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

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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.

Whim Republic

Good morning folks.  In many ways last night was a far worse night than the previous… but for whatever reason I am feeling awake and rested this morning.  I wish to god I understood sleep patterns, and why getting significantly less sleep ends up with me feeling better in the morning.  Previously I had been used to 5 to 6 hours of sleep, but here lately consequence has ended up with me getting to bed a little bit earlier.  More often than not… getting extra sleep just ends up making me feel horrible as a result.

Harvesting Moonshade

moonshadehighlands

I spent a little bit of time when I first got home helping out a guild member orient herself to Ashora.  However after assuring that she got all of the porticulum points… I logged back in Belgaroth and continued down my rabbit hole  of leveling as a pure harvester.  At the point at which I left off yesterday I had just finished up Freemarch and was entering into Stonefield.  Stonefield actually went extremely quickly as I found that all of the rock golems gave extremely fast skill-ups.  Additionally there were large fields of the mountain goat like creatures that I could gather up and AOE down.

Once I moved into Moonshade everything slowed down quite a bit again.  Firstly I was finally catching up to where the character was at foraging wise… so this meant now having to manage leveling a third skill.  I managed to push up rather quickly in harvesting on the various ram like creatures near the Defiant portal.  The only problem is they petered out about 200 and the transition point to train the next tier is 225.  I found the same essential problem killing boglings and skinning them out in front of the Dwarven Relcaimer camp.  At roughly 200 everything slowed down.

Unfortunately the zone did not have any lower level golems or earth elementals… so I had to run around the zone randomly pushing up my mining from picking up Cobalt Lodes.  I noticed that the Golems up near Hammerknell all required 170 mining, so that was ultimately my goal.  After about 30 minutes of farming Cobalt I managed to push up to that point.  The Golems all give skill-ups but they are fairly annoying since after killing each one it spawns three little phantoms.  Additionally if you do not harvest the golem immediately it fades often times before you have killed the three phantoms.  So it is this delicate juggling act of trying to mine the golem as the phantoms are spawning and before they have really begun attacking you.

This is the point at which I left off for the night.  I figure tonight before we pull together the guild night festivities I will try and finish up pushing my trades to 225 so I can learn the next tier and move into the endgame zones.  Hopefully I can find a ready source of mobs to mine, forage and butcher as that makes it go so much quicker than having to run around and try and find nodes to harvest.  I would rather kill hundreds of mobs at one camp, than try and find 50 nodes spread out throughout a zone.

Whim Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65

Early in the evening one of my friends on mumble had been playing Star Wars the Old Republic and talking about it.  After we got finished with our walk I decided to patch it up and pop in for a few to poke my head around.  When I was last playing I had been alternating between leveling a Dark Side Sith Sorcerer and a Light Side Sith Juggernaut.  I have to say I almost immediately regret my decision to log in when I was confronted with the warning screen letting me know that I was no longer a subscriber and should as a result feel horrible.  They gave me a nice chart showing me all the ways I should feel horrible in the various basic features of the game that I would be losing by logging in.

I guess to some extent I had forgotten exactly how miserable an experience it is to try and play SWTOR as a free to play title.  There I sat with my no-crew skills, my one hotbar, my inability to use various sundry features like displaying titles, my bank, the auction house.  I had a stack of credits that had apparently built up from the last time I subscribed so I decided to start trying to make my character playable by unlocking various things.  Essentially each one of these items can be unlocked permanently at an account level, but it would literally cost you multiple hundreds of dollars to get your account back to a state at which it would not feel absolutely horrible to play.

All the while I am going through this… I am marveling in the back of my head just how horrible an experience this is as compared to Rift.  When I was trying to do my now dead in the water “How To Rift” series, I created a brand new account for the purpose of seeing what exactly the limitations were.  Surprisingly enough logging in and playing on a free to play character pretty much felt exactly like logging in and playing on my main.  There are a few limitations, but they are essentially unlocked through the loyalty system the moment you spend any money.  You are gimped on the number of bag spaces, but as compared to SWTOR this seems like a truly minor thing.

