Blaugust News and the Gaming Questionnaire

The blogosphere has been busy blaugusting under Belghast’s lead, an event I have been absent from due to a very hectic August and final examinations upcoming next week. Not that I would ever have managed a daily posting schedule, anyway. There were more great things happening this month however, the birth of the 8bitkitchen among them – a brand new gamer foodies blog graciously set up by Liore, so the blogosphere has a place to blog collaboratively about the foods they enjoy cooking and eating (welcoming more recruits!). I am loving this, also for its insight into fellow bloggers’ lives and our cultural diversity that we don’t necessarily get from MMO-related blogging. Needless to say, this should totally be on your reader / twitter feed!

More recently, a couple of podcasters from the blogosphere have started discussing a shared directory, maybe even a future podcasting network. Roger has been so kind to set up an aggregated page of all the known podcast feeds for now, so if you’re into discovering new MMO/gaming related shows, check it out and let him know what’s missing!

This brings me to the Gaming Questionnaire, a shared topic by Jasyla which seems to have timed perfectly in with Blaugust and is a ton of fun to read through on other blogs. It is tangentially also something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so in lieu of much else from me this month, I am embracing this challenge (with few omissions due to not having an answer)! As far as a more in-depth gamer bio goes, I’ve already talked quite a bit about mine on Gameskinny before, the focus of that interview being more narrow.

The Gaming Questionnaire

1. When did you start playing video games?
I started playing VGs in the early 80ies, the first console to hit our home being the ill-fated Intellivision around the time of the great videogame crash. An Atari ST and NES soon followed, so these would probably be my formative years and platforms.
2. What is the first game you remember playing?
Tough one. I don’t actually remember much of the games I played on Intellivision, so I’d rather go with my first ever favorite game on Atari ST, which was Mousetrap in 1987.
3. PC or Console?
I grew up with a lot of consoles and still own quite a few, SNES and PSone being favorites because RPGs. However with the coming of the MMO age, my platform of choice has become the PC and there’s no going back for me ever. I love connectivity, digital gaming and WASD.
4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
If I was actually buying next gen consoles, it would probably still be an XBOX (the 360 was awesome, ROD or not) – certainly never another Nintendo console. Wake up, Nintendo!
5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
Chrono Trigger. Duh.

ctgang
The best gang in the world.

6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
I tend to forget bad games and nowadays it’s so easy to avoid them. I remember really hating Vib Ribbon back when I bought it though.
7. What are your favourite game genres?
RPGs, MMOs, (Action-)Adventures, Sandbox / Building Sims, Survival, silly things
8. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
I don’t really have one. I like Chun-Li, Frog/Glenn, Kefka, Conker and Vivi even if they aren’t main protagonists. Okay, Conker is.
9. Describe your perfect video game.
The perfect game is a polished package with intriguing story, open world, memorable characters, dazzling music and overall aesthetics. And an immersion factor that manages to make me forget about dinner. So basically Skyrim.
10. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
I don’t develop crushes on fictional characters so much but I really like Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series, which is testament to the authenticity and quality of the games. Geralt is more or less a typical, taciturn lone wolf protagonist but the maturity level and atmosphere of Witcher2, paired with fabulous character design and an amazing voice-over (I have a thing for low voices à la Alan Rickman) make him incredibly attractive and intriguing a character to me that is also well developed story-wise.

geralt
Hot hot hot! :oops:

11. What game has the best music?
Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 7-11, Xenogears, Skyrim, Fable, Lineage 2, AION, WoW, GW2 and many more. I follow composers more so than titles or franchises, so I’d have to mention Mitsuda, Uematsu, Elfman, Soule, Zur, Hayes, Kurtenacker and C. Thomas to name a few.
12. Most memorable moment in a game:
I will never forget the descent of Sephiroth in the final battle of FF7, mostly because of One-Winged Angel.
13. Scariest moment in a game:
I scare easily which is why I don’t play horror games. One of the coolest scares I remember was Psycho Mantis making my PSone controller “hover” over our carpet floor. Long live MGS and rumble packs!
14. What are your favorite websites/blogs about games?
Anyone that’s on my blogroll. I don’t really follow any more mainstream gaming websites due to lack of transparency. My best references for picking and recommending games have always been friends.
15. What’s the last game you finished?
The Wolf Among Us.
16. What future releases are you most excited about?
Witcher 3, Everquest Next, Dragon Age Inquisition, Destiny, The Division, Tales from the Borderlands
17. Do you identify as a gamer?
Absolutely.
18. Why do you play video games?
Immersion, escapism, art, challenge, entertainment, team work, creativity, inspiration, community. And because nothing else will satisfy my rampant imagination.

[Wildstar] Of Unfun Raids. And: That Attunement just got Nerfed

Following up on Monday’s post about the complexities of healing Wildstar dungeons, which clearly doesn’t entice everybody, I came across this interesting link on Wildstar’s raiding being a major pita (my words) by one who seems to know what he’s talking about. Now clearly, no raider speaks for everybody but it’s rare to find one of the cool kids looking back and saying”yeah, that sucked” or “I don’t miss it one bit”.

