A Warm Blanket

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Today marks the beginning of the whole “Daily Creative Thing” business and while you might have been expecting something from me…  unfortunately you can’t really expect me to get up and do creativity by six in the morning.  Sitting down and writing out a blog post is challenging enough.  I am however planning on making something happen today or tonight depending upon when the muse hits me.  The other big thing going on today is that it is my Nineteenth wedding anniversary, and while I am not entirely certain what we are doing to mark the occasion yet I am sure we will come up with something.  In truth what it will probably mean is that my wife and I go out to dinner, and then wander around hitting the various stores and checking to see if they have started marking down their back to school stuff yet.  “School Supply Season” is like Christmas for my wife, and while this is not exactly the normal thing for people to get excited about…  it is for a teacher.  I’ve spent many an hour over the years scrounging for one last folder or ruler or package of gluesticks for her classroom.

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Work is still madness and I am still finding myself deep in the throes of turtle mode.  Honestly more than anything what happens during these times is I resort to comfort gaming.  I end up dusting off a game that I had not been playing that much and spend a significant chunk of time roaming around its world.  Lately that has meant an awful lot of Rift because much like Phantasy Star Online yesterday… I carry a significant torch for this game as well.  In honor of the occasion I decided to vary up my default wardrobe a bit from what I had been running around in the first screenshot… to what I am now running around in…  which is honestly mostly just some dye and swapping a few pieces.  I never managed to hit the “Prophecy of” level cap and I’ve just been working my way through any of the content that I had left to do in various zones.  So far the thing that I am liking the most about the content is the way that each zone has this major event that takes place at the very end of the zone that ties up a bunch of loose threads from various quests and packages it neatly in this really epic fight.  In many ways Rift feels like a game from a different time, and this has both good and bad aspects to it.  The bad is it feels much slower than other MMOs and the time to kill and time to level can feel a little grating at times.  However on the good side this is also this same thing that makes it feel familiar and lived in…  and something that I can return to over and over to wear it like a blanket.  The main problem that I have with Rift that ultimately causes me to wander away is that I don’t have my social infrastructure here.  My circle of friends that I record the podcast and game on a nightly basis with…  have moved on past this game and will likely never return.  At this point I think I am just too set in my ways to branch out and build new communities, and I also know that I will soon return to the fold and wander away from the game myself.

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Another game I have been playing a not insignificant amount of is Fallout 4.  This runs pretty damned smoothly on the laptop and it has been a recent go to for when I want to wander around a world and explore a bit.  In the theme of carrying torches for games… I have loved Fallout since I saved up my pennies to buy the first game when it released back in 1997.  I was going to college at the time and not really buying many games, but still made a beeline to Walmart to pick it up once I knew they had it in stock.  Side note… that was literally the only place in town that sold PC games and was before the mass expansion of Game Stop.  At that point Software Etc and Babbages still existed as separate entities as well as Comp USA and the unrelated Circuit City and Computer City.  When the games made the tradition to the open world format I was skeptical but quickly got on board thanks to my love of the Elder Scrolls games.  Now the modern Fallout games serve as this familiar touchstone that I can keep returning to anytime I need solace.  I’ve started countless games of Fallout 3 and New Vegas and it seems like now I am carrying that tradition over into Fallout 4 as well.  My default play mode tends to be to wander towards a corner of the map and do whatever happens to be there.  I am not really big for following larger quests in this game, and I likely would have never actually beaten it were it not for the fact that we chose this as a game club game… and I felt obligated to do so.  Gaming in general for me is not ever really about beating the game… but more about existing in that game world for a period of time.  The game world of choice is determined by whatever mood I happen to be in.  Fallout for me tends to be for when I am in a slower paced mood and want to wander around aimlessly dispensing frontier justice on the raiders.

 

Exploring Draumheim

Great Sell-Off

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Normally this morning I would go into my new game picks for the coming week to serve as alternate writing fodder to Blaugust.  However that is not going to happen because I am not really feeling like writing that post today.  I am struggling right now with a mix of allergies and asthma that have conspired to make me miserable.  One of the things about being sick is that you tend to surround yourself by things that feel comfortable or nostalgic.  Just as there is comfort food, there is also comfort gaming… and when I feel like shit I find myself wandered off into games I have pushed to the side.  Essentially when I am feeling my worst I am lease capable of dealing with the stress of interacting with other people.  As such yesterday and last night I ventured into a realm where almost nobody knows my name anymore…  Telara.  Rift was one of my games of the week for this past week, and with it comes a series of problems. Namely when I log in I am staring at a bag and bank full of dimension items and crafting materials.  I am not sure if you are the same as me in this aspect, but if my bags are a mess there are so many times I will log in and then log right back out because I cannot be bothered to fix that situation.  Honestly if I don’t do something quickly in Final Fantasy XIV I will be nearing that point as all of my retainers are clogged and my inventory continues to get more and more semi-permanent additions.

