Goal Accomplished

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Memories of Other Times

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This weekend saw me succumbing to nostalgia, but not in the method you might think.  With all the talk of the Warcraft movie, one would assume that I spent my entire weekend playing that game.  However instead I wound up spending nearly the entire weekend playing the game that ultimately first took me away from World of Warcraft in a significant way.  There were some events that happened this past week, and I ended up finding out that a friend of mine had passed away suddenly.  That friend is someone I first met during the launch of Rift when they were part of the community team, and from that point on we kept in contact through the other games we both moved to.  Of note… I am never too far from Rift, and I am rarely more than a patch behind when I inevitably fire up Glyph to peek my head in.  I’ve subscribed to the game more time than I have not since it launched back in 2011, and I’ve watched the game evolved through expansions and the shift to free to play and have remained one of the few of my friends that carries a heavy torch for the game.  The problem being that in order to do a lot of the things I want to do with the game… I need a body of active players.  While we have had several resurgences into playing Rift, the last of which seeing the forming of House Stalwart on Faeblight  during July or 2013.  The only problem being this lasted a few blissful months and then once again we were all fading away from the game to play other things… myself included.

Something shifted as well with the way content was structured in the old world versus content in both Storm Legion and Nightmare Tide.  In the original game I managed to level three classes to 50 happily before finally running out of steam.  In Storm Legion I managed to push my warrior up to 60, and a significant time later managed to barely  push up my rogue up just before the release of Nightmare Tide.  The latest expansion however…  for whatever reason I just hit high center and never quite managed to near the level cap.  When I logged in this weekend I was sitting at level 62 and had been there for quite awhile.  There was something about the way the zones were designed, that firstly greatly increased my inborn tendency to wander off aimlessly.  This exacerbated another problem that I have had in the newer content… and that is I seem to be able to completely lose the quest chains in the mix and fail to follow them ultimately finding out I am entire zones behind in trying to follow any semblance of a leveling path.  So instead I would wander about and grind mobs, mostly doing carnage quests… which are these kill X quests that appear in the wild as you well…  will mobs.  This is an extremely slow way to level and after a few hours of doing this… and not really seeing the level bar move terribly much I would wander away like a bored child into some other game.

Instant Adventures

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Now a little over a year after the launch of the game, the good folks at Trion introduced a system called Instant Adventures.  This was single-handedly the best re-purposing of content I have experienced in a game.  There are a number of things that happen while you quest your way through a zone, and instant adventures is essentially taking all of these tasks and placing them end to end…  and aiding the flow by offering the occasional teleport to the next area and the next set of objectives.  The result is this mindless train that you can hop on and just focus on the mission at hand, and in the process getting a bunch of planar currency and the occasional gear filled chest in the process.  I’ve always found these an extremely fun way to level at low levels, because you can just literally hit a button and start getting fed small bite sized objectives to focus on, which is the perfect manner to grind alts.  The only negative however is that the gear chests are nowhere near as plentiful as they come be… and you often times wind up significantly behind the curve in equip-able items.  Over the weekend while recording the AggroChat podcast for example I started a character on the EU server Zaviel and started leveling through Instant Adventure.  I shot up the twenty in no time flat…  however I am still largely wearing sub level 10 gear other than a handful of really amazing items that I happened to went through the adventures.  That said… this is a fun way to level a character and so long as you are riding the train the gear disparities are largely not that bit of an issue thanks to a bit of a bolstering system in place.

Last year they extended this Instant Adventure system to raids, and released Hammerknell as what they called an “Intrepid Adventure”.  The result is something halfway between World of Warcraft LFR, and an Instant Adventure that involves going through the raid and its trash packs…  that have been chopped up and fed back to you in neat bite sized chunks.  The thing that I find interesting is just how many mechanics have managed to make it into the Intrepid adventures, and that the saving grace seems to be that you can simply zerg your way back to the boss after every death instead of needing to wait for a rez.  Roughly a month ago they released the second raid as an intrepid adventure based on the Mind of Madness raid.  While I had a blast doing Hammerknell on a whim a year ago, I never wound up sticking around for long.  This time around however I had a mission in mind…  figure out a way to level from 62 to 65.  I’ve felt like a failure for quite a while that I never managed to hit the level cap this time around.  So Friday night when I hopped into game I headed straight for the queue for Mind of Madness and found myself enjoying both the content I was participating in and the speed at which I found myself leveling.  Both Saturday and Sunday mornings I wound up sitting in one spot for a couple of hours and finally convinced myself to use some of those patron boosts that I had been sitting on for ages.  Sure enough when you add in a +160% experience boost to the already good experience of Intrepid Adventures… the levels quite literally fly by.  Sunday morning about noon I found myself with a newly minted level 65 character…. wearing a mismash of gear I picked up through the weekly patron crates… but somehow managing to qualify for expert dungeons.

