Momentarily out of Action, Temporarily out of Gas

Life is busy. Between demanding work assignments, getting better after a heavy flu crisis and preparing for a big move at the end of April, I’ve been struggling to get much writing in these past weeks. It’s not even lack of time – it’s energy, feeling mentally drained or preoccupied to the point of preferring a session of casual, trivial FFXIV in the evening over anything else. Writing, blogging on this here blog, has never been a casual gig for me; I don’t do casual blogging nevermind the speed or quantity of my posts compared to others. Blogging about MMOs and social topics, finding the right words and engaging with my readers are matters of passion and dedication. They deserves nothing less.

While I’m not blogging so much right now, I’ve found some needed distraction lately catching up with TV series and the culinary arts (did you know we have a food blog?) and I am still enjoying my time in Eorzea immensely. I hit level 50 on my black mage several weeks ago and have been quite invested in the main storyline, the dungeons and raids and of course collecting shiny armor of which there is so so much in FFXIV, I don’t know where to start! Oh and chocobo dyeing…..which is the single most annoying and frustrating process I have ever encountered in an MMO. My bird, Dandelion, has gone from plum purple to razor blue and back so many times by now, I wish a curse on all the guides ever written on “how to” recolor your chocobo in FFXIV! Once when I was young and naive, I set out to achieve gloom purple but there is only so much disappointment one can take.

Sylberry, settling for plum purple…alas!

Anyway. I don’t do meta life-messages very often but this blog is part of a community that I have come to value a great deal and miss. This is to let all my friends and readers know that MMO Gypsy will resume business as usual as soon as normality has been restored in what we all call the “IRL”. I am still here – and I look forward to chatting, laughing and arguing with y’all again soon!

[FFXIV] A Heavensward Expansion!

So here I am barely on my way to level cap in A Realm Reborn and much like Belghast, I am super excited for its first so promisingly named expansion – Heavensward! As a newbie player trying to catch up and enjoy the original content, it can seem daunting to hear about expansions; what will happen to public events in the old zones for example or how do you find a party for the dungeons everybody’s gotten tired of? Luckily, in FFXIV there is no such thing as players “finishing” the world; new classes mean plenty of lowlevel characters everywhere and features such as the (scaling) daily dungeon roulette, make sure players of any level have folk to group up with. Social engineering is alive and well in Eorzea. My little black mage just hit lvl 38 today (with lvl 34 Arcanist and lvl 15 Archer to cross-class) and I fully intend to make the most of the storyline up to lvl 50. I also can’t wait to get my soon to be considered old class set!

All that said, zomg Heavensward! You could tell Yoshida was very pleased with himself at this Pax East 2015 and why shouldn’t he? FFXIV’s first expansion packs a punch and leaves its playerbase wanting for nothing. The new zones look absolutely amazing – my heart jumped at the sight of The Pillars in city state Ishgard, reminding me of Divinity’s Reach with its tudor style medieval buildings. I sincerely hope there will be new music for these locations as well!

thepillars

Then, there’s of course a level cap raise to 60 and three brand new jobs: Dark Knight, Astrologian and Machinist, bumping the number of total roles within FFXIV’s holy trinity by one each. The Au Ra are added to the roster of playable races. Also announced were new shiny class sets, flying mounts and those long awaited free company airships. Most importantly, there will be myriads of new quests, hunts and public events along with the continuation of the main storyline, which is something I am currently enjoying a great deal on my black mage. When I came back to this adventure a couple of weeks ago, I could already tell that FFXIV was gonna keep me busy until the end of the year. Now it feels like I’ll have enough to look forward to way into 2016!

Which hey, is an incredibly comfortable thought to me right now. I feel like I’ve finally found a world worth building a home in, one that I also want to introduce my friends to. Unlike so many virtual homes doomed to dwindle, Eorzea at least has a bright future. June 19th, you are officially marked on my calendar!

mysyl36

Liebster Leser….errr Awards!

Liebster Leser, besten Dank dass Du wiedermal bei mir reinschaust….
Oh wait, that’s actually “Liebster Award” – I blame Sig for this one! While chain letters are the worst, community memes are kinda rad which is why instead of publishing that upcoming post on Valve’s zomg-Vive, I am going to respond to Sig’s questionnaire and challenge seven next bloggers to tackle my own list further below!

In case you’ve never run into Sig by the way, that’s probably because he hardly ever blogs (slacker!) but he’s a great presence on twitter and he has a beard! So thanks, Sig!