With Rift however I finally did something drastic.  Last October Rift released the Nightmare Tides expansion, and I still don’t have a character to the new level cap of 65.  During this time I have been accumulating crafting materials from doing the Minions minigame, and quite honestly I have more than I will ever actually use.  By the time I actually get around to hitting the level cap I will more than likely have just as much materials I do now.  So instead I decided to reinstall BananAH and post every single crafting material on the Auction House.  It cost a lot of plat to post everything, but luckily by the end of the night I had managed to quadruple the amount of plat I had going into this experiment, and there are still a bunch of auctions up there that may or may not have sold over night.  The money gained was a side benefit, the real mission was simply to clear the shit out of my inventory.  At some point I will do the same with the various housing bits, because there are some things I will quite literally never end up using in any design.  With the bags clear however I finally felt like I could actually go out into the world questing, and it improved my outlook on the game considerably.

Figuring Logistics

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While the great sell-off took care of one issue keeping me from playing Rift, I still had another big one standing in my way.  Rift has quite possibly one of the most complicated character creation systems, namely that for a given class you can have any combination of three different souls from a pool of ten potential souls for each slot.  If my math is correct… and I would seriously question that… but I believe that gives us 120 possible combinations with a pool of 76 talent points to distribute between your three trees.  What I am trying to say is that basically every time I decide to play the game it requires a bunch of research on my part to determine what the current “viable” builds are and what purposes they serve.  To say that Rift changes a lot is an understatement…  they are constantly patching the game and tweaking things and often times these have ramifications have effects that trickle out and make or break the last patches specs.  The class that I tend to care about the most however is the Warrior, and while I have a level 60 rogue and a level 60 cleric…  I tend to mostly focus on Belghast first and foremost.  So over the last week I have poked around the Class Guide forums and stumbled onto one that looked promising titled:  Warrior Solo Leveling (61-65).  Luckily it was not too far off from the build that I had tried leveling with before, so I was able to tweak out my hot bars without much issue.

One of the big strengths of Rift is also one of it’s great weaknesses.  The macro system is excellent and allows you to do some really interesting things with it.  The problem being the game also gives you so many sideways and optional abilities that you feel like you are required to macro everything together for fear that you miss some opportunity for not having 32 fingers to hit abilities with.  The big thing I like about this incarnation of the soloing build is that essentially I am really only using one macro, and all that does is chain a series of high cool-down single target abilities onto Empowering Strike.  The combo point dump abilities are on my bar separately, as is the main reactionary ability that I hit after using one of them.  The feeling is that things are less random than they have felt before when I have played a suggested spec.  I am hitting buttons largely because I know what the effect is going to be, and because I want to use it at that moment.  Sure I still have one single mixed bag ability, but it feels like it is less important than the things I am not macroing.  The other big thing is that it seems like my survival has gone up significantly, which was a huge problem I had previously.  I am still under level for the region I am hunting in, but I am wondering if that just means that I missed something important in the previous zone.

Exploring Draumheim

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At this point I had a spec and I had clean enough bags to be able to venture out into the world.  I had two ports available in Draumheim so I grabbed one and hoped that I had picked the right one.  It seems that I did as when I landed there were numerous quests available.  The zone is extremely cool with all manner of nightmarish abominations wandering around in the midst of the ocean that is being drained away.  The coolest thing about Draumheim is that it seems to be a nightmarish echo of Telara.  There are numerous places in the zone that represent areas from the game, for example there is absolutely a version of Meridian and Sanctum as well as a nightmarish version of Port Scion.  Similarly I ran into a copy of the great toad-like Greenscale, who represented the aspect of hunger.  When I first attempted to play Nightmare Tides I was not sure if I liked it or not, largely because I am not the biggest fan of underwater settings in MMOs.  Now almost a year later the subtlety of the expansion is starting to sink in.  It is less about us traveling to the physical plane of water, and more about us traveling into the physical manifestation of dreams and nightmares.  Nothing in the zones are quite what they seem, and last night I ended up helping out a series of existentially confused hay bales…  and I am not making that up… they are quite literally named that.

I still wish we had a more directed questing experience similar to the old world.  I know they went in this direction as a way of distancing themselves from the standard questing format of MMOs, but personally I find it somewhat lacking.  The story that is there is really good, but there just doesn’t feel like there is enough of it.  Mostly it feels like you can’t get through the content by only following the quests.  Instead of feeling like questing is optional it feels like I have to do every single quest, and do every single carnage quest that pops up when you kill any mobs…  and still do some dungeons or instant adventures or you run into the situation I am in… where I am one to two levels below the content I am  trying to do.  The leveling experience is much less directed, and this is a change that went in with Storm Legion… but the end result in both expansions was me constantly wondering what I am supposed to be doing next.  For most MMOs the leveling experience gets better over time, but I feel like Rift went in the opposite direction.  I get it that quest content is fairly expensive to create, and without the subscription model they don’t have that stable source of monthly income to keep said quest content coming.  The quests that are here however are really good, and one I did last night took me through a series of “computers” that showed little recorded vignettes from the past, all of them fully voice acted.  I like all of the things they have done to make finding quests more interactive…  but I wish we had more hub based quests as well to fill in the gaps in content.  I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy myself however, because I absolutely did.  I needed a game where I could be anonymous and lose myself in the experience of playing an MMO, and that is precisely what Rift gave me yesterday.  I still very much love Trion and the team behind Rift, and it is one of the games I will continue to suggest people check out on a regular basis.  I feel like they did the absolute best job of a free to play conversion that I have experienced to date, and I am willing to keep giving them more of my money.  I am just nostalgia for the way that questing used to feel in Rift is all.

