Misery and NDAs

Broken

Game Is Still Pretty

Over the last few days I have felt run down, and I am grasping at straws to figure out exactly why.  There seems to be something going around the office, but so far I am not really showing any signs of whatever it is other than simply being exhausted.  Last night I largely struggled with a Migraine that kept me in a pseudo hibernation state, but this morning as I sit down to the keyboard and attempt to drink my coffee I am just feeling generally lousy.  One of my co-workers has been out for three days with something, so I am hoping I am not coming down with whatever that was.  Last night was the night of restless gaming.  I attempted to log in and be present in Final Fantasy XIV but only wound up AFKing outside the guild hall.  It made me appreciate just how much I love our free company house.  It really is in just about the perfect location that seems to be close to just about everything in The Mists neighborhood.  The only problem is… it is small.  We have talked for a bit about potentially trying to pool our resources and getting a bigger house, but the problem there is we would have to move and likely out of our neighborhood.

One of the things that I like the most about where we are situated is that we actually know a large chunk of the neighbors surrounding us.  While it has not been nearly as busy since the launch of Heavensward as everyone has fallen into this pre 3.1 lull…  it is still nice feeling like you are part of something larger.  While idling in FFXIV I attempted to play some Destiny and managed to complete a few bounties.  However my aim was constantly wonky, and I knew I should not be attempting anything serious.  As the night wore on the headache got worse and ultimately I ended up retiring to bed for awhile… the finally ending up on the Sofa.  I hate those days where you have the will to play something…  but cannot struggle through the “bad feels” in order to actually make any headway.

NDAs are Back

Trove 2014-10-04 22-43-24-104

I am using Trove as the screenshot for this little section because it was one of the first “who needs an NDA” alpha games that I can remember playing.  Everything about that game process was so out in the open that development discussions were openly happening on Reddit.  For a period of time it seemed like every new game coming down the pipe was sans NDA so that folks could stream it freely and generate buzz.  I was shocked when I managed to get into the Warlords of Draenor friends and family alpha for example… and was told that I could talk about it freely.  The problem being… this open transparency bit more than a few games in the ass.  Development is a messy time and as things are changing…  you end up with features in “partially finished” states that look like a finished product to the gamer.  The big problem with open and “pay to join” Alphas is that they no longer feel like testing.  Instead you have simply released a broken game.

As a result lately I’ve noticed a significant number of games bringing back the NDA.  Hell some of them seem to be almost unwilling to let the NDA go, as they have been in fairly prolific testing for a couple of years.  As of right now I am in a handful of NDA bound alpha processes, and each of them seems to be trying to return to the era when Alphas were actually that.  The problem with this is, I am finding myself far less interested in playing something that I can’t actually talk about on my blog.  So generally speaking I install the Alpha client and play every now and then, but I am not actually playing enough to be a proper tester.  I feel bad for this because I have always been the type to bug note the hell out of things as I see them.  While I think it is probably a good thing for Alpha processes to regain some of their previous closed nature, I also feel far less invested in a game until it is actually hatched and ready for public consumption.  So many things over the last years have blurred the lines between finished product and testing, and the current era of incessant and constant “early access” games just makes me leery to invest too much of myself in a game until I know that it is nearing its finished state.

Blaugust Games of Week – Week 2

Another Week Down

EverQuest2 2015-08-07 06-27-43-01 One of the things that I find easiest to blog about is when I am experiencing a new game, or re-experiencing a game after some time has passed.  As a result last week I started doing the Blaugust Games of the Week thing, and for the first week I posted  three vastly different titles.  While Marvel Heroes 2015 has been in my gaming rotation for some time now, Everquest II and Dirty Bomb were not and as such I spent a bit of time this past week playing both.  While I didn’t really talk much about any of the games this week, I hope some of you out there at least gave them a shot.  I spent the most time playing Everquest II on the Stormhold Time Locked Server.  It has been so strange starting from scratch without having some of my favorite leveling spots.  The later leveling zones like Darklight Wood and Iceclad Ocean are just better designed than the original Everquest 2 leveling process was, and as a result you could tear through them so much more quickly.

As of last night I hit level 10 on my Iksar Shadowknight, and in part I think I was doing things the hard way because I stormed right out into the Commonlands and attempted to start leveling off the mobs out there that tend to be significantly higher than my level.  One of the things that I had forgotten about the Commonlands were all of the Small Chests that drop additional quests.  At this point my quest log is full of level 15-20 Far Seas supplier quests that essentially ask you to kill X of a thing and then turn in the end result at an NPC.  I remember these being the bread and butter of early leveling, but I have to say the thing I miss is all of the individual neighborhoods of Freeport.  I think it was a huge disservice to the game when the revamp of Freeport got rid of these completely.  They are now instanced zones that you can only enter on specific quests, but I have to say these zones made up a lot of the feel of both Freeport and Qeynos and did a good job of explaining why the cities were the way that they were.  Of the three titles from this week, this is the one that I am most likely to keep playing because I am finding an odd enjoyment out of retracing my EQ2 roots.

Trion Theme

Since it is once again Friday it is time for me to pick another three games to talk about and suggest.  This time around I decided to go with a theme and as a result I am picking three games from Trion.  Again I am limiting my selections to games that you can download and start playing immediately without having to purchase a game client or pay a subscription fee.  My goal is to make it so folks who are stuck and in need of inspiration can pop into one of these games and get instant “blog fodder”.

Rift

rift 2012-05-31 20-38-58-07 Considering the announcement of the World of Warcraft expansion yesterday, I thought it was fitting to lead off this morning talking about Rift as it was the first game to actually pry me away from the WoW Juggernaut.  The game is designed in such a way so that in theory you can play one character and provide every possible role in the game.  This was not necessarily the case at launch but over time they have provided additional talent trees or “Souls” to help flesh out the missing abilities.  So now you can absolutely be a healing warrior or a tanking mage.  This game has an absolutely phenomenal early leveling game, and the first fifty levels are an absolute joy to level through.  The expansions however are a completely different thing.  I personally found both leveling in Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides to be extremely tedious, and found myself wishing they had not abandoned the early game that I enjoyed so much.