Liebster-Award

My Answers for Sig
1. Frogger, Dig Dug or Space Invaders? - Frogger!
2. If you were frozen in a block of ice, and miraculously were found alive after thawing out 10,000 years later, what is the first thing you would do? - Visit the next Arcade and jump into that full-VR metaverse suit of awesome!
3. Do you like slurpees? - No. I prefer eating calories over drinking them.
4. How many video games do you own that you’ve never played? – If you count that 107-games gameboy module, 50?
5. What is your favorite color? - Blue. And yellow.
6. If you bought me a beer, what kind would it be? - Tactical Nuclear Penguin.
7. Yo ho, yo ho! A pirates life for me! Fill in the blanks you scabrous dogs!
“We’re rascals, gypsies (duh), villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
We’re devils and black sheep, really sexy beasts,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.”
8. If someone has multiple personalities and threatens to commit suicide, is this considered a hostage situation? – Umm, wut?
9. What is your favorite kind of hot sauce? - Sriracha. Even glue tastes better.
10. Do you even lift? – Every day, one finger at a time!

 
Apparently Liebster has various rulesets, so you can really nominate as many or few people as you like. Without wanting to seem greedy, my nominations are:

And here’s my 10 questions for you guys and gals (no pressure…..no really, pressure):

1. If you could learn a new language over night, which would it be?
2. What is the first MMO you’d want to visit in full VR mode?
3. If you got to invite a dead person over for tea and biscuits, who would it be?
4. What kind of biscuits would you serve?
5. Who should go down first: House Lannister, House Frey or House Bolton?
6. Justice means:
– a) everyone gets what they work for
– b) everyone gets the same
– c) everyone gets what they need
7. If you could see one of your favorite games get a sequel, it would be….?
8. If a person were to split a pot of 1000$ between them and yourself on condition of you accepting their first offer, would you rather accept 100 bucks or both go empty?
9. Which ingame MMO place/location do you consider a home to return to?
10. Favorite midnight snack when nobody’s looking?

Happy weekend, everybody!

Podcast: Beyond Language Barriers

On the weekend, me and Braxwolf got together to talk about a vastly intriguing subject that’s sometimes overlooked when we communicate across blogs, social networks and guild chat: language barriers and cultural differences. For the most part, I pride myself to be very proficient at English and I don’t encounter any issues when dealing with native speakers online; misunderstandings are rare and funny puns or learning about colloquialisms is something I’ve always enjoyed. As for cultural differences, I always felt that on an individual level human beings have a lot more in common than they have not, even if there’s such a thing as overarching culture that makes it more or less difficult/customary to talk about certain issues at times. However, when we meet each other halfway and give people the benefit of the doubt, any topic allows for discussion and common ground. The things that move us are universal. Likewise, English has become an universal language, a lingua franca, that belongs to everyone and that keeps evolving with its diverse international community.

To listen to this episode of Beyond Bossfights, check out Braxwolf’s place for “Episode 15 – Language and Culture Differences” or the TGEN Network!

http://braxwolf.com

 

[FFXIV] Random Acts of Kindness are Contagious

“The unkindness of your own relations has made you astonished to find friendship any where.” [Sense and Sensibility; J. Austen]

One of the few things that weren’t tuned down in FFXIV compared to its more unforgiving predecessor FFXI, is that dying still remains a firmly inconvenient affair in terms of getting your character resurrected. Granted, the harsh EXP penalty is gone but in lieu of graveyards or self-rez options in FFXIV, players can either return to their homepoint (which is frequently on the other side of the world because you only die on those field trips off the beaten path) or well, lie around and hope for someone to rez them that has the required ability. In order to be found, a shout in zone chat is necessary together with <pos> to tell potential saviors of the day your exact position. This is of course fairly embarrassing but will save you time and money in case you are heard.

And to my great astonishment, I am always heard. No matter what time of the day, no matter the zone I am in, ever since embarking on this journey the community in FFXIV has been nothing but quick to respond, friendly and supportive. The few times I have died on my glass cannon caster, it took no more than 20 seconds for a player to get back to me via whispers, letting me know they are “on their way”. Never have I been mocked, always am I being welcomed to the game and buffed up by the usually far more advanced players. I don’t know if it’s just Cactuar or the general culture in this particular MMO but yes, everyone is suspiciously nice in FFXIV and I can’t help but wonder along with my fellow bloggers: what makes this one so different?

A typical FFXIV encounter.

A typical FFXIV encounter.

The player from above conversation who rezzed me so graciously, then also went on to invite me to their linkshell and insisted I accept a 25’000 gil welcome present to help this newbie on her further travels. I cannot remember the last time this happened to me in an online game; it’s both humbling and sad to realize I’ve forgotten how such random acts of kindness feel in MMOs.

