Regularly Playing: May Edition

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I had a realization over the weekend as I stared at my sidebar…  that it has been a significant amount of time since I last did the regularly playing thing.  The last one I was able to find was on October 3rd of 2016…  some 210 days ago.  I may or may not have completely fallen off the wagon on this concept.  The original intent was to take a moment once a month to “true up” the side bar and shift out what I was no longer playing for what I was currently playing.  As a result we are going to see some significant moving and shaking in the list as a result.

To Those Remaining

Final Fantasy XIV

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I am still going fairly strongly in Final Fantasy XIV, and while I might not log in every night I am logging in multiple times a week.  I am definitely still making the Tuesday night raid thing, and while we don’t always make progress each week we get together to do something.  Thanks to the wonder of cross server grouping we have been able to pull in our friend Kelesti into some stuff as well.  Largely we are all in a big holding pattern until the release of Stormblood which comes in July, and as a result I am still in the middle of my “level everything” binge.  Right now my Machinist is just shy of 40, and that leaves Astrologian the only thing that has yet to be touched.  The whole purpose behind all of this madness is so that I can purge my vault of anything at minimum sub 30… and the grand hope is to sort through anything sub 50 and be extremely judicious in what I choose to keep.  Still having a lot of fun in Palace of the Dead, just have had other distractions of late.

To the Returning and New

Skyforge

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This is one of those games that has not graced my sidebar in a very very long time.  In July of 2015 I played quite a bit of the game around the time that it launched, and while I enjoyed it… it always felt like it was missing something.  Apparently October of last year an expansion released that added in pretty much all of the features that I am finding myself enjoying now.  Additionally the game just works better with a controller than it ever did with a keyboard and mouse and while I returned primarily on the PS4… I am also dipping my toes back into the PC experience as well.  Both are extremely fun and I am not entirely sure how long I will be splitting time before I officially pick one platform.  Whatever the case if you have ever played this game I highly suggest checking it out.  It has some issues… namely you are limited to three classes at the start with no clear path to add new ones.  However each of the classes is doing something somewhat unique which makes them more enjoyable than the standard Tank, Mage and Healer that they represent.

Star Wars the Old Republic

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There are two things that are shocking about this game gracing my list.  Firstly that apparently I never actually made a “now playing” widget for it, and secondly… that I am back playing it again.  I blame a sequence of nostalgic events happening at exactly the same time…  all of the hype about the next Star Wars movie, the love of Rogue One, and my deep enjoyment of Mass Effect Andromeda has lead to an upwelling of love for both Bioware and Star Wars.  As a result I have returned to an old mission, which is trying to level through all of the class stories.  I managed to finish off the Sith Sorcerer and am now through Hoth so far in the Imperial Agent.  It seems as though I picked one of the best storylines for last, and even though I am not traditionally a stealthy/shooty type class…  there is something extremely awesome about this one.  I largely went Sniper because my Smuggler on the other side of the fence is Sawbones/Healer.  I am having a blast right now, so I am going to ride the enjoyment until it lasts.  The goal is to push forward into the story I have not touched on my Jedi Knight main after finishing the Agent story…  which involves Shadow of Revan, Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne.

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I do not normally put many single player games on the regularly playing list, but we have this sequence of amazing ones being released in short order.  One of those is Horizon Zero Dawn, which is a game that I hit hard at launch… and then for whatever release lost momentum to Mass Effect Andromeda.  As a result I have been slowly playing it here and there as time and desire allows.  I could force myself through the story, but I want to play it when I want to play it… and that is right now involving the occasional hour long session of hunting giant robot dinosaurs rather than pushing forward the main story.  I am still very much enjoying the game, but I need to find some catalyst that really gets me back into it and dying to play the next chapter.  In the mean time however I am still enjoying the “bowplay” if I can coin that term.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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This is very much another “as desire hits me” sort of experience.  When the game came out I picked it up on the Wii U and in the time between then and now I have managed to pick up a switch effecting starting back at square one.  This stalled my progress a little bit but for the most part I have returned to where I left in the Wii U and am once again moving forward.  I have designs on starting to take this to work and playing a little over lunch and on break times.  While I have the switch I really have not done a lot of handheld play with it remaining largely docked upstairs so I can play it with the pro controller.  It is a great game and in spite of having a lot of things that frustrate me about the game… is yet another in a long list of titles contending for my game of the year bid.

To Those Departing

World of Warcraft

While I still have an active account, I am just not really playing at all.  I logged in shortly after the last patch and got bored and logged out again.  I fell off the raiding bandwagon about halfway through Nighthold, and honestly just sort of reached the point I have in so many other expansions.  I think in theory I could come back and play casually and enjoy the experience but there are just simply too many other things I would rather be playing right now.  So as a result this is going to find its way off my side bar, but I did have the forethought to simply comment it out rather than remove it because I am sure at some point around Blizzcon time I will get hit by the bug once more.

Rift

Much like with Nightmare Tide… I just failed to gain traction with the latest expansion the Starfall Prophecy.  A large part of my struggle with Rift is that I can never seem to find a warrior spec that I really like anymore.  What I ultimately want is a juggernaut for doing PVE/Leveling content that can burn through the mobs with nonexistent downtime.  If I ever find that spec again I will return to the game and happily finish up leveling.  The other huge struggle is that the game lacks a reliable current font of knowledge.  The forums in theory have a lot of the information but it is this blend of current information and ancient and no longer reliable, and I just lack the mental fortitude to sift through it.  I am hoping that after writing this… Muspel or PK will come to the rescue once again with a viable Warrior build like they have in the past.  The other huge challenge with Rift is the fact that none of my gaming infrastructure is playing the game, nor do any of my regular suspects have any interest in the game at this point.

Destiny

It hurts more than a little bit to be adding this game to this space on my list.  The truth is I am just not playing it right now and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.  I have too many other games fighting for my attention, and while I absolutely know I will be returning with Destiny 2…  the amount of stuff that I can do solo or want to so solo is pretty limited.  At this point it feels like I would be working towards something that is ultimately going to disappear.  I also have a lot of questions because as it is right now… I am looking at making the leap to PC from PS4 for the second game… and I am not sure what if anything might transfer.