To paraphrase some of Fevir’s points in the video, raid encounters are such hectic and constant telegraph dodge-fights that everything else that’s usually fun and rewarding about raid challenges – such as employing different tactics, improvisation and saves – has no room whatsoever. Fights boil down to dodging 40+ mechanics per boss while staring on the ground, or alternatively looking for healers so you can position yourself in green telegraphs. The unforgiving survivability test requires such a degree of focus that multi-hour raidnights are mentally draining and exhausting. Not to speak of the blame-game.

To be honest, I don’t fully buy into Fevir’s commentary. Much of it sounds like 40man vanilla WoW style raiding where raid nights were as draining at times as they were rewarding. At the same time, 40mans were great because there was actually room for error and creativity, and room for carrying people. And they were far, far from being mobility checks. Once more, I am getting the impression Carbine are out to combine everything other MMOs are already doing in terms of difficult mechanics. That makes Wildstar a game of grim satisfaction a lot more than lighthearted fun. It sure feels that way to me.

Not that I’m particularly fussed about raiding at this point. If we can’t make it, there are plenty of other games to play.

Raid Attunement going Bronze

I’m not going to fake surprise at this week’s news in terms of the Wildstar attunement. I put myself on the spot declaring the chain over the top and snottily giving Carbine six months to reconsider some of the hefty requirements, so three months it is. No condemnation from me for evaluating player concerns, the way they did for more varied body types, too.

wsohnoes
forums.wildstar-online.com

The related forum topic is naturally, already 46 pages long and consists largely of whining about whiners. To clarify what really happened: silver dungeons runs (with timer) weren’t nerfed – instead, the attunement requirement was dropped to bronze mode (no timer). To some kids who clearly don’t belong to the hardcore who have already begun raiding in Wildstar, that is the end of the world as we know it, despite the fact that you can still do silver (and gold) runs and best timers for feels and extra loot. That last point demonstrates the underlying motive of exclusivity over actual content difficulty; you can still do ‘better runs’ but the fact that the attunement just got nerfed, mildly, means endgame has become just a tad more accessible. Amagad.

As far as skill checks are really concerned, Carbine’s primary reason for the change was timers not effectively serving as such. That’s the actual development team saying “yeah, not really working as intended”. Timers promote rushed runs, skipping trash and risky pulls that put most of the onus on yes, the healer. No biobreaks allowed, no disconnects, no swapping specs manually (thanks to the inane interface), not even time to sit down for consumables. Raids are just like that?

What “remains” now are difficult veteran dungeons full of running, dodging, frantic resource management and wipes, only without people hating each other as much afterwards. Anyway, given Wildstar’s current raiding difficulty, I’m not sure how much more accessible raiding really got. There is however value symbolic or otherwise, in being allowed through the door, sniffing some of that endgame air for yourself. What’s the harm?

For the more hardcore players both imagined and real, there’s mostly this concern: now that they’ve nerfed / showed sense on the attunement, Carbine might adjust more things about raids in the future (noes?). I’m sorry for the lack of empathy in this case because MMOs constantly evolve, balance and change their content. They already do that! Also, I lied about being sorry! Life is too short, yo.

This week in Wildstar: Common Sense 1 – Vainglory 0.

Wildstar Healing and all the Ways it’s different

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on a roll with my Esper getting her through the first 7 steps of the raid attunement which includes silvering all veteran adventures. Having also healed through my first veteran dungeon last night, I’m finally back to the point where my old healer muscles and reflexes run on auto-pilot; healing is a routine and if you’ve stared at other people’s healthbars for years in WoW or elsewhere, you own the mindset that comes with playing support classes.

The main reason why healing is appealing to me is the complexity of choices, not just for yourself but everyone in the group. It’s the splitsecond decisions on what action to prioritize next and if need be, whom to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good (or a much needed lesson in self-management). While most roles are centered around the interplay between ‘self and the other’, healers focus on three units in combat and depending on the MMO, they’ll be asked to do this while being more or less mobile. Healers are also the guardians of time, as far as their role within trinity-based MMO combat goes.

sylheal

And Wildstar asks for a lot from healers. I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult than in some other games but in terms of complexity, there’s an adjustment phase that can feel bewildering to someone coming straight from WoW, Rift or LOTRO. I’ve tried to put my finger on what initially felt so different about healing and decided that similar to Wildstar’s doubly-active combat system, it’s a new combination (and accumulation) of several aspects:

  • Positioning telegraphs
  • Focus and combo management
  • Mobility
  • Limited actionbar

None of these mechanics are new. MMO healers are used to managing mana and optimizing their healing, for instance via proc timing. Games like Age of Conan have featured non-targeted and instead more area- and conebased healing. Many newer titles come with some form of action combat and minimal UI. For some of them like GW2, that makes sense too.

