Black Desert Character Creator: It ain’t that great (yet)

It may come as surprise to no one that I am/was among the players most interested in BDO’s character creation process ever since Pearl Abyss released previews. At a first and second glance, the customization options seem wild: change the size and color of your iris, reshape hair – that kind of stuff. Halfway through the developer probably realized that creating long-lasting characters would prove such an immense undertaking for many players at launch, that they decided to make BDO’s character creation tool available as standalone (get it here now). That in itself deserves some kudos and so do FFA online competitions and template sharing hubs made possible thanks to the devs taking MMO character creation seriously.

Unfortunately that’s where my enthusiasm ends because two hours in, I am not feeling the customization tool for Black Desert. The problems are manyfold: for some trivial things the options are endless while not for others (about 20 ways to customize every part of the eyes, only so many hair dues and colors), face editor controls are dodgy and frustrating to handle and the sub-menus are bewildering. Despite so many sliders, it is in fact quite hard and very time intensive to alter default looks: they are very defined, there’s no randomization option to start off from and yes, gender-locks. I could live with the latter myself but I am disappointed where faces and hair are concerned: the choices you are given for every class are very sameish, there are not that many choices and you can’t greatly alter hair either unless you like to do weird things with your bangs (also clipping errors) –

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It took me an hour to alter the sorceress face from left to right. Pic 4 shows weird hair controls.

You can easily create ludicrously looking and ugly characters for that online event linked above, with crazy hair, ghastly smiles and star-shaped pupils. If we are talking serious choices and variety though, players will have to spend hours to make their characters look more unique because it’s all tedious manual labor. And don’t let those articles about famous lookalikes fool you – there are one or two ‘famous people’ already worked into the templates’ designs. It’s very easy to make Gandalf or Khaleesi but good luck creating yourself or something (unless…you are them). Many of the examples given on gaming websites show few obvious tricks and nothing more…it’s like bad movie trailers that give away all the best scenes in advance.

In some ways I think the creator is aiming too high while achieving too little; I would appreciate more variety in standard templates from the get-go with some extra options of alteration after that – not the other way around. Dragon’s Dogma has achieved this quite greatly for a non-MMO, so I hope BDO will add a bit more practicality to the whole process before launch. There’s a lot of potential to it if they make it a bit more user-friendly and effective.

Okay, I will stop the high-level whining now.

(Dragon’s Dogma is really cool though and finally out for PC, you should check it out!)

All the best Things have Campfires

The other night when staring into our fireplace at home, a feature I’ve come to appreciate a great deal since moving house in 2015, it dawned on me how many of the best things I’ve enjoyed over the years included campfire scenes. That is books and games more specifically, my favorite, most formative titles then and now came with special campfire moments that I remember always –

Heroes(Elm)

The Dragonlance companions, by Larry Elmore

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The heroes camping in Chrono Trigger, the Green Dream

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The Witcher 3, first chapter

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Recently, myself hanging in Eorzea

Campfires are obviously the romantic locality of choice to gather your heroes in fantasy tales or listen to the minstrel play; fire is a most enigmatic and evocative force that will also transport to the screen, be it in live action or otherwise. Video games come very close these days in emulating the real thing and the atmosphere it inspires. Fire stirs us on a deeper level.

I cannot pass campfires in MMOs without standing still and gazing into the flames. Wherever it is I am headed, I will take a solemn moment and join whatever company has gathered, be it players or NPCs. There’s an irresistible draw for me that’s hard to explain; as if I was touching something timeless and with it, a realization that the fire before me is all fires. There lies a gateway within the flames to all the other moments that there were in so many tales of beauty and peril, a gateway to all the memories of happiness stored away inside of me. Fire is the thread.

Fire is escapism.

#Listmas: Best videogame soundtrack! Top VGM of the Year 2015

For the third time in a row, I am taking this final listmas opportunity to spread some annual VGM love around the MMO blogosphere. In lieu of many MMO releases, 2015 was still a year for new video game music and a few standouts on other platforms, albeit fewer than usual. Maybe it’s just me but this year it seemed harder to come up with a list but judge for yourself.

