Deep Thoughts


I’ve been blogging about video games for a long time now.  Interests change, however, and both my interest in video games and in writing about them have declined quite a bit.  I still like playing video games now and then.  And every once-in-a-while something will impress me enough to think about writing about it.  But those days get fewer and fewer as other interests are taking time away from games.

So I’m fading this blog indefinitely.  There are many fine video game bloggers out there.  I have a bunch of them linked in my sidebar.

Farewell, readers, and thank you for your kind attention.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
~ J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

This weekend, I took part in a concert and march as part of several server-wide events in LotRO to support Child’s Play – they provide toys and games for sick kids in hospitals. I was thrilled to find out that my current kinship is playing a major role in organizing things on our server (including the party).

The idea is that as we advance in the amount of money donated, we go a little bit further on our way from the Shire all the way to Rivendell. This past Saturday’s march got us as far as Weathertop. In turn, many items are being auctioned off to support Child’s Play including player-created stuff, helpful in-game services, and even a gaming laptop!

I think it’s so cool that something like this could happen in a game world. I went to an event I saw posted on my guild calender, had fun with people I didn’t know in real life in a place that exists only on-line or in a story book (Tom Bombadil’s house), and marched to another non-existent place (Weathertop) using my avatar – all to get physical toys to real children with real illnesses.

It ruled.

You can find information about the Child’s Play initiatives in LotRO on A Casual Stroll to Mordor’s site. They also rule.

(A couple screen shots of the events below the fold.)

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The Ancient Gaming Noob has an interesting article discussing the pitfalls of creating an MMO around a well-known story IP. When you get to hold Legolas’ bow when he’s taking a leak or can interact with the world as a character that already has a predefined history it can hurt rather than help players’ interest and engagment.

TAGN from the comments:

Using Session Play to put you in the shoes of one of the main characters seems like a bad idea to me.

If you are allowed any freedom of action, you can screw things up. Boromir dances, makes rude gestures, and expends no effort at all in defending Merry and Pippin.

If you are not allowed any freedom of action, why bother putting you in that situation rather than just running a cut scene.

Job Done Well

LotRO is ever walking that perilous line. I thought the Amarthiel / Narmaleth quest line in Book 1 hit all the right notes for a parallel quest to that of the Fellowship. She wasn’t in the books and played no part in the story as done by Tolkien but it gave the players a threat to tackle which plausibly would have to be dealt with so the Fellowship could continue unimpeded.

I also enjoyed the cut scene / session play parts in the Mines of Moria where players could see through the eyes of a dwarf survivor all that happened upon the finding of the Balrog and the fall of Moria.

In both the Amarthiel line and in the Moria bits, players assumed the roles of minor characters or characters created expressly for the game and did not (usually) get into becoming a major factor in the Fellowship except as a helper.

Job Done OK

Most of the content thus far has been like that above. Sometimes, however, there was content that gave me pause. Like the walk with Frodo section prior to leaving Rivendell. When I did it, I thought it was awesome. My little hobbit would of course be thrilled to have a chat with a fellow adventurer so far from home. And the fact that he had helped Frodo indirectly since my character was a Bounder made it fairly exciting.

The only down-side was when I ran that same quest again on my alts. It was amusing as an RP device to consider what my different characters would say given the exact same events and dialog coming from Frodo. My burglar may have been supportive and glad to help, my hunter (who is the uncle to my burglar) might have had sterner advice though also more practical. My human guardian probably would have told him to train up in earnest and stay behind the large men with shields.

The problem I had with the walk with Frodo is that everyone does it. Several thousand characters have had their chat with Frodo. Knowing that put a bit of a damper on things, but what are you going to do. It’s an MMO.

Job … Done

While there were parts I liked, there were also some I thought went too far. The Rangers bit in Endewaith, I think it is, seemed a little off to me. These are rangers and members of the Grey Company. And they need the help of a hobbit cook / burglar because … why exactly? If they’re short on crispy bacon or need fishing pointers, my character would likely be a benefit. Other than that, I think, by lore reputation, my hobbit wouldn’t have much to contribute to the fighting. It was the same with the Dunedain parts in Evendim – just based on the lore I had a tough time imagining my hobbit adding anything to the battles.

Dunedain: “And now, setting aside our history as an epic fighting force equivalent to none, we have enlisted this hobbit to help with our battle.”

Me: “Remember, when fighting with a dagger, you grip the handle part and aim the pointy part away from you.”

Dunedain: “Er … yes. Thank you.”

Me: “Also, don’t run with scissors and be sure to pack a straw hat to keep the sun off your head while you’re farming.”