Expert Grind

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Now at some point during the weekend I had installed a dps meter because I was curious if I was actually doing okay… or if I was somehow struggling.  When it comes to Intrepid adventures I seemed to be doing just fine with my dps usually running around third place or at least within a contentious pack hanging around that spot.  I leveled for the most part with a high survival dps build 44 warlord, 32 champion, 0 paragon.  This worked great for uptime and the ability to never need to really heal myself, however apparently it is a less than amazing build when it comes to running “end game” content.  Being dumb however I just hit the queue button and hoped everything would be just fine.  The end result was myself lagging so far behind the rest of the dps that I got called out on it almost immediately.  We wiped over and over because we lacked the dps to tackle the encounters the manner in which folks in experts apparently are used to running them…  namely in an ignore all mechanics push the boss as fast as you can and always get the speed run bonus manner.  I dropped from the party and wished them luck…  and in truth in spite of calling me out on the dps they managed to do so in a far more polite manner than would have happened in other communities.  From there I went back to the drawing board and found my way once again to the warrior guides section of the Rift forums.  Here I cobbled together a 61 Paragon 10 Warlord build that seemed to work okay…  out in the world I can burst down most things before they really have a chance to damage me, but if you put me in an extended fight or a multi target fight I struggle.  So I will probably continue to swap between it and my “Solo” build just for my own sanity.

The result was immediate and evident that the bulk of my problems in experts were spec.  Granted I still grossly under gear the tier 3 raiders that are regularly running experts these days,  however this time around I was able to out dps the tanks and healers.  Over the course of yesterday I ran five for six experts and managed to cobble together some upgrades.  I am still wearing several pieces of otherwise crap gear…  but my hope is through running a bunch of experts I will either be able to mitigate that through spending currency or through getting lucky drops.  In my very first expert I managed to complete I ended up getting a really nice purple two-handed axe so it seems like the loot gods have been smiling on me.  This is not at all how I intended to spend my weekend, but I enjoyed it greatly regardless.  Coming back to Rift felt like going to lunch with an old friend that you had not seen in a long time.  I am not sure how long I will be around, especially given that there are other things in other games that I also want to accomplish.  However for the time being I am really enjoying myself in my renewed resurgence in the game.  I’ve always had a soft spot for my Bahmi and it feels good to be flexing those muscles once more.  With the multi-core support the game runs amazingly well on my laptop, but unfortunately still struggles quite a bit on my AMD based desktop.  The guild in Faeblight is empty, and I was alone for almost the entire weekend so that alone makes me wonder if this is sustainable.  However I have the Rift discord channel to keep me company, and if I wind up staying I might end up needing to move Belghast elsewhere to find the support of a more active guild.  Regardless it was an enjoyable weekend and I managed to mark one goal that had been bugging me for quite some time off that list in the back of my head.


Building a Better Wardrobe

Allergy Apocalypse

I have been more than a bit out of it over the last few days.  Here in Oklahoma every allergy index be it mold spore or tree pollen has been through the roof.  This means that I have been living in a permanent daze.  The frustrating thing is that sooner or later it starts to piss off my Asthma and over the last few days that has finally happened.  It is extremely hard to keep a constant thread going in my head when I am in this situation so I want to thank you all for bearing with me.  I am sure I will be making the occasional unintelligible statement.  I promise the things I say make sense in my head, but often times there is a translation layer that gets obliterated by the allergen haze.  The frustrating thing is I am quite literally taking as much as I possibly can to combat it.  I am not really sure why things are so bad this year, but even people who do not normally have problems are struggling.