Guild Wars 2

Adding this one to the list really doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I was only into this game so long as some of my friends were actively playing it.  Once Tam and Ash and Kodra faded away… so did I.  It is still not my favorite game but I have developed a certain appreciation for it.  Most of what it is doing however isn’t really all that interesting to me.  I largely got to play along with my friends only because I had maxed out my Warrior soloing for ages without them.  He was geared and ready to go… and will still be there if it ever has a resurgence.  Much like Warframe this is a game that was not ultimately for me…  but somewhat enjoyable so long as I was playing with friends.

 

 

 

 

Random Screenshots #3

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This is another one of those mornings when I feel like I don’t have much of anything to talk about.  Work encroached upon my gaming time, first with a meeting that I did not get out of until 6 pm…  when I normally get out of the office around 4/4:30.  Second when I did get home I had a bunch of things that I needed to look into given that we are still ironing out the issues with a brand new website launch.  As a result by the time I finished up I largely just crashed on the sofa and watched some Black Mirror as I had not touched season 3.  That show is extremely creepy, but also something that I cannot really stop watching.  It is a sort of technological tales of the crypt, and if you have never watched the show…  be prepared for some disturbing content.  That said it is still very much worth your time and the latest season has at least one gem scattered among the digital nightmares in the form of the San Junipero episode.  Anyways this morning is going to be a random screenshot post morning because I am not sure what else to really talk about.  I am still fairly groggy and probably shouldn’t have finished the 4th episode last night, and instead just headed on to bed.

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I am not entirely certain of the context, but this is of course a screenshot from Wildstar.  I believe it is from the moon mission where you have to figure out what happened to all of the miners.  Even though I have long struggled to really click with this game, I cannot deny how much of an interesting vision it really is.  The art direction was on point and everything feels like it exists in the same shared technicolor delusion.  For whatever reason I never really liked how spastic their flavor of hotbar combat felt.  Most recently I paid a little money to be able to create a Chua Warrior and I found it enjoyable…  but still not really clicking as hard as I would have liked.  Honestly this game and Guild Wars 2 sort of exist in the same space for me…  where they are equally interesting to visit but not exactly the same of place I want to call home.  I will say though that the people who do play the game regularly are amazing and I am super happy to have a whole bunch of them occupying my social media streams.  This is one of those games that I root hard for…  just from a distance.

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We go from a game that I don’t really get fully, to one that I absolutely do…  but still don’t end up playing that often.  I believe this screenshot is from one of the opening shots of Makeb which was the sequence of content I last played during a December 2015 binge of the game thanks to Force Awakens Star Wars hype.  I honestly thought I would similarly return during the Rogue One hype machine but it never actually materialized.  I realize I am missing so much great content, and I keep saying that one of these days when I hit a lull in whatever other games I happen to be playing that I will swoop back to Star Wars the Old Republic and gobble up all of the goodies I have missed.  I still have yet to start any of the Shadow of Revan content…  let alone Fallen Empire or Eternal Throne.  I did have an active sub, but I let that lapse at some point…  they keep roping me in with offers of “subs get X shiny bauble” and then I never actually end up playing.  I should in theory pop back in before this last bit of sub time lapses and I am stuck playing in freemium hell.

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On to yet another game that I have really fond memories of but never end up playing.  This is I believe a screenshot from one of the betas for The Secret World.  To the best of my knowledge this was me creating my very first character.  To be truthful I never was a huge fan of the character creation system in TSW, as it always felt like I never could create exactly the character that I wanted to create.  However on so many levels I loved this game, but the biggest problem is attempting to return to it.  Since you can repeat almost every quest it becomes extremely hard to see just what you have completed and what is new and something you should focus on.  When they release an issue I find it hard to actually track down all of the things that have been added and given that I last actively played during “Last Train to Cairo” which was issue number six… and they are currently on fifteen there is a ton of content I have missed.  I just find it extremely hard to get back into the game after being gone for so long…  and given all of the systems that they have seemingly loosely tacked onto the base experience.

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I don’t have an awful lot to say about this screenshot other than I thought it looked cool, so I decided to post it.  This is of course from Farcry 3 Blood Dragon, which is this insane 80s movie romp.  If you took every 80s sci-fi film and distilled it to its campy roots, then dumped all of that pure essence in a blender…  you wind up with Blood Dragon.  If you have never checked it out, you probably really should given that it regularly dips down into the $5 territory.  It is a completely stand alone experience and does not require Farcry…  nor does it really have anything to do with the Farcry Franchinse at all other than modeling some of the open world roaming gameplay.

 

Social Structure and MMOs

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I’ve talked off and on about Imzy, and how it is filling a niche for me at least that Google+ used to in that it allows for a sort of long winded discussion that twitter just simply doesn’t.  Yesterday I read a post there that made me realize something I had been trying to sort out in my head for awhile.  The vast majority of my gaming time is spent playing MMOs and I tend to have several that I am in various states of active in at the same time.  However I rarely if ever gain any sort of permanent traction in them, and after a few weeks of play tend to fade away again until the whim hits me to fire it back up.  I go through a cycle of curiosity that leads to excitement…  that leads to confusion and disillusionment that ultimately ends with me leaving once more.  I will pick up a game and for a few days to weeks it is going to be the most interesting thing in the world as I get adjusted to the systems and mechanics again.  However I always reach this point where an overwhelming sense of “what now” hits me.  When that happens I wind out going right back to whatever it is happens to be my core game…  which if we are being honest with me is an alternation of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.  I have been working on my games played during 2016… and decided to extend that out to all of the games that are easy to track thanks to my blog.  There is a clear pattern of when I start getting super excited about WoW I shift away from FFXIV and versa vicea.  There is of course some overlap, but you can see a back and forth pattern that emerges.

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So the question is then…. what do these two games seem to have that so many others don’t.  The answer was sitting there waiting for me to notice. I often talk about games having great communities…  but generally speaking this is in broad terms and extremely non-specific.  Most games have some excellent niches in them, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really do much to add core enjoyment for me.  I keep returning to World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV… because those are the games that I have established communities in.  There was a time when I was willing to branch out and meet new people…  plunk myself down in a brand new game and start growing an entirely different infrastructure.  The community that I have right now… is in large part the result of me doing this over and over.  Each new game I go into I meet a whole new cast of people…  but at some point that began to change.  As I gathered a larger and larger core of players… I stopped looking outside to the community nearly as much and instead looking to my guild.  While I am still meeting a lot of new people… they are coming with the pedigree of knowing someone I already know and am familiar with…  which of course speeds up the social footnotes that come from meeting anyone new.

