Playing Catch Up

Battle Bards Episode 45 – Rock On!

This segment is going to be a little bit odd, because at the time of me writing it the episode has not officially gone live.  However I only post once daily, and as such I really would like to get a plug out there for the show.  In saying this, the links I am about to post will not go live until 9 am so I will be embargoing my post this morning which is an odd experience for me.  On February 7th I had the privilege of sitting in as a guest host on the Battle Bards podcast with the illustrious Syp and Syl.  To make things even kookier, they told me that I needed to pick a topic.  I went back and forth on a few topics and finally landed upon rock themes in MMO games.  Traditionally MMOs seem to have the same auditory palate of instruments and themes.  Every now and then however there is a soundtrack that abandons the traditional and brings in some rock guitar.  Over the course of the show we focused on these tracks, and I believe it was Syp that finally gave the show its title of “Rock On!”.

I had an absolute blast recording the show, and would be more than willing to step in again if they ever had need of me.  Now onwards with the show information.

Episode 45 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Blue Turns to Greyfrom Tabula Rasa, “Battle on the Big Bridge Reborn” from FFXIV, and “Prologue” from Castlevania SOTN)
  • “Titan Battle Theme” from FFXIV
  • “Alonewolf” from Rusty Hearts
  • “Toko” from Granado Espada
  • “Character Select/Map Load” from Heroes of the Storm
  • “New Conglomerate Main Theme” from PlanetSide 2
  • “Malicia’s Finale” from DDO
  • “Lucid Dreaming” from Aion
  • What track did we like the best?
  • Mail from Akiranon
  • Outro

Listen to episode 45 now!

Giving Levels Away

gw036 Last night I managed to hit level 71 in Guild Wars 2 and absolutely thought I would never actually get there.  In truth I would not have gotten there were it not for the fact that the game seems to be giving away levels every time I turn around.  At some point they added the Tome of Knowledge into the game, and double clicking them item grants you one instant level.  I am not sure if I am exceptionally lucky, but I seem to be pulling these left and right out of various bags and containers.  Last night from my daily login reward chest I pulled two of them for example.  I think my meteoric rise in levels is really two fold.  First they keep giving me levels, but secondly it seems like everything is quite simply worth a lot more experience.  I did a level and a half over the last few days dinking around and completing a level 5 starter zone.  I still have about half of the objectives in that zone to go, so I am enjoying the fact that it doesn’t actually seem to matter what I am out in the world doing…  just that I am doing something.

At this point I can honestly picture getting up a few more characters, because right now this game seems to be the ideal winding down practice for me.  We finished our Final Fantasy XIV raid around 9:30 pm, and I played Guild Wars 2 for another thirty minutes or so after that.  At which point I felt relaxed and ready to go to sleep, which has always been a problem for me after any raid experience.  When you have been doing exciting things, you have this surplus supply of adrenaline flowing through you, and for me at least I need something much more relaxing to work through all of that.  While Guild Wars 2 may never be destined to be my primary game, I am really appreciating its worth in the role it is playing.  I am curious to see what life at 80 is going to be like, but I have a feeling that ultimately I will just end up switching to an alt so I can continue the slow paced progression.  If nothing else I think it would be pretty awesome to 100% the map.

Playing Catch Up

ffxiv 2015-02-16 21-00-32-31

Monday night is traditionally our more serious raiding night in Final Fantasy XIV with Saturday being a sort of anything goes experience.  However since last night we had a number of players hung up on key steps to the main story and other things… we opted to do a grand “catch up” night.  We started the evening by knocking out the Battle of Big Bridge for Neph, which is always an extremely fun experience.  That is one of those fights that I happily do every single time anyone needs it because getting to play with Gilgamesh is always a treat.  From there we knocked out the Dhrome Chimera fight because that was the step Neph happened to be hung up on for her Relic.  I remember the first time we did this fight, it took the full raid timer, because quite honestly back then it was a massive challenge.  However since then a method of pulling the Chimera out of the cave has become popular and this makes the fight immensely easier.  Also the fact that I am insanely over geared helps as well.  In any case we got the fight completed quickly and Neph moved on to the next step in her relic chain.

ffxiv 2015-02-16 21-18-32-87 The bulk of the evening was spent working on the Chrysalis trial.  This is the road block placed in the path of completing the 2.5 main story arc addition.  I don’t want to go into too much detail about the fight, namely because I don’t want to provide any spoilers.  There are a couple of places in the fight there where things shift drastically, and you have to begin dealing with a new mechanic.  In truth the fight felt like a bit of a remix of some of the raid encounters.  There were elements of several fights from the Crystal Tower series especially.  I think it took us about five tries to get through the encounter, but I have to say the whole experience was extremely fun.  That is one of the best things about Final Fantasy XIV is that their boss encounters are extremely solid.  After defeating it, and each of us making it through the cut scene we had around twenty minutes left to do something.  As a result we grabbed Solaria and opted to help her get through the Leviathan primal encounter.  It was a night of lots of objectives being checked off, and a night of many fun battles.