Speaking from an Esper perspective (which more or less applies to all classes), the biggest difference about Wildstar’s healing is that it combines all of the above added difficulties or restrictions at once. The most noticeable change for me personally, was mana management in combination with a resource / combo system, similar to a rogue’s combo points in WoW or a warrior’s rage. Not only will you manage your focus (manapool) but Espers can stack up to 5 combo points (and only with certain builders) which are required to heal efficiently and dish out the big single-target or area heals. That’s two numbers to monitor for your healing at all time while making smart builder- and finisher choices.

Of course this being Wildstar, even as an Esper many of your heals and cleanses aren’t targeted but come as a cone or AoE. So, in addition to moving out of red telegraphs constantly and staying in range of the tank, you’ll have to try position yourself in a way that affects as many party members as possible. They should do their utmost to stay in range / in front of you of course but in the heat of battle, well…we know how the theory usually works out.

The limited actionbar (8 skills) in Wildstar is my only real gripe, because it makes no sense. There are games like GW2 where the minimalistic UI covers all player needs and is perfectly tuned to combat. Wildstar on the other hand, with its fussy skills menu and plethora of situational abilities in the offensive/support/utility department, forces you to manually swap skills for every other fight with only two specs per default (although you can buy more later for Elder Gems). Every time you swap something manually, you have to go back and fill in the points to boost said skill, too. It’s awkward and feels out of touch with the game’s overall approach to combat.

Healing in Wildstar

Wildstar certainly adds its very own flavor to group healing but once you’ve had the opportunity to heal a couple of dungeons in a decent group, you’ll adjust to its resource management, telegraph positioning and mobility requirements. Maybe more than for other MMOs, Wildstar relies on players knowing a dungeon and specific boss abilities (esp. also due to the limited action bar), so it’s advised to always do a practice run or two on normal mode before attempting to crack veterans.

Healers learning the veteran drill should also insist that party members bring their own utility (healing gadgets) and medipacks to fights for as long as everyone’s performance is in those early stages of chaos. There is only so much you can heal / reach and what goes for every other MMO out there, also applies to Wildstar: The tank always comes first. Many whelps? Handle it!

Wildstar Light Armor Styles and Dye Customization

So you just hit 50 in Wildstar and wanna look fabulous, cupcake? You don’t have any of those shiny beta or early access sets to start off? Fret not, there are a few quick and cheap ways for the early light armor wearer to feel like a pro!

Before I get to recommendations, a few words about Wildstar’s current customization: the dye system and gear management are pretty bad. Not only is there no outfitter built into the game by default, the dye menu is fussy, buggy and will make you pay each time you apply a different shade of color to your outfit. Items can only be used once per set, so there’s no copying over the same headpiece to different styles.

On the upside: Wildstar lets you equip all armor classes as cosmetics! That means as a light armor wearer, you can still go for that heavy plate look even if personally, I choose not to. A guildie told me my character looks straight out of a fantasy MMO rather than a sci-fi one, which is probably true (a tiger can’t change its stripes?). I like pretty and magical things, what can I say!

Four awesome sets for the distinguished Esper (and anyone else)

Below you’ll find four of the light armor looks I’m currently using and which were all pretty easy to collect, either from zone reputation vendors and/or the auction house. Wildstar frequently recycles gear looks too, so better not cling to the one source/name I will be giving for every look. What you want to get right away however is the Item Preview addon which will make your life that much easier (it also previews decor items). Sets are numbered 1-4 from left to right and are mostly mix’n matches. Level requirements aside, none of them should be faction- or otherwise restricted.

wsstyles

1) The Quintessential Healer
My favorite set in the game, I got all the pieces for this look from the AH right after hitting level 50. The chestpiece, shoulderpads, pants and boots are all part of the “Fibermod Starloom” series, combined with “Hand of the Tumbling Torrent” and a bandana headpiece which exists all over the place. The Fibermod look can also be acquired through some rep vendors. I caution anyone not to trust the colors of item preview in this case(!): if you get these items straight from crafting or the AH, you’ll find the colors are buggy and the set needs to be re-dyed completely (which is totally worth it!).

2) The Starship Trooper
As close to a sci-fi look as I’m going, you’ll spot many color variations of this set from random drops and reputation vendors as you are leveling up. One quick way of obtaining all the pieces is visiting the rep vendors in your capital city, two of which will sell you the entire “Suede” set (lvl 45) for about 25 gold total. From there it’s up to you where to go with this and colors may vary from a shrill space look to much more delicate shades. This is a very transformable set!

3) The Galactic Explorer
A more recent acquisition, I love this set for both its royal and slightly goofy looks. All items bar the sunglasses (which are a soulbound epic boss drop called “Mindmender’s Mask”) are obtainable at the reputation vendors in Blighthaven (“Blighthaven” set items) for about 30 gold total (the original headpiece is this oriental looking facemask). As you can see, I rolled with my previous pants here instead.

