On Recapturing the Magic

or “I’m New Here So I’m Going To Start By Disagreeing With Bel”

Bel’s post below, "Warcraft Broke Me" got me thinking. I’ve been in largely the same boat he is, having finally stopped playing World of Warcraft without getting heavily into any other MMOs. You should read the post, it’s a good one, but as a quick recap he’s rediscovering the joys of not being tied to a game and, as he’s put it to me a few times, is "living an actual life again".

I’m doing the same thing. In the last month I’ve started working out again, picked up painting, get out and hang out with my friends a lot more often, and largely don’t really see a massive lack in my MMO schedule. When I play (Rift, currently), I play because I want to and I have fun, and when I’m through having fun I stop and do something else. It’s probably terribly inconvenient for the hardcore in the group, but I actually legitimately enjoy every moment I spend in game, which is something of a surprising new feeling.

For me, though, it doesn’t feel like a whole new paradigm, or a huge shift in the way I play games from here on out. I remember the feeling when I left Everquest, and how I played a few games hyper-casually (and even not so casually), but without the devotion of scheduled playtime and other things. I played a handful of other games before sinking into Star Wars Galaxies and dropping down that rabbit hole… despite the feeling I had at the time that I would never get into a game as heavily as I had Everquest.

The Pendulum

It all feels like a pendulum to me. Back and forth, with one end being a total disconnect from MMO-playing and the other end being the depths of hardcore, scheduled raid leadership. It hovers at the edges of the swing, but it still feels like it’s swinging, and when I don’t expect it, it’ll come hurtling the other way and while I look around now at my "freedom", I’ll play something, blink, and then realize it’s three months later and I’m leading or helping lead a raid group.

I think the only time things have ever really not worked out has been when I’ve tried to push the pendulum one way or the other before it’s good and ready. I tried to force myself to drop out of the raiding scene in WoW at once point, stop playing the game entirely and concentrate on some important stuff (like getting a job), and while I had the discipline to stay away until I’d accomplished what I needed to, it was less than a week after that I’d come back to the game, voraciously seeking what I’d tried to be rid of. I’ve started MMOs with the plan of having a solid group, planning on hitting max level and grouping together and even raiding, and it always seems to fall apart. It feel s forced, like I’m stopping the pendulum mid-swing and trying to make it reverse.

The Priority

I’m almost certain I’ll end up back in the hardcore scene at some point in the future, sticking to a solid schedule, showing up on time (or early!), making sure everything is in order and accepting no distractions, going through all of the trouble of recruiting, helping people improve, and dealing with drama and the other issues that come up. When that happens, it’ll almost certainly be fun, and I’ll have no idea what will trigger it. It might be tomorrow, it might be years from now. At the time I went from being an egregiously casual WoW player to a hardcore raider, I would have told anyone who asked that that switch was the least likely thing that could possibly happen, but there it went.

Right now, my priority is having fun. The pendulum swings, and I have fun. Best I can ask for, yeah?

Rift 1.02 Patch Rundown

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Taking a quick break from the “Why You Should Be Playing Rift” series to throw up a semi related post.  Today a deceptively small patch was applied but it has some pretty major ramifications for the players.  You can view the full patch notes in their unadulterated form here, but basically the patch can be divided up into three major features.

Coinlock Feature

COINLOCK FEATURE — Account Security
* If your account is logged in from a significantly different location, your characters will be ‘Coin Locked’ until an additional ownership verification is made.
* A Coin Locked account will receive an e-mail to their registered account address containing a code to enter in-game to unlock the account.

* A Coin Locked icon will appear on the bottom center of your screen if your account is in this state.
* While you are Coin Locked, characters on your account cannot:
– Access the Auction House.
– Send Mail (can still receive and view mail or remove items).
– Sell to vendors.
– Salvage, Runebreak, or destroy items.
– Trade.
– You can continue to play and gain coin and items, but cannot get rid of them.

* If you are Coin Locked, click on the Coin Lock icon and enter the code found in your e-mail from Trion.
* You can also have Coin Lock emails re-sent to your email address by clicking the button on the Coin Lock interface.
* Once you have verified ownership from a new location, that location is whitelisted for future account access.
* If you cannot access your email or are otherwise unable to change your Coin Locked status, contact Customer Service.

For the last few weeks the assault of hackers of players accounts has become epidemic.  This is a new paradigm in the MMO industry, never before has a brand new game been assaulted this quickly and this thoroughly by the goldseller community.  Trion has been quick to address things like spammers, and this patch adds additional features for that as well, but protection against account hacks takes time to design and develop.

That said… we are still seeing countermeasures roughly 3 weeks after release of the game.  I think by anyones gauge that is extremely fast service.  So far all of their bug fixes have been extremely timely and setting a new standard.  It will be extremely hard to go back to the previous norm of having bugs that are not “exploits” take months (if ever) to get fixed.