Games I Want to Revisit

Tomorrow morning is going to be what seems like a frosty one.  So I am once again cheating and writing a blog post the night before I intend on posting it.  I assume in the morning I will need to spend all of my available time scraping windows and warming cars to make sure we can get in safely.  Lately I have been poking my head around Guild Wars 2, a game that I had until Pax South completely written off as “not for me”.  Since then I have reached a point of peace with the game, and actually found that I am enjoying it quite a bit.  So this morning my post will be a revisiting of games that I would like to give a second or third chance.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

swtor 2014-05-05 21-28-00-26 Star Wars: The Old Republic has the dubious honor of being quite possibly the worst possible free to play conversion I have ever experienced.  If I did not know any better, it might be absolutely functional for a new player.  That said having played the game in release and realizing just how gimped the game is without spending a lot of money, infuriates me.  Essentially I cannot bring myself to play this game without actually paying for a subscription.  I have attempted to play this game a few times since release, but never for terribly long.  My last voyage into the game was to try and play a Sith Juggernaut, since I had not really experienced much of the dark side content.  When our guild was actually playing regularly I managed to level a Jedi Guardian, Jedi Shadow, and a Trooper Vanguard…  so yes all three available tanks.  When I finally left the game I was slowly working on leveling my Chiss Smuggler.

Since then they have released several expansions each with their own story extensions.  I feel like maybe I am missing something having not seen any of this content.  That was the one thing above all else that really excelled with The Old Republic, was that the traditional Bioware story was excellent.  This weekend on the podcast we talked a bit about Kodra’s experiences with the smuggler storyline, and I have to say I got those pangs of remorse in my stomach for never having experienced it.  On top of this, there is still so much content Sith side that I have never actually seen.  The problem that I ran into the last time I played was that the questing just felt so repetitive.  These quests are very much World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King era in the way they are constructed.  While the storyline itself is excellent, it just felt tiring to keep trying to push through the planets.  Still all of this said… I feel like I should give it another shot.

Lord of the Rings Online

lotro Lord of the Rings Online and I have a strange relationship.  I never actually played this at launch, but during one of my many breaks with World of Warcraft I joined some friends playing it.  There are things I love about this game, and then there are things that frustrate me.  I love the community of this game, almost more than I like the game itself.  Landroval is an amazing place, and there are so many times I find myself wandering around Bree listening to player created concerts rather than actually completing content.  I’ve never been successful at trying to play this game for free, so ultimately I end up subscribing to remove the roadblocks.  There is just so much content that I have yet to experience.  Last time I played I had just made it to the Trollshaws, which I think is in my late 30s.  I greatly enjoy the Champion as far as a class goes, and found it really enjoyable to solo.  Which was super important because I have never really found a stable group playing this game.

I follow so many blog of players devoted to LoTRO and I have to say I feel like somewhat of a failure that I have never had a max level character there.  As such it sits in a unique place as far as regrets go for me.  I am sure I will end up reinstalling this game at some point, and poking my head back there to give it another go.  It has been I think two years since I last tried to play, and since then I am sure quite a bit more content has been released.  The game is full of so many special moments of nostalgia for followers of the book series.  The above picture is from Weathertop, one of these early “oh my god I am actually standing here” moments in these games.  I just wish I could clone myself and play all the games I want to play at the same time.

Neverwinter Online

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08 When this game was released I played off and on during the first week… and then never set foot in it again.  The biggest problem I had was that while the game was a good action rpg…  Elder Scrolls Online was simply a better one.  In the weeks since joining open beta for Neverwinter and the ultimate release…  I was let into the double super secret alpha testing program for ESO.  So all of the time and devotion I would have spent playing Neverwinter, I instead poured into the alpha testing program for ESO.  As such I feel like I never really actually gave this game a chance.  I enjoyed the Guardian Fighter quite a bit, and it was an excellent mix of tank and brawler giving me the ability to do damage with my favored sword and shield.  Again the biggest problem is that I was trying to compare it to the Dragonknight Sword and Shield that I was playing in Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter just coming up short.

What interests me about potentially going back is the fact that not only is there official content waiting on me, there is an absolutely insane amount of player created content.  My friend Tipa from West Karana blog, has seemingly done an amazing job of recreating some of the nostalgic content from the original Everquest with the Neverwinter foundry toolset.  At some point I really want to go in and experience this first hand.  The biggest thing holding me back is the fact that firstly, I am not really sure if I can remember my account information.  Secondly Perfect World has never given me the warmest of fuzzies, and I’ve always found some of their practices to be a week bit sketchy.  Even taking these into consideration I am sure at some point I will reinstall this game and give it another go.  There is just too much left there to experience that I have not seen at all.