4) The Classy Gentlewo/man
Not feeling the headpiece, I’m liking this set for its more low profile leather and velvety flair. The headpiece and gloves are part of the “Fibertronic” set items, chest and pants are part of the “Polaris” set (the chestpiece can also be acquired from the rep vendor in Grimvault and is called “Polaris Premiere Polyweave Hauberk”). My shoulderpads are called “Supply Master’s Burden” and the pretty awesome boots are “Crimson Crescent Slippers” – all of which were acquired through the AH.

Maybe even more than in other MMOs, dyes are everything in Wildstar and many sets will only shine once you applied better colors to them. While dye acquisition is harder leveling up and mostly up to lucky drops, housing challenges or the overpriced Commodity Vendor, you will be stacking up on dyes swiftly once you are eligible for the daily quests in Northern Wastes at level 50 (which can get you up to 5-6 dyes per day with several definite drops). With that, I’d say there’s no time to lose – tackle that max level already and enjoy playing around with different styles and colors! Happy customization – for science!

Your last MMO ever and the Troubles of Aging together

I am a 30+ MMO player with a history. I don’t speak for all 30+ MMO players with a history. This post is about many things at once.

Not too long ago I had an interesting discussion with an old gaming buddy reflecting much of the current MMO malaise that seems to have struck several bloggers around the blogosphere lately. The most memorable statement in our conversation was this: “Wildstar is going to be my last MMO” – something that I’ve heard several times now and keep reading on the official forums. Clearly MMO culture is in a phase of re-evaluation both on a personal level and otherwise.

On the surface, such final player declarations appear singularly odd and certainly unique to the genre; never would you hear anyone say “this is going to be my last RTS ever” or any variation thereof. Why would anyone make plans for their last MMO ever?

Of course the answer is simple for those among us who have been there – played MMOs, breathed MMOs, lived inside the same MMO for years. This genre is not like other genres and neither is its commitment. Players are passionate about their character progression, their guilds, their dramatic quitting gestures. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, players content to solo and never invest in any type of cooperative endgame. Yet, there is still a consensus, spoken or unspoken by developers too, that the heart of the MMO experience lies in cooperative multiplay. A big chunk of content gets created entirely for this reason, for better or worse.

And multiplay takes extra time, in fact not just when you’re in the middle of it but way in advance. Looking for guilds, spending time getting to know a community, working around timezones and schedules in order to group up and advance together, that’s a type of effort that asks for special dedication. For the more fatalistic among us that don’t do casual solo even when they aren’t hardcore, this also means the decision to jump into a new MMO is one that must be carefully considered. There is no time to waste or something, it’s either all or nothing.

All of this resonates with me given my early WoW history. However, there are times when I wonder if it’s really such a good thing to make one’s own happiness so dependent on other people (it’s not like that ever works out in real life). I love the cooperative aspect of MMOs but they are also virtual worlds, canvases of beauty I’d like to travel and explore. The older I get, the more there is compromise to my own time spent in games. O tempora, o mores, I guess.

The Troubles of Aging together

That said, I’m a player who is still counting on social ties for longterm dedication and so many times since WoW have I been flustered about MMOs not bringing back the “good old times”. Of course there’s a pattern here; you’ll never hear an early player talk about the good old times because there are no such times (yet) to make flawed, subjective comparisons to.

The only reason I’m probably still playing Wildstar every night and enjoying it immensely is social environment. I’d still be paying a sub and exploring the maps of the Nexus but as a solo player or member of a dwindling group of peers, I would never have bothered to acquire the Genesis Key, step one of the attunement of doom. Wildstar might actually be another MMO on the shelf already, as it is for others that used to be more excited for launch than myself. I’m still in though and wondering about the reasons, knowing at least half of the answer:

I started playing Wildstar with three old WoW buddies of mine, all of which have drastically changed weekly schedules now that they’re in their 30ies rather than early 20ies. So do I, despite all of my personal time still being my own. I am not 23 anymore, I need more sleep than I used to (it’s true and I hate it), I don’t do rushed PC dinners any longer and I have no wish to be in charge of anything or anyone else than my virtual self when online. I’m still looking to be a regular in an efficient and fun guild though, one that manages to balance the hardcore casual for lack of a better word.

Facing the fact that a group of ex-WoW raiders now all in their early thirties don’t stand a chance lasting in Wildstar’s endgame (we’ve tried and failed before), I soon resolved that our small guild needed to move on and reinforce a bigger team run by fresh people full of “MMO-oomph”. It’s been the best decision possible both for my own enjoyment (and hopefully theirs too) and dedication to the game. More importantly maybe, hearing others talk about the game made me realize that MMOs are as new and wonderful as ever for players of another generation – the players we used to be ten years ago. In no way is Wildstar inferior to WoW when it comes to how it’s handling group content. Nothing has changed in that department – we have. The people around us, our original peers have.

Early MMO enthusiasm is contagious. So is dwindling enthusiasm.