So for the time being I am going to keep pushing forward and trying to write posts that make sense.  Sometimes this will work, other times it will very much not work.  Unfortunately this same stupor has been extending to my gaming.  All night on Tuesday night I felt like I was disconnected from reality, and it was significantly more than just being in a funk with Warcraft.  My reflexes are much slower than normal, and I get frustrated with myself when I don’t perform at the level I have come to expect.  My instinct is to hide away for awhile and simply not group with other people, but I am going to try and fight that since my guildies are extremely understanding individuals.  Hopefully this will pass soon, and I will start to feel like a human being once more.  In the mean time…  this really sucks.

Building a Better Wardroberift 2015-04-16 06-04-09-97

Yesterday I vented some of my frustrations about the reported 6.2 content patch in World of Warcraft.  The bulk of my frustrations centered around the timewalking system, and how I expected it to finally be a mentoring system.  I was reminded in the comments however that there is another game out there with an extremely robust mentoring system.  So as a result I patched up Rift yesterday and poked my head around it once more.  It turns out that yesterday just happened to be the day the latest patch dropped.  Among other things this introduced an extremely robust wardrobe system,  one that I would honestly call the best available currently.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know just how important cosmetic systems are to me.  I like swapping the appearance of my gear, and I tend to collect looks to reuse later.  In fact my bank in most games is full of items that I thought might be interesting to use eventually.

rift 2015-04-16 06-05-00-63 What makes the system so awesome is that as you are out in the world each time you pick up a new item you collect its appearance.  Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3 have similar systems, but what sets the Rift model ahead of these two is the fact that you can swap your items around freely without a currency or token expense.  Another nice feature is that in Rift you have forty wardrobe slots that can be unlocked allowing you to create a vast array of interesting looks.  While the wardrobe system had that functionality before, what it adds is the ability to also control the dye options at the outfit level.  It seems like I got a basic set of dye colors with the ability to unlock more.  Also an improvement is the removal of the item appearance system and inclusion of it into the wardrobe system.  Instead of having to use a bauble to change the look of your weapon you now just item slots that allow you to pick from the weapon graphics that you know.  To make all of this more awesome, the unlocks happen at a region level meaning you have access account wide across all of your characters on that server region.

Freeing Bank Space

rift 2015-04-16 06-28-35-38 Since I had collected weapons and armor that I happened to like the appearance of over the course of my time leveling in Rift, I had stacks of the stuff in my bank.  With the addition of this new wardrobe system it meant that every last bit of it could be removed either through selling it or what I ended up doing… salvaging it for crafting materials.  The problem with the implementation of this system coming so late is that I have gotten rid of so much already.  The cool thing is that I am a high level crafter for pretty much every armor type, so at some point I want to burn through some of my old materials crafting sets of stuff just to get the appearance unlock.  This seems like potentially the easiest and least expensive way to get lots of unlocks quickly.  For the time being I have enough items to give me a wide range of options to swap back and forth between.  I especially like having access to some of the gear sets I purchased for my rogue, letting me mix things up a bit with the heavy plate gear my warrior wears.

rift 2015-04-16 06-33-09-55 Admittedly one of the biggest things that keeps me from playing Rift is the fact that my inventory is out of control.  I cannot bring myself to get rid of anything… and thanks to the Minion system I am absolutely swimming in dimension items.  The vast majority of the items in my bank are somehow related to the dimension system.  At some point I need to actually start working on a zone.  For the time being I have a Stoneflask Tavern instance loaded with lots of other big objects that I have picked up along the way.  Right now I have something like six additional buildings that I picked up along the way and added to the instance.  The problem is it makes no sense currently, and I will need to spend some time making it make sense.  I really like the large prefab buildings, because it gives you a lot of space while only consuming a single dimension item slot.  I keep thinking this is going to be a weekend project, of working on my dimension…  but that never actually happens.  In fact Rift as a whole has been one of those games that I wanted to return to, but find myself just not logging into it.  There is so much interesting stuff going on, I just wish it grabbed my attention more often.

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.