This seems like it will work a lot like the system WoW has put in place after years of being deluged with hacks.  Primary difference here is that you can still play the game, you just can’t remove anything from your characters.  I think overall it’s a better solution since if you want to log in to check on something from a friends house, you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of unlocking your account just to get into the game.

Lessening Mob Aggro and Dismounts

* Made a number of changes to how NPCs react to higher level characters:
– Characters under the effect of Exposed no longer have an additional chance to be dismounted.
– Reduced the minimum aggro range of monsters significantly below a character’s level.
– Increased the rate at which aggro range reduces as a character’s level increases relative to a mob.

This addresses one of the major rallying points of the complainers in the user community.  I personally did not mind it as bad as some, but I will definitely agree it was damned annoying when running through Freemarch at level 40+ and getting dismounted by a level 8 wolf.  Another major complaint was that the exposed debuff not only made you take more damage, but had a greater chance to get dismounted.

We will have to see how this shakes out in game, what I hope it does not do is make running cross zone completely safe.  Personally knowing that I could not outrun a mob meant that I was less likely to skip my way through content, or at least be more cautious as I do.  One of the things I have come to appreciate over time is that no matter what level you are, you are not the gods we were in WoW.  However these changes should make it much nicer for when a group is rolling from rift to rift.

Additional Spam Filters

* Reporting mail as Spam now works a lot more like the chat and /tell spam system.
* Sending mail that the game filter recognizes as spam results in an additional coin charge.
* Mail you receive that has been flagged as spam will go to the Spam tab of your mailbox UI.

As Trion buffed up their in game chat spam filters, it pushed spammers to start using the mail system.  We’ve all known the annoyance of getting to our hunting destination only to receive a mail message that sits there blinking incessantly, making you wonder will this be the 1 in 100 time someone actually sent me a real message.  The chat spam system has worked amazingly, and any improvement to the mail reporting system to make it more like that should be excellent.

I hope all of these changes send a clear picture to both the gold sellers and plat buyers, that this game does not want their ilk.  Trion has been criticized over the number of hacked accounts and the amount of initial gold spam, but I honestly feel they are doing as well as they could be for a fresh mmo right out of the gate.  Based on what has happened in previous major MMO releases like Aion and Warhammer, no one could conclude that the hacker community would get so sophisticated so fast.  Especially considering that it took years for WoW to reach the state it is, where basically if you are playing without an authenticator you are asking to have your items stolen.

Full Patch Note Listing

Rift 1.02 – 3/17/11

COINLOCK FEATURE — Account Security
* If your account is logged in from a significantly different location, your characters will be ‘Coin Locked’ until an additional ownership verification is made.
* A Coin Locked account will receive an e-mail to their registered account address containing a code to enter in-game to unlock the account.

* A Coin Locked icon will appear on the bottom center of your screen if your account is in this state.
* While you are Coin Locked, characters on your account cannot:
– Access the Auction House.
– Send Mail (can still receive and view mail or remove items).
– Sell to vendors.
– Salvage, Runebreak, or destroy items.
– Trade.
– You can continue to play and gain coin and items, but cannot get rid of them.

* If you are Coin Locked, click on the Coin Lock icon and enter the code found in your e-mail from Trion.
* You can also have Coin Lock emails re-sent to your email address by clicking the button on the Coin Lock interface.
* Once you have verified ownership from a new location, that location is whitelisted for future account access.
* If you cannot access your email or are otherwise unable to change your Coin Locked status, contact Customer Service.

MAIL SPAM FILTERING
* Reporting mail as Spam now works a lot more like the chat and /tell spam system.
* Sending mail that the game filter recognizes as spam results in an additional coin charge.
* Mail you receive that has been flagged as spam will go to the Spam tab of your mailbox UI.

GENERAL
* Made a number of changes to how NPCs react to higher level characters:
– Characters under the effect of Exposed no longer have an additional chance to be dismounted.
– Reduced the minimum aggro range of monsters significantly below a character’s level.
– Increased the rate at which aggro range reduces as a character’s level increases relative to a mob.
* Fixed Forest Disruptor companion so his footsteps are not as loud as a full-size Treant.

ZONES
* Runic Descent: Expert: Corrected an issue where this instance could end with players still inside.
* As a result of the above change, the Captured Soul NPC will be re-enabled after this update.
* Moonshade Highlands: Rational Ward: Fixed issues with quest not updating.