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Last night was a prime example of this happening, because we were raiding in World of Warcraft and had someone pop by and join….  that I had not personally played with in several years.  My personal community in House Stalwart within World of Warcraft seems to have this ability to stay evergreen… and always have a certain chunk of the population that is active and always happy to be there.  House Stalwart my guild has existed for twelve years…  in spite of my actions.  When I left WoW to start playing Rift I tried my best to burn down everything about the game… actively recruiting people away to play this new an exciting game.  I did the same thing for Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online… and countless other games.  However at its core… the guild still remains and not only that… but has remained viable for the purpose of doing interesting end game content the entire time. Similarly the Final Fantasy XIV guild… while considerably younger just seems to endure whatever boom and bust cycles we go through population wise, and in both cases….  I know that I can return at any point and will be welcomed back with open arms.  In truth I think pretty much everyone who has touched either guild feels the same way…  which is why folks are constantly showing up from out of the woodwork and reintegrating back into the core at least for a little while.

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So the problem that exists with nearly every other game…  is I just don’t have anything close to this infrastructure…  nor do I really have the emotional or intellectual strength to try and forge it.  There have been House Stalwart offshoots in damned near every MMO that has existed… or at least as a guild community we have chosen a specific server and faction to all roll on.  However for most… these interludes serve as a vacation from the game they were already playing… and after a break most folks wind up going right back to the familiar.  In a traditional MMO I need to have something that I am building towards, and that object on the horizon is usually doing interesting things with my friends.  So while it is absolutely fun to pop in and play Rift or ArcheAge for a weekend…  I find hard keeping motivated when I know I have no real facilities to do any of the big interesting things… other than pugging.  I am spoiled to be honest, and so many years of not having to PUG has soured my experience as a whole.  Any random person I encounter is somehow tarnished by the memory of all of the good times I have had with my guild throughout the years.  After generations of MMOs… this has lead me to be rather insular in my gaming habits and tending to return to the folks I already know and respect rather than trying to create something new.

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So now days I tend to operate in two modes.  I have the games that I am active in and have deep social connections… and the games that I slink off to when I need to limit my social connectivity and turtle for awhile.  I tend to gobble up whatever new content is available, and then happy drop that game by the wayside as I return to active duty again.  Games like Star Wars the Old Republic, The Secret World and Elder Scrolls Online are great for this role, given that they all have deeply engaging stories that you can find yourself completely lost in…  so much so that you forget that you are essentially alone in a crowd of strangers.  There are a lot of games that I think I would enjoy… if I had a similar stable infrastructure.  However at this point… to be honest… folks are pretty stratified in their gaming habits.  I can no longer really make an impassioned argument as to why they should abandon X game that they know and love for Y game that is new and different.  I know this boom and bust cycle all too well at this point… and while it is a hell of a fun ride, to some extent I am getting that fix elsewhere.  For me personally… the Diablo 3 season mechanism perfectly emulates the feeling of “unwrapping” a brand new MMO and rushing with your friends to level as quickly as you can.  This time however we all know it is perfectly fine to fade away once you have achieved your  goals…  because its a game we will all return to again and again as new seasons happen.  I have been the cause of so much frustration and disappointment in my gaming career…  that I guess in some part I would rather slink off alone… than get folks excited about yet another game that I am sure we will all abandon within three months time.  However that same instinct…  is what keeps any of these games from actually gaining traction.  What I realized this week when reading the post on Imzy is just how desperately I need that social infrastructure for me to be able to enjoy a MMO.

Better Faction Systems

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Loss of Nuance

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I had this topic that I wanted to talk about this morning, and jotted it down so that I would not forget.  Then last night I suffered from a bout of insomnia.  So my hope is that even without much sleep I can still make this topic work, and devote the amount of attention it deserves.  For years I have talked about my dislike of the faction wall system that was first popularized by Dark Age of Camelot, and then carried forth into the modern genre of MMOs thanks to World of Warcraft adopting it.  For many players they know nothing different than picking a red versus blue faction and living their entire gaming life’s within the confines of it.  I think I struggle against this concept because I remember a time when this wasn’t necessarily the case.  Lately I have been spending a lot of time playing my smuggler in Star Wars the Old Republic, and yes I realize that game is a very faction locked experience.  However if you think of the Smuggler itself in the Star Wars mythos, it has always been a character that skirted the lines trying to exist in Republic, Imperial and Hutt space at the same time, carving their own path balancing between them all.

The problem is, other than the original Everquest no game really supports this notion.  You cannot live between the faction lines making your own choices, instead you are asked to choose an allegiance that is about the most impersonal experience imaginable.  The problem is that I feel no personal responsibility for choosing Horde or Alliance or in many cases Red or Blue.  They don’t represent me as a person, and as such I have no real loyalty tied to them.  However in Everquest you were assigned essentially a default template of allegiances based on your racial choice… but from that point on you could blur the lines at will.  I remember spending copious amounts of time hunting Kobolds in the Warrens off of Toxxulia Forest, for the purpose of gaining faction in the otherwise aggressive city of Paineel.  Why did I do this? Honestly for no real reason other than I could, and that I thought the city of Paineel was extremely cool in its layout.  Sure I could have simply banked and quested at the far end of Toxxulia Forest in the already friendly city of Erudin, but instead I made the conscious choice to hang out with the Necromancers.

Sapping Creative Expression

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The problem with the faction wall system is that it forces all of the players to essentially be the same person.  Later games started throwing in optional faction grinds, but those grinds are always connected to “things”.  Gain this much reputation with this faction and you will get a nifty sword, or a pretty mount…  but otherwise once the current expansion is over they will be utterly meaningless from that point on.  The problem here is that these tertiary faction choices don’t actually effect the players game experience.  They don’t unlock new areas of the world, or more so close off other areas that the player did have access to.  Granted in the early days of World of Warcraft they did manage to create a few of these Factions that did actually do interesting things.  Namely I am talking about the back and forth seesaw of the Bloodsail Buccaneers and the assorted Goblin factions.  If you were truly insane you could skirt a thin line between gaining faction with the Bloodsails but also doing faction repair work with the Goblins to make sure you were not ever hitting “Kill On Sight” status.