Lack of Loyalty

loyalty-box

I guess what feels so exploitative about SWTOR is the fact that I spent a good deal of money with that game.  I bought the collectors edition package at launch, and subscribed for I think a total of 9 months.  That is far longer than most players did, I feel as though I should get some of these features grandfathered in.  I fully expect to be limited on total character slots, or the ability to play the newest content…  but it feels like complete shit to log into my characters and have zero recognition for money spent when they were struggling along trying to make the subscription model work.  What they are missing essentially is a loyalty system along the lines of what Rift has put in place.

When I logged into Rift after the free to play conversion… I was literally showered with loyalty rewards and the in game credits currency.  I want to say I had roughly 100k credits and was at roughly 3/4 of the way through the purple tier of loyalty.  I felt like they cared about me as a longtime subscriber, and they were more than happy to welcome me back and shower me with gifts.   Granted I am STILL a subscriber, there has only been about a three month period since the release of the game that I did not subscribe.  The experience all feels so much nicer however that they give me rewards I want to build towards, and make me want to spend money on the game because I want to support them.

 

On the other hand in SWTOR I feel like I am a cow being milked for whatever money they can get out of me.  Everything about their system just feels cheap and insidious.  Instead of adding new features to the game and pay-walling those… they seemed to have chosen arbitrary basic features to hide away from the unwashed masses of non-subscribers.  So essentially without paying that monthly fee you get an extremely broken feeling gameplay experience.  I know I have commented multiple times about how horrible their free to play model is, but I guess I forget just how bad it really is… until I experience it again each time.

The above video was compiled by Rift Scene and compares and contrasts the features of SWTOR, TERA and Rift.  If you are not really familiar with the differences between the Rift and SWTOR free to play model it is well worth watching.  I hope I will remember just how bad it is, the next time I get the urge to patch up the game and log in.  There really is nothing there for me there unless I choose to subscribe, and I have no desire to do that since I know the next time I lapse I will be treated the same.  The main difference for me is that I feel like EA Bioware really does not deserve any of my money.  Trion on the other hand, gives both the outwards appearance that they care about me as a player, and as a result I feel like giving them all the support in the world.

Wrapping Up

Well time to get on the road.  Todays post ended up far more ranty than I had intended it to.  I am just still shocked at how bad the SWTOR free to play model is when it actually comes to playing it.  On paper it looked horrible, but as a non-subscriber attempting to play the game it feels even worse.  I hope you have a good day and you find absolutely nothing to rant about.  I have a massive list of things I need to get done, so here is hoping I have the “oomph” to do them.

Wrong

Good morning folks, and welcome to another episode of “Bel tries to think of something to write about in the morning”.  Last night was kind of an odd night.  We had to run a number of errands so it ended up with me getting home fairly late and missing most of the “nda” event.  Afterwards I logged into Rift for a bit, but kept getting disconnected.  I think it was jealous for cheating on it with another game.  When it finally stabilized I did a bunch of silly things and finally it was time for our evening walk…  and I was in bed by 10:30.  Theoretically I should be recharged and ready for the day… but I feel all sorts of fuzzy mentally.

Silly Things

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One of the things that I spent my massive amount of points on that I got from being a longtime subscriber to rift… was on the tradeskill extension unlocks for my main.  As a result he has Mining, Butchering, Foraging, Weaponsmithing, Armorsmithing and Artificer.  Which to some extent has started me down the road to madness.  Since I have pooled the majority of my tradeskills on one character, I have the overwhelming desire to rework all my other characters so that they are pure harvesters.  Lately we have lacked a healer when I attempted to pull together dungeons and such with our 50+ crowd, so I thought I would bring my cleric Belgaroth out of retirement since he was already 50.

The problem is… this also began my descent into insanity as I noticed he had the odd combination of Weaponsmithing, Apothecary and Foraging.  None of the tradeskills were terribly high, so I decided this was the opportune time to rebuild him as a master harvester.  The only bad thing about this is that I spent all of last night roaming around Freemarch collecting ore and skinning wolves.  When it came time for our walk last night I had just finished up on Freemarch and was headed into Stonefields.  Since I have recently done this whole level all the tradeskills thing on Belghast when I picked up foraging…  I am hoping it goes more quickly since I pretty well know the areas I need to be in for each type of material.  I don’t really want to get too much further into the Storm Legion content without having his harvest abilities up to snuff.