Truthfully, every MMO since WoW was a game I tried to re-connect to together with my ever less active WoW buddies. You could say I’ve kept trying to recreate my old communities elsewhere, as so many of us do. A guild’s greatest virtue which is bonding with others, becomes it’s greatest peril in the long run when communities get so insular that there’s hardly room for new blood, not even across games.

Yet the more we kept to ourselves and didn’t mix, the faster we dwindled. It’s a downward spiral and it doesn’t work. Soon everyone’s frustrated that they can’t ever seem to get a full group for anything. Maybe somebody out there knows a critical mass of 35-year old MMO veterans that are mostly regulars but I do not – and you need a regular (slightly nutty) core to run a guild effectively. Now that I’m in a way more mixed guild with dedicated leadership, I feel completely boosted by their enthusiasm. Who are these people and why are they having so much fun? Oh wait, I used to!

sylvs

Luck and then some

There’s always an element of luck and timing involved when we start out in new games and looking for a new guild can be tough. I’d certainly call it a piece of luck to have chanced upon an active bunch of people with so similar a player ethos to my own. It would be amiss and incomplete however, not to try analyze things beyond luck.

Mingling with a wider age range aside, the choice of RP server and faction is probably crucial. On the only EU-RP server, Dominion side is a very calm and underpopulated place to be a Cassian, with dead zone chats and limited wares on the AH. My first instincts were calling it a bad choice when in fact, it’s the most beneficial thing to guild life. Players need their guild. Already this community feels tight-knit, the way it only happens in MMOs after launch rush is over and grasers have moved on. It’s the people who stay behind that you want to guild with.

And so maybe, it all comes down to this: staying behind and choosing to be part of a new, active community rather than maintaining an old one. Rolling on a cosy low-pop server. Sticking with that choice past launch rush. Not so different from ten years ago. We blame design a lot of the time when it comes down to frustrating social factors that ultimately, we’re both in control of and aren’t. Even if an MMO facilitates group play, and I believe Wildstar does, commitment remains a choice and unfortunately it’s not enough to make that decision yourself, you need others to make it with you. So maybe new blood is where the aging MMO player needs to start focusing his or her attention, if future gameplay experiences are meant to outlast a brief visit. I am guilty of having lived in the proverbial past.

For the Record

I love MMOs and I intend to play them for the foreseeable future. I believe that my generation of gamers especially, born in the 70ies and early 80ies, have an important and unique opportunity to be rolemodels for everyone else to come, doing away with gaming misconceptions and stigma. Yes, you can be an older gamer! No, gaming doesn’t have to stop at 30! If we can embrace ourselves and let go of the good old days in favor of new ones, new people and new experiences, there’s nothing to stop us from becoming the first gamers to happily make it to retirement (just think of all the free time!). Loving this place that is the MMO blogosphere, I hope to see you there.

Monday Wildstar Links

The holidays are almost over (woe is me) so I have spent the past week catching up on my gaming in Wildstar, making it all the way to level 47 from 40. I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed the new zones as much as the fabulous Farside, Wilderrun being a dreaded jungle zone and Malgrave a navigation nightmare despite some pretty Firefly vistas. Nonetheless progress has been fun and it’s been a most productive time all around this new MMO which I’m still enjoying. Who would’ve thought?

Malgrave

Wildstar Wildstar Wildstaaaaar!

So, Wildstar updates. I’ve finally joined a guild on Lightspire EU, the jolly bunch of Venus Rising, and am very happy with my time there thus far. There’s the dedicated leadership every guild so desperately needs and from what I can see, a healthy mix between progress orientation and wanting to have a good time together without undue pressures. Despite Wildstar still being a freshman, the guild has already developed real community spirit while a respectable amount of people are already halfway into the atunement. I try not to worry too much about that and enjoy my last levels until 50. Endgame is forever but these early days of Wildstar will never come back.

Since RP servers feature some of the greatest housing plots and Lightspire is no different, I’ve taken many tours around my new guildmates’ sky maps these past few days. The creativity and effort put into some of the player creations is mindblowing, so I decided a video tour or two were definitely in order. Two of my favorite builds so far are the GM’s guild house and surroundings, as well as an astonishing clan home of five players who have worked on a fully decorated six-floor Draken home together, plus several more custom buildings. If you’re into player housing at all or looking for inspiration, these plots are not to be missed (the first video also features my own plot):

Having a thing for Wildstar’s unique charm and aesthetics, it was also high time to finally update the MMO screenshots gallery with my 48 favorite vistas taken during my travels so far. The last six pictures in the gallery are in high-res panorama format and due to popular demand, I have now added a Farside panorama shot as well for the dual-screeners out there:

farsided
click for full-res

Other than that, I have a few more useful links to share before beaming back up into the Nexus – oh and as always, happy Monday to all ye space pilots out there!