The problem here is… this was an isolated example that granted players access to a handful of boats in the ass end of the world.  This area was made immediately irrelevant as soon as the Burning Crusade and subsequent expansions released.  Instead as an Alliance player I always wanted to figure out a way to gain factions with the Tauren.  They were the only Horde race that seemed to cling to any ideals I could get behind, and I thought it would have been so interesting to be able to gain faction in a way that would allow you to enter the town and do commerce there.  Things are never completely black and white, and even in the lore there are characters that skirt the lines managing to be friendly to two different groups at the same time.  The entire World of Warcraft experience would have been so much richer if it allowed players through sheer will to grind out their own niche that lay somewhere between the predetermined choices.  I think it would have been interesting to allow players to create the ultimate “diplomat” that was friendly to essentially ALL of the races.

Fear for the Future

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The problem with games being iterative is that once a feature set becomes common, it essentially stays there forever.  This past weekend when we talked about Tron 2.0 in our AggroChat Game Club show, one of the lines of discussion was how the cultural norms for shooters have changed over the years.  What used to be representative of most of the shooters that were out in 2003, is no longer recognizable through the lens of the basic feature set that we now have come to expect.  World of Warcraft borrowed heavily from the games that came before it, and since it chose to go with a walled off faction system, games that have borrowed from it have essentially followed that mold.  Red and Blue factions with their own walled off areas of play have become the template for how to build a game, and right now the only real evolution has been a return to three factions instead of just two.  Sure games like Rift have torn down the wall and made faction into “fiction” but they have not really gone anywhere in the struggle of making faction a personal choice.

Now going back to the original thing that spurred this topic, Star Wars the Old Republic.  How much more rich would the smuggler have been if you quite literally could have been a freelancer in action and not just name.  The game does a decent job of making you feel like you live somewhere between the red and blue lines, and then when the second chapter happens it essentially rips all of that forcing you to align to the Republic faction.  Sure you can still play a dark side Smuggler, but these aren’t “real” decisions with any sense of “real” lasting consequences.  You can’t decide to say screw the republic and opt to live entirely in Hutt space or Imperial space.  You can’t decide to say on Alderaan or Balmorra and improve your faction with one of the leaders, opening up new questing opportunities that are unavailable to the average player.  Everquest is a game that I could never really play again, because I just can’t handle the essentially “primative” game client.  There however are still things that the game got right, that no other game that I have played have really tried to copy.  The problem is… right now I cannot see a game adopting a more real world faction system, without somehow turning it into a marketing focus and losing sight of all of the other things that have to be in place to make a game enjoyable.  Essentially I want real factions… but still be able to keep all of the things that I have come to expect from an MMO to this point.  Unfortunately I fear that the era of MMO experimental-ism is over… and at this point our feature set is locked in place just like the feature set of shooter is locked as well.  In the meantime however… I will still carry a rose colored torch for this features that I wish I could have in modern games.

 

Week In Gaming 9/27/2015

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Week of Playstation

This week was very much a week of me waiting on something to happen on my PC while pivoted to the side and playing the PlayStation 4 instead.  The strangest thing has happened and I am not sure exactly when it did.  For years I was a diehard Keyboard and Mouse gamer… and if you suggested that I play a shooter with a controller I would give you a dirty look at best… and at worst give you a thirty minute rant about why that is a sloppy control mechanism.  The thing is…  shooters now have a significant amount of aim assist regardless of what platform you happen to be playing them on.  Sure you can get closer to pixel perfect aiming with a keyboard and mouse… but I am finding for extended gaming sessions a controller just feels more comfortable.  Destiny was essentially the game that forced me to learn how to play with a controller, and now…  I am finding myself replaying some games that I played exclusively on the PC on my PS4.  Over the week I picked up the Borderlands “Handsome Collection” because it was silly cheap on PSN, and I have to say… I am finding the game more enjoyable over there.  While I won’t necessarily say I have abandoned the keyboard and mouse…  I am finding myself equally comfortable with a controller and it seems so strange to be typing those words.

Destiny

Exotic Weapon FTW!

This week the game that I spent the most hours playing was without a doubt Destiny.  I am not sure why but the game feels fresh and new, and all of the frustrations I had over gearing for light are just gone.  Instead light has become this number based on the average attack power and or defense of your items, and seeing it climb is awesome…  but at the same time not something oppressively holding me back from doing interesting things.  I now think of light much more like a traditional gear score system in MMOs.  There is some content gated on that number, but it doesn’t feel like something that is extremely grindy to get.  I happened to luck out this week and Hawkmoon this seasons exotic hand cannon was available on Xur.  I had enough coins to buy it and bam I am now rocking a really awesome weapon, which only serves to improve my experience.  I’ve heard that you can send blue engrams to low level characters as a more efficient way of farming Strange Coins, and I might end up doing that as I pretty much depleted my entire stash on this one item.

Super Hammer Brothers!
Super Hammer Brothers!

Other than that I am slowly working my way through all of the story content that I have not played since launch.  It feels strange to be progressing in three different storylines at essentially the same time, doing whichever happens to suit me at the moment.  The big thing I am trying to work towards right now is I really need the dreadnought patrol zone opened up because I keep getting those as daily quests.  I am not sure how far into the story that happens but I keep working on creeping that storyline forward in the hopes that the next one will unlock the patrol zone.  Other than that I unlocked Sunbreaker and am completing most of my content as that, in the hopes of leveling it quickly.  There is something satisfying Fist of Havoc, but I have to say super fire hammer brothers is also pretty awesome as well.  You can whittle down objectives super quickly while throwing those hammers.  I’ve taken Taken bosses down to half health during my “hammer time” but the only problem is it essentially leaves you out in the open and vulnerable.  So I end up having to run for cover as soon as I’ve spent all of my energy.  Needless to say I am having a lot of fun with Destiny and probably going to continue playing it over the coming weeks.