New Kind of Creepy

Extra Life Hangover

Yesterday was a really strange day for me.  In part I am simply not used to staying up as late as I ended up doing for my leg of the marathon.  When it came time for me to get offline and got to sleep around 2:30 in the morning my time, I found that I couldn’t do it.  I tossed and turned trying to calm back down enough to actually sleep.  It might have been the monster I had about midnight, or it might have just been the adrenaline of having streamed, but in whatever case it took me until probably 3:30 to finally sleep.  When I got back up around 9:30 that morning I was feeling groggy as hell, but also feeling like I should attempt to get up and around for the day.  Everything about the day just felt “off”.  By the time I got out of the house to get breakfast, they were out of sausage rolls.

I generally edit AggroChat Saturday night and upload it, so instead I had to do all of that yesterday morning.  By the time I posted my blog post it was around 1:30 in the afternoon.  I started laundry and attempted to chill out playing some Rift, but it seemed before I even turned around that it was time for Walking Dead, and ultimately bedtime.  It felt like the day was going in fast forward, or I was stuck in slow motion one of the two.  I cannot imagine how yesterday must have felt for the folks who actually did do the entire 25 hours themselves.  I feel like I am extremely old at this point, because there was a time not too long ago that staying up til 3:30 in the morning would not have had this sort of massive negative effect.  Hell there were many times while playing WoW that I did just this for one reason or another.  All of this makes me all the more impressed for everyone who managed to complete the entire thing.

New Kind of Creepy

rift 2014-10-27 06-23-52-745 One of the things that Rift has excelled at over the years is introducing extremely creepy gameplay elements into the MMO genre.  Sure Ct’hun was a giant eyeball with tentacles…  but it never felt unsettling.  So much of the things that you end up fighting against in Rift just feel wrong somehow.  Storm Legion for example had all of these strange machinations that looked to be knitted out of mismatched piles of flesh.  Even the agents of Crucia in their gleaming storm trooper armor… felt somehow unnatural.  So when we move to the Nightmare Tide expansion you see this landscape that should be friendly.  Full of pinks, blues and greens in all manner of pastel tones that should signal something relaxing…  but trust me that just makes it all the more creepy.  Especially as you hear these disembodied siren songs echo across the zone that remind you of the mermaids song from Harry Potter gone horribly wrong.

The storyline of this expansion once again involves multiple threats forcing their way into our world.  One of the threats is familiar, the forces of Maelforge are draining the Plane of Water and invading it.  As you wander around Goboro Reef you encounter their devastation as large sections of the realm are already dry, and you help the inhabitants deal with the consequences.  This however is just the most obvious threat.  There is an undercurrent of madness as well as you start to encounter the Akvan, nightmares taken shape and form.  They follow the dark god Demogos who appears to be the embodiment of the nightmare.  This expansion seems to be taking us past the bloodstorm and into something more sinister, making the players realize that the dragons were far from the worst threat we had to face.

Wandering with Style

rift 2014-10-26 20-39-03-28 The gameplay style seems to have improved greatly over Storm Legion.  While they have still stayed far removed from the very quest hub based leveling of the first 50 levels, the replacement this time around feels far less grindy than it did in Storm Legion.  All of the Carnage quests have been reduced in number it seems, so instead of having to kill 10 to 20 of a thing, we now only have to kill 4  to 8 to get completion.  Right now my focus has not necessarily been on quest completion but on exploration.  Goboro Reef is huge, and is full of little nooks and crannies where all sorts of interesting things are hidden.  I went up into a fissure under water, that originally I thought might have just been a place where the terrain didn’t quite match.  Instead I found that it was very much a purposeful gap, because at the end of it I found a treasure chest of sorts, in the form of a lost clutch.

I like that the zones allow me to wander about without feeling like I have to be focused on this thing or that thing.  My focus right now is on getting as much Thalasite as I  can, since I have so many tradeskills to level that all require large amounts of it.  Thankfully it is fairly plentiful on the reef, but you often times have to leave the immediate clear path to find it.  Often times you have to leave dry land and go swimming into the walls of water to snake your way up onto platforms where the ore sits.  This is the process I am enjoying, the slower pace of discovery that makes this an enjoyable game to play while going through my most recent netflix binges.  Yesterday I wandered around the zone while finishing up the second season of American Horror  Story, and I found the whole experience enjoyable… both in the game and in the show.