The core of the game though is great, but there are various things you are going to have to content with especially along the lines of ability bloat.  One of my key complaints about Rift has been that you end up with a lot of abilities where ability 2 and 3 are absolutely better than 1… but have long cool downs.  The end result is that you usually end up macroing all three together, which can lead to some fairly uninteresting game play.  That said the game excels at letting you literally branch out in any possible direction and build a character out however you want to.  There are some less than optimal options, but in theory any combination of three Souls will make a potentially viable character, which gives you a lot of freedom to customize things as you see fit.  Fortunately the game has an excellent set of prebuilt specs to at least get you going in the right direction.  As far as the free to play goes… it is among the least restrictive and there are not really any pay walls standing in your way.

Steam DownloadDirect Download

Trove

Trove 2014-09-25 19-18-33-410 I was lucky enough to get in on the first wave of Alpha invites for Trove and having played it that long… has been an interesting experience.  The game has changed massively in that time, and the key elements have shifted and morphed but the basic game is still the same.  I tend to think of Trove as Minecraft meets Diablo, and my recent Bel’s Big Adventure series of Minecraft videos has made me appreciate how important this really is.  Minecraft has a fairly horrible combat system, that is passible but frustratingly bad if you are going to spend much time fighting anything.  Trove on the other stand decided to go in a direction that allows you to pick one of several classes that each have their own built in abilities and a MOBA style character design.  I tend to have a natural synergy with the base Knight class, but have spent significant amounts of time playing the Gunslinger and Neon Ninja as well… and they are all extremely well built.  The core gameplay loop in Trove centers around going out into the world and fighting baddies to find interesting stuff in level ranged based worlds that steadily increase the challenge.

On top of this however there is a very awesome building system where you can build extremely complex custom worlds for your “Club”, or you can build out your cornerstone which is a traveling spawn point that you can move with you as you go out exploring the world.  I love this aspect of the game because it feels like I am able to take all of my most important resources and keep moving my base of operations as I go exploring.  The other thing that makes this game amazing is the community support, and the vast majority of the weapons that you will get were created by fans just like you.  The game has a silliness to it that is contagious, and I will forever cherish my Dapper Raptor mount that you can see above.  Another favorite of mine is the ability to collect item appearances and then make ANY piece of gear that you get look like that, so as you keep exploring you just keep opening more and more unique looks for your character. If you have never played Trove I highly suggest you download it and give it a shot.

Steam DownloadDirect Download

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-18 11-13-03-53 ArcheAge and I have an extremely checkered past.  I was in the early Alpha process of this game and found the community to be among the most toxic I have ever experienced in any game genre.  As a result I pretty much actively ignored the game for some time.  However with some of the AggroChat folks started testing the waters and playing it… I decided to give it another shot.  The end result has been a pretty enjoyable leveling experience and allowed me to see just how subtle and nuanced the game really is.  I am not a fan of open world ganker style pvp… and early in the game that seemed to be extremely prevalent.  More so than that, the players seemed to revel in griefing others in non-combat ways as well.  If you AFK’d in town, someone might come along with a tractor and push you out into the middle of a dangerous area just to watch you die.  However all of those elements seem to have gotten bored and moved on, and what is left seems to be a bunch of generally nice folks.

The game play itself is also rather good, and while the quests are pretty basic the world is gorgeous and huge, and the class designs are really interesting.  While Rift has an issue with duplication of abilities, ArcheAge seems to be designed in a way so that there is natural synergy between talent trees without giving you a bunch of abilities that you will never actually use.  I have gone full circle on my opinion of this game and you can track the progress if you flip through some of my blog entries.  The game is absolutely playable on the free to play model, but there are some serious constraints.  Namely it is very difficult to do more than just one thing as a “free” player because every action is throttled by your abysmal labour points.  As a Patron player your labour regenerates when you are offline… as a free player you have to be logged into the game waiting on your points to come back.  The other huge constraint is that free players cannot own land, which means if you get very serious about this game you are likely going to end up subscribing.  However in the meantime the free model does allow you to get your feet wet.

Steam DownloadDirect Download

Bel’s Big Adventure

Posting Late

Today I am getting an extremely late starting in getting my “morning” blog post out there.  At this point it is almost 2pm as I sit down to write this.  There are a lot of reasons behind that, in part because video takes a really long time to render.  Not to mention the fact that somewhere between streaming and now we also went out and ran errands.  Blaugust is alive and kicking and I am still shocked and amazed at the turnout.  My wife has even spawned her own version of it within the Math blogosphere without really meaning to.  I think it is pretty awesome when the spirit of Blaugust spreads to communities that were not a part of the first year.  As of this morning I had eighty four bloggers signed up and tracked on the list I am keeping.  I am still trying to catch up on day one honestly because that many blog posts…  is an awful lot of reading.  This is absolutely an amazing problem to have.

If everyone managed to make it through the entire month with a post for every day… that would mean 2604 posts pending we don’t keep picking up more people along the way.  This is really the idea is to get out there and get started on creating more content for our community.  One of the things that keeps coming up from time to time is how blogging is dead, and I love it when we can prove every single one of those naysayers wrong.  There is something magical about putting your thoughts on the page and sharing it with the world.  For me personally it is deeply cathartic to share my thoughts and feelings.  Over the years I have learned to open up more and share more of myself, and as a result my bonds with my fellow bloggers has gotten stronger.  In many ways this community that you are part of is a big support group, because every time I have struggled there has been someone out there to help pull me back to my feet.

Bel’s Big Adventure

javaw 2015-08-02 08-57-29-15 There has been a thing I have wanted to do for awhile.  Some of my favorite Minecraft video series have been adventures with a very simple premise around them.  When I play Minecraft however I tend to be a base builder.  I craft these extremely intricate underground structures, and never tend to move around much as a result.  As a way of combating my instincts, I am going in a completely different direction and starting a series of videos called “Bel’s Big Adventure”.  The idea is simple… only keep what I can carry in my inventory and keep moving North.  Each time I make camp and reset my spawn point by dragging along a bed, workbench and a furnace.  Each day I have to find the resources I will need to make it through to the next day.  Today I streamed for roughly two hours, and I am editing these into smaller videos, the first of which is about thirty minutes in length and involves my hitting the first major obstacle… a big ocean.