Wrong

 

So two things happened yesterday… firstly I stumbled across the video above… and one of my posts got picked up by MMO Melting Pot a site that aggregates posts from the community normally relating to World of Warcraft.  I like the site, and they do a decent job of promoting various blogs, but almost every trolling comment I have received has happened when they have featured one of my posts.  Normally the trolls don’t really bother me but this one just stuck in my craw.

No, sorry the author of this post is flat out wrong.

So I have no problem with someone disagreeing with my opinion.  It happens on a regular basis and people seem to be able to do it well.  I have a problem with the fact that this poster said my opinion was wrong.  It is impossible for an opinion to be wrong.  It is not a fact based statement generally, but the way someone feels or believes, and as a result there is no right or wrong.  It is in fact their opinion until they decide to change it.  My blog while it has little factual nuggets at times, is pretty much my view on the world as I know it.  While you can get grumpy or disagree with what I say, saying that said opinion is wrong just is not an option.

Now to the video above… I linked it into this segment because in some small way it is addressing  as the video calls it the “nerd on nerd violence” aspect that is trolling.  I disagree vehemently with folks all the time… prime example is the whole “tank” series of posts.  All the while I was posting my good friend Rowan was posting the counter point on his blog.  We don’t always see eye to eye and we disagree plenty… but at the end of the day I still love him like a brother… and I would never dream of calling his personal opinion “wrong”.

I’ve tried super hard myself to present a mostly positive outlook into our community, which in my case is the collection of gaming blogs out there.  While the above video has nothing to do with that, I feel like it has a lot of threads of truth about our own community or ANY geek community in general.  Geeks seem to like eating their own, because they do not measure up to some standard they have set in their heads.  I have been guilty of this multiple times myself, and I try and take a step back and realize that we are a niche of a niche of a niche… and the quite frankly we need all the awesome people we can get.  I have so much respect for the cosplayers out there, whereas I put my ideas on paper and hit a publish button from the comfort of my office… they wrap themselves in those thoughts and parade it for the world to see.  I cannot imagine how much self confidence it takes to do that… and I have nothing but the utmost respect for ANYONE who even vaguely attempts to cosplay something.

Gearpunk Dice

gearpunkset

My good friend Tesh is making another run at Kickstarter, and this time it seems to have gotten massive traction.  The above dice are just a production sample from his blog but gives you a feel for what the gearpunk dice will ultimately look like.  This campaign is for metal dice and he is offering essentially three designs… Tinker Dice, Gearpunk Dice and Fudge Dice.  Essentially through a combination of the Gearpunk polyhedral dice, and the tinker dice you have what is like the ultimate gear punk dice collection for your gaming needs.  I was a big fan when they were plastic, and I am an even bigger fan now that the metal seems to be going over like gangbusters.

[edit]  Apparently I was extremely tired this morning… because I completely neglected including the Kickstarter link….

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tishtoshtesh/tinker-dice-steampunk-metal-dice

This one is easy now… the initial project requested $1000 and now they have received enough funding to do that almost ten times over.  Essentially the dice are now a guarnteed thing, so make sure you do not miss out on this offering.  They have been available through his shapeways site for some time, but this is a much better deal.  I am extremely happy to see this campaign doing so well, and it could not be supporting a nicer gamer and blogger.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap this thing up.  Today is the first day back for my wife, and as a result it has thrown my morning into a complete state of disarray.  I am not used to having to get ready with another human being roaming around the house.  Additionally now pretty much begins hell for me until roughly mid September as the whole back to school ritual dominates my life.  I am essentially bracing for it now, and expecting my time to be whittled away as we need to run this or that errand to prepare.  I hope you all have a much better series of days ahead of you, and that the work week has been going well.