Creativerse

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I’ve blogged about this game already at length this week, but I have to say I am still really liking it.  I am also digging that the company is from McKinney Texas which isn’t terribly far from me.  Not sure if I can rig this but it would be kinda awesome to go down and meet that team at some point.  I am hoping that they end up doing Pax South this year, because the game has so much potential.  I called it “Pretty Minecraft” but really that is selling the game short by a large amount.  I will say that it has pretty much killed my desire to play Minecraft at all from this point out.  I get what people say about the mods, but in reality I never modded Minecraft that much other than adding in quality of life things like a mini-map.  Regardless of how I modified the game it just felt like I was playing the same thing over and over with varrying differences.  This game however feels fresh and interesting because the world itself is something that I don’t know the formula behind.  I talked about this a bit the other day, but I think part of it is the fact that I have no real resources to rely on yet.  I can’t go on a wiki and find out that obsidian spawns between these two coordinates or if I need an item for a recipe I have to find it the old fashioned brute force way of exploration.  If you are in the mood for a building and exploration fix I highly suggest you check it out.

Star Wars the Old Republic

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Oh Captain My Captain

Last night during and after the podcast I finished up Alderaan on my Smuggler.  In the time it has taken me to get this far on my Smuggler, I found out that Tam has leveled like three characters from 1 to 50.  How is he doing it?  Well he is doing ONLY the class storyline, and I think maybe he has made a convert out of me.  I shot through Alderaan last night only working on my class storyline and gained three levels in the process.  Mostly at this point I just want to see the class storyline on several new classes before Fallen Empire comes along and changes a good deal of it.  I think the rest of the day I am going to likely work on my Smuggler and see just how close to the end I can manage to get.  My hope is that even after Fallen Empire they come up with a way to speed characters to the post 50 content.  I need to circle back around and do the Shadows of Revan content on my Jedi Knight, but honestly I am having so much fun with my Sawbones.  This is still such a great game, if you just treat it like a subscription.  The free to play options are complete and total bullshit, and feel like the most punitive way to play a game I have seen period.  If you can stomach the fact that you have to pay a subscription to really enjoy this game…  then it seems like a really enjoyable experience still.

 

 

And Also With You

Nar Shadda Living

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Lately I have been on this Star Wars kick and like I said before… I absolutely blame the Force Awakens hype for putting me in this position.  My good friend Tam mentioned something last night about playing SWTOR again…  that absolutely rings true.  We were both brought up in “good catholic families” so he mentioned something that is happening to me too.  When we hear someone say “May the Force Be With You” it is absolutely instinctual to want to say “And Also With You”.  Even worse…  I have this irrational need to make the sign of the  cross at the same time.  The funny thing about playing this game again is that I guess I did not realize how often I have subscribed for a month or so in the past, that said I guess I am happy I did.  I had access to Section X and the HK-47 quest line without having to pay to unlock it, because apparently I subbed at just the right time.  When it came time to look into Strongholds it seems like I also have a five room Nar Shadda Sky Palace unlocked for free as well.  The cool thing about that is that if I had to choose one of the housing options… it probably would have been Nar Shadda anyways because I have been in love with the concept of that city since I first encountered it in Dark Forces.

For the time being most of us are going through a bit of a lull in Final Fantasy XIV.  Right now I am absolutely enjoying raiding and I really hope we down Ravana Extreme before the launch of the 3.1 patch…  but past that I really don’t have much desire to log in.  I could force myself to grind out the esoterics every week, but my fear is that if I start forcing it… I will also start resenting the game like I have World of Warcraft in the past.  That was a cycle I would get into with WoW, where I would force myself to be there… “for the guild” or “for the raid” and then ultimately it would lead to my cancelling of my account once more.  Final Fantasy XIV is my new home base of operations, and I am happy with it…  I just don’t want to do anything to tarnish my enjoyment.  There is never a point where Lalafell things or Final Fantasy XIV news does not give me warm fuzzies right now…  but I also know me.  I like playing lots of different games, and if I force myself to ONLY play FFXIV it will ruin the experience for me.

The Search for Parts

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I have to say I am enjoying the HK-47 quest line.  I spent most of last night working on it and gathering bits and pieces scattered around the galaxy.  It seems like it provided just the right amount of friction, in that you had to go to the PVP area on Tatooine first and once that was out of the way, were able to explore the galaxy at your leisure finding the rest of the bits.  The first part on Taris was the most annoying, because you had to get used to using the scanner to determine if you were close to a piece.  All of the other pieces seem to have a clear path that you can search along, but in Taris it is hard to see the pattern of where the pieces will show up.  Luckily there was a large group of people roaming around looking for it while I was there, and fortunately the quest is fairly pro-community.  When someone finds a piece it stays there for about a minute allowing anyone in the vicinity to loot it.  So when someone finally hit on being 10 meters away from the piece we quickly gathered together and found it.  Essentially to get a piece to show up you have to be within 2 meters, which means a lot of staggerstep movement right around the 10 meter location.

From there I had to travel to the Jedi Temple and the Dark Temple.  These steps require you to have an alt of appropriate level on the opposite faction, and the pieces you get in either can be mailed to any character on your account.  Since I was doing this on my Jedi Guardian, the Jedi Temple was a pretty quick process.  From there I mailed the scanner to my Sith Warrior and I proceeded with the same thing… but this time on the Dark Temple approach rather than the temple proper itself.  After doing all of the locations… essentially my suggestion would be to stay on the path and keep moving forward a little bit until you hit on a piece.  No piece that I found was very far off of the main path, so that at least seems to make life a little easier for you.  By the time I was working on the final piece on Hoth I had gotten pretty decent at the whole searching process and it came the quickest of them all.  Now I need to do both a normal mode dungeon and a hard mode dungeon, and I am hoping that Tam gets caught up so that we can grab Ammo and Sol and run them as a four player group.  As far as plans go for today… I am going to return to leveling on Makeb and plan on binging the Star Wars movies…  since I am clearly apparently going through a phase.

Section X

Life With a Teacher

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It feels like I don’t have a whole lot worth talking about this morning.  My evening was rather fragmented, in that I got home fairly early and then spent the next couple of hours trying to pass the time while waiting on my wife to get home.  We had tentatively made plans to go out to dinner, and on a normal evening I would have fixed something and been engaged in a game by the time she got home.  This school year has been rather rough for her, and she is spending silly amounts of time up at school grading and planning.  It gets annoying at times because it is super hard to plan my life around her ever changing schedule, but I manage.  There are certain aspects of being a teachers husband… that no one will ever really understand fully.  We ended up going to a BBQ place near the Walmart Neighborhood Market, because my thought was after dinner we would walk over to the market really quick and pick up a few things.  This seemed like a simple in and out trip, and we could get on our merry way homewards.