The Monkeysphere

AggroChat 44 – Tragic Relationships

As we were getting close to recording this weeks episode two things happened.  Firstly we decided that it was probably better for all parties combined if we tried to record on Friday instead of Valentines day proper, that would leave the day open for any holiday plans that our cast might have.  Secondly Kodra suggested that we try and record a Valentines episode talking about relationships in video games.  At face value this seemed like a great idea, and generally speaking even if an idea is destined to fail… I am more than willing to try it.  The problem is as we sat down to record, we quickly realized just how flawed and tragic most relationships in video games are.  We can’t even make it past three relationships in the episode without hitting in the fact that man…  video games are really bad at this.

The problem is that video games seem to be good at two emotions revenge fueled Rage, and utter soul crushing Sadness.  We joked about indie games being hung up on sadness a few episodes ago when Tam kept giving each game Kodra talked a sadness score “Seven Sads out of Ten”.  It seems as though we are not quite ready to talk about actual adult relationships that are productive and not abusive or hostile to the well being of the participants.  I think the problem is more that we have not figured out how to do meaningful stories that are not relying on these elements as a way of moving the plot forward.  After all if someone is happy with their life, chances are they are not going to go off and be and adventurer.  In any case the episode ended up being pretty interesting to record in spite of itself.

The Monkeysphere

TheBelSphere Yesterday Braxwolf wrote an interesting follow up to my post diving into my post and trying to explain some of his own thoughts.  His post was awesome for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it gave me a real name to a theory that I have used for years.  Once upon a time I was driving home and heard some researchers talking on NPR about the “monkeysphere” theory…  well it turns out this is more properly known as the Dunbar number.  Essentially it is the maximum number of people that we can care about at one time.  The idea is that our brains are literally only capable of caring about a fixed number of people at any given time, so in order to start caring about someone knew… we have to punt someone out of the sphere.  I’ve long thought about this and I think my zone of caring maybe works a little different than the extreme examples of these studies.

While I am not sure if my sphere is larger than most, but I think it is arranged in some distinct regions.  I attempted to draw these out above, to make sense of them.  If you take that 150 is the maximum number of people that you can care about at any time like the initial study I read, my numbers would break down to something like this.  I generally have about 25 people that I would consider my inner circle, and these are folk that maintain their orbit relatively safely and I ultimately end up talking to them almost every single day.  After that we fall into a close orbit zones of folks I would consider close friends, and among this group I would say there are about 50.  From there you fall into what I refer to as the “hotswap” zone, to borrow a term from technology.  This would be a field of 75 people that gets swapped in and out of the larger pool of every single person I have ever met.

Points of Data

Each person that I meet gets stored in my brain as a pattern of data…  the closer I am to a person the more data points I remember.  The odd thing is… when someone moves in and out of orbit I don’t delete that data.  I can remember things about friends that I have not seen in years and may never actually cross paths with again.  Essentially I feel like I have a fourth sphere that is made up of the thousands and thousands of people I have ever met in my life.  At any time due to circumstance one of these people can come zooming into orbit and bump someone else out of that “hotswap” zone and I can functionally pick up where I left off, as though no time had passed.  I realize that not everyone functions in this state of constantly looking for new interactions with people, and pulling them into their own personal gravity for as long as possible.  But that is the way I work, as some sort of empathic computer looking for new inputs.

The biggest flaw in my system design however is the fact that there is no delete key.  When a group of individuals break out of orbit attempting to shun me…  there is no system available to write those individuals off as a “loss” and purge them from my memory.  The sting of rejection will always be there, even after decades pass..  it can be summoned up on a whim with brilliant Technicolor realism.  I can remember every disappointment, every failure, every time someone made fun of me.  Which seems horrible until you realize that I can also remember every single positive event that has happened to me, each warm fuzzy felt and recalled at a moments notice.  The problem is…  this makes it extremely hard to ever truly forgive someone.  I can reach a point of “being able to exist amicably” with someone, but I can never actually forget any of the transgressions… and in the back of my head will always end up holding a grudge.  So having this deep empathic memory…  is a double edged sword, but I would not change the way I function for anything.

More Than Pixels

The People Who Get You

Yesterday was an exceptionally strange day on twitter, in that an extremely length discussion started from something that @AlternativeChat said, and then spawned a side conversation including myself, @Jaedia, @BraxWolf and @GGChestnut regarding the nature of twitter and online connections.  The later conversation seemed to rope in at least half of my friends at one time or another.  Ultimately it started with the tweets above, and then grew a life of its own.  I come from a very small town.  To illustrate my point, I graduated from a class of roughly sixty students.  When you live in an environment like that, you ultimately develop friendships based around what was actually available.  So while I had many friends growing up, I also had the constant feeling that very few people actually “got me” on any real fundamental level.