What influences server culture? Is it about content and game mechanics, the way social play is encouraged or rewarded? Is it about more niche audiences versus jaded mainstream ones, as suggested by Liore? No doubt, it’s several factors come together that must work in unison longterm to make cooperative culture a thing – and yet, as a newcomer who knows precious little about rewards and the social engineering in FFXIV at this point, all it takes is a handful of positive experiences to make me want to become active part of a better community! I want to add my share not because of tokens and rewards and achievements but heck, because this feels like a world of human beings and I’m learning how to be one again myself. That’s awesome! Need a rez, anyone?

On Rock Paper Shotgun and “that” Molyneux Interview

Over valentine’s weekend, the gamesphere was busy dissecting and criticizing what went down over at RPS recently when John Walker interviewed Peter Molyneux on the whole Godus debacle (for details check Aywren’s article) among other past failings. In the wake of the “ethics in game journalism debates” of last year, I was hoping to read more blogosphere opinions on the matter. Now, I will say this: I am for the most part a fan of Walker’s work at RPS and his often candid and brutally honest writing that hasn’t made him the most popular videogames journalist in the past. I hold neither grudge nor particular awe for Peter Molyneux who seems to be notoriously overselling games ever since the wane of the Populous fame and making petty, snidy remarks about more successful developers like Notch – which is what got me to unfollow him years ago on twitter. He is, as far as my interests are concerned, a somewhat silly figure but I’m not a Godus backer, so I don’t harbor any ill will against him for screwing with my money (also, some of that is a risk you’re taking with KS).

As for the interview itself, at some point I wasn’t sure I could continue because it’s so bloody long and extremely awkward. You can’t possibly not feel some degree of empathy for Molyneux who is starting to disintegrate halfway through, appearing less and less credible and informed about his own projects, until he arrives at the inevitable (sulky) conclusion that maybe he should not be giving press interviews anymore ever. And maybe he shouldn’t – it wouldn’t be the first time a genuinely enthusiastic and creative person isn’t fit for the whole business and marketing aspect of their enterprise. Anyone more PR savvy should have stopped giving an interview after being asked “are you a pathological liar?” and yet he did not, he walked right into it and once more, talked himself into another pickle for one and a half hours. If he’s not in fact pathological as Walker suggested, he is either too narcissistic to understand what’s happening or kindly put, a little out with the fairies.

So yeah, I kinda feel for his romantic optimism but I don’t feel sorry for Peter Molyneux – a man with lots of resources at his hands who doesn’t understand why “I really believed with all my heart this would be successful” (half of his defense paraphrased) doesn’t quite appease his crowdfunded investors. There needs to be a degree of transparency and accountability when you operate in the field of selling promises. I’d rather not imagine him working in investment banking.

And no doubt, John Walker delivered the most insistent and unwavering line of questioning in a developer interview I have ever read. He conducted the interview at eye level, emancipated from the type of crippled “fan interviews” we get to read all the time by grateful enthusiasts. As a professional, he was adamant to get his points addressed without much wiggle room. The opening question was an aggressive and ironical double bind because strictly speaking, if you’re not in fact a pathological liar, “yes I am” would be the best way to prove you are not. Given that this wasn’t a cross-examination of a witness in court, Walker came across as accusatory but hardly malicious. There are two sides to this debate and generally speaking as a consumer, I would want my advocates to be as thorough and unceremonious as John Walker. Accusations of him “kicking a puppy” in this interview are frankly ridiculous and not very respectful towards Peter Molyneux, who is not a victim.

Gamers need to check their softened up standards when it comes to the “heroes” of their hobby; do you want videogame journalists to seek accountability or stop and smile (as so many do) whenever it gets uncomfortable? In the games industry especially, the power balance between producer and consumer is still askew. Opinions welcome.

At Daybreak you shall know their True Colors

It took no more than 10 days for Columbus Nova, new owners of the late SOE, to announce their first layoffs at Daybreak consisting of former MMO staff members from Austin and San Diego studios, including figureheads such as director of development Dave Georgeson, lore expert Steve Danuser or CM Linda “Brasse” Carlson.

I am perplexed. There go knowledge authorities and community figures that have steered the hype train for this next generation of Everquest games and especially Landmark, for months and months. And sure, it takes many excellent people to develop MMOs but let’s not kid ourselves – when you remove the lead singer, drummer and lead guitarist of a band your fans have come to love and follow, you are basically leaving that audience with a corpse. And you don’t care.