Since my teaser compilations on youtube have been appreciated in the past, I am once more presenting my top VGMs in both written and audible form, featuring two personal favorites per game:

My Top VGM of 2015

10. Fallout 4
9. Swordcoast Legends
8. Don’t Starve Shipwrecked
7. Crypt of the Necrodancer
6. Ori and the Blind Forest
5. The Witcher 3
4. Undertale
3. There came an Echo
2. GW2 Heart of Thorns
1. FFXIV Heavensward

As you may realize watching the youtube summary, my MMO soundtrack of the year Heavensward is missing; this is due to the circumstance that Square Enix put silly restrictions on players using even partial soundtrack and have been dealing with their fanbase in most dismissive and aggressive manner in the past (followers of Angry Joe will remember). My youtube account is currently under bad standing because of two strikes I received by SE earlier this year – both of which I wasn’t given a chance to react to and which have limited my ability to upload videos longer than 15 minutes. I have therefore decided not to feature and promote any of their soundtracks on YT anymore. There is however a Battle Bards episode on Heavensward upcoming soon, for those who are interested and are following our podcast.

Let me know which soundtracks you enjoyed this year! And as always, spread the VGM love – Happy New Year everybody!

Happy Holidays from MMO Gypsy

A very happy Xmas from MMO Gypsy and thanks to all my readers, commenters and blogging buddies who make the MMO blogosphere what it is! Here’s to great new games keeping us engaged in 2016, adventures to be shared and stories to tell among fellow world wanderers. Above all, be safe wherever you are, spend time with those that make you happy and let go of anything that brings you down.

*cheers!* – Syl ^^

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#Listmas: FFXIV is the Best, 2016 Plans and MMO Malaise Mayonnaise

Yay for post titles that include nonsensical rhyming! Also: it’s time for look-backs and predictions in MMOing!

New year expectations are treacherous things. Two years ago I talked about my MMO expectations for 2014 and was as wrong as wrong can be: misplaced was my faith in ESO, I’ve not played Archage to this day and my misgivings towards EQNext on this blog came one day before Columbus Nova went public with their SOE takeover. Since then, we have heard absolutely nothing of note about Everquest Next and unlike Bhagpuss, I doubt we ever will. When Wildstar made my MMO of 2014, no one was more surprised than moi.

At the end of 2014 my general gaming outlook had become more varied, with only two MMOs tentatively making the 2015 list (both ended up not releasing in 2015). Again, I was horribly bad with the new year predictions, with exception of the The Witcher 3 which is unquestionably my GOTY of 2015. Shamefully, no intentions stated anywhere towards FFXIV, the game that literally saved my 2015 in MMOs and which I have since paid some much-deserved tribute to. Hell, I even spent one month being subscribed to Draenor this year – a rather short expedition brought upon the powers of nostalgia, which marks the last time I had to learn my WoW lesson! At least that chapter is now closed.

Returning to Eorzea was my MMO highlight in a year that was all about expansions, and not a bad thing either. WoW’s bewildering success spurred a decade of frantic AAA-releases (and not-so-AAA) many of which went for good first looks over finish and substance. From a pure consumer perspective, I do welcome fewer MMOs that bring more content to the table longterm; I know that sucks for anyone trying to break into that market, yet this genre rises and falls with player retention and mutually exclusive appeal. As much as I have become an MMO wanderer, I still want to know where my “MMO home” lies. I trust that in 2016 too, that place will be Eorzea.

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I look fabulous in this MMO and the rest is also quite great!

MMO Malaise Mayonnaise

Ever diligent with his lists, Wilhelm recently put up his personal MMO plans for the upcoming year. As jokingly mentioned by me in the comments, his list presents a rather dire outlook as far as my own tastes are concerned which is not at all a criticism of said games or players who enjoy them. It looks like 2016 will be a year of niche and more PvP-oriented games which is cool for some, not so much for others. If you’re in love with exploration and whimsy, there’s not an awful lot happening in the strictest MMO sense.