Fate stacked against us, and of all of the places to have “back to school clearance” I did not expect a Walmart Neighborhood market.  For those who do not have these in their area, they are essentially a grocery store only Walmart, but have some minimal other items.  As we were rounding the bend past frozen foods I saw that they had a kiosk of back to school stuff.  I didn’t think anything about it, but next thing I knew we were sorting through all of the folders trying to pick out nine of each color from a mixed up bin of them.  I cannot count the number of times I have had an experience similar to this one.  There really wasn’t much space so my wife did most of the sifting through the folders but in the past I have had my hands knee deep in vats of assorted merchandise looking for that one item that matches the rest of the things we had pulled out.  Part of being a teacher is trying to find all of the things you need for your classroom as cheaply as humanly possible, and while I am fairly used to it… it just surprises me sometimes when I am not expecting it.  After all of the bin sorting… we got home a little later than I had expected.

Section X

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When I finally got settled in for the night, I made a blanket cocoon on the couch and booted up Star Wars the Old Republic.  I am now on this kick of trying to get through all of the story line that I have missed before the release of Fallen Empire.  For this I am going to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Disney.  You cannot go anywhere right now without being deluged in Force Awakens merchandise, and with it comes an upwelling of all of the other movies that I am really damned nostalgic about as well.  I have these designs on making a Marathon of the movies this weekend while working on the SWTOR content.  It has been a really long time since I have watched the prequels, so I am honestly hoping I can bury the hatchet that I hold towards them.  The prequels broke me, and came damned close to breaking my love of Star Wars as a whole.  So when I heard about Force Awakens I was mildly interested, but now I feel like I am full on in the thrall of overwhelming feels towards the franchise I grew up with.  I even went so far as to order the Disney Infinity 3.0 Saga Edition… because it was on sale and two I had enough saved up discover credit to get it essentially for free.

swtor 2015-09-10 21-45-17-34

 

I have to say playing this game again… and seeing fresh content in it… reminds me of why we were so damned addicted to it for a couple of month period after launch.  The story content is really good, and even though Makeb does not actually feature any “class specific” content I am absolutely enjoying myself.  I did however take a break from Makeb last night to start working on the Section X content.  I guess I played long enough to get that area unlocked for free, and with it should give me access to my very own HK-47 droid.  From what I hear it is a rather lengthy quest and involves collecting bits on several different characters, including a Sith.  Mainly I was told that if I cared about story progression, that I should go ahead and do that now before getting too deep in the new content.  As you can see from my previous pictures I went back to the Jedi Knight robes as seen on the box art.  I have to say I dig the Holowardrobe because it is way cheaper to change your appearance using it than re-modding your gear.  There are a few of us currently going through this Star Wars nostalgia attack, which makes me feel kinda sad each time I interact with the person who held down the fort while we have been gone.  I know that I am just here doing some MMO tourism…  and as soon as I am done with the story content I will be gone once more.  Even though I have not been playing a lot of it… Final Fantasy XIV is still my home base of operations.

Breakup on Reentry

Returning Players

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-22 23-05-10-74

If you have followed me for any length of time you realize I play an awful lot of games.  One of those traits also involves going back and re-exploring games that I have long consigned to the dust bin.  One of the challenges with this lifestyle however is trying to figure out what the hell you were doing some six months ago when you last touched a game.  This morning I want to talk about a problem that most games have.  As content is released there is often times no real thought about the folks that will come back to the game several patches behind.  While there is generally one game that I stay up to date with, and that game currently is Final Fantasy XIV…  the others sit in various states of completion with no real easy route back to where I last left off.  What ends up happening generally is that I start a brand new character, because it is simply easier to start fresh than try and sort out the options open to a formerly “level capped” character.  As a programmer it seems like it would be easy to create some sort of new features tool that lead you to what has been recently added to the game.  Various games have attempted this, and honestly Final Fantasy XIV has one of the better versions of this technology…  but it could still use a lot of work.

World of Warcraft has these quest boards in main cities that are supposed to lead you to the starting quests of new areas.  The problem being that you level so damned fast in that game that you always are well ahead of the quest completion curve.  The worst offender however has to be The Secret World.  In that game every single quest is essentially repeatable, so even if you are up to date… it can be a challenge to sort out what quests are new in a given region.  The last quest content I completed was the “Last Train to Cairo” from Issue 6, and even then I think I missed most of Issue 5 because I didn’t quite know where to start to find it.  Now we are sitting at Issue 12 and I know I have a ton of awesome content waiting on me.  As each has been released I have popped in to spend some of the lifetime membership currency that I gain each month.  The problem being… without significant research on my part I have no real idea where to start to even begin trying to sort these out.  I spend most of my free time consuming MMO content… and if this bothers me… it has to be an impassible wall to more casually interested players.

Content Advisement

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With the launch of Cataclysm, the World of Warcraft attempted to solve this problem by creating a series of billboards spread throughout the major cities that are designed to give you the start of a quest chain leading into new zones.  The problem there is that you level too damned fast, and I constantly had a back log of these quests telling me to go to various zones that were less than optimal for my questing experience.  While I applaud their efforts… I think all of these MMOs need to do a much better job at giving players advisement as to what they should be doing.  What I envision is an optional box that says what zone you should be in based on your level and or gear, and provide a series of quest suggestions that you never completed.  If there is a holiday going on, it should prioritize this and if you are at the level cap it should guide you to the next patch worth of content that you had not experienced.  This would go a long way in making returning players feel welcome and relevant in the game experience.  Considering I have done this dozens of times…  I can tell you that returning to an MMO that you tucked neatly away into your past… is a completely overwhelming experience.

Firstly you have to sort out your  bags, because I have not left a single MMO in a state where I did not have hundreds of items in my inventory with no memory of what was actually useful and what was simply dross that I picked up while killing things.  Next you have to sort out your quest log, which also is never really left in a neat state.  If you are the level cap you generally have a mixture of quests that you never completed and quests from whatever happens to be the current “daily” hub.  Upon returning generally speaking neither of these is much use, but at the same time I find it just as hard to sort through my quest log as it was to sort through my bags.  What I really want is some intelligence guiding my decisions.  Present me with options of things that players in my level range are normally doing.  Help me get back into your game, and set down roots again.  It honestly shocks me that no game company seems to have thought this one through.  There are a fixed number of new players out there, so many times established games are just trading their populations over time.  Anything a game can do to make it more “sticky” for returning players has to ultimately help the bottom line.