Mordheim

Good morning people out in internet land.  I am slowly waking up and drinking my cup of coffee.  Usually caffeine makes everything better, so here is hoping it does the trick once again.  I had a pretty chill weekend.  Yesterday I hung out on the sofa with my laptop and play assorted games while watching the tail end of Hemlock Grove and continuing with Luther.  Both really great shows that I would suggest to anyone that is interested.  The more I think about it the more Hemlock Grove reminds me of Once Upon a Time meets Silent Hill.  I really don’t have a ton of ammunition to write about this morning, so here goes nothing.

Mordheim

warhammer-online-dwarf-screenshot-big

I think we all have those games we have a bundle of “what ifs” about, that never quite lived up to our expectations.  One of the biggest for me will likely always be Warhammer Online.  I loved the intellectual property the game was based on, and I think they did a really good job of bringing it to life.  The game introduced so many interesting mechanics like “physical tanking” and “public quests”.  They did several things well and I was happy to see other games adapt their ideas.

Ultimately the problem for me was the lack of a viable PVE experience after level 25.  I realize this was an attempt at making a PVP centric game… and that honestly is its failing.  People just don’t want that, or at least didn’t want that at the time of the release of Warhammer Online.  As a longtime fan of the Warhammer setting, there were various touchpoints they hit for me, and various other ones that I would have liked to have seen.  There is one thing especially that I have always daydreamed about that I wish they could have pulled off.

Mordheim was released as a stand alone boxed game from Games Workshop that takes place some 500 years before the setting of Warhammer Fantasy.  Ultimately the short version of the storyline is that a comet crash lands depositing this new material known as Wyrdstone.  Small warbands that the players control have to enter the city and try and uncover as many pieces of this new mineral as they can.  Not only do they have to contend with other warbands of players, but they also have to contend with the Skaven that have taken up root in the city.

I have always thought it would have been amazingly cool if they were able to either implement a public quest area that was Mordheim.  It would have been a lot like the Darkness Falls experience in DAoC with the ability for one faction or the other to control key points within the city while still having to fend off waves of NPC skaven that will attack the placements.  This would give an interesting three way balance between two factions of players and a third npc faction that wants to kill both of them and take the Wyrdstone for themselves.  I can’t say that this would have turned the tide of a losing game, but it definitely would have made for some interesting gameplay.

Eloping

After this weekend I am more convinced that we did the smart thing when we decided to elope and opt out of a traditional wedding.  One of our friends has decided that she is finally going to marry the guy she has been with for some time.  There have been multiple dates in the past but none of them actually came to fruition.  However now they decided to set a date two weeks from now… and are trying to pull everything together for a traditional wedding last minute.  The end result is complete and utter insanity.

As a result of all of this… my wife literally spent a good chunk of Friday night, most of Saturday and almost all of Sunday dealing with dress shopping.  She came hope with a disturbing looking teal number that appears to have come from Florida circa 2000…  as it seems to have a number of “hanging chads” along the skirt.  It is ugly as hell… my wife knows it, I know it… but it makes the bride happy so you deal with it.  But as we watch this logistical nightmare play out in front of me… we have turned to each other at several points and said “god I am happy we eloped”.

Ultimately I am going to end up as the photographer for the wedding… which should be a decent idea… as it will give me something to busy myself during the whole event.  I really really dislike weddings, and all the fluffy white wonderland that they seem to be.  I try my best not to be a grump about it, because for whoever is having the wedding it is a massive happy occasion.  I would just far rather send a nicer gift and hope they don’t mind the fact I didn’t attend.  I do find myself bringing a crappier gift when I attend the wedding… because I feel as though my suffering should count for something.

Chasing a Dream

 

I stumbled across this video while checking into G+ this morning.  I thought it was a really cool feel good story about how a guy chased down his dream of owning a video game store.  He mentions an IndieGoGo campaign but unfortunately I have not been able to dig up that link.  We have a handful of game stores like this in the Tulsa area and I try to frequent them whenever possible to support the concept of the hometown video game store.  I guess I find this whole thing extra neat because many times my wife and I have talked about the pipe dream of us building a store that fed off our own passions.