Finding a Guild in Wildstar (and anywhere else)

I remember a time when this was easy: jumping into a new MMO, meeting random people questing or selling goods, partying up for quests or dungeon runs. Then, writing their names down when the company was particularly enjoyable or adding them to a friendlist if such was available. Soon enough, you would decide this was a promising bond, once personal plans had been examined and longterm intentions seemed to match. There was potential for a common venture here – a guild. Either they already had one you could join or you would found one together, after you managed to agree on a suitable guild name, that is.

It doesn’t work that way anymore. Or maybe it’s just me. I never seemed to struggle to find guilds the “natural way” in FFXI or Warcraft but ever since, it’s been a really rocky road and not for lack of trying. I was in two guilds in GW2 which both faded away quicker than a Skritt’s courage. In LOTRO, I resorted to creating my own LFGuild thread on the realm forums because the game was way past the stage of guilds spamming global chat. Early this spring, I finally joined a friend’s non-committal multi-game guild, only to realize they truly didn’t give a toss who came or went, not even the GM. There were also hardly any women which is a red flag in my book nowadays.

Now in Wildstar, I created a guild for myself and four old WoW buddies to hang out while leveling up. The plan has always been to sniff the air on our server first and actually find out if this MMO was for us. Being five people with different work schedules and real life commitments, we hardly ever manage to be online at the same time, so dungeons are pretty much off because PuGs are hard to find before max level (and even harder to go through with). Yeah, we need a bigger guild and soon. I’ve no intention to recruit myself – been there, done that.

Since dungeons aren’t happening and there’s also not much cooperation going on during questing (the odd 2-min silent quickie aside to kill an elite), nor is there any reliance on player crafted goods or services the AH couldn’t provide, meeting random people in Wildstar is kinda hard. Damn the solo friendly, self-sufficient times we live in or something. That only leaves me with following options:

  • Check the official guild forums or wildstar.guildex.org
  • Create my own LF thread
  • Pick a random guild spamming global chat
  • Ask on social media (oops, no global servers so scratch that!)
  • Sit in a prominent corner in Illium and sing “All by Myself” with a sad face

Not very appealing options all of them, not if you generally cringe at “blind guilding” the way I do. There needs to be a personal touch or buzz for me before I join a guild, a reason to choose a particular group of people. At the very least, a recommendation by someone I can trust. If I have to switch guilds several times over, my enthusiasm for an MMO is generally at an end.

But then housing chat happened. One of the seriously enjoyable features in Wildstar, players can globally converse with the neighbourhood when logged into their home instance. For no better reason than to be social and friendly, I usually say hello whenever beaming up to my plot and it appears all the nicer RP people of my server are hanging out in the housing channel more than anywhere else. After visiting a few people’s plots, one particularly awesome house by the GM of a popular guild on the server, we got into talking. It so happened that this was also Kadomi’s guild since the Wildstar beta which added instant extra credit, and after checking out the guild page and policies, it feels like my buddies and me might actually have a place to head next. I was told we would be most welcome.

Here’s to hoping it will turn into an extended stay. I won’t need to write a new introduction post on the guild forums, I have one stored away in a .doc file on the computer. If it was written on real paper, it would be a worn and wrinkly document full of coffee stains but in our virtual worlds, hope dies last and paper is patient.

Latecomers and MMO Citizenship

Back from a trip to the Adriatic coast in Italy which I spent idly hanging at the beach and enjoying their wonderful food, I have been catching up with blogging neighbours and my friends in Wildstar who have of course hit level 50 while I was away. My Esper is currently still at 40 without trying very hard, so I’m in no rush to get to any endgame or attunement questchain. I still haven’t done all the 5man dungeons in Wildstar and it generally seems difficult to find a group of people interested in running them before level cap. This strikes me as weird but is probably testament to Carbine not integrating the dungeons into the leveling process very well. I remember countless Stockades, Deadmines and Gnomeregan runs back as a WoW noob, then Maraudon, Sunken Temple and all the level 55-60 dungeons we would grind on our way to vanilla level cap.

Why are players nowadays skipping dungeons on their way to max level? I’ve experienced the same in GW2 too. Sure, these games will scale your toon and skills down to the appropriate level, still it never feels like the real deal to me running designated lowbie dungeons after hitting level cap. There’s that voice in the back of my head telling me I’m a dirty cheater.

On MMO Citizenship

Commenting on one of Wilhelm’s more recent articles on friends jumping into WoW almost 10 years into its life cycle, and remembering this tweet by Scarybooster, I realized (again) how important it is for me personally to get a chance to play MMOs at launch. I can live without alpha and beta “testing” honestly but I love the spirit and mass hysteria of launch week(-ends), no matter how plagued with bugs and annoyances. This is clearly the addictive phenomenon of shared collective experiences, as much as wishing to be among the first or being a member of the first hour. As clarified over at TAGN, I’d like to grow along with a game, I want to understand where it came from and where it’s going.