Which is not to say that 2016 will be a bad year for MMOs at all. I’ve learned my lesson here: lack of notable new releases must not mean absence of great content to play! Therefore, I already expect my 2016 to rest safely in the hands of FFXIV. It feels like I have something to make up for when it comes to my faith in the franchise that started my MMO career. I still intend to dive into HoT whenever boredom strikes and there are Black Desert Online, Overwatch and other online coop titles to come. Not strictly MMORPG maybe but I have been widening my scope for some years now and greatly enjoyed games like DayZ, 7 Days to Die or Don’t Starve Together more recently. The fact that there’s more online multiplay across the board is fine by me; there’s times when I want some quick and dirty coop, next to my introspect world wandering.

My very down to earth Top 5 MMO(ish) plans for 2016:

  • FFXIV (remaining excellent)
  • Heart of Thorns
  • Black Desert Online
  • Overwatch
  • More new coop titles (like Gigantic, The Division…)

No further predictions from me for me, so maybe I can be right for a change! I have omitted Blade&Soul since I don’t expect to appreciate the aesthetics nor combat. Skyforge seems rather boring too and nothing to lose any sleep over. Speaking of introspect world wandering, I actually expect games like No Man’s Sky to scratch that particular itch, so for now I am good in the upcoming games department. No MMO malaise for me in 2016 – bring on the games, yo!

Off-Topic: The Day Books went away

There used to be a time when all my free moments were filled with reading trilogies, quintets and even septets of books. Whatever great new fantasy series came in sight, I got them. Alternatively, classics and poetry in German and English. On weekends, a book a day wasn’t a rare occasion. I’d get one-volume editions for everything too, monstrous tomes I’d carry around with me to Uni every day while commuting. Two thirds of the space in my student flea bag were taken up by whatever novel I was reading at the time – and don’t even try talking to me in the train or bus compartment!

I needed books, studied books, books were all around me. While I was living off cornflakes and instant noodles, I spent whatever money I had left after rent and food on collector’s editions and illustrated novels. I was (and am) cheap about almost every other expense in my life but never literature. There is inherent value in words put down for eternity.

I have barely read 10 books this entire year of 2015, I can’t even remember. Half of them must’ve been short story collections, too. The year before was even worse than that. I blame game-related activities such as blogging, podcasting and twitter taking over the past decade, yet it’s not like I am not also keeping up with other media like TV shows. And so I marvel – what ever has happened to me and books? My evergreens and favourites are still neatly arranged on many a shelf on my walls, so why is it so hard for new series to pique my interest? Why do I feel so burnt out and more of the same?

It’s like books take too much effort now, starting with how to pick one. Have I become one of those instant gratification kids that don’t have the attention span for literature anymore and only consume visual or narrated media?? What a dreadful thought!

Lovely wonderful books, I miss you…. :(

Now not so never-ending...

Now not so never-ending…

P.S. Yes, two off-topic posts in a row! I must be outgrowing game blogging now too! *panic*

Off-Topic: I hate Platitudes

The other day I was witness to an all too familiar situation at work: a co-worker of mine just went through a personal loss that came with some added complications, the kind of crap that’s hard to listen to and therefore harder to experience. Sometimes life makes no sense. Quite often in fact, things are just one major parade of suck and as a bystander, all you can or should do is be there and lend and ear.

Of course that never stops someone piping up with old age wisdom; “it happens for a reason”, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, “time heals all wounds” and any misbegotten, infuriating variations thereof. There’s a word in my native German tongue for these kinds of worn-out platitudes: “worthülsen”, literally “word husks”. Empty shells of words that touch nothing.

Platitude

It’s not just that phrases like these are often ill-timed but they’re trivializing in a way that may deeply offend the person affected. They’re lies too: it’s evidently untrue that all psychological (or physical) wounds heal or that every experience ends up making you “stronger”. As for someone in the process of mourning, dealing with trauma or some other life-altering struggle, usually the last thing they need to hear is that shitty things make them stronger or have a reason – which suggests, intentionally or not, that this is somehow an experience worth having or being thankful for.