Comfort Gaming

Tamiflu Chasers

Over the last several days I have talked about my own respiratory misery.  My focus over this time had been on somehow surviving through to Friday and not making a complete and total ass of myself during my presentation.  It seems that I was at least somewhat successful in that mission, however during all of this time I seem to have neglected the fact that my wife had been getting progressively worse.  It reached a head last night when at bedtime she was running a 101* temperature.  This morning she teetered back and forth on whether or not we should go to urgent care.

For those not familiar with the absolutely fucked up medical system here in the United States… Urgent Care is this weird beast that sits somewhere between your doctors office and the actual emergency room.  The idea is to create a construct that allows you to get after hours emergency style treatment for non-life-threatening ailments.  In the master plan the insurance providers tend to treat these like doctors office visits, and as such you only have to pay one neat co-pay.  The problem is… they are insanely deluged with patients.  Our local Urgent Care place opens at 9 am on Saturday, and we were there mere moments after opening… and the waiting room was already completely filled.

I dropped my wife off at her suggestion, and ran around running errands in the meantime.  We are both a bit concerned that I will catch something since firstly… I was born with a naturally weakened immune system, and secondly… that my lungs are already in a pretty severely compromised state.  I felt like an ass for her waiting alone, but she and I texted back and forth throughout the morning.  At roughly 10:30 I picked her up and she was brandishing a prescription for tamiflu.  She was in fact diagnosed with the real life full blown Flu, and unfortunately despite my yearly flu shot this puts me in a pretty bad place for likely catching it from her.

As a result I am in the process this morning of trying to get ahold of my own primary care physician to attempt to procure a preventative prescription for tamiflu as well.  Needless to say my morning did not go anywhere near planned and as a result I am finally sitting down to write a blog post.  With all the excitement I don’t really have a whole lot to say.  Or at least nothing more exciting than what has already transpired.

Comfort Gaming

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One of the best things I have discovered in the past year is the Alternative Chat podcast.  If you are not in fact already an avid listener you should make steps to rectify that.  In the latest episode the Godmother of Faff mentions a term that is so uniquely perfect, that I am shocked I had never heard it used before now.  “Comfort Gaming” is a concept that is very near and dear to my heart, but I never really had an adequate term for it.  There are so many gaming experiences that I can return to time and time again when I am in the need of some solace.  Here in Oklahoma we are big on “comfort food” with our heaping piles of mashed potatoes and white gravy and our chicken fried steak.  This same concept applied to gaming also makes sense.

I guess in a way WoW is my comfort gaming.  I spent so much time trying to move past the game, but in fighting it I was denying the fact that I really did enjoy it and the people who play it.  Sure there are so many games out there that do one thing or another so much better than the World of Warcraft.  Games like Rift are pinnacles of technical brilliance with their deep systems within systems.  However something just gets lost in the translation at times, and in all of my years of wandering between games I have found another game that fullfilled so many of the little high points I have looked for in a single package.  Playing wow, questing, farming, exploring, collecting transmoggy bits, soloing old world content… all feels comfy.

Crawling back into the game this time was like breaking out that worn out pair of jeans that just feels amazing.  There is nothing new under the sun in wow, and it is not exactly a pinnacle of innovation…  but what you have here is a really great mix of fun ways to spend your time.  I created my WoW Bucket list as a way to have something to fall back on when I got bored.  Thing is with the great number of people I have assembled in my guild… I have yet to really get bored enough to search on the list for some purpose.  Purpose seems to find me constantly in either helping someone else out or getting a wild whim that I want to follow.

So as I embrace the year of faff, I am also embracing “comfort gaming”.  WoW is by no means the only comfort game I have.  I find myself able to crawl back into the Fallout or Elder Scrolls worlds and get lost for an entire afternoon at a time.  Similarly I am deeply looking forward to the release of Elder Scrolls Online… because that universe is one I supremely love.  However saying that, I have no real intent to abandon the World of Warcraft.  It scratches an itch for me, and in part is that way because of the amazing people that are playing it.  While I could never play a game only for the people… the mixture of absolute fun activities and amazing folks makes the game as sticky as ever for me.