I didn’t like the things I was supposed to like, and didn’t react the way to stimulus that I was supposed to react.  But in that situation you make the best friends you have available to yourself and make due.  It was not really until I stepped foot onto the internet and moved to college that I started to meet people I felt a deeper connection with.  There were in fact people out there whose life did not revolve around the football game, and did not think the pinnacle of their existence was getting drunk at a broken down picnic area beside a creek imaginatively referred to as “tables”.  I’ve lived much of my life with this sense that the world wanted me to play a role that didn’t quite fit.  When I leave the house, it is as though I am putting on my “man suit” and trying to be the person that the world just assumes that I am.  I like video games, if I watch television I am generally watching cartoons, and I deeply care about what is going on in the world of Lego this season.  I am not “normal”.

More Than Pixels

Since I did not exactly have a lot of examples of people that I could relate to in the flesh, I cherished the few individuals that I did find a connection with.  So when I interact with someone, I try and approach it as though I could be meeting a brand new life long friend.  I got into a discussion during the day with Brax about how he feels that physical relationships are just different than digital ones.  Ultimately I feel like it is only different if you are making it different.  I guess maybe I come from a different place on this than most people.  I would not know my very awesome wife were it not for the fact that we were both IRC junkies back during the dawn of the internet.  We became friends when we were introduced by a mutual friend living in Belgium, and later found out we grew up thirty minutes apart.  So when I think about my own beginnings, I find it impossible not to think about the person behind the screen when I interact with anyone.

I realize that just because I feel this way about the people I surround myself with, that it isn’t automatically a two way street.  For many of the people that follow me on Twitter, read my blog or listen to my podcasts…  I am in fact just a collection of pixels assembled on their screen that they happen to find appealing.  There is nothing that I can do or will ever be able to do to bridge that gap.  However I do find that there are people out there that I make a real and genuine connection with, and ultimately cherish them for their willingness to care about individuals that in the strictest sense they have no obligation to.  I’ve often said it is the way you treat the people you don’t have to be nice to, that is what reflects your personal character the most.  When you interact with someone online, you are seeing the real person… the one that is buried deep inside.   We are all either inherently the villain trying to cause strife, or the hero attempting to right it.

Sharing Myself

One of the conscious decisions I made a few years ago was that I would be open to my readers.  For the first several years of my blog I didn’t really talk about myself at all.  I would keep my posts limited to strictly the facts about the game I happened to be playing, but ultimately I am more than just the games I play.  I knew if I was going to manage to blog on a daily basis, I had to allow myself to talk about all of the things that were important to me.  So each morning I open my door and invite strangers into my world.  I walk this fine line however because I still cling to the relative anonymity of a “handle”.  My goal is to tell real stories, but just leave out the names, places and finest levels of details.  As a result I think you end up with a greater truth than had I said everything, because I have boiled whatever I happen to be talking about to the essentials that matter, leaving out the strictest minutiae.  To quote Dragnet “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent”.

Brax asked me if I found keeping up this personal aspect difficult as I continue to widen this circle of people I interact with.  On some level I would say that yeah, it becomes much harder to keep your finger on everything that is going on.  That said I have developed a realization that I will never be able to read every tweet or blog post or keep tabs on every person in my life.  The interaction aspect isn’t that hard because each day I am just being me.  Once upon a time my guildies used to refer to a persona I would adopt as “Rockstar Bel”, in that I would wear this mask of a person that amplified all the characteristics that I wished I was.  Over time, and developing a certain level of confidence I have started to actually be this amped up version of myself.  Which goes back to the statement I made earlier…  when you encounter someone online, you get the see the person they really are, the person they have a potential in becoming.  I think slowly, bit by bit I am becoming that person that I always wished I was, the one that actually believed I could accomplish interesting things.  Maybe some day I will get there, but in the mean time I am going to keep sharing the ride with anyone who is willing to join me.

Best Games I’m Not Playing

This mornings post is going to be a bit of a departure from my normal routine in that I am going to talk about some of the games that I really enjoy, but am not playing for one reason or another.  I guess with the recent news about Daybreak, it highlights the fact that there are so many games we hold dear…  but aren’t actually actively supporting by playing them.  As such here goes my attempt to write a post about the three best games I am not playing.

Everquest II

EQ2_000008 Like so many former Everquest junkies, I am in love with the  setting of Norrath.  I love its cities, and races and the aspect that I enjoyed the most playing EQ2 was how often times you would just see glimpses of the world that came before this one.  The folks behind the zones in Norrath 2.0 were exceptionally good at tugging on your nostalgia at just the right moment, while at the same time making something entirely new.  More than anything I think it was the scale of this game that made me fall in love with it.  I did not play it at launch, but a few months into World of Warcraft I took a break and joined my friends who did.  The world felt so much larger than anything I was seeing in Azeroth, and this sense of amazement through scale never really faded.  It felt so much more like a living breathing world.  This game also gave me one of my favorite playable races in any game… the Ratonga.  While often goofy comic relief I enjoyed roaming the world as my little rat shadow knight.