Addicted to Minions

rift 2014-10-27 06-17-35-954 Part of what is making the piddling so damned enjoyable is the introduction of the Minions mini-game.  In essence this works similar to Crew Missions in Star Trek or Crew Skills in Star Wars the Old Republic.  You collect these cards, that represent creatures that you can then send out on missions.  You start with a single mission slot available, but you can unlock additional slots through the spending of credits.  As you can see here on the right hand side of the screen I currently have five minions going at the same time.  Each mission takes a fixed amount of time, and costs a certain amount of stamina which is the number shown with the little lightning bolt like icon on the left side of the mission and minion cards.  I am uncertain how fast stamina is recovered, but generally speaking I have been able to keep sending out minions while I play.  When a mission is completed a little demon head icon appears in your notification pane, next to the time.

Right now I have encountered four basic kinds of missions.  The first kind rewards some form of crafting material, and there are multiple flavors of these “Hunting” or “Harvesting” missions.  Certain minions have icons on them relating to one of these skills, and if you match a minion with a mission card you have a better chance of success.  Similarly there are Diplomacy missions that return items that give you notoriety with the various factions in the game.  Some of the missions are searches for Artifacts, and I have had one of these reward as many as a dozen different artifacts from any manner of zones in the game.  My personal favorite are the dimension missions, because they reward random dimension goodies, that can be anything from simple building blocks to actual dimension keys.  There is another type that is called Assassination, but I have not actually encountered these, so not sure what exactly they reward.

So as I quest around and hunt for ore I keep sending my pack of critters out on missions, and every few minutes I get rewarded with all sorts of random goodies.  One of the things about me is that I love RNG elements, especially ones that have a potentially awesome payout.  I love sending out my retainers in FFXIV on ventures because of the random and interesting things they bring back.  Minions are like this on steroids, because the payoff can be extreme.  There are 1 minute, 5 minute, 15 minute, 8 hour and 10 hour missions that I have encountered so far.  The 10 hour missions require that you either spend adventurine or credits as well as the normal minion stamina cost.  Right now I don’t have a clue how to get adventurine other than the small amount that I have gotten from purchasing the expansion, or buying a minion starter kit.  In any case this definitely fuels my “Faff” and gives every little bit of aimless wandering more purpose, because I am letting my minions go find goodies for me.  I really hope the minion game ends up getting added to the mobile application.

#Rift #ExtraLife

Familiarity in Proximity

Mega Servers Continued

A few days ago I made a post on about launch issues and game servers, and the problems and solutions that come from various server scenarios.  In my post I presented some discussion about the various styles of servers and the weaknesses that each have.  Mega Servers are an awesome technology but there are problems with it, namely that it reduces the casual proximity of players.  In my post Doone made a comment, and while I normally would have simply posted it as a reply…  I am thinking that maybe I need more space to go into my thoughts.  For sake of not having to make you jump through a bunch of hoops I am going to repose his comment here.

Im not sure why anyone thinks Megaservers make it difficult to build community? Do you mean that it’s too many people to build intimate connections? Because if thats the case, then we’re just talking about social tools, not megaserver tech. Players just need a reason to interact and that doesnt change because of megaservers.

AA’s current situation is embarrassing. Theres not any good excuses for their current situation. This isn’t the first MMO launch, not even the first MMO with land and other features that complicate server flexibility. Theyre simply unprepared for deliberate reasons. There’s just no way they didn’t know what they needed for a smooth launch.

It’s worse that people who shelled out hundreds of dollars to support development are reporting not getting that 4 day advantage they were promised. That’s a serious charge.

Should AA have gone Megaserver? I don’t see how this wasn’t mandatory given the kind of features it has. You need a vast server community that’s STABLE. And you can’t have that when your system is as inflexible as the one they’ve adopted. I think they’re sinking their own ship right now.  — Doone

While I agree with the bulk of what he said, I thought I should maybe clarify my points about mega servers.  At first glance they look like a magic bullet for the problem.  At the very least I thought they were a magic bullet for launch day woes, however they have their own problems that do not always show up early on.