If there was any trust left in me when I wrote about my EQN misgivings yesterday, it has been shattered with the layoffs of Dave G. and team, people who tirelessly engaged with the community on the forums and signalboosted Landmark builds on twitter ever since alpha. They all deserved so much better than this.

This is another dark day for MMO players. Anyone who believes this could be a potentially positive thing for Landmark and EQN’s development (because the guys calling the shots behind Daybreak have all these “awesome and fresh MMO ideas”?) will sadly come to regret it, I fear. Nobody who has earnest plans to continue a project and legacy like Everquest and gives a damn about the community would just lay off the know-how and trust owners of the franchise. Re-asses strategy? – Okay. Re-organize management level? - Okay. But the fact that core team members are not kept around to consult on further development is all you need to know.

I’ve been an unwilling herald of bad news lately and so be it: I foresee no future in which the EQN that we’ve got presented at SOE Live 2014 will come to completion. Daybreak will cut their losses and either really release EQN status whatever “in the near future” as announced, or this project will be shelved Titan style within another three to six months, maybe to be disemboweled and re-purposed. And by the gods of Norrath, I hope I am wrong!

The Bird is the Word! Exploring the Realm Reborn Anew

Over at Party Business, an MMO blog I only recently discovered and that you should check out, Kunzay talked about getting his Chocobo and what he’s generally up to in FFXIV. Having only just completed the Chocobo step of the main storyline myself, I can say that I haven’t been this satisfied unlocking a mount in an MMO for a good while –

Sylberry all psyched on her new Chocobo!

Sylberry all psyched on her new Chocobo!

It’s true that FFXIV makes you work for almost everything: unlocking mounts, dyes, cosmetics and more. Nothing comes for free, except for that very generous bagspace – someone at Square Enix must really hate bags in MMOs. That’s okay though because thus far, all of the perks are reasonably attainable for the normal player and usually tied to the main storyline, anyway. It gives me satisfaction to unlock new features as I go and I’m already knee-deep in the multi-classing system which has always been this franchise’s big forte.

I don’t know what endgame will hold and I’m in no rush to get there; endgame is made for achievers, not explorers such as myself. This is the good time right now, this is my time in a new MMO when there’s still a vast, strange world to explore and so much to see and smell and listen to. For me and my kin, MMOs tend to get smaller and smaller the closer we move towards endgame, not bigger. I do not wish to complete this part of the journey.

The world is beautiful (new gallery!) and the story is well-told. It puts a wide smile on my face whenever I meet old friends or hear familiar tunes, like the time when I embarked on my first airship journey and parts of Liberi Fatali from FF8 played in the background. I even love learning the lore of the three different cities and main factions, granted the quest text and speech bubbles get a bit too much at times. You can tell that storytelling and world building are SE’s bread and butter – if they can’t do this type of stuff, who can?

On Immersion in A Realm Reborn

I’ve been debating if FFXIV:ARR suffers from its loading screens between zones as opposed to more persistent worlds such as Azeroth or Tyria; I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not really the case except for the loading times inside cities that get somewhat tedious. Eorzea for one, shares the virtue of a very life-like and authentic topography with LOTRO, whose wilderness and nature are second to none in MMOs. Even majorly important and too often overlooked aspects of immersion, such as scale and sound effects, come close in FFXIV where a forest sounds like a forest and thanks for that. Ul’dah or Limsa Lominsa aren’t quite Bree, yet they don’t feel as anachronistic and oversized as Divinity’s Reach and offer the more interesting and fun “NPC life” by far. Furthermore, SE employ a neat little trick to make outdoor zones feel more connected: even when you approach zone gates, you can in fact see the adjoining zone. It’s a very effective illusion and example of how small things can make a big difference to how big the world feels to the player.

Eorzea’s day-night cycle is somewhat frequent which allows players to enjoy the changing light conditions which, along with the weather effects, are pretty spectacular in FFXIV. When it’s not foggy, cloudy or sunny, there are at least three different stages of rain I’ve experienced so far, from a misty drizzle to a soaking curtain and windy gush (leaving your clothes all glossy wet). What I will say is that the transition phases I love so much aren’t celebrated the way they deserve: dawn and dusk happen far too quickly for my taste but this is hardly a make or break criteria.

Will the rain ever stop?