The problem is that each time I play Everquest II, I ultimately leave due to the same problem.  I absolutely hate the combat system with its largely unintelligible stat increases, alternative advancement point minutiae and what feels like three hundred different attack buttons…  that are largely indistinguishable.  The funny thing is playing my Shadow Knight was a key sequence of about twenty five attacks… and still to this day I can reinstall the game and play it entirely through muscle memory.  For me it is the gaming equivalent of chicken fried steak… that comfort food you return to over and over even though it is largely uninspired.  The problem is…  I will always return to it eventually.  It has my favorite world in any game, so full of life and mystery.  I just wish I could transplant that world into a game I enjoy on a technical level.


riftvolcano Rift was the game that pulled me away from World of Warcraft by giving me every single thing I ever said I wanted in a video game.  I spent a good amount of time playing Rift at launch and since release it is a rarity that I do not have an active account.  The problem is… I am not playing it.  This game is one that I want to love so badly, and I wished and tried so many times to transplant my WoW family into.  Rift is a game made up of extremely well crafted systems that are honed to lightning precision…  but have been assembled in the wrong order.  That is the best possible analogy that I can give you.  Have you ever walked into a house and felt that something was just off, and then spent the rest of your time in it trying to figure out exactly what it was?  There is something wrong with Rift, and I cannot figure out what is missing.

I have heard the complaint that “Rift has no soul” and as much as I have rebelled against that notion…  maybe that statement is right.  There is some spark that ties everything together that is missing in this game.  I will always keep returning to it, because there are lots of well crafted components that make up this game, but the overarching game itself lacks something.  With the Nightmare Tides expansion I came back and started playing more regularly, but it was not long before I realized that all I had been actually doing was logging in to play the minions mini-game.  Even now talking about this game I am getting the desire to pop my head back in, because it is like this puzzle I cannot quite solve.  I want to know why it doesn’t work, but never actually find the answer.  What I do know however is it is a game supported by a lot of awesome people, and while I am trying to figure it out… I absolutely do not mind funding their efforts.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 When The Secret World was released, I thought that it was absolutely going to be the game I could settle in for the long haul.  I believe it in so much that I spent the almost two hundred dollars to purchase a “Lifetime” membership, after having missed out on that same opportunity for Lord of the Rings Online.  The experience of leveling through this game and completing all of the content was absolutely amazing.  It still has some of the most thoughtful and interesting quest lines I have experienced in any game.  The thing that broke myself and the rest of the AggroChat crew was the fact that behind the Gatekeeper encounter there loomed a giant wall.  When we began nightmare content, we came to the realization quickly that we were essentially “playing the game wrong”.  The answer to beating the content was for us to change our specs to something that the content wanted us to be.  Doing this would have destroyed the magic of the game, the fact that we could craft the characters we always wanted to play.

All of this said, it is still a game I think upon fondly, and still consider the lifetime membership some of the best money I have ever spent.  Content is released in “Issues” and while purchasing one of these gives you the main story quest… there is also a substantial amount of minor content that goes in with each of them.  Games are notoriously bad about pointing out things that have changed in the world, and The Secret World is no exception.  I find it a mentally daunting task to not only try and remember how to play my character each time I return, but also try and figure out what is actually new.  The fact that you can repeat almost every quest in the game only serves to make this more maddening.  The answer of course is to claw your way through copious patch notes to figure out what new elements were added, but instead…  I simply don’t play apart from logging in every now and then to buy a cool new outfit with my monthly allotment of in game store currency.

Fondly Remembered Loves

There you go, this morning in honor of Valentines Day I give you the games I love but am not actually playing.  I feel like all gamers have these games in their history.  I am curious what some of yours are.  Leave me a comment letting me know what game or games out there are you still smitten by but just not playing anymore.

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.

Rough Raid Night

An Innocent Start

goodmorningbel Most strange happenings on the internet begin with a rather innocuous start.  I was discussing handwriting with @tsundereikemen and I decided to create a hand written note to show off my rather messy all caps writing.  Then I happened to go directly into a meeting for roughly an hour.  When I got out..  my twitter feed had completely blown up with people returning my greeting in their own hand written style.  Yesterday I joked about Sigtric coining the hashtag “BelEffect” so he was immediate to point out that it was happening again.  Of course I had to share this sudden madness with the world, because folks had no idea what I was talking about.  I lost a few followers in my flurry of re-tweets, but screw it this was worth it.  The “happening” was enough happiness to buffer any frustrations for the rest of the day.

everyoneisawesome The awesome thing is… I posted a second note some time later to adequately explain my feelings about the whole event…  and it started up again adding several more notes to the mix.  This silly thing is the reason why my twitter feed is so damned great.  You guys can somehow manage to take a boring work day and turn it into a magical experience by tweeting a bunch of hand written notes.  I always love seeing someone’s handwriting no matter how unkempt it might be… because embedded in those strokes and swooshes are a persons personality.  So thank you all for participating in this little experiment… it was neither original nor that unique, but it was most definitely not something I expected to start yesterday.  If you want to check out all of the images, I will be attempting to insert a gallery below.