Breakup on Reentry

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Like I said Final Fantasy XIV does a decent job at this, but their own advisement window is greatly limited based on several factors.  The biggest is that most of the items in the list are limited to the zone you are currently in.  In the case of a returning player, they may or may not know what zone they should even be in.  For years I have been trying to play Star Wars the Old Republic again.  The problem being that I always end up playing on an alt character because it is simply too confusing to try and sort out what I should be doing on any of my three previously max level characters.  My original instinct has always been to go to the space station hub for my faction.  Problem there is that there were no sign of new quests.  I have repeated this process dozens of times, until last night it finally dawned on me that I should maybe return to my starship.  Sure enough waiting there for me was a quest chain starter leading me to Makeb.   The problem being… that since it took me two years to finally find this quest it was anything but obvious, which tells me there is a problem with the way the systems are working.

What got me on this topic was yesterday some friends and I were listing off “must have” features for an MMO.  Which got me thinking… that this is the one feature that no MMO really does a decent job of.  Please someone out there… put some thought into the experience of returning players.  The answer is not to ignore all of the content that came before.  The answer is to help players go back and experience the things that they missed.  As a result some sort of intelligent system is well worth the time it takes to build.  All we are really talking is a handful of database queries based on a few parameters, and then returning the relevant items to a window.  This would go so far into making returning players feel like they matter and are welcome in the game.  I cannot count the number of games that I have reinstalled… only to leave after a single night of trying to sort out what it was that I was doing when I last played.  In each case I “wanted” to play the game, but the game required more out of me than I was willing to give it.  When this situation happens all I really needed was a breadcrumb to lead me to what I should be focusing on.  On the positive side I did finally start the post release content in Star Wars the Old Republic, which is a thing I have been passively trying to do since the free to play conversion.  I would really like to see where that story goes before the launch of Fallen Empire.

Games I’m Not Playing

Too Many Games

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-26-06-26 Right now I am suffering from a problem, in that there are just too many games that I want to be playing and simply not enough time in any combination of lifetimes to actually play them.  Last night I downloaded and installed Skyforge, and gave it a quick spin this morning… and as interesting as it seems I just don’t know when exactly I am going to fit it in.  For the first time in years I have been relatively monogamistic in my gaming, and with the dropping of World of Warcraft I pretty much have all of my focus on Final Fantasy XIV.  Last night I ran dungeons with the guild and after doing my hunts managed to push my Dragoon to 56.  As a result the desire to get that job to 60 is real, because I desperately want to be able to fill more than one roll when it comes to grouping.

By the same token I really would like to give some time to Skyforge so that I can give it a shot for free, before plunking down any money on it.  I watched a bit of the MMO Show stream the other day as Jabberant played the game and I have to admit it peaked my interests.  Playing this morning it feels like a better version of Neverwinter, because the janky control scheme of that game was always a major detractor.  So now I get to juggle competing desires and figure out how to spend my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would write about the games that I am wanting to play but just can’t seem to find adequate time to devote to them.

Star Wars the Old Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 I have this strong desire to go back and experience the storyline that I have not yet.  Essentially I have not really played my main in this game, a Jedi Guardian… since launch.  Each time I go back I always end up playing alts because I am finding it really hard to get back into the swing of playing a level 50 character.  I know there have been numerous expansions since launch, each with their own storyline content… and I am struggling to get back into the swing of doing it.  Instead I mostly spend time playing my Light Side Sith Warrior, who has been stuck in the hell hole of Balmorra for at least two years.  So one of my gaming regrets is that I have not figured out how to make progress on my main and see the Makeb and beyond storyline.  Additionally I have this nasty habit of paying for a month, and then playing one day and never returning to it.  I’ve gone through this sequence at least a half dozen times since we left this game.  The draw of Final Fantasy XIV is always too strong to keep me playing there for long.

Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-06-06 17-47-43-40 On my second attempt at playing this game I reached a point where I really was enjoying what I was doing.  In fact there was a stretch prior to the launch of Heavensward where I was playing this one more than just about any other game.  I have an awesome group of friends in this game and I love the Black Dagger Society guild that I am in.  I had a blast roaming around the zones and taking down world bosses with them on a few occasions.  For whatever reason however I am just not logging in right now.  Once again the draw of Final Fantasy XIV is too strong, and maybe I just love our guild there too much.  This is on the list of games I absolutely want to keep returning to, but I doubt I will until a bit more of the shiny has warn off from Heavensward.  Right now I am in this push to reach a point where I have multiple useful jobs to help people with, and I think until I get there I won’t be happy playing much else.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 I am woefully behind in my Secret World content, because the last update I think I played was the whole “Last Train to Cairo” sequence.  I know there have been multiple updates since then but I am just not logging in and playing them.  There are problems I have with this game that preclude me from really digging into the end game content.  However I have loved all of the story mission content that I have played and I keep meaning to poke my head in and do them.  I’m a life time subscriber, and I should have tons of goodies waiting on me… but generally speaking what happens is I log in and buy a nifty new outfit… then log right back out.  Of all of my gaming regrets this is one of the strongest because I really would like to find a way to play this game in addition to whatever game I am “maining”.

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-14 14-36-32-10 Just prior to the launch of Heavensward there were several of us on the AggroChat cast that had a brief love affair with this game.  I want to find a way to return to playing this game on a regular basis because I don’t feel like I have consumed all of the good that I can get from it.  This is the game that I was told once I reached level 30 I would be in forced pvp areas.  While we are playing on Tahyang the supposed roleplaying server, I am 38 and have yet to encounter even another enemy player.  There is a lot of great PVE content in this game, and we found the dungeons to be among some of the rougher we had experienced since say Dark Age of Camelot.  I’ve logged in a few times since the launch of Heavensward, but never for terribly long because I keep feeling like I really should be in FFXIV gearing or helping other people gear.  I still have things I want to do here, so I need to figure out a way to play it as well.