Ultimately it would end up as a educational curriculum, traditional book, video game and pen and paper shop.  The franken-shop would have a bunch of only vaguely related things crammed together in one place.  Granted we will never actually likely build said store, but it is a fun daydream.  Logistically any kind of retail venue would be a nightmare and I feel as though you are always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in this market.  I think it would be cool to have an apartment located over the store like the old type general store clerks used to have.  There is just something special about a stored owned by someone that has a passion for whatever they are selling.  Hopefully at some point I can dig up the IndieGoGo link and post it.

Wrapping Up

This seems like another really short one, but to be honest I did warn you guys that I did not have a lot of ammunition this morning.  Hopefully something will happen throughout the day that I deeply care about.  Fortunately or Unfortunately depending upon the perspective, I have another one of those NDA bound things going on tonight, so not sure if I will have much gaming to be able to talk about tomorrow.  Hopefully you have a great start of the week, I have a lot going on at work that I need to make headway in.

Folklore Roulette

Good morning my loyal readers…  or at least I think I have some loyal readers.  Over the last week or so I have done a quite a few thematic posts spurred on by the announcement of EQ Next.  Today is going to be a bit of a throwback to my “what Bel did” posts.  Yesterday was a busy day but also a pretty relaxing one.  We got out early and ran a bunch of errands including a haircut for me.  I was getting rather shaggy…  I was to the point where I could theoretically ponytail it up…  just a horrible one.

Lego Maniac

LegoPeeps

When we finally got home and settled in I engaged in something I had been planning for awhile.  When we set up the game loft, the intent was to also make it a place for me to build with my Legos that I have been amassing.   So as a result there is a fold out table underneath the loveseat and finally yesterday I gave this concept a trial run,  Over the last several months I had accumulated a large number of sets that I had yet to build, and this was only compounded by the awesome haul that my wife found last week.  It had become a running joke that I collected Legos but never actually built them… so I intended to rectify that.

My grand scheme is to eventually come up with a storage system so that I can sort out the Lego bits into component types.  But I have not settled on the best and most efficient means to do that.  However in the meantime I would like to build every set I have at least once as it was intended.  The entertainment center upstairs has been rather barren so it will serve as my showcase for built sets.  The above picture shows a wide assortment of things I put together yesterday.

In the picture is a Captain America set, a Ninjago one, The Gandalf arrives set from Lord of the Rings, a couple of Star Wars sets including an Ewok Attack one… and two different Harry Potter sets.  I barely scratched the surface of the unbuilt sets I have accumulated over the last little bit.  Essentially anytime I find a set on sale for a price I am willing to pay I snap it up.  Building anything with Legos makes me immensely happy.  It is like returning to a simpler time.  I can remember building by myself or with my cousins and creating grand machinations, and I guess to some extent I am capturing a small piece of that.  Not sure if I will return to builder mode today or not, but I had a blast doing it yesterday.

Folklore Roulette

HemlockGrove

So as I built away with the Legos I decided to fire up Netflix on my PS3 and watch something.  Hemlock Grove has been sitting in my recommendations for some time, so I figured what the heck.  I like werewolves, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse was hands down my favorite of the World of Darkness games… so I would at least give it a shot.  After watching nine episodes I can say that I really like the show… but I am not really sure why.  It kinda has a twin peaks meets world of darkness feel to it.  The biggest thing I realized immediately is just how under-billed calling it a “Werewolf” show is.  There is a lot going on in thee town of Hemlock Grove.

Essentially you are presented an odd hodgepodge of Slavic folklore traditions mixed with some Reanimator style science-horror.  You have psychic vampires, demons, possible alien hybrids, Romani seers, some crazy demonic wolf terrorizing the town… and of course a noble werewolf trying to reluctantly protect all of it. The demon wolf very much feels like a Black Spiral Dancer from White Wolf, at least the description we have been given of what a “Vargwolf” is.