Nasty weather in FFXIV

If I have one big gripe where immersion is concerned, then it’s the invisible walls in FFXIV that seem so random. There’s rocks you can jump onto, hills you can climb and edges you can jump down from and then, there’s those where you can’t for no discernible reason. There are caves you can stand in front of and gaze inside but never enter for that invisible hand keeps pushing you away. Now to clarify, this issue isn’t nearly as big as in games such as Witcher 2 which boil down to “generously railroaded wilderness”; for the most part FFXIV is perfectly traversable. However, that just makes the random, invisible walls stand out all the more.

Last but far from least, the music deserves a special mention: I don’t know why I came to Masayoshi Soken’s work so late (maybe because the entire soundtrack is such a royal pain to acquire) but the music for A Realm Reborn is nothing short of delightful, an incredible companion to my adventures in the field. Nevermind the heavy-handed and complex multi-phase pieces for the primal battles which players seem to upload more than anything else to youtube – it’s the city and town tunes where it’s at, the zone music and battle themes. Right now, the FFXIV soundtrack makes up 50% of the reasons why I am playing and having such a great time, so really check it out sometime and let me leave you with three of my favorite tunes for the day!

So, should I still look forward to Everquest Next?

Chatting with comrades on teamspeak the other night, the topic of Everquest Next came up along with “vaporware” and equally unflattering comments. I admit, I really wanted to believe in EQN; SoE sure made their other upcoming MMO(RPG!) sound and look exciting before the launch of Landmark. And really, what is there left in the AAA-segment after EQN? THIS NEEDS TO BE A THING!

EQNlogo

That notorious green picture of many years.

I get how the Everquest veterans feel about this title however, which has become a running gag of sorts ever since the early days. One day, some day sure, there will be a next Everquest! And by now, I am not feeling it anymore either, I certainly don’t expect to see it launch this year and god knows what the whole acquisition by the grey men might mean for the future of these MMOs. All the more surprising therefore that official press statement, referrring to EQN’s more imminent launch:

“Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company’s game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future” [Jason Epstein, Senior Partner of Columbus Nova]

Now ‘near future’ is a vague enough term but it still suggests things happening in under a year or so. May be that a senior partner of an investment company with a career in venture capital doesn’t have a clue about MMO development speed, may be that it’s just the usual corporate marketing speech to appease the masses. Or maybe they really intend to release EQN on a set date in the near future no matter what, which would add another chapter on catastrophe to the great book of MMO mishaps.

Ever looking for an upside, I wish it was neither of these options; I wish that EQN was farther ahead in development than SoE let on until now and that they’ve just kept things quiet – which makes no sense whatsoever really and is not how they are typically handling their pre-launches.

Call it vaporware, call it getting the Titan vibes, what’s pretty clear to me by now is that holding out for EQN as the next great thing requires a considerable effort in wishful thinking.

Blog Update and Quality of Life Improvements for Commenters

It only took me 2.5 years since the big wordpress move to finally get my blog into shape with jetpack, which now means I am logging on via the .com site again rather than .org and it’s all a little confusing. When it comes to upgrading systems that aren’t exactly broken, I am a horrible conservative but so far I am loving all the extra functionality (yay related posts)!

Since the somewhat frosty look of my old style got to me, I have also taken (yet) another opportunity to update my blog’s shiny layout and header. While I’m not 100% happy with the image yet, it feels a lot warmer and more well, adventuring vagabond to me. The free SUITS theme for wordpress is quite sexy, so I can definitely recommend that if you’re currently undergoing your own blogexistential crisis.

Quality of Life Improvements for my Commenters

While tweaking stuff, I was made aware of a rather astounding number which is my blog’s total count of comments for all time: 4’589 to date. Naturally as my regular visitors will know, half of these belong to me because ever since day one, I’ve made it my mission to get back to 99.8% of all comments that I receive. That still makes this comment count incredibly awesome and I know that without all these engaging and fun encounters and debates over the years, I probably wouldn’t be blogging today. So now that I am fixing the blog up for reals, it’s time I also did something for my commenters and regular visitors!

A list of the new comment features installed:

  • You can now spellcheck and edit (yes!) your own comments for the duration of 10mins, as long as nobody has replied to your specific comment in the meantime.
  • You can now subscribe to follow-up comments or new posts per email and never miss replies again.
  • You now get to see a max. character count per comment, in order to keep the overall discussion within an agreeable frame for dialogue (3000 is still a lot honestly).
  • Frequent commenters get their own honorable VIP-badge, starting at rank 1 (20 posts) and going all the way up to 7! Yeah, this one is more of a goofy gimmick but I like it – even if it seems to depend on IP too.

For now, I will give these a go and wait for feedback. It’s all in a testing phase for me, so let me know if a particular feature doesn’t work or if you think it needs adjusting. And as always, thank you for your comment!