Rough Raid Night

Wow-64 2015-02-03 19-47-02-84 Not all raid nights can be amazing… in fact every now and then you can have a down right shitty one.  Last night was one of these nights, and that is just something that is going to happen now and then.  It seems like half of the world is sick with something right now, and last night it claimed two of our primary healers.  This put us going into the night at a pretty big handicap, one that we never quite made up for.  Ithato is freaking awesome for stepping in and trying to hold things together, and he fought valiantly.  The problem is it just wasn’t quite enough.  He was not quite as geared as the healers we lost, and had not been raiding with us all this time…  so was having to learn the boss strategies on the fly.  On top of these, the raid itself was just not quite what it should have been.  I feel like the evidence was the fact that Teamspeak was deathly silent, which is not a usual thing.  When we are doing well we are chatty and happy and picking on Rylacus, but last night…  no one was talking at all.

We started off trying Gruul but after a half dozen wipes realized we didn’t quite have what it took last night to down it.  From there we moved back to Highmaul Heroic, and managed to down Kargath and Butcher before hitting a similar wall on Brakenspore.  We finally called the night, hoping to regroup on Thursday and see what we can do.  If the gods bless us, we will have back the two healers that were absent and hopefully be back in fighting form.  If not…  it isn’t the end of the world if we can’t quite progress for a  week.  We are not exactly the most cutting edge and serious of group, and I think every now and then it is a good thing for us to be reminded of that.  The health and well being of our players is worth more than our forward momentum, and I am thankful we have a raid leader that sees that…  instead of angrily grinding us into the ground.  I love my raid, even when we “wipe like nubs”.

Hunting Pearls

ffxiv 2015-02-10 23-50-34-75 Since the raid was a wash, I opted to log into Final Fantasy XIV and work on my weekly Crystal Tower quest.  With this last patch and the entrance of the World of Darkness casual raid, they introduced a quest to do all three dungeons and collect pearls and turn them back in at a quest giver in Mor Dhona.  Since I had a bit of time I queued up for Labyrinth of the Ancients and was pleasantly surprised at just how smoothly it went.  Normally there are wipes around every corner, but I guess at this point folks are trying to complete the quest, and as such are far over geared for the place.  I lost every roll on any of the cosmetic gear, but was in and out of the raid quickly enough for me to contemplate running Syrcus Tower as well.  Unfortunately it did not go quite as smoothly as Labyrinth, and we suffered some pretty massive wipe fests.  That said folks silently struggled through and we managed to clear it still within thirty minutes of starting.

ffxiv 2015-02-10 23-49-54-59 Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your take… I had completely World of Darkness collecting its pearl on Monday night, but not running the other other two.  As a result I was able to turn in the quest and get my Carboncoat.  This allows you to “un-weather” any of the Poetics accessories turning them into ilvl 130 items.  Unfortunately I am not sure how to get Carbontwine the item needed to do the same for the Ironworks armor pieces, other than the extremely grindy method of turning in 6 Unstained Mark Logs.  I think I will likely wait for 2.55 since it is more than likely that they will let World of Darkness start dropping both Carboncoat and Carbontwine just like Syrcus Tower drops Oil of Time and Sands of Time.  It is unlikely that we will be raiding anything bleeding edge enough for me to need to be level 130 geared.  In any case my running around in Final Fantasy XIV while chatting with the Free Company made the evening seem a tad bit less dismal, which I guess is what ultimately mattered.  Hopefully we will regroup on Thursday and kick some ass to make up for the rather crummy Tuesday.

Melusine Down

I’m an Adjective?

There are just some days that it hits me how surreal my life can be.  I seem to be having one of those days.  I talked a bit about being called a “Cult Leader” last night, but apparently somewhere along the line I have become an adjective as well?  If I would say I am most known for anything it would be that I blog each and every morning regardless if I have anything of any real gravity to talk about.  If you follow Jaedia and Simcha you would have found out that this is apparently now termed the “Bel Method” because both of them have been dabbling with it of late.  I didn’t even know I had a method to be honest…  I just do this thing that involves blogging before I am actually awake.  I am pretty sure people were rambling aimlessly long before I showed up, and will continue to do it long after I am gone.  Though I do admit I got a great chuckle when I read that I have transcended humanity and now have become a “thing”.