I want to maybe finish out the series today, because seriously there is a lot of crazy shit going on in this little town… and I feel that sooner or later it is all going to come to a catastrophic end.  If you have ever been a fan of the World of Darkness series of games, I would highly suggest checking it out.  The acting is very good and at some times there are parts that remind me a little bit of American Horror Story season one.  It of course has the requisite HBO style gratuitous tits and ass thing going on…  so be warned if you have little or sensitive eyes in the room.  I am not really sure when this became a requirement for “edgy” television but I wish it would work its way out.

Festival of Unity

One of the coolest things about playing Everquest 2 on Antonia Bayle has always been the massive player run events.  Today is kicking one of the largest yearly events called the “Festival of Unity”.  It starts this afternoon at 3pm EDT at the Qeynos Claymore in Antonica.  You can check out the full information about the festival here on their homepage.  Also Stargrace did a nice write-up about the festival over on MMOQuests.  I am not sure yet if I will be attending it, but even if I do not I think it is an extremely cool concept.  Antonia Bayle has by far the coolest community I have ever experienced on a Role Playing server, and I am always happy to get the word out when an event is going on.

Wrapping Up

Today’s post feels a little bit shorter than normal, but I am out of meaningful things to say.  Hopefully you have a great rest of the weekend.  My wife has gotten roped into assisting a friend with her wedding planning, so more or less I will be holding down the fort alone today.  Going to have to start up laundry and the sort soon.  Speaking of fortifications… thankful that so far I seem to have thwarted our escape artist ferret.  She is sleeping peacefully in the playpen and has not found a way to climb out since yesterday.  Here is hoping that the ramparts hold.

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

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

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

Past Guilds

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

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

House Stalwart

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

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

Evergreen Content

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

Evergreen Content

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

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

A Better Way

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

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

Horizontal Progression

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

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

Socially Beneficial

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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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

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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

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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.

A Pet Class is…

… Complicated

Well what isn’t, right?   This post was inspired by Bel’s post “A Tank is…”  My “thing” is pet classes, so naturally that’s what my “<x> is” post is going to be about.

We pet class nuts tend to be very loyal to the archetype.  Here’s a list of many of my main characters throughout the last 16 years of MMO playing: UO Tamer; AO Meta-Physicist and Engineer; EQ1 Necromancer, Magician, and Beastlord; SWG Creature Handler; EQ2 Necro and Conjuror; LOTRO Lore-master; WoW Hunter and Warlock; AoC Necromancer; WAR Squig Herder; the list goes on.  See where I’m going?  All pet classes!

I’ll talk about the history of pet classes in MMOs, issues that have been raised surrounding them, and things that pet class devotees look for in a game.

In The Beginning…

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… there was Ultima Online.  UO was the first commercially noticed MMO, and so that’s where I begin my pet class history lesson.

UO isn’t a class-based game – your character advances by increasing skills up to a certain limit.  One skill in UO is “Animal Taming.”  This skill allows you to tame and thus control certain creatures in the world – from lowly chickens all the way to powerful dragons.   As you adventure with your pet, it gains skills just like you do.  In the past, if your pet died during your adventures, it was lost forever.  Now, however, powerful Tamers can resurrect fallen pets.

This sort of set an early standard for pet classes for me – the ability to choose your pet, by taming it yourself.  This standard, unfortunately didn’t get carried on, except for in one game.

That game was Star Wars Galaxies.  Before the “NGE” (aka game ruining fiasco), there was a class called “Creature Handler.”  This was very close to a UO Tamer – but better.  Creatures in the world had extremely varying stats, and the best CH’s had very powerful pets.  Additionally, another class called Bio-Engineer could custom-make pets using DNA obtained in the world.  A really accomplished CH had many powerful custom Bio-Engineered pets.  It was awesome!

Since then, options for pet customization have been limited.  In most games, your pet type is determined by your class.  Necromancers summon and control undead things, Hunters control animals and so on.

We’ve Got Issues

eqnecropetsOf course, many issues have been raised surrounding pet classes.  Most of them boil down to the belief that pet classes are overpowered.  This is because a pet class character has two “objects” in the world doing damage at once – the character itself, and the pet(s).