RAIDS
* Greenscale’s Blight: Ongoing tuning for Duke Letareus, Infiltrator Johlen, Oracle Aleria, and Prince Hylas.
* Greenscale’s Blight: Prince Hylas is immune to player abilities that reduce healing taken.
* Greenscale’s Blight: Fixed an issue that could cause Greenscale’s protective Life Aura to occasionally not spawn.
* Akala: Reduced health of Stone Wardens in the Akala outdoor raid to make the first phase possible with 10 players.
* Akala: Akala’s Aegis of Stone and Gift of Laethys buffs can no longer be purged.

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 02 – Porticulum Network

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Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 02: Porticulum Network

 

wysbpr_02_porticulum

The Porticulumn Network is one of the coolest features of the game, but is also one of the most indirectly complained about systems for players coming from other games.  I will admit at first I was one of the complainers, even going so far as to post on the beta forums about it.  However after living with the system, I have come to appreciate exactly how amazing it is, both for rapid transit and the way it very gently nudges the player population to be community minded.

wysbpr_02_defiant_map

What the Porticulum Network gives you is the ability to transfer from between any two ports on the network instantly for a nominal fee (that gets less and less nominal the further away from your current hub you go).  This is what we loved so much about the Dalaran portals in WoW, Fast Travel devices in Everquest II, and the various Plane of Knowledge portals in Everquest.  This allows you to move quickly to wherever in the world your guild needs you to be.

The player starts with no portals connected to his or her network.  They receive the first connection on their hub by visiting the Porticulum Master for their faction’s capitol city.  From that point on, they can connect additional ports to their hub by talking to the Porticulum Masters in each of the zones explored.  The above image shows a complete network for the defiant side (minus the new Porticulum at Knight’s Stand added in 1.01 patch). 

When you talk to any Porticulum Master you are given the option to Bind Soul for a small charge.  Doing this will give you the Soul Recall ability, and allow you to return to your bound porticulum.  This ability has a hour long cooldown and a brief cast time.  With the Total Recall guild perk you are able to reduce the cooldown to 50 minutes.  This allows you to rather quickly get to anywhere in the world once an hour.

What You Give Up, And Why It’s a Good Thing

Now we get to the point of complaint many users including myself initially have.  The zones in rift are fairly massive, and take a large time to cross.  If you notice, most zones have only one portal.  What the game lacks is an intra-zone taxi system, like flight points and horse paths that have been utilized in various other mmos.  Initially this seems like a massive thing to give up, players like to be able to go where they want to when they want to with minimal effort.  However, like the heading alludes to, not having these ways to travel intra-zone safely is a good thing.

Taxi systems general allow the user to skip large areas of content safely.  In a game like rift, where part of the design is a constantly changing world where rifts and invading armies besiege towns, it requires community interaction to turn the tide of events.  As you move through a zone, you are forced to confront these forces head on to survive.  As a result I have seen random groups of players gathering to take down rifts on a regular basis.  This kind of impromptu interaction is what I feel will keep the player community active and thriving.

As you move into some of the larger and more difficult to traverse zones there are multiple porticulum in the zone.  For example Iron Pine Peak a 40-45 zone, had 3 well spaced portals allowing you to pop between major questing hubs easily.  When you enter this phase of the game, the lack of an intra-zone taxi system really goes out the window.

It’s All About Immersion

One of the things has been amazing about this game is the level of immersion the player has.  As you travel across a zone you carefully cling to the roads, knowing that just off the path lies your likely death.  The game brings back the edginess and fear factor that so many early MMOs had.  In Everquest, I knew that if I went wandering off in unexplored territory I was likely to find something that would squash me like a bug.  However in the World of Warcraft era, we as players have become lazy as we are used to being able to wander zones with godlike impunity, or simply fly over the top of them ignoring all of the would be pitfalls. 

I’ve come to appreciate the uncertainness and randomness of encounters this game has brought back to the MMO genre.  I remember the sheer fear I had the first time I stepped foot into Muire Tomb in Dark Age of Camelot, or cautiously running the zone boundaries of Kithicor Forest trying to get through to the safety of Rivervale before nightfall.  While I considered it inconvenient at the time, and was happy to see things like that gone in World of Warcraft… I have come to realize now that I have it back how much more depth it gave the game.  After all, isn’t the reason why most of us play these games to have a break from our normal lives and be thrust into epic battles that just don’t exist in real life?

Why You Should Be Playing Rift: 01 – The Map

wysbpr_logo

Over the last few weeks I have become some what of a “Rift Evangelist”, as I have spent hours preaching to my friends why they should come over and play this new game.  It is not something I have really consciously done, but I seem to have a constant stream of “isn’t this cool” moments to share.  This series is devoted to these little sometimes overlooked features of the game, that all help to add up to such a rich experience.

Episode 01:  The Map

wysbpr_01_mapshowinginvasionsOne of the running themes with Rift seems to be taking the best features of other titles, improving on them and presenting them in a very solid interface.  The in game mapping system is a perfect example of this.  Above is an example of the main map during a Freemarch Death Invasion.  It gives you a nice live heads up on what is going on with the world.