The Minecraft version I am using is 1.8 and I am using the GLSL Shader Mod 1.8 combined with SEUS v10.1 to produce the nifty more realistic appearance.  As for the Texture pack I am running Chroma Hills which is known to work fairly well with shader packs.  Finally I have the Mapwriter mod running largely to keep me pointed northward, because it shows an Arrow in that direction.  Other than these largely cosmetic mods I am using the stock Minecraft 1.8.3 that I freshly installed this morning.  It has been well over a year since I last played Minecraft, and as a result there is a lot of stuff in the game that I have not seen yet.  For example… I had no clue that there were Bunnies in the game until I came across a black colored one.  Similarly in what will likely be in episode two I encountered something bizarre that cursed me so that I couldn’t mine anymore.  Most of today has been spent either recording, editing or rendering the video so that I could embed it in today’s post.  Hopefully someone will enjoy it, but if not I at least enjoyed the adventure.  If I find something really interesting in my journey I might stop and set up a more permanent camp in order to explore better.  Since I spent the bulk of my day so far working on this side project, and will likely spend a good chunk more I plan on cutting this post a bit short.  Let me know what you think of this idea, and I am also open to other objectives for me to look out for along the way.

Lego Worlds Impressions

Lego Open World

LEGO_Worlds_DX11 2015-06-01 18-42-08-06 On an absolute whim yesterday I popped onto the steam website to check out what had been released, or was impending release this morning.  One of the titles listed was something I quite literally knew nothing about called Lego Worlds.  After some research, the consensus seemed to be Lego meets Minecraft.  It has the same pedigree of the other Lego games out there as it is also created by Traveler’s Tales.  Right now the game is on Steam Early Access for $14.99 and I figured for that price it was worth the risk.  I was seemingly one of the few people who actually through Lego Universe was a pretty cool game.  Similarly I have really enjoyed my time spent in Lego Minifigures Online, and will more than likely pick up the Lego portal based game as well.  I may or may not be a Lego Maniac to borrow the 80s commercial catch phrase.  As I sit here typing up my blog post I am sitting in an office surrounded by a mountain of Lego sets.

LEGO_Worlds_DX11 2015-06-01 19-19-38-92 If you have ever played any of the Lego franchise titles like Lego Harry Potter or Lego Star Wars, this game will feel extremely familiar to you at least as far as movement and gameplay goes.  Ultimately this is a game about destroying everything in sight, because when you destroy an object it erupts in a shower of “coins” which are represented by the 1×1 round plate pieces in various colors to denote denominations.  Essentially as you roam around the world every new object you encounter, you collect its appearance.  You can spend your coins to unlock the ability to build with these prefabs.  This means that if you are running through an area and there is a neat lamp post along the trail, you can bump into it and collect its appearance and then build with these lamps from that point on.  There is a truly overwhelming number of these prefab objects out in the world and in the three hours I spent yesterday playing I collected what seems like hundreds of them.

Custom Minifigures

LEGO_Worlds_DX11 2015-06-01 18-39-28-14  When you start the game you are given a very limited choice of appearances in the form of either a Male or a Female explorer.  As you roam around the world however you encounter lots of other minifigures.  Some of them are friendly and simply walking up to them allows you to collect their appearance, and others are more aggressive and you have to defeat them to collect theirs.  In either case these minifigures that you have met go into the same “coin store” as the prefabs you encounter, and from there you can spend your coins to unlock their appearance items.  At any point while playing you can swap around your look by changing out the various parts that make up a minifigure including head, body, arms, hands, legs, hat, cape, and assorted hair slot options.  So far while roaming around I have managed to run into twenty one different figures, ranging from Yeti to a Surfer Girl.  Each of them gave me various unique bits to add to my assortment of appearance items allowing me to assemble some fairly strange looks.

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This for example is the caveman beard and hair combination, with the wizard cape, skull head and outlaw body parts.  I got tired of this look pretty quickly but the beauty of the system is that you can swap things out on the fly and incorporate new pieces you might find as you are roaming around.  I feel like that is this games strong point is that it really rewards exploration.  While roaming around you encounter all sorts of vehicles and animals that you can ride on.  Like everything else once you encounter it, you can purchase it in the coin store to permanently unlock it’s appearance.  Once you have paid for an vehicle or mount like this, you can then summon it to your location at any point.  This means if I want to ride around on a polar bear I can on a whim, or summon a racing bike, or even an airplane.  The more you explore the easier exploration gets as you have all sorts of modes of transportations to get you where you need to go.  Also while you explore there are special large chests that have items that you can collect like weapons and other items to help you in your adventures.  Since I favor melee I am right now using a big club to bash things, but there is also a rifle and a bow that I have managed to find as well to allow you to attack things at range.

Interesting Exploration

LEGO_Worlds_DX11 2015-06-01 19-07-48-85 One of the most interesting vehicles that I encountered was this Ninjago inspired drill car vehicle.  With it comes the special ability to hold A while driving it to drill the terrain.  There are a few pitfalls with this vehicle, namely that it always seems to want to drill directly down.  That said I had quite a bit of fun tearing up the terrain and drilling under a mountain.  Now getting back OUT of that area was more of a challenge.  This vehicle from what I can tell only appears in the similarly “ninjago” themed Biome, meaning the one with the cherry blossom trees and the huge pagoda like buildings.  Other vehicles similarly spawn in unique biomes, like the Airplane appears to only be in the snowy biome, and the “Monster Fighters” style Roadster only appears in the desert/Egyptian biome with the free roaming Mummies.  Essentially each biome seems to be based on a popular family of Lego sets and generally contains creatures that you might also find in that set.  The only one that seems to make zero sense so far is that Cavemen and Cavewomen seem to spawn damned near everywhere.