Every time Bhagpuss reminisces about the good old EQ times, which he does so well, I feel a bit sad having missed that particular train. A part of me briefly wonders if I should still visit today but no, I don’t think so. There’s simply no way to catch up, to acquire a reasonably deep understanding of EQ that I would personally seek as a player. It’s not just harder to connect to long established communities in MMOs – as someone interested in the design and mechanics of games, it’s an impossible amount of historical baggage to clear through. There is no ‘citizenship’ for someone jumping into EQ in 2014, not for a long time anyway.

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And then there’s the matter of dated graphics…(pcgamer.com)

This is something that I have experienced in LOTRO before and it’s partly a reason why I never made it to level cap (the other part being the mind numbing exp-grind which is daunting to solo). I was never a citizen of Middle Earth the way I would’ve been, automatically, as a launch player. I could’ve gotten there one day maybe, reaching a point where I felt comfortably established. All the same I would remain someone marveling at the veteran tales told in the Prancing Pony, never partaking in any.

Granted, games today make it easier for the late player to catch up and get boosted. All MMO business models rely on a steady stream of players over several years, not just a few months. I wouldn’t say you can’t jump into Wildstar months after launch with any noteable difference. At the same time, I draw a line somewhere around the one-year mark where joining new games is concerned. This is a purely personal choice; you can absolutely enjoy older MMOs, maybe you can even commit to them in the same way as veteran players and be entirely happy with your time in that new world, the way it is right then. I just know from experience that I couldn’t be.

I’m fine missing out on certain content or events happening in MMOs, missing an entire era of gameplay (or several) however feels like skipping the first book in an otherwise excellent fantasy trilogy. MMOs do their best to appear non-linear: they’re always accessible, repeatable, resettable. Yet there are also milestones and caesuras in our virtual worlds, game changers and evolving stories. It’s not all one big broken record so as long as I enjoy the tune, I’d like to listen to all of it.

Second Skin: The perfect MMO Gear and Impact on Longterm Commitment

The other day, I had a bit of an argument with my significant other concerning folk who like to transform themselves with help of expressive or more unusual attire, often in their private time. The topic wasn’t so much cosplay but people generally wearing clothes that come with a certain message of affiliation or membership, to name more flamboyant members of the goth/black metal scene as one example. This type of expression isn’t limited to the rock’n rollers among us though; it can be found anywhere, even for more conservative interests such as golfing or hiking. Dressing up for the occasion plays an important role in many social activities and for some people it’s an integral part of who they really are.

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Probably not on their way to the golf course. (www.timeslive.co.za)

At a first glance, this might strike you as a very superficial approach to identity. Why do you need to wear a certain style to feel part of a social group or (in some cases) to communicate associated belief systems? Isn’t our heart the place of true identity? Strictly speaking that is true – it doesn’t make you any more or less of a “punk” whether you’re wearing torn jeans and a mohawk or not. Clothes and looks are deceptive and they should never be a requirement for someone to belong to whatever culture or creed they relate to. I can be committed to a set of beliefs without looking a certain way.

At the same time, clothes can be a powerful catalyst of self-expression, even self-discovery and confidence building. There’s a reason why many actors, especially method actors require authentic clothing that goes with the character they’re not just playing but becoming. Inner and outer transformation go together. There’s also a more common phenomenon of someone cutting their hair after ending a longterm relationship or getting tattooed after a great cesura in their lives. Our body is a reflection of the things that are happening to us. Some people, not all people, simply choose to include that part of themselves more actively.

Loving variety, I hold a torch for people who go for the so-called deviant styles in our society, be it a part-time thing or fulltime commitment. It takes guts to go against social conformity and nobody deserves to be written off on account of green hair or piercings. That’s one of the criteria I try to push as a recruiter too, by recommending clients keep an open mind to more colorful candidates rather than blindly trusting another picture in a grey suit and tie. At the same time, I’m trying not to fall prey to inverted snobbery; I admit I have a soft spot for people who don’t fit the corporate cookie cutter.

The perfect MMO gear

I’m neither the most imaginative nor boring dresser in real life but when it comes to my MMO avatars, I’ve always cared a great deal about customization options and cosmetics. I don’t know if this interest is more prevalent among players that treat their avatars like an alter ego but I am guessing most of us have preferences regarding their MMO character’(s) looks and have things that can throw them in/out of immersion. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the sub-par customization options of some games and the often lackluster or ill-conceived gear choices. And so I wonder: how have my past avatars’ looks, more specifically gear approach of the MMOs I’ve played the most, affected my playing longevity? Where and when did I truly feel at home gearwise?

World of Warcraft

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I played WoW for over 6 years and would call my experiences with its gear a very mixed bag of hits and misses. WoW made me feel epic spellcaster and disco clown in equal amounts and even the better sets I collected over that time were more hyper-stylized than I would have wanted, glorified leotards with near-zero extra customization options. Transmogrification was added just after I left and to this day Blizzard haven’t added a dye system. I guess this means gear wasn’t an integral part of my character immersion in WoW despite a few definite favorites.