There have been many ways employed to ensure this overpowered state isn’t true.  Most of them center around the idea of either making the pet the main damage source, or making the character the main damage source.  WoW for example essentially made you choose between having powerful pets or being powerful yourself.

One way EQ1 ensured pet class balance was that pets were not as useful in large group content (raids).  This wasn’t intentional of course, but it did work.  Pet pathing was flaky at best, so having a pet during a raid could easily cause wipes if you weren’t extremely vigilant.  And pets “pushed” mobs too, sometimes causing them to get out of a good position.

Other balancing methods include making pets very weak in terms of hit points, or making pets only exist for a short period of time, requiring constant re-summoning.

What do we want?

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I’ve been a part of quite a few pet class specific communities over the years, and that combined with my own pet class fervor has made me aware of the basic things pet class people want out of a game.

In general, we are damage players (DPS).  We use our pets and our spells or weapons to help kill monsters.  EQ1 has a single pet class that can fulfill either the DPS or the Tank role (in some content) – that class is the Beastlord (and it’s awesome when played with skill).  But in general, pet class people want to fill the DPS role.

We want to be useful.  If we can’t function well without our pets, make sure that group content is pet-friendly.  This is a basic need; if we can’t use the most fundamental part of our class in all content, sadness ensues.

We want to be able to choose pets, either via class choice, or via a “taming” mechanism.  Sure, a Necromancer is always going to have undead things as pets.  A “Hunter” type is going to have tamed animals as pets.  That’s cool.  But make sure there’s a choice!  Some people hate the idea of a Necromancer, and would always choose instead to have Elementals as pets, or animals, or similar.  Some people mainly only like Necromancer types.   The absolute best-case is having “set” pet classes like Necromancer, Magician, etc, and having a “Tamer” type for those that want to choose their pets.

My wife and I had a discussion once about my pet class fervor and her rogue-type fervor.  We decided it boils down to a personality thing.  Would you always prefer to “do things yourself?”  You’re probably not a pet class type. If you’d usually rather hire someone to do something, or have a servant do it… you’d probably like pet classes.  (But sometimes we like to do it ourselves too, so the character does need some power of its own.)

A Class Is…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, partly because I haven’t had much that I can write about. Bel started the ball rolling with A Tank Is, and I thought I’d follow up with my own. I almost started with A Healer Is, or A Rogue Is, because people who know me would likely expect to see one of those (and probably be very surprised about the other), but I realized what was going on behind the scenes, as it were, and I thought I’d share here.

Indecision?

I’ve played a lot of classes through a lot of games. My friends, if they weren’t so nice, would probably call me indecisive or schizophrenic in the things I choose to play. I’ve been a thief (UO), an enchanter (EQ), a druid (EQ, WoW), a rogue (WoW, EQ2, Rift), a tank (WoW, Rift, SWTOR), a healer, a support, everything. It doesn’t always look like there’s a method to the madness, but I’ve realized, for me, what drives me to each thing I play.

A Class is Identity

Black Mages, http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Black_Mage_(Job)

When I pick a class, I’m picking an identity. I’m declaring to the world (or, well, the game) what kind of person I am, and how I interact with the people, places, and things around me. The industry term for this is “player fantasy”, and it drives a shockingly huge amount of inspiration, dedication, and attachment. It’s more than just the class that determines this, but a player’s class is a big part of it.

I look at the Black Mage above, and I see someone focused, someone intelligent and a bit mysterious, who needs no physical might to make his or her mark on the world. I like that. I want to be that. By comparison:

This is the rogue to me. The Prince of Persia isn’t incredibly strong, and doesn’t wear heavy armor, but he’s fast, smart, and tricky. He’ll win the fight with this big brute because he’s quicker and cleverer. I like it, for the same reasons I like the Black Mage—he wins with his brain.