LEGO_Worlds_DX11 2015-06-01 22-36-14-05 The game right now is very “early access” and I do not mean necessarily that the game feels “beta” and buggy, but more so  that the game feels like it is missing a lot of features that will be in what I hope is the final version.  Right now there does not seem to be much purpose to the exploration other than to unlock items to build with.  The problem there is that there seems to be little to no reason to really build anything.  There are certain biomes where skeletons spawn infinitely during the night cycles, but building a structure does not really seem to present you with much shelter against the endless waves of them.  For the time being the  game is strictly single player, but I know multiplayer is in the works.  Right now the list of things planned from the Steam page includes…

  • Like/Dislike system for tailoring World Generation
  • Procedurally Generated Underground Cave Networks
  • LEGO ID integration to allow for sharing and uploading of in-game builds
  • Additional Biomes
  • Painting Themes
  • Pre-Generated Towns/Villages/Settlements relevant to the Biome
  • Updated AI Behaviors to provide organic feeling to free-roaming creatures and characters
  • Red Brick Extras
  • Full liquid behaviors
  • Additional Minifigure Characters and Creatures
  • Additional Vehicles and Pre-Built Models
  • Additional Weapons
  • Cut/Copy/Paste chunks of landscape
  • Underwater Gameplay (including Vehicles, Creatures and additional sea life)
  • Character Customizer
  • Online Multiplayer”

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So as you can see they pretty much intend to flesh this game out to be competitive with the Minecraft genre.  For $14.99 it was more than enjoyable enough roaming around and interacting with things.  However if you are looking for a complete game, keep moving on.  There really is not much “game” to be had here and in that aspect you are far better off for the time being playing Trove because it offers a lot of the same fun and exploration gameplay, while also offering an actual game that creates reasons for your exploration and combat.  This is planned to stay in Early Access throughout 2015, and by the time it launches next year it is probably going to be an awesome experience.  The biggest suggestion I have if you plan on giving it a try is to hook up a controller, because the keyboard and mouse control options are pretty frustrating.  The user interface has been designed for a controller and that experience seems to be the most enjoyable.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 3

Over the last several days I have been rattling off a series of studios and game teams that I appreciate.  Today will mark my final day of this process, but I am hoping that it has inspired some of you out there to make your own posts about the developers you appreciate.  The person I really appreciate is Scarybooster for getting this thing started back in I believe 2010?  Scary has a way of coming up with these great ideas, like he is the person who decided the Alliance of Awesome needed to happen as well.  Unfortunately he no longer updates his blogs, and has deleted more of them in the past than I can count.  So if you know Scary tell him he needs to stop doing that shit and keep coming up with interesting and awesome ideas.

Blizzard – Heroes of the Storm Team

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 I talked about League of Legends yesterday, and there is no denying it’s market domination in the MOBA arena.  The problem is League is far more complicated of a game than I care to play.  I get frustrated trying to figure out what I should build when, and then Blizzard comes along and creates an MOBA for someone like me.  This game does what Blizzard does best, boil a genre down to its most basic essence and polish it until it shines.  This is precisely how I feel about HoTS and its impact on the MOBA genre.  Through a series of quick this or that choices you can build out your character and get right back into the action without constantly being afraid that you built the wrong thing.  While friends have pointed out that this greatly limits what you can do with any given champion…  I am fine with this and in fact welcome it.  As much as I enjoy a “Tanky Darius” I would rather just have some clear messaging on what the intent of every champion was, and Heroes of the Storm gives this to me.  On top of this the map design is awesome, and each one feels equally enjoyable with its own specific mechanics.  I think the entire world is tired of playing Summoner’s Rift.

SOE/Daybreak – Landmark Team

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-14 06-10-23-64 Every time I talk about the company formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment, I do so with a little bit of heartbreak.  Daybreak is not the same company, but I feel like the people that are still there are trying their damnedest to make this situation work.  There is a lot of negative press that I could be talking about on my blog, about the poor decisions of the company managing Daybreak but for the most part I have tried not to.  I feel like there is plenty of negativity out there already on this subject, and that the people who are still there need our support now more than ever.  With that said this post goes out to everyone who has ever been a part of the Landmark game.  While I am not playing it right now, I still think it is an extremely cool concept and I keep meaning on jumping right back in.  Landmark is essentially the ultimate building game in every possible way, and the amount of stuff that the community has been able to create because of the excellent toolset developed by this team is phenomenal.  This game blew me away, and I am still constantly amazed by the sort of things I am seeing built.  So bravo to the folks who are no longer with the team, and bravo to the folks still there fighting to keep the ship going forward.

Undead Labs – All of the Them

StateOfDecay 2013-09-28 21-17-40-13 For most of these I have singled out an entire team to talk about, but this time I am breaking that trend and instead talking about an entire studio.  I love Undead Labs.  I love their spirit, and I love their dedication…  and quite honestly I love the way they interact with the public.  I remember when State of Decay was about to release on the XBox 360 I was completely pumped for it.  I went home that night played the game for several hours and then wrote a pretty gushy blog post the very next day.  Within moments of posting the blog I had it being retweeted by Annie Strain the wife of Undead Labs Founder Jeff Strain, who then proceeded to engage with me in a back and forth about my blog post and the game in general.  That sort of genuine interaction is just so damned refreshing, and it seems to extend to every single team member.  I was lucky enough to get to hang out and talk to several of them during Pax South, and they all had this infectious joy over the games they had created and were creating.  While I still desperately want a multiplayer version of State of Decay, I have faith that sooner or later the team will give me something akin to that experience.  In the meantime they just seem like a really damned cool studio, and I look forward to watching as their latest game Moonrise progresses to launch.  Additionally I feel like I am probably buying yet another copy of State of Decay as the special Year One edition should be landing shortly.

Motiga – Gigantic Team

GiganticScreenshot-TheMargrave This is another tale of me just really liking a game studio.  I went to Pax South knowing next to nothing about this game other than the fact that it existed, had a cartoony art style and used a teal and orange color scheme it all of its marketing.  I walked away from Pax South being both a fan of the game and of the team behind it.  I was lucky enough to participate in several plays of the game, and got some time to talk to several members of the development and community staff.  They all seem just as amped about this game as the players did, and it was awesome to be coached by the folks who built the game…  or have them marvel when I apparently found a bug that nobody had actually found yet.  The game is just really damned fun, and that seems to be the focus on making sure the various champion interactions are enjoyable.  I have no clue what the timeframe for this games launch is but I look forward to it anxiously.  Playing it with two other members of the AggroChat crew against a minor YouTube celebrity, and defeating him…  was pretty much the highlight of my Pax South experience.  So keep up the awesome work and I look forward to playing this game with my friends when it releases.