Guild Wars 2

unrealgw2

To this day I’ve never played an MMO with more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing gear than GW2′s, certainly none with a better dye system. While ArenaNet could’ve offered more variety in their initial character selection, there’s not much left today that you cannot do with cosmetic and town gear. And yet, despite loving the different looks of my Elementalist, I cannot exactly claim to have been immersed in my alter ego. This is tricky to explain: to me, GW2′s gear is almost too beautiful, like a painting or wonderful piece of art to admire from afar without wishing to take it home with you. I love looking at my character but she isn’t really me, not the way I think of myself as an adventurer. What can I say, it’s complicated!

LOTRO

humblelotro

I’ve never written a post on LOTRO’s gear. Instead, I’ve praised it frequently as my personal winner of immersion in so many ways – from scale to atmosphere, scenery and sound effects. There’s an authentic quality to online Middle-Earth that’s never been reached in other games. It’s therefore probably no surprise that my favorite MMO gear too, is in fact my Lore-Master’s humble Ferrier’s Robe with its leather straps, stitched pieces of fur and merrily dangling satchels (I imagine they would dangle). Combined with a simple hood and backpack, I never felt better dressed or more ready for adventure than in LOTRO. There is countless lovingly detailed gear in the game like that, with the kind of commitment to practicality that may only be found in ESO right now. I love my character’s looks in LOTRO – more importantly, this could be me tomorrow!

Sometimes less is more, especially where immersion is concerned. However awesome gear or not, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not our character’s looks or customization options that decide over the longevity of our commitment. That doesn’t mean they do not add a lot of enjoyment to the games we’re playing though or that there aren’t certain breaking points. Playing Wildstar right now, I am back to hyper-stylized but also practical gear. Mostly, I am happy that the game doesn’t make me run around half-naked.

What was your perfect MMO gear of all time? Do you feel your character’s looks have any bearing on how much you can enjoy a title longterm? I wager more customization is always popular in MMOs, no matter how much we love cosmetics. There are limitations to what I can wear or get away with in real life, so it’s all the more important my online selves enjoy that unlimited freedom of self-expession.

The 150th CMP Round-Table and the Evergreens of MMO Discussion

For the illustrious 150th anniversary of their CMP podcast Roger and Brian invited a bunch of guests to discuss such trivial topics as hardcore vs. casual, sandbox vs. themepark, free-to-play and crowdfunding. It was a unique experience for me to join a podcast together with so many fellow bloggers and a pleasure to personally talk to some of my new MMO blogosphere buddies. Naturally, we never finished and could have gone on forever discussing substantial and divisive topics such as these.

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A while ago I started compiling what I call the list of ”big MMO Evergreens” as far as those topics go that have been the greatest cause of passionate debate (and strife) among lovers of the genre since forever. No doubt, they will be keeping us busy decades from now. Typically, these are questions that do not have one definite answer but boil down to personal preferences and opposing camps with an equally strong wish to well, enjoy the games they’re playing. I’m not always up for heated debate but then, I also believe it’s polarizing issues that are most interesting because they teach us the most about ourselves and others. I have always blogged for myself and a big part of that journey is defined by personal growth, formal and otherwise. Returning to posts I’ve written more than two years ago is often a bad idea. As for the greatest changes in my views, they have been brought upon by listening to you – to other gamers, being touched or educated by what they had to say. Of course a lot of that is timing too, maybe all of it is.

So, we should be thankful for the casual vs. hardcore debates, the holy trinity role discussions or never-ending payment model gripes; they make sure we’ll never run out of opportunities to butt some heads and more importantly, test our views and empathize with other people’s positions if nothing else. Advancing age, or rather time and opportunity to meet someone different from us, become quite the hindrance to extreme opinions (not to mistake for strong opinions). That’s why I also love to travel – international blogging is travelling in many ways and requires a similar attitude.

Where I am right now

As a personal summary of the evergreen topics we brushed in the 150th CMP episode and as reflection of where I am right now, I’ll make a few generalized statements until such a time as I feel they require revision on this here blog!

  • All future MMOs, whether subscription based, F2P or B2P, should come with a free trial/guest month (or free first 20 levels) at launch, so players can try the new game before making final purchasing decisions.
  • Sandboxes and themeparks may exist at either end of the casual-hardcore spectrum. Many sandboxes are as casual or hardcore as players make them (and as game design allows) but it’s probably also true that the big majority of not-so imaginative competetive players prefer linear games with defined progression aka themeparks. “Winning a sandbox” is a great deal more work than winning a themepark.
  • I can’t be the MMO player I was 10 years ago when WoW came out. There is a sacred magic to early MMO gaming that cannot be reproduced, no matter our longing and despite the best design efforts. Maybe it’s time we gave up the search for a “second home” and accepted new games for what they are – which is not our first MMO. We’ve grown older and better at everything at the price of blissful collective naïveté.
  • Crowdfunding is scary when it encourages every vocal player and their distant cousin to think they just bought their share of “co-developer rights”.

The future is welcome to change my views on any or all of these matters at hand. I can’t wait.