers of this game have come to completely different conclusions about why it failed.  Mark Jacobs has gone on to create Camelot Unchained… which serves to be a purely PVP game completely casting aside any PVE aspects.  I feel like his take away was that it failed because it just was not PVP enough.  In truth not a single friend that was playing left because of lack of PVP.  We had a guild of around 40 players… and all of us left when the post 20 forced pvp experience began.  Harecore PVP players are a niche within a niche, and I just don’t feel that you can really build any game solely around them as your target audience.

This is probably the game I feel would beneift the most from a free to play conversion.  Awhile back I signed up for a new free trial account just to give the game a spin and see if it really is as good as I remembered.  Overall the starter experience is still extremely fun, even though they have dumbed down the richness quite a bit by funneling everyone into the empire lands.  I feel like a free to play version, might pump a bit more life into the title and allow it to survive.  The problem is… this has become the textbook example for MMO failure… and I doubt EA would spend a dime on it going forward.  As a result I will always be left with the thoughts of what might have been had the direction been a bit more sound.

Wrapping Up

This post ended up going a lot longer than expected.  I’ve been typing for around an hour and a half now, but finally have reached a point where I have said what I needed to say about each of them.  Hopefully none of them came off as too terribly ranty.  I hope you all have great weekends, I will mostly be trying to relax a bit before Monday.  I am already stressing out quite a bit, because I know going back I will be having to fill in for my boss as he is going out of town.