Every Single Game Developer

While I have singled out a handful of individuals for specific games that I really love playing…  I feel like for this final day of my #DAW2015 love fest…  I want to change things up a bit.  Basically this goes out to every single game developer out there, regardless of what you are working on or for what company.  You guys are living the dream of so many of us who did not  choose to chase it.  While there are absolutely days I’m thankful I am not in that industry, especially as another studio decimates its staff to realign for this or that reason, there are other days where I pine over the path not taken.  You folks are my rockstars, and even if you are making a game that no one will ever play…  you are being awesome.  Games bring me so much joy, and there is a cast of often nameless and faceless people who struggled through crunch time to get that product into my hands.  As I talk about the games I talk about, I try my best to always be aware of the folks behind the scenes that made it happen.  So to all the game developers out there…  keep making awesome stuff and I will keep playing it.  Thank you all.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 2

Yesterday I kicked off my own versions of the Developer Appreciation Week with five companies and game teams that I greatly appreciate it.  It seems like we are starting to get some traction because yesterday MMOGames.com independent of my own intervention ran a piece of what we are doing.  I still hope to see more people join in the fun and talk about the development staff that they really appreciate it.  I play a lot of games… so I have a lot of love to go around.

Blizzard – World of Warcraft Team

WoWScrnShot_033115_220604 Last night was quite possibly my single best night in World of Warcraft raiding.  After some sluggish weeks we strolled into Blackrock Foundry and cleared seven normal bosses, then popped out and took down two heroic bosses… one of which was our first kill.  To make the night even more special we managed to one shot all of them.  After riding that high last night, it is impossible to do a developer appreciation week post without talking about Blizzard.  World of Warcraft has been the juggernaut in the room for so long that I can barely remember a time when they were not the clear market dominator.  While I have some disappointments about Warlords of Draenor, I feel like they are legitimately trying to turn the franchise around after what felt like years of neglect.  It feels very much like they have doubled down on this game, and at the end of the day I am still enjoying playing it with my friends.  For a ten year old game to still maintain relevancy is a pretty mighty feat, so my hat is off to the Blizzard staff who have supported it throughout the years and made it this experience that we judge all other MMOs against.  It has been the gold standard for good reason.  Even if World of Warcraft is not your game, you have to marvel at the level of polish that they deliver when they roll out a new expansion.

Bioware – Star Wars the Old Republic Team

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 Star Wars the Old Republic and I have somewhat of a checkered past to be honest.  I went into this game feeling like it was going to be the WoW Killer for myself and my friends, but ultimately we lasted the same three months that we normally do in this sort of game.  When they chose to go free to play, I was frustrated by how insanely restrictive the system ended up being.  All of this said… if you can some how push past all of the limited time loot boxes and free to play cludge…  there is a great game there at its core.  With the launch of SWTOR I tried something that I don’t normally do… I leveled as part of a dedicated duo with my friend Euron.  I played a Jedi Guardian and he a Jedi Consular, and we participated in each others stories.  The way those two tales interweave was something to behold, and while it felt a bit confining to always have to make sure you and your friend were on at exactly the same times…  it was a leveling experience unlike no other.  The thing that stands out about SWTOR is the story, and what ultimately killed the game for me was when I ran out of it.  Now I know I have several expansions that I can go back and experience and I keep thinking that one day I will do precisely that.  In the meantime I have fond memories of the time we were all obsessed with this game, and give massive props to the folks who built such engaging content… that we pulled some fourteen hours a day to get through it all.

Zenimax – The Elder Scrolls Online Team

eso 2014-07-14 21-46-45-167 Since Daggerfall I have been in love with the Elder Scrolls franchise.  Each time a new one comes out I end up devoting hundreds of hours to playing it, but all the while I keep thinking… this experience would be more enjoyable with my friends.  So when I found out that Elder Scrolls was in fact being made into an MMO I was completely over the moon about it.  I was lucky enough to be in the first round of alpha testing, so ultimately I participated in this game for over a year before launching it.  Unfortunately this was a bit of a double edged sword because I got to see some features that worked better in early versions of the game, as compared to later more minimalistic ones.  When you test a game that long it skews your vision of what the game actually is.  Elder Scrolls Online has some of the best story content I have experienced in any game, and there are a number of quest lines that stick out in my memory.  The whole concept of being able to continue into another faction after you have finished yours was inspired.  The problem is by the time I hit the Aldmeri content I had lost a lot of my steam, and our guild was suffering the traditional drop off in players.  Now that the game has shifted to buy to play however I am able to experience this game again and realize just how great it actually is.  A lot of the problems I had with it early on have been smoothed out, and the post 50 progression no longer feels quite so grindy.  I really appreciate the staff that has been plugging away quietly on making this game a better place to be, and I look forward to playing it more in the coming months.

Trion Worlds – Trove Team

trove 2014-10-16 22-40-54-21 Trove is this quirky world building game that blends MMO combat, MOBA style character design, and Minecraft style exploration and construction.  I was lucky enough to be including in the first round of alpha invites for trove, and it has been insane to watch this game evolve.  What I love the most is the way the developers have been meshed with the community since day one.  Instead of a traditional forum, they decided to open up the process with a reddit, in fact I think this is the first game I can ever recall doing that.  In those first days the community was so amazing, because it was so tight knit.  You would log in and get welcomed by people that might recognize your name from the Reddit, and there was rarely a time when a developer was not in game talking to players.  As the game has progressed the community has gotten larger, and the rigors of development have degraded this closeness a small bit, but it is still very much a game that draws its inspiration from the players.  While I don’t play it as much as I should, I have loved watching it evolve around me.  It feels like the sort of game you get when you throw a bunch of seven year olds in a room and tell them to solve a problem.  It is pure unbridled joy and imagination… and has been good for my jaded soul to see that a game like that can exist.

Riot Games – League of Legends Team

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

League of Legends is 100% not my type of game.  In fact I might never have played it were it not at the suggestion of my friends.  Actually I rarely ever play this game other than when a bunch of friends want to do so.  That said the experience of playing with a team of friends is contagious.   There are a lot of aspects about this game that are problematic for me, a huge one being the still very toxic community.  That said I give the biggest credit I can possibly give to the character designers.  What League has in spades is the personality that seems to be lacking from so many other MMOs.  The characters in League of Legends have a life of their own, and they make you fall in love with them.  I have joked for some time, that this isn’t actually a game, but a modern sticker album… because I seem to largely collect characters and skins rather than actually play with them.  Each character is really a triumph of taking what are mostly remixed elements and making them feel fresh and new.  I tend to stick to the characters I know and love however like Darius, Graves, WuKong and Garen.  My favorite gameplay mode however will probably always be ARAM simply because no one expect you to know what you are doing, which is about perfect for me.