Informal Community

ffxiv 2014-09-22 18-11-33-975 There is a certain kind of community that happens spontaneously by just being around the same players each and every day.  For example the above picture is that of one of the late game hubs in Final Fantasy XIV Revenants Toll in Mor Dhona.  Upon arriving at the Aetheryte crystal I am immediately seeing some familiar places that tend to frequent it.  You can see a name marked in orange as someone I have already friended.  However more than that I recognize if not the names, but the guild tags of many of the players surrounding me.  There is a sense of familiarity in seeing the same players day in and out, and when one of them is in need you are more likely to step in and help out.  This is the way friendships in MMOs used to be formed through shared activity, not just shared guild tag.

ffxiv 2014-09-14 22-10-22-567 In Final Fantasy XIV it has instanced housing wards, where you purchase a house and in theory become neighbors with lots of other players.  Our house is across the street from a Market Board which is the way that you access the auction house economy.  Over the course of weeks of being in close proximity with several other players, we have struck up a bit of a friendship.  One of which is the name in orange in the above Mor Dhona photo.  There is lots of spontaneous interaction that happens just by being around other players and gaining that sense of common goals.  This picture is when we just spontaneously put on our brand new Dragon Warrior inspired Blue Slime King hats and started dancing together.  But the interaction has spread much further than that, and I’ve helped these players out in the world beyond our neighborhood, as well as had my heart warm each time I happened to see one of them out in the wild.

A Server of Strangers

eso 2014-03-31 21-54-58-07 I’ve played many games so far that have some form of a blended server environment.  World of Warcraft for the last several years has blended the leveling zones for the entire battlegroup to make each server feel more populated.  The most recent poster child for Mega Servers however was the Elder Scrolls Online.  Before launch they made several promises about creating a situation that grouped like minded players together into virtual servers, while still all being part of a much larger farm.  While we had one of the smoothest launches since they could easily scale up the hardware temporarily, and reduce it later as needed…  there are a lot of problems that came from not being with a fixed set of players.  Admittedly some of the issues are due to the poor decisions made with the user interface.

In the above image, can you easily tell where my group mates are?  Can you tell the names of players surrounding me?  In both cases the answer is a huge nope, and this poor design choice of obfuscating information about other players only served to make the mega server concept feel that more alienating.  Everyone that was not you became another nameless faceless person taking up room and competing for your resources.  While this is the extreme, I’ve had the same thing happen in World of Warcraft when I encountered players from other servers.  It was like that they were somehow less important to me, since they didn’t share the same server lineage.  I knew that I would likely never see them again, so why even bother trying to be friendly?

Familiarity in Proximity

WoWScrnShot_102913_165101 In a traditional server structure there is familiarity in your actions.  You end up noticing players that do the same things as you do.  It might be farming a specific location on the map because you like the look of it, or crafting at a specific machine.  In hub based MMOs like World of Warcraft, you spend inordinate amounts of time milling around whatever your faction end game city tends to be.  I would spend hours running circles around Dalaran while dealing with raid and guild business over text.  While doing this I used to favor certain areas of the town and vendors, and I started taking note of who else seemed to like milling around these same places.  Over time I would start up conversations and get used to seeing the same people.  If they were gone, I would wonder what they were up to and hope that they were okay.  Over the years there are so many contacts that I have made… that ultimately turned into later guild members that I made only because I noticed they were in the same place as me and decided to strike up a conversation.

The problem with the mega server is that it destroys this kind of familiarity through proximity.  I feel like Elder Scrolls Online was the absolute worst case of this, because not only did it rob you of being around the same people all the time… it also took their names and guild tags from you.  One of the important aspects of a guild is it becomes far easier to recognize than individual player names.  Over time you start to associate a certain kind of behavior with a certain guild tag, and then when you see one of those people leading an event you have an informed decision as to whether or not this is going to be a good thing.  As a guild leader, my people were amazing and the absolute best advertising I could ever have created.  I would get random messages from players who ended up running a dungeon with one of my people, and they wanted to take time to compliment me as guild leader on how nice they were.  It is this kind of interaction with others that I hope to preserve with whatever ends up being the next server model.