No, it fucking ain’t! If someone lost a limb in an accident or watched a loved one fade away slowly under excruciating pain, there’s is no deep meaning in that experience. “Oh I survived this shit, yay?” – Come on. There may be more indirect, less horrible side-effects way, way further down the road but that is a different matter entirely. People suffering are not “chosen” by anyone, there’s no benevolent masterplan – certainly none I would willingly subscribe to. Tangentially, I have no problem with belief in a higher power but spare me rationalizing other people’s tragedies because god’s will. Spare me also all these religiously motivated platitudes that even the most secular society can’t seem to shake completely in everyday language:

  • ora et labora (work ethics…work work peon)
  • turn the other cheek
  • be good in this life…erm

/side-rant: Only the most evil of masterminds could come up with this stuff in order to maintain power over the gullible. Work and pray all day – so there is no time or energy left to form independent thought or organize gatherings (beware idleness, sloth etc.). Turn the other cheek – don’t retaliate against anyone, including those who would fool, exploit and harm you and yours (don’t lie to them either…you’re not supposed to lie to anyone, no idea why not). Wait for no rewards in this life. Seriously? Tyrant for dummies 101. /close side-rant

The thing is – I get the rationalizing part, I do! I actually believe it’s one of our greater cognitive abilities as human beings, that we can look for a positive in anything, in retrospective. If you can get to that point for yourself after a long journey, more power to you! That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have done without that horrible event in the first place.

I suspect that as a society, we’re so fearful of the darker sides of life, there’s almost an unconscious reflex to turn the light on. Yet pain, sadness and anger have their time and place and can’t be rushed. In fact, it would make so many things easier if we learned to share painful moments more naturally, in an environment that feels no need to rush difficult emotions or put a label on them.

If you’re looking to help someone, the first step is to respect pain. Respect it as part of everyone’s life and someone’s personal journey. Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed in the face of pain, don’t feel the urge to gloss it over with platitudes. Don’t think all pain needs to be cheered up (by you). Resist your inner fairy godmother.

Instead, just be there. May be the other person will find closure further down the line. May be that they don’t. Whatever happens, they are entitled to feel whatever it is they’re feeling, no matter how hopeless it may seem to you or how glum. Sometimes just being there and letting someone feel they are not alone in this world, is the greatest kindness you can do for them. And listening takes very few words at all.

The Rocket Science that is Cosmetic Features in MMOs

One of the most baffling things to me personally about cosmetic features in MMOs has always been their often mind-bogglingly lacklustre, inconvenient implementation by developers over a longer period of time. You’d think a customization mechanic as most-wanted as this one, deserved full attention from the get-go. But in the case of most popular mainstream MMOs that I have played over the years, it always took ages to get there – as in get it half-way right! When I returned to Draenor long after transmogrification was a thing in WoW, Blizzard had still managed to make the whole process unbelievably complicated and fussy. Void space huh? And don’t get me started on cosmetics 1.0 in Wildstar or GW2! Not even looking at FFXIV for this one.

Sort this out, pretty please?

Sort this out, pretty please?

It seems that whenever players are super anxious to get their hands on cosmetic features, the whole process ends up being highly anti-climatic:

Dev: “Guess what, we are finally introducing a cosmetic feature for your gear next patch!”
Player: OMG YAY I LOVE UUU!!!
Dev: “There is only a few restrictions…”
Player: “Huh??”
Dev: “Oh and also, the following items you really can’t use-“
Player: “But but…”
Dev: “And you can only get more slots via the ingame store.”
Player: *erm*
Dev: “Did we mention the special cooldown?”
Player: /quit

Seriously, can we just get a second, overriding gear tab to equip whatever items/looks we collected already, without consumables or service NPC mumbo jumbo? And maybe without paying extra every time we change something or just to get a decent amount of set options? Why is that so hard? This whole affair is like the coitus interruptus for the fashion-conscious player! RIFT anyone?

Happy weekend everybody! Dress sensibly!

#Listmas: Holiday Gaming Plans!

I am going through a bad spell of pre-holiday work malaise at the moment. To take my mind off things, I decided to start planning my upcoming gaming binge over the XMAS holidays which is a local tradition. Q3-Q4 has been bewildering for games and I don’t like not finishing anything ever, so I better get this sorted out!

1) Witcher 3
My game of the year without a shadow of a doubt, I am far from done with the Witcher 3 and all its side-quests and secrets and buried treasure. As if that wasn’t bottomless enough, CD Projekt Red have already released more content while I was idling in Novigrad and there’s only just been word out about La Belle Toussaint which is of course insanely looking. Seriously, if you haven’