Disconnected Dragoon

Missing a Raid

WoWScrnShot_031815_063013 Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was moving through molasses the entire day.  In part it was the whole staying up late and babysitting servers bit, but also we had so much stuff going on during the day connected to the two outages.  It turns out that after much research they were not actually related.  I knew I was not exactly in “fighting shape” so I let my raid leader know that I would not be attending the WoW Raid that night.  This is in part a good thing because they were apparently talking about having to do a paired down raid due to limited healers, and it is probably a good thing to rotate folks a bit.  At this point I would never mind having to sit out for a night because I have so much other stuff going on that I could be doing.  When I got home I took a nap and that helped quite a bit, or at least made me feel something vaguely human.

I asked my wife not to let me sleep more than an hour, since I generally struggle with the concept of napping.  If I take a nap, it means I am not likely to get a good nights sleep.  My body plays this game with me, where it only wants to get five to six hours of sleep a night.  When I nap, it means I am going to have this massive bout of insomnia that night.  Thankfully the short nap managed to do what it needed to do and I was still able to sleep fairly well as a result.  I spent most of the night hanging out on the couch catching up on Better Call Saul.  The irony of be getting into this series is the fact that I have never actually watched Breaking Bad.  I mean I have watched the first episode, but since my wife showed some interest in the show I didn’t really want to start it on my own without her watching along.  Otherwise there would come a point where I would have to start back from scratch and watch everything over again.  I managed to catch up through episode seven, and that show is just  becoming more interesting as it goes.

Disconnected Dragoon

ffxiv 2015-03-04 19-29-18-85 When it came to actual gaming last night, I was a bit more distracted.  I spent some time logged into Final Fantasy XIV because our Free Company is just insanely vibrant, but I really didn’t do all that much gaming.  I ran a few roulettes, and managed to get yet another piece of 130 gear thanks to another carbontwine, but mostly I just spent a lot of time hanging out at the free company house when I got up from my nap.  It really is surreal to see the number of people online… and at some point I need to catch up with my whole guild census project and record all the new people in our spreadsheet.  One of the problems with FFXIV is that there is no good guild notes functionality so we are having to keep an external list of which character belongs to which personality.  Its tedious but for whatever reason I struggle to relate in game names back to twitter and blogger names.  I spend a lot of time thinking “I think  that is this person” but never fully committing because my memory is extremely fallible.  That is my deep dark secret, that in other games I remember everyone… because I can check the officer notes.

I am not sure how I really made it through the sequence of Labyrinth of the Ancients, Syrcus Tower and World of Darkness… but I am guessing at this point I can just do those on auto pilot.  I am hoping I was not “that dragoon” in most of the instances, because I managed to get several commendations.  Generally speaking if I go in, and manage not to die… I get commendations.  I should have spent the night working on botany, but instead I mostly stood around a lot staring blankly at the screen.  I feel like over the last several nights I have been particularly antisocial.  Largely when I am watching something on Television I stay off voice chat, and go for large periods of time without reading free company chat either.  I know at some point Arkenor asked for a group, but it was not until it had actually formed that I noticed.  I have been a less than stellar “Bel” lately, and I am hoping tonight I will be feeling back to my normal self.  I feel like I have missed a lot of what is going on, and I am hoping to remedy that.

Time to Landmark

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-17 17-36-42-66 It has been well over a year since I last played Landmark in any fashion.  That game has evolved in such a way that if you are not playing constantly you fall behind in the number of changes.  At this point I simply feel behind the curve and it has been a real barrier from me jumping back into the game.  This morning I read something interesting however, that Landmark plans to have one more major character wipe before opening its doors to the public.  My theory is that this might be precisely the ideal time to pop my head back in and see how the game has progressed.  Right now this wipe is slotted for sometime around April 29th.  So my hope is that I can pop in and experience all of the new content fresh and not be so entirely out of touch with it.  Honestly the most enjoyment I had in the game was the process of “leveling up” which was completing a series of arbitrary goals to keep moving up through the different types of picks and tools you can create.  Once I had access to everything the game quickly became stale for me.

For reference when I last played the game… the Caves system was not yet patched in.  So this means I have that and all of the player combat to experience fresh.  The problem is I am torn on the whole Daybreak thing.  I am still rather pissed about the layoffs, but at the same time the folks who are still on staff there are struggling to make this whole thing work.  My Landmark account is a sunk cost as I purchased it so long ago.  I might as well get some use out of it, and see what this game has become in the months since I let my claim get repossessed.  There was a point where I realized I was only logging in just long enough to mine copper to pay the upkeep on my claim.  This is one of the things I don’t like about upkeep systems.  If you are only playing the game to pay upkeep, are you really playing the game at all?  I am actually looking forward to the character wipe now and hopefully I will be able to reignite the spark I once had for this game.

SkySaga is Pretty Great

Strange Days

Yesterday is going to rank among the strangest of days I have been through in my life.  For starters I am rather sick, so much so that I don’t have much of a voice right now.  How I am going to record AggroChat tonight is really beyond me.  It might be one of those episodes where I pester Kodra to be the MC, and I just add some gravelly sounding flavor commentary here and there.  So being sick and perpetually feeling like the room is moving aside…  I posted a slightly unusual post for me yesterday that to some extent set the community on fire.  On a good day I get maybe 150 readers hitting my blog…  yesterday I had well over 700.  Good or bad what I said seemed to strike a chord with folks…  and it was very strange to be riding that out.

The thing that scared me however was the kinds of reactions I got.  Everyone was extremely supportive, almost surprisingly so.  The aspect that was a bit frightening is how everyone felt the desire to post their own comments on the blog in question.  The blogger commented that I had sent my “gang” after her, and in truth I didn’t realize that I had one.  If we are to form a gang however, we will have to wear awesome hats.  Honestly that sort of power scares me more than a little.  I am not sure if I want the ability to without meaning to call down a nuke of their blog from orbit.  It just seems strange to be able to move that many people to action…  especially when I wasn’t really asking for it.  My chief goal was to have some voices that were being silenced heard, and that was the result of yesterdays post.  Everything that occurred afterwards, while I deeply appreciate the support, felt like maybe it got completely out of hand.