Classes and Roles

I look at the two examples above, both near and dear to my heart, and something stands out. I like them both, for the same exact reasons, but they both do very different things. They both fulfill my player fantasy, but it’s divorced from my role. Bel will attest that I will cheerfully tank things, when there is a rogue-tank option. I quite enjoy it, but the important thing is that my player fantasy is fulfilled. I’m not a big, muscley meatshieldy plate-wearing type. I’m the quick, clever, faster-than-my-enemies type. If I need some additional protection, that’s going to come from my speed or my magic, not armor or straight burliness.

What I do isn’t necessarily tied to my player fantasy—I just want to be faster and smarter than my enemies, and sometimes trickier and sneaker too, if I can manage it. If that means I’m a sneaky, killy Assassin or a tanky, maneuverable Riftstalker or a clever, resourceful Enchanter, I’m accomplishing that goal; I’m getting to play out my fantasy.

A Class is a Function

teamfortress2

When I’m dropped into a new world and asked to represent myself, to make my character, I need to make informed decisions. Whether that’s a class, or a starting ability package, or a weapon of choice, or a vehicle, my initial choices tell me what I’m good at and what I’m able to do. It tells me what make me different from the people around me, and what I can do well.

In a lot of ways, it helps me know whether I will enjoy a game. If I pick a class that isn’t good at the things I like to do, and I try to play the way I’m used to playing, I’m probably going to be disappointed. I’ve played games where I’ve switched classes partway through and rediscovered a game I thought I didn’t like—I played a Magician in Everquest for months before I tried the Enchanter on a whim and realized that, while the Magician was okay, the Enchanter was far more fun and fulfilling to me.

Classes and the Trinity

Whenever the argument about “The Trinity” or other role-based systems in games comes up, the first thing I see is “there are never enough healers or tanks” and “no one likes to wait around”, or, the worst, “people don’t want to be forced to play something they don’t like”. There’s usually a call to “abolish the trinity”, and to let people do what they like.

I don’t have a fundamental problem with this viewpoint, but the most common solution I’ve seen – abolish roles entirely – isn’t the right one. The Trinity is the foundation of group-based play. Whether that’s the MMO-standard Tank/Healer/DPS, or the team positions in soccer, or football, or League of Legends, the roles provide a means with which the individual participants in the group can become, together, more than the sum of their parts. Role-based play, regardless of what those roles are, is at the forefront of nearly every deep team game, and even quite a few non-team games. Chesspieces play a variety of roles, dictated solely by movement, and the game of chess is built around both the strengths and the limitations of each piece; it forms a deeper game than if every piece were a Queen.

Making it Better

You can’t just rip out the foundation without building something in its place. It’s something we’ve seen tried in various places, and the resulting gameplay is frequently-to-always unsatisfying for the players who enjoy team-based play.

That being said, the aforementioned arguments aren’t invalid. Frequently there are too few tanks or healers, or supports, or clerics. I submit that “not enough tanks or healers” is a symptom, not the root of the problem. How many games allow only burly platewearers to tank? How many allow wizardly mages to tank?

In League of Legends, a common complaint is that no one ever wants to play support. Let’s analyze this: There are 115 champions in League. Of those, nine are listed as “Support” within the game, and 12 are listed by one of the top players of the game (here: http://blog.ibuypower.com/2013/08/chausters-conventional-support-rundown/). Somewhere less than 10% of the available champions are Support, and of them, half are spellcasting women. Tropes aside, if “spellcasting lady” isn’t your player fantasy, you’re SOL.

If you make a game where you satisfy a wide enough variety of player fantasies for all of your roles, I suspect you’ll see a good distribution of your roles. What this means, more than anything, is options. Don’t abolish the foundation, give many, many ways of fulfilling it. If I can be creative with how I fit into a team, it will be much more satisfying than playing something I don’t like just to fit into the team, or worse, not having the team at all.

It’s on the Designers

Hundreds of years of team-based games tells me this: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A team should become more than the sum of its parts, and whatever paradigm you come up with to accomplish this, that is the core.

Designers are in the position of fulfilling player fantasies, and making sure that the player fantasies they create satisfy the roles they make for their game, and are distributed enough to make sure enough options exist for every role. Let me play a mage tank, and a rogue healer, and a platewearing stealther. It’s what design is for—creativity.