Skyforge

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 I talked about this as the start of the blog post, but I really do want to spend some time getting to know this game.  At face value it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything I would be interested in.  However after playing a brief few minutes this morning I think I might dig it.  It is action combat that still feels like an MMO.  Honestly I put Neverwinter in that same category, however there the combat just felt forced and janky.  The proof will be in the pudding as to how the Paladin feels once I progress it a bit further.  I admit the whole “switch roles at any time” thing is a huge draw for me, after getting used to that in Final Fantasy XIV.  I doubt this would ever be a primary MMO for me, but it might be a fun weekend diversion.  Ultimately I keep looking for a solid secondary game to have the duality that I did with Final  Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft.  I have yet to find the game that seems like the perfect match, but who knows this might be it.

Elder Scrolls Online

eso 2015-03-16 23-59-44-25 The game that I least understand why I am not playing it… is The Elder Scrolls Online.  Everything about this game should be squarely in my wheelhouse considering the number of hours that I have spent playing games in the Elder Scrolls universe.  I have access to it both on PC and on PS4, and I had this idea that the console client would somehow revitalize my interest in the game.  The problem is… it hasn’t at all.  I feel like the problem I have with this game is that even though I have people moving around me… I feel like I am ultimately alone.  The other players are just a backdrop in part because I never see their names.  I think in part I am experiencing Beta regret, because after testing this game for a year there are previous incarnations of the game UI that I just enjoyed more.  If I could go back and play THOSE incarnations… I would probably be enjoying myself still.  When names over the top of mobs went away…  the world felt like it shrunk for me, and the game became more or less a single player experience.  I still would love to find a way to make this game that at one point I was so devoted to still feel enjoyable, but I just have not found it.

Merry Sith-ness

Last Man on Hulu

While Carol is busy planning their wedding, Phil hosts his bachelor party.Last night I had one of those nights where I was just restless without good reason for being so.  Every activity I considered doing simultaneously sounded awesome and horrible at the same time.  So while I finished my push to 21 in each of my Final Fantasy XIV crafting professions, I didn’t really accomplished much of use the rest of the evening.  I spent a good chunk of my crafting time test driving Hulu and watching the tv show Last Man on Earth.  My assessment of both is rather mixed.  Firstly having never experienced Hulu my very first impression was precisely “what the fuck is with all these advertisements”.  I finally found a blurb on the Hulu website explaining why they have ads which comes down to a bullshit answer of needing to reduce the cost of the subscription.  How about this, how about you charge an “extra-premium” tier subscription that turns off all of that crap and just lets me watch the shows.

Right now my likelihood of actually staying subscribed to Hulu past the free trial is pretty non-existent for this reason.  To make matters worse it is like watching Cable “On Demand” where they play essentially the same four commercials over and over.  At this point I seriously want to burn down the honey bunches of oats factory that is shown on the Post cereal commercial that they kept playing over and over and over.  After having that drilled into my brain all night long while watching an already sub par television show has made me want to vehemently avoid anything products by Post while roaming around the super market.  I feel like that is counter intuitive to their original mission with the advertisement in the first place.  As far as Last Man on Earth…  the first episode was humorous, but then once Kristin Schaal showed up it progressively went down hill.  Which is sad because normally speaking I adore Kristin Schaal, I still find this skit one of the most hilarious things on the planet.  The problem with both Netflix and Hulu is the shows just keep playing without manual intervention… so I think I ultimately watched one too many episodes before finally deciding I had enough of it and stopped it.

Merry Sith-ness

swtor 2015-05-30 01-43-38-91 Around 10 pm last night I opted to try and go to sleep, thinking maybe my malaise was simply caused by being tired.  The problem being the moment my head hit the pillow it is like a flip got switched in my brain and I was instantly in “super awake” mode.  I tossed and turned trying to figure out a way to get comfortable, and chatted with my wife until she fell asleep.  After an hour of struggling to find sleep I opted to simply get up.  Thinking that if I could go do something my brain would eventually shut the hell up and let me go to sleep.  I’ve suffered from bouts of insomnia my entire life, and sometimes the worst thing I can do is try and force myself to sleep.  Otherwise I will have sat there in bed for three hours and ultimately just end up frustrated that I didn’t get up and do something with that time.  I am not entirely certain why I ended up launching Star Wars the Old Republic other than I have really not played much of it, and they have an insane xp bonus event going on.

I would really like to play the continuation of the main storyline on my Jedi Guardian, but the hard truth there is that I have been gone from the game so long that I quite literally have no clue where to start on it.  Instead I opted to log into my Sith Juggernaut that is knee deep in Balmorra hell.  In theory I could do just the class quests and be off the planet, but I feel a deep need to finish all of the things especially since this is the highest Sith character I have mustered to date.  I am not sure if it was surprising or not but I actually enjoyed myself, but the unfortunately thing is that I managed to stay up until 2 am before sleep finally claimed me.  This is going to make for a long evening with our podcast since I was back up again at 8 am.  Hopefully I will be able to sneak a nap in today, but I have a feeling that since it will be nice outside my wife will want to get out of the house.  We have been suffering through absolutely insane torrential rain.  I heard an estimate that over the last week we have gotten as much rain as we normally get in an entire year.

Beautifying AggroChat

AggroChat

One of my failings is that I have done a pretty piss poor job of advertising the fact that AggroChat.com exists and is populated full of good stuff to read.  Ultimately if you are reading Tales of the Aggronaut you are going to be extremely familiar with some of the content, but not all of it.  Essentially AggroChat.com was a vehicle that I came up with as a way to pull together all of the content created by the hosts of the AggroChat Podcast.  Additionally this site serves as a way to connect to each of the authors and a better vehicle for receiving both the AggroChat and Bel Folks Stuff episodes.  We have had some grand plans to eventually expand this site to include people who do not already have blogs of their own.  For the time being however it gives you a one stop shop for the following content…

The takeaway is that through this one site you end up with a ton of content delivered on a regular basis.  I personally blog every single day, and Tam blogs five times a week at least.  I keep hoping to add  more news commentary content and game reviews but we have not quite gotten there yet.  I plan on in the near future creating a special section of the AggroChat Game Club games where you can pull in some quick commentary from each of the folks that played it, as well as a link to the show where we discuss it.  Essentially we are going to keep expanding it, so I should do a far better job of promoting it.  So check the site out, and I would be open to any comments and suggestions.  I’ve tried to set the site up in a way that allows you to drill down into specific content by one of our Authors quickly and efficiently.  As of last week I even went back through every episode of AggroChat and indexed which hosts are on which shows so that they show up in our Author category links.  While there is already a lot of great content here, watch the site because I am hoping it gets ever cooler.