SkySaga is Pretty Great

SkySaga 2015-02-19 17-18-41-84 Over the last few days I have been lucky enough to be playing the current Sky Saga alpha.  I have to say I really dig the game but it is also one that is somewhat difficult to sum up quickly in words.  The game itself feels extremely like the various “next generation minecraft” offerings that have sprung up recently.  The entire game is voxel based, and if I had to guess is likely using the same VoxelFarm technology that Landmark does.  There are moments that in playing lots of landmark… the engine feels very similar in the way it draws nearby surfaces.  If I could sum it up best I would call it Minecraft with a purpose, in that there are constantly objectives and mini-quests to be accomplished as you move through the world.  The gameplay starts on a tutorial island that ultimately serves as your home base.  Anything you build here persists between plays of the game.

SkySaga 2015-02-20 13-49-15-42 The majority of the game play revolves around collecting key fragments, melding them together into a new key and then using that to open up portals to new areas.  From here you have access to explore new realms, with enemies, treasure, and resources not available in your home dimension.  The game itself is the pinnacle of charming as you play a either a human, cat person, or dinosaur person that gives you some limited customization options.  You progress through the tutorial by crafting various implements that you will need like a pick axe, or a sword.  The thing that stands out is how good the world feels.  The art style and design ethic are carried through every element that you interact with.  That means that everything from the breaking of a block to the swing of your sword feels like it belongs in this setting.

Pressure to Complete

SkySaga 2015-02-19 17-28-54-22 There are two main issues that I have with the game design right now.  Firstly when you craft a key it is a one shot item granting you essentially a one way trip to a new realm.  When you exit that realm for any reason, be it porting back to your home dimension or logging out of the game…  you lose all progress in the other realm.  This makes it a hard game to pop in and out of for short periods of time.  I feel like I need to get the most out of every key for fear that I waste the resources that it took to craft it.  The other problem is that when you die you lose everything on your person that has not been dumped in a hotbar slot.  The combination of these two make it extremely frustrating because there is no real way to pop back to your base of operations to “save” items in a chest without wasting the portal stone that got you to the new realm.

SkySaga 2015-02-19 17-54-23-15 The other big problem I am finding is that resources seem exceptionally limited.  Your starter island has a trove of material to get you started, but the problem is that most of these are in extremely small quantities.  The minecraft way of gathering resources is to just find a place and start digging.  The problem is I did this for a good thirty minutes last night and encountered absolutely nothing but stone.  The world seems extremely static and once the resources are depleted it is essentially a waste to stay there.  The frustrating thing here is that you get dumped onto a realm with a number of other players, and essentially you are all competing for the same few items.  You may luck out and get a realm with fresh spawns…  or you might get a world that is completely depleted meaning you just wasted your own resources getting there.  I can already see that more than likely purchasing resources is going to be a key revenue generator for this game.

SkySaga 2015-02-19 17-22-07-57 I have roughly another week to play this game during the current alpha test phase.  My hope is that I can manage to sort out some of the issues I am having.  The game that is here however is extremely enjoyable and it makes me way to play more of it.  I just feel like somehow I am missing something when it comes to how to get the resources I need to complete quests.  My hope is given time I will figure out the nuggets of information that I happen to be missing.  I don’t really want to take to the wiki pages quite yet, because the game itself has a rather nice in game wiki feature to explain what everything you encounter does.  I feel like I am just missing some key unlocks in the “chronicle” as they call it that will help me connect the dots.  If you have access to the game I highly suggest you give it a shot.  I will be righting a more complete review later once I feel I have mastered more of the basics.

Doubling Down

Still Frustrated

EQ2_000006 Yesterday I broke my self appointed rules and made two posts because I felt the news warranted it.  I said my peace but the problem is… I am still frustrated this morning.  At the time of posting yesterdays blog piece I really only knew about a few of the people who were let go.  As last night wound its way onwards, more names trickled out and at this point I am absolutely shocked by the scope.  While I am not sure about the numbers, it feels like roughly half of the folks I was aware of over there were let go.  Granted the actual numbers could be anywhere, but I am basing it simply on the faces that have shown up on twitter saying they were no longer Daybreak employees, versus the ones that have said they still are.  In any case this will be a massive blow to Everquest, Everquest II, Everquest Landmark and whether or not we will ever actually get Everquest Next.  For awhile on Aggrochat we have joked about Next being vaporware, and that we would only ever get Landmark…  but now I am starting to really wonder if that is closer to the truth.

Everquest will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first footsteps into the MMO world.  Similarly I am drawn to Everquest II in ways that I cannot quite understand, and while I go for large swaths of time without playing, I often return to it was the gaming equivalent of “comfort food”.  It is this strange mix of a world that I am absolutely in love with, and a combat system that I hate beyond words.  If I had to create a list of “favorite games that I am not playing” I would put Everquest II at the top of that list…  so I guess I ultimately am part of the problem.  I love this world but I am not inhabiting it on a nightly basis, and as such not giving it money to grow.  I’ve bought into Landmark and H1Z1 but I am not really playing those either.  I remember feeling the same way when City of Heroes closed its doors, that I had so many fond memories… but that I had also ultimately moved past that game as well.  I guess we want the things we once loved and enjoyed to stay protected in a bubble forever, never to change…  but when we move on are we not also ultimately to blame?

Doubling Down

Gw2 2015-02-05 19-08-06-25 Before the events of yesterday I had a topic kicking around in my head about the worlds that we play.  I am not sure how the events of yesterday feed into the narrative, but I am going with it in any case.  I feel as though the era of the “new mmorpg” is all but over.  There will of course be new games that identify with the “mmo” ideals, but they won’t be quite the same as the worlds we have had had in the past.  I feel like we are going to see a lot more games like Destiny, that is “mmo-lite” or another genre with mmo features.  I feel like the worlds that were crafted during the golden age of massively multiplayer online role-playing game launches, are the worlds we will have to live with for better or worse.  When Blizzard cancelled Project Titan, we can look at that in so many different ways.  We could say that it was a sign that MMOs were dying, and that they no longer believed in the genre.  We could however take that as a sign that they believed that the worlds we had already were worth saving.

So many of the games that we love are not broken toys, at least not yet.  Each of them if given the devotion and the development resources could be transformed into a truly magical place.  I am looking at the transformation of Final Fantasy XIV from 1.0 awkwardness to 2.0 and beyond splendor as proof that a game can change for the better.  I’ve played each of the major MMOs for some length of time, and have experienced that each have exactly the same problem.  How do they keep the player engaged on a daily basis, rather than in bursts of activity each time new content is released?  I feel the problem is that games right now are mired in the construct of expansion releases, pooling up major features until they can sell another box of the game.  This means the best features tend to either get bottled up for years time, or never actually make it into the game at all.