In the above example I have hovered over one of the invasion units represented by the crossed swords icon, you will come to be familiar with.  When doing so, the map highlights the trajectories of all the current invasion forces that are on the move.  This lets the players quickly see where these forces are converging upon, so you can cut ahead of the push and be ready to present a defense.  In the above example it appears that all of the enemy units are converging on Eliam Fields and Kelari Refuge.

In addition to the invasion tracking there are numerous other things being shown on the big map.  You can see there are a number of purple death rifts that have popped up.  The player can mouse over any of them and get the status, level and whether they are major or minor.  Each of the NPC towns is marked with a star icon, and each enemy fortress with an icon denoting the faction, dungeons marked with a green jewel and each major mob center marked with a castle like icon.  I’ve not seen another game that gives the player this much information without having to rely on add-ons.

Waypoints

wysbpr_01_minimap_waypoint All of the above is nice, but where the system truly shines is in the waypoint system.  The player has the ability to right click the map and set a waypoint.  On the main map this is shown with a line drawn between you and that location.  If you noticed on the image of the main map, at the bottom there is a simple and clean coordinate system.  The addition of being able to set a waypoint makes it extremely easy for you to travel to a precise location in the world.

In addition to it making it easier for you to travel to specific locations, waypoints work while grouping.  If you notice on the minimap I have highlighted the X> icon of the waypoint, and it pops up various information.  In a party or raid you receive the waypoint of your party members.  For traveling from rift to rift or coordinating defenses, this is a super simple way of letting folks know where you will be heading.

You can also see in the tooltip shown in the screenshot you are given a distance away.  The most amazing thing about this is that while tracking quest objectives, it also denotes whether or not the location is above or below you.  How much time have you spent in other games roaming around on the wrong floor of a dungeon looking for the quest mob that just isn’t there?  I will probably cover the quest tracking system in another post, but the mapping system makes it simple to figure out exactly where you need to be to complete an objective.

But Wait There’s More!

Every so often in this game, there is an idea that just makes you think “why didn’t anyone else think of this?”.  In the 1.01 patch Trion added in an extremely powerful feature without much fanfare.  By opening a chat window, and holding shift as you right click the map to set a waypoint, it now sends that waypoint as a link over chat.  When other players click on your link, the waypoint is set on their map as well.  Take a step back for a moment and ponder the power of this.

How many times have you been sitting in guild chat, as a new player is leveling through an area and asks where a hard to find mob is located?  Instead of having to do the “its by” dance, as you clumsily try and explain where it is, you can simply open up your map, from anywhere in the world and link to them a close approximation.  Since this went in last week I have already used it a dozen or more times in guild chat and zone chat to answer folks questions.  I find this kind of attention to detail simply refreshing.

Tracking

wysbpr_01_minimap_tracking While not as sexy as the waypoint system, the tracking system in this game is everything you would expect it to be.  If you click the magnifying glass icon on the side of the mini-map you are given a clean checkbox list of available tracking options.  While tracking these appear both on the mini-map, and on a zoomed in view of the main map.

For the most part these are the standard set of options that were presented with games like Warhammer and in WoW with the Cataclysm expansion.  It is just expected that at this point any game on the market will allow for tracking of multiple items, and this does it well.

One thing you will notice missing from the list is professions.  Profession resource tracking is handled a little bit differently in this game than that of WoW.  When you learn a profession you get spells that toggle on and off the tracking for that gathering profession.  This was a little weird to get used to, but I appreciate it in the long run. There are various kinds of conditional tracking like the Reaver “Track Death Creatures”, that if included in the checkbox list would make it extremely cluttered.  Trion has done a great job of presenting lots of information in a very clean interface.

I mentioned this feature for waypoints and quest objectives, but the above or below tracking works for resource nodes as well.  How many times in other games you have spent tracking to figure out where exactly that node was, only to find it that it is in a cave you didn’t know existed?  If you simply mouse over the mini-map icon you can tell immediately whether or not the node is aboveground or not.

Wrapping Up

The Mapping system is one of those things players just expect to work.  When it doesn’t work, it is one of the first things players try to augment with addons (Cartographer / EQ2map project etc).  Why is the Rift mapping system so amazing?  Well mostly that it gives you all this functionality, in a clean, easy to use form factor… and completely out of the box without any user modification.  It is functions like this that make me think Trion actually plays its own game, which is a point I question about many MMOs.  It is this attention to detail that really has me so enthralled with this game.

Sidenote

Since this is the first one of these features, please let me know what you think.  Was this useful?  What would you like to see in the future?  What overlooked features really have impressed you?  Comment below and I will respond.