Which makes it all the more humorous when the other day, I was mentioned in a conversation I was not really even participating in yet.  My good friend Fynralyl mentioned on twitter that she was downloading Final Fantasy XIV, and before I even had a chance another friend… who is not even playing the game chimed in with our server information.  To make it even more humorous Sigtric said the above quote, that the “#BelEffect” was going on.  I am now an effect?  I mean I realize my penchant for gathering people up and trying to get them all in the same place is rather notorious…  but has it really become an effect to be monitored?  Like I said before… it is really surreal to be referred to in adjective form.  I am attempting to take it all in stride, as a sign of affection…  but it is supremely strange.  Now I am oddly cautious to see what other characteristic I have becomes a “thing”, is my traditional “Hey Folks” greeting now going to become canonized as well?

Melusine Down

ffxiv 2015-02-09 21-34-13-41 Last night was of course our regularly scheduled raid night in Final Fantasy XIV.  We unfortunately are starting to have a good problem happen… that quite often on Monday nights we have more than enough people to do our eight man.  As a result since Paragon missed the last one, Cav offered to sit out and with that we zoned into Turn 7 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut.  This was our second week of attempts on this encounter, and last week we managed to figure out most of the bits so it was just down to refinement and polish.  We were teaching Paragon the fight from scratch, but he was a pretty quick study and before long we were back to where we left off last week.  This fight is largely about managing adds, either in the form of the Renauds that need to be frozen with cursed voice or the Lamias that need to be burned down as soon as possible to lower overall raid damage.  On top of all of these things…  there is just a phenomenal amount of damage going out.  There were so many times I was praying for my next cooldown so that I could survive just a little bit longer.

The turning point in our fight was honestly when we wiped because all of the Renaud that were frozen woke up at the same time.  Prior to that the attempt was extremely smooth, and then we watched as the giants ran around wiping the raid.  From that point on we started trying to manage just how many of them we had up at a once, and I started trying to do a better job of centering myself with the wall of them.  These two tweaks lead to me getting frozen significantly less, and the wall of adds being more manageable as a whole.  It was I believe one attempt after we started this strategy that we managed to get her down, and clear Turn 7 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut.  Once again Ashgar remembered to tell folks to pose before we opened the chests, and I am super glad that he did… because this really is the best kill shot yet.  I remembered to be centered in the photo rather than on one of the edges.  We went into Turn 8 shortly after and only stayed long enough to get an idea of how the room works.  Hopefully we can all watch some videos this week and make a good solid attempt next.

I Hate Oregorger

Yesterday I stumbled onto a blog post over on AskMrRobot showing how wipes on Oregorger compare to the raids average ilevel.  I know we are still fairly low ilevel wise as a raid, I personally am only around 660 because we jumped straight from 7/7 normal and 5/7 heroic to doing normal mode Blackrock Foundry.  I am wondering if that is the answer to dealing with the bullshit randomness of his hunger phase is to simply out gear it.  Last Thursday when we were doing attempts on Oregorger we were following the exact pattern that everyone agrees upon is the best way to beat the fight.  In fact multiple times during the night we stopped, rewatched videos to double check that we were not doing anything wrong… and still we kept dying to the damage of the phase.  Either we were not fast enough on killing the crates, or simply lacked the gear to soak the damage.  In any case the charge above would seem to agree that maybe Oregorger is simply a “gearing” thing.  Had we entered Blackrock wearing full heroic gear… maybe it just would not have even been an issue.

In any case my hope is that by some sheer miracle of luck that we can down him because I want so bad to have this fight on farm status.  I feel like both Gruul and the Hans’gar/Franzor encounter are likely on farm status after last week.  I am wondering if there is something else that is low hanging fruit we can pick up while waiting on our gear level to raise before wrecking Oregorger.  From what I understand the other boss we can try is Beastlord Darmac since Blackrock Foundry employs a “wing” strategy to its layout.  Whatever we end up doing, I am looking forward to getting in tonight and smashing more Iron Horde faces.  While much of the shiny of this expansion has faded for me, I am finding that  the raiding is keeping me engaged and interested.  While I may only be logging in to fiddle with my Garrison on nights other than the raid…  I am still very much enjoying each and every boss fight.

Lost in Maguuma


starwarslego_atap Yesterday was a bit of a busy day for many reasons.  Firstly getting home super late Saturday night, and then recording AggroChat extremely late, meant that more or less I just straight up crashed instead of editing the recording.  This meant first thing yesterday morning I had to edit the podcast and post it.  After that I of course still had a blog to write, and needed to spend some time working on another article as well.  Throughout all of this there were two problems.  Firstly I had a splitting headache the likes of which I have not seen in almost a year.  Secondly it was absolutely gorgeous outside, with the temperatures rising up to roughly 80* F yesterday.  So my wife and I hemmed and hawed as to whether or not we would actually go do anything.  Finally around 3pm yesterday afternoon we decided to get outside and go wandering about.