The episodic construct is a bit better, but you have to be careful that you are not adding “expiring” content into your game, making players feel rushed to somehow grind through it all before the next patch hits.  The problem I had with the Living Story in Guild Wars 2 was that when I fell behind, I didn’t feel like there was a point to actually try and catch up… since I had missed so much already.  The fact that the content was expiring made it feel less “real” to me… that they weren’t permanently improving the game, but instead running a series of limited time events.  I feel like the shift needs to be moved away from both of these constructs and instead the focus placed on fleshing out the world.  Do you know how frustrating it is to me in World of Warcraft that there are five portals below Wyrmrest Temple but only two of them go anywhere?  Each world we play is littered with these forgotten expansion ideas, and all I really want is for a game world to quit teasing us and start living up to its full potential.  Now is the time for these companies to double down on the content they have, fix the issues with their game systems… and try and make their games worth our copious time and devotion.

A Simple Night

ffxiv 2015-02-11 19-54-39-33 Because of the news yesterday, and because of other events leading me to question myself and my connection to other people… I was not in the best of places emotionally last night when I got home.  I have to say my mood was improved by hanging out with my extremely awesome free company in Final Fantasy XIV.  For a few nights I had promised to help my friend Solaria work on knocking out some stuff, since she was fairly new to 50 and in doing so also spent a good deal of time running dungeons with Thalen and Asha.  I have not had a night where we tore through multiple dungeons in a night, and I have to say it was good for the soul.  Granted I felt a bit wobbly, since I have not really tanked much of anything other than our raids, and dungeon tanking ends up so drastically different.  That said we managed to unlock a few dungeons for both Thalen and Solaria, and in the process get some Tomestones of Soldiery and Poetics.

I’ve missed logging in, getting pulled into a group and then spending the rest of the night tromping through dungeons.  It is like connecting with my most basic instincts of trying to make sure everything in the dungeon hates me equally.  I really enjoy the pace of Final Fantasy XIV, and its particular brand of tanking.  The Warrior just “feels” right, and I am hoping I will be equally at home with the Dark Knight.  If nothing else I will always have the Warrior to fall back on if the Dark Knight ends up not being the class I have wanted all along.  I know Thalen has several more dungeons yet to unlock to qualify for high level roulette, so I am going to try and force myself to build groups more often.  I get stuck in my own little world, and spend most of my time soloing… but I know when I do group content I feel so much better at the end of the night.  While last night did not cure me completely… it did make me feel significantly better.

Night Falls

Unfortunate Bonus Round

This is going to be a bit of an oddity for me, I am breaking my normal one post per day rule.  I feel like the gravity of the situation warrants it, because right now I am feeling so many different emotions at the same time.  By now most of you will have heard the news that I believe first broke over on the newly erected Massively OP website.  Today Daybreak Games, formerly Sony Online Entertainment has chosen to make some sweeping cuts to staff.  Among the individuals caught in this madness were none other than Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson and and Linda “Brasse” Carlson.  I cannot fathom a chain of consequences that would lead to this happening, but I will get into that later.  For me and many others these two individuals along with Scott Hartsman before he left to join Trion…  were the face of the Everquest franchise.  They were the spirit of the game, and the lifeblood that kept the player base constantly engaged, because never once did you question their sincerity or devotion to making the game world awesome.

Last Tuesday when the news broke that SOE was to be no more, and they would be taking up the new name of Daybreak Game Studio I tried to keep things in stride.  After all I had gotten used to Everquest transitioning from Verant to being called Sony Online Entertainment hadn’t I?  When I found out they had been purchased by what seemed to be a cold and faceless financial holdings company, I tried to keep a positive tone in that it seemed that they were holding most of the companies rather than chopping them up into pieces.  I held in the back of my mind the possibility that the future was in fact going to be positive, that maybe out from under Sony they could reach previously locked off markets like the Xbox One.  After all this same company owned both Rhapsody and Fiverr, surely they knew what they were doing right?

Night Falls

Today it seems that my worst fears have been realized, and that things really can’t stay the same.  As online gamers we get lost in the worlds created by the games that we love to play.  Part of that world are the names and faces of the individuals who act as the conduit between our normal mundane lives, and the magical realms we spent our free time in.  At least in a small part they act as civil servants to the virtual cities we inhabit.  As we watch public presentations and read patch notes and press releases, it is amazing just how quickly we can rattle off the names of the key players that are relaying the information to us.  Even though we may never know them, we develop an almost personal relationship as they take the stage to give us tidbits of information about the future state of “our” game.

The problem is…  we get extremely close to these personalities, so that when one leaves either by their own hand, or by circumstances the shock waves reverberate through the community.  Today a mighty shock wave happened, and I am still not quite sure how to talk about it with any intelligence.  For many years, Brasse has been the public face of the Everquest community team, and Smokejumper the face of the future of that franchise.  It was impossible to watch either of them and not see just how excited they were to be representing this game that they too loved.  I find it exceptionally hard to try and imagine a future that does not involve them, and I have to say a lot of my faith that there will even be an Everquest going forward is more than a little tarnished.

The Survivors

This has been the month of senseless corporate action.  First with AOL killing off their blogs, and now the selling of of Sony Online Entertainment.  I am deeply concerned about the future of these games, in part because the gravitas of Sony…  allowed for SOE to be a little “funky”.  They devoted time to building a lot of unique and quirky features that we were not likely to see come out of any other company.  Do you think that any other company would have given us something truly strange like SOEmote?  Sure I never used it, but I thought the tech was extremely cool especially for the roleplaying community.  The tools that I did love, like the robust housing system and the dungeon builder…  likely would not have come to fruition in a company not quite so willing to chase rabbit trails.

All of this said… I think it is important to also think about the people who were left behind.  They are reeling from the layoffs, and seeing their friends gone.  Having been through more than one layoff, it completely changes the feel of the office.  Every action becomes questioned, and every motive suspicious, making it almost impossible to focus on doing the excellent job that the “citizens” are expecting you to do.  It is easy to say you are done with the Everquest franchise, because of these rather rash actions…  but in truth you are just going to punish the people who are still there, still trying to create the game worlds you love.  Hopefully we can all take a deep breath, grieve the loss, and try and figure out how to move on without being bitter.  I really hope this next week gives us some really good news, because this month so far has turned out to be a fairly tragic one.