Dunedain: *sigh* “Ok, no running with scissors on the battlefield.”

I imagine they’d find a way to get him to guard the bee as quickly as possible.

Thus far, Turbine has steered clear of sticking the players directly at the controls of a major character (that I can recall, anyway). I’m looking forward to the Rohan expansion and hope Turbine will keep to what has worked in the past.

A couple of gaming updates:

1) I unsubscribed from SWToR.  I haven’t reached the cap in the game yet but due in part to real life business and other MMO intersets (primarily my return to LotRO) I couldn’t see shelling out money for a game I wasn’t playing.

2) I am now in another kinship (guild) in LotRO.  The new group is way more populated at all hours than my old kinship ever was.  They’re a fun bunch of folks who regularly put on shows and engage in general silliness and I’m having a blast thus far.

One thing that struck me, listening to the kinship chat over the past couple of weeks is how much I’ve missed it.  Chat in SWToR and in my old LotRO kinship was essentially dead.  It’s like having a radio tuned to a dead channel: what’s the point?  Now there are all kinds of things going on in chat, along with events in the game and also raids and groups … I feel like I’ve come home.  MMOs are more fun with other players.  Whodathunkit?

 

Mead update:

Last time I posted, I had just racked the mead into a glass carboy.  At one point the airlock lost pressure but a couple of days later, it was under pressure again.  The pressure indicates that the mead is brewing.  Yeast are producing gasses which exit the carboy through the airlock.  A lack of pressure means that fermentation has stopped or slowed to the point where it’s no longer strong enough to effect the air lock.  The fact that it has re-started is good (as it’s nowhere near ready yet).  The mead is beginning to clear up which means that in a couple weeks it will be ready to rack again.

Star Wars, I hardly knew ye

SWToR is slowing down for me. I’ve advanced my smuggler into the low 40s and been checking out the end game. The end game in SWToR is the same as every end game I’ve seen: crap. Grind this, grind that, run in circles until the expansion. Bah. Given the need in SWToR for voice-acting in addition to all the other stuff most expansions entail, I’m thinking they’re going to have a hard time cranking them out. Couple slow release times to a lack of other classes I’d like to play and I may as well start looking for the exits now.

In my opinion, SWToR isn’t a bad game. It’s just a short game. There’s no game-over screen but I suspect that at 50, I’ll be heading out. Granted, it’s pretty odd for its type: an MMO where each character is the center of the universe … and so are all the others. There’s no real reason to group up unless you’re into doing Flash Points (which can be skipped). If you’re looking for a decently-build Star Wars game, I’d still recommend it. Be prepared to have a couple of months of fun and then call it quits. You could probably multiply that by however many classes you take an interest in – for me it was just the one: smuggler/soundrel.

Apparently, I’m not the only one less than thrilled by SWToR in the long-term. I was looking for a friend on another server just a couple days ago and had to review the server list to find his server. Servers which were once heavy all show standard or light. There was only one heavy server. The sad thing is that game companies seem to be getting in this rut where they’ll only back an MMO if it’s from a major IP (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and then only produce the bare minimum of content or mechanics so it can call itself an MMO. It’s safer to create something that already has a ready-made fan base and hope they stick around than it is to create something new or different and have to fight the uphill battle to get people interested.

It’s still too soon to tell whether or not SWToR will bomb. I kind of doubt it. There is a significant fan base out there for a Star Wars game. I’ve seen them in SWG – still playing when that game was considered old. Bioware may have to consolidate servers or release content more slowly than they planned, but if they work at it, I think they can keep it limping along even if large numbers of the uncommitted (like me) up and leave.

I’m not certain that I’ll go, but all signs point to yes.

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My smuggler is level 36 now and off to Quesh to work on the latest piece of his class quest.  I’m still enjoying the game – it’s a fairly vanilla MMO but I kept my expectations low for this one and haven’t been too disappointed.  Even the let’s-ride-a-roller-coaster-and-shoot-things-over-the-railing space battles have been fun as a mini-game.

Having played the game for a bit now, I’m noticing some things more and more that have started flecking that new MMO paint off here and there.

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After playing some more Star Wars:  The Old Republic, I got to thinking about what Bioware was doing putting the game so much in the past as compared to the movies.  Regardless of their reason for doing so, I think putting the game outside the scope of the original stories allows them to side-step a lot of Lore-based landmines that a game like LotRO much inevitably deal with.  In LotRO, there can be no flying mounts and players cannot be something too outside the existing cannon – the Lore won’t allow it.   The big time difference between SWTOR and the movies allows the developers more flexibility in creating things for the game.

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