The Happy Medium

2012-08-22_234640 As I said in my first post, I think there is a happy medium somewhere.  I think the ultimate version of mega servers, allows you to checkmark certain characteristics that you favor and then creates essentially a virtual server populated with the same players every time.  Similarly I think there are ways for games to maybe more easily identify players that you have interacted with in the past.  The biggest problem with Elder Scrolls Online is that every player felt anonymous.  Even my own guild members, I struggled to locate them in a mob.  This should never be the case, you should always be able to pick your friends and guild members out of the biggest sea of names and faces.  Similarly I think it is important to be able to identify players, because it allows you to form those connections in your mind that if I saw this player in my crafting hub and they are out here doing the same action…  I am invested in maybe going that next step and inviting them to a group.  I want us to keep the best aspects of the traditional server structure, and find new ways to scale them as we go forward.

I want to leave with an excellent post from Sig of Crucible Gaming called “How WoW Ruined MMO Gaming”.  While the title is hyperbole, there are some really good thoughts contained within, and it seems like Sig  mourns the interconnectivity of the previous era of gaming.  Once upon a time we needed players, and as such generally treated them better.  As games have removed the need for having other players we have eroded that base of civility.  While in many cases I think that World of Warcraft has poisoned the well in doing away with some things that were absolutely normal previously, I don’t think we are in an unredeemable state.  Final Fantasy XIV has proven to me that there can exist a game that is both social and modern at the same time… and that has a thriving and cohesive community.  I think the ultimate trick will be finding ways to take what they have done there and scale it to other games.

International Cupid

Short term commitment

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me if it would be okay if she played Elder Scrolls with the House Stalwart group.  She was not sure how into the game she was, so might only be around for a month or so.  She wanted to make sure no one would be upset with her not staying terribly long.  She was afraid that House Stalwart were more dedicated members and might take offense to that.  I of course assuaged her fears, since Stalwart as a whole is super casual and primarily a social guild.  However what came next was a realization that I am not sure I had actually admitted to myself.

When I go into one of these games I don’t really expect folks to last more than a few months.  That has been the track record with new games and our guild especially.  This was so much the case with Final Fantasy XIV that I even started what I feel is going to be a new thing for me.  When I subscribed to that game I chose to do so for three months and then immediately went into the back end and cancelled my account.  That way it would essentially self destruct after three months unless I made some form of manual intervention to renew it.  While you might think this is me not having faith in the game… it is more that I am not having faith in myself.

Other than World of Warcraft, each game I have played has been a three to six month encounter.  While there are still games that I play semi-regularly, the tempest of activity has usually died down into a spring breeze at or around the three month mark.  It feels to me that we are inherently either gaming lifers, or game jumpers.  If you look at my own guild our I would say we have roughly sixty players that have only ever played WoW and cannot imagine playing another game.  Then there is a pool of forty or so that tend to play whatever happens to be the next great game in the internet cultural zeitgeist.  This experience has lead me to the new stance of giving a game three months of subscription and then evaluating where I stand after that.

Cash Shop Expansion

rift 2014-02-13 06-28-17-76 Yesterday the big 2.6 patch went in over in Rift and I have to say I have been watching this one with a bit of excitement.  There are a ton of new features going into the game and you can read highlights of them over on this little info blurb created by Trion.  This is the point at which I am going to be a bit of a downer, because after logging in last night I realized… the things I am most interested are really freaking expensive.  A big thing they added in was the ability to start applying cosmetic skins to your pets.  This has been one of my key frustrations with the pet classes that unlike the WoW Hunter we had no real control over what our pets looked like.  There have been some really ugly pets as well… I am looking at you emaciated beastlord blue tiger thing.  Most of these have improved to where the base pet is at least passable, but I would never turn down the opportunity to tweak the appearance.

Problem is that they are really expensive, in order to get all of the new skins… something that admittedly not everyone is going to want… they are running a special on them for roughly $70 worth of in game currency.  Once the special is over however that price quadruples for the full unlock.  Individual class based unlocks are more reasonable at around $7 per class.  These are of course guesstimates based on the fact that in the $20 bundle it breaks out to be 160 credits per dollar.  I feel like the whole budgie mount thing has maybe unfairly colored my opinion of the cash shop as a whole.  Once upon a time it felt extremely reasonable, but now everything just seems more expensive than I want to pay for it.