I’ve talked about the fact that any town of a decent size around me has a Wal-mart.  It has always been this way, because quite honestly I live in the Wal-mart heartland, with Bentonville the home office only about two hours away.  The first first Wal-mart supercenter in existence is about 30 minutes away in the town of Wagoner for example.  Big Wal-mart stores are boring, utilitarian and predictable… but going to smaller less shopped stores often provides this strange melange of products that they still have on the shelf.  Each store has a certain amount of discretion as to what they can clearance, so this means that shopping multiple stores might yield completely different results.  As such a few times of the year it is prime territory for hunting down clearance Legos.

We set forth on an adventure that took us through three very small locations, and while my wife found more interesting stuff than I did, at the second store…  a store I had good luck with last year…  I managed to pick up a couple of really cool Star Wars sets at a deep discount.  First up I found the Lego AT-AP walker which was originally $60 for the much more reasonable price of $30.  Then at a considerably worse deal I picked up the originally $25 General Grievous Wheel Bike set for $19… which admittedly I only jumped at because the General Grievous figure is just so badass looking.  This season honestly has been pretty slim pickings, largely because Wal-mart has started doing this annoying thing.  They will throw something on clearance… and change the sticker color to red…  but have the item marked at its normal price.  Essentially I look up each Lego set and if the savings is not 50% off I generally don’t jump at it.  This has netted me some pretty cool finds like the SWTOR Sith Fury for $60 but in order to find them… you have to be diligent, and for me the fun is more about the hunt than the finding.

Lost In Maguuma

Gw2 2015-02-09 06-06-51-36 One of the other things of note that happened yesterday while watching the return of Walking Dead is that I managed to hit level 60 on my Warrior in Guild Wars 2.  I am still knee deep in the Maguuma jungle region and right now I find myself shifting between Sparkfly Fens and Bloodtide Coast, largely be cause the Fens simply got too “big” for me as I kept wandering into level 62 areas and having to deal with constant glancing blows.  This leaves me 20 levels to go before I hit the Guild Wars 2 endgame, whatever that might be.  One of the things that has always bothered me about this game is that I never managed to max a character out.  Eighty levels is a rather daunting task, especially when you don’t find yourself really enjoying the game play.  That said I am generally known for having multiple max level characters in any game I play, so it felt like a weak spot in my armor that I could not stomach the grind in this one game.

Maguuma region is a bit of a slog, which has me concerned for the Heart of Thorns expansion.  I really do not like Jungle or Swamp regions in video games.  I was having a blast so long as I stuck to the snowy peaks of the Norn regions, but once I wandered into the swampy zombie filled wasteland…  the fun factor of the game went down significantly.  Here is hoping that I can stomach it just enough to graduate into the higher zones.  All of the guides I have read say that I should really be doing dungeons to level…  but I am admittedly scared of them.  The shitty dungeon experience was what ended up killing the game for me the first time.  Right now I am enjoying the soloing over world gameplay style, and I am afraid if I go into the dungeons again… and they end up still being the chaotic and exploitative mess that they were originally… that it will enrage me enough to halt my journey.

The Real Game

Albion-Online 2015-01-29 23-14-44-84 One of the biggest frustrations for me when it comes to online games is when a massive shift in the way the game feels happens.  Most games have this highly tailored starter experience to ease players into the game, and then something happens as though the really polished section of the game flew away.  Sometimes this transition is gradual, and other times it is quite literally like having the bottom dropped out from under you.  I’ve not written much about Albion Online because to some extent I fell off that rather steep cliff.  The first two tiers of content felt really fun and natural as I wandered around the world collecting resources to be able to craft nifty things.  Then I reached tier 3… and the fun drained away quickly.  The game up until that point had been around gathering materials and lugging them back to town so that you could use the crafting machines and fashion them into whatever you might like.  When you hit Tier 3, the crafting machines start charging you a fee to use them.  This is the equivalent of having to pay every time you need to use the anvil in a World of Warcraft town.

The problem with this is that there really aren’t that many gold fountains that I have seen so far, but the machine problem ends up to be a rather massive gold sink.  Granted at this point I don’t even know if there is such a thing as gold in the game… because I have only managed to gather up a few silver to my name.  Admittedly this is their pricing scheme… to get players to purchase gold, to ease the process of playing the game.  According to the pricing listed on the founders pack information, it looks like $20 would get you 4500 gold, and $50 would get you 12,000 gold.  Not that either of these is an absolutely insane price for what seems to be the purchasing power that gets you, but I have essentially stopped playing because I quickly realized this game was unsustainable without either grinding bandits for days…  or plunking down some cold hard cash for a game that was only mildly enjoyable in the first place.  This is a bit of a shame, because really Albion does have some really interesting ideas at work.  I might piddle with it off and on still to see just how deep  the money chasm is, but if nothing else for the time being it has most definitely halted my forward momentum.