The biggest thing I was interested in during this patch was the Dreamweaving profession.  Once again however I was hit by the realization that in order to play with that it would involve me plunking down some cash to buy another trade skill extension.  I don’t want to roll a brand new character just to be able to play with the profession, and I don’t really want to unlearn any of my already max level professions from my characters to pick up this new one.  I realize it is a first world problem, and in a game like WoW we would have no choice at all but to do just that.  However last night I was being irrational and felt extremely frustrated by having to make that choice.

Basically the only thing left that really made me excited after having the other two shiny baubles behind a paywall I didn’t feel like crossing… was the bounty system.  I will admit I am pretty excited about this.  One of the features that I loved from Dark Age of Camelot that no other game has really gotten right was the ability to create trophies of certain mobs out in the world.  Our guild hall was full of these because I was constantly going out and collecting the “remains” needed to craft them.  Rift seems to have finally created a version of that system that looks like it will work in modern terms.  However after the frustrations up until that point, I just didn’t feel like sinking in the needed research to figure out exactly how the system worked. 

I am sure at some point soon I will revisit it and be happy as a clam hunting down trophies.  I just fear that this is he new reality for a game like Rift.  When we get a patch, it will involve a little bit of free content and a lot of content you will have to hit the cash shop button to be able to truly enjoy.  My frustration mostly is due the fact that I am a patron and have been one since the transition of that program.  I feel like overall that is a “bad deal” since the loyalty accrual is excessively slow, there is no monthly credit allowance, and we still end up having to buy the new baubles when they come out.  Sure the various daily buffs are nice, and I likely would not have made it to 60 on my rogue without them…  but it feels like there should be at least some regular allowance of credits that can add up over time to be able to buy stuff from the store.

International Cupid

Today in light of Valentines being tomorrow, I have a factoid that I rarely tell.  It is really weird how chance, fate, kismet… whatever you want to call it works sometimes.  My wife and I grew up thirty minutes apart from each other in neighboring towns.  It turns out that we knew several of the same people, went to several of the same places, and were probably in the same room multiple times during our lives.  We would not have met however were it not for a mutual friend in Belgium.  During the early days of the internet, we were both IRC junkies.  Internet Relay Chat opened up a door to a world much larger than our own, and let us converse with people around the world…  breakout out of our very limited small town upbringings.

Chatrooms in truth were a lot like we view guilds today, as a little social family that you hung out with.  People shifted back and forth between them freely, and much like running content with some friends guild you hopped back and forth between channels freely.  I’ve always been interested in programming and for awhile I got really into writing IRC bots.  I would build little games into them, with dice rollers, character sheets and combat.  It was through one of these bots that I met Hans.  He asked me to come help him out with one of the bots on his channel, and it was one of the nights I was in his channel working on it that I saw a familiar address pop into the channel.  Back in that day, you could see what internet service provider someone was connecting from, and over time I learned to immediately recognize all the local ones.

Out of the blue I messaged the new person who had entered the room saying something dumb to the equivalent of “not often that I see a local”.  Apparently I freaked her out a little, since at the time I was logged into the bot.  Observational skills were never a strong point.  Hans apparently verified that I was a nice guy, and non-stalkerish because over the course of the next few weeks we struck up a friendship.  Over Easter weekend she was heading back to her hometown, and we decided to meet up and go to the movies together.  At this point it was just two friends hanging out and meeting in real life.  We got along just fine, but neither of us was really looking for anything at that point so dating didn’t even dawn on either of us I don’t think.

As fate would have it, I was planning on transferring to the university she was attending, so at the very least it would be awesome to have some friends on campus.  It was not until I had actually transferred that sparks really happened.  To be honest we moved very quickly from “dating”, to being essentially inseparable from that point onwards.  There were no long drawn out courtship rituals for us, we were far more practical than that.  I still marvel at just how odd it was, that we had grown up so close to each other, but that it took someone half a world away to introduce us.  Years later as we talked about our childhoods we have come up with several points at which we were likely in the same place at the same time.  Thankfully we have an international cupid to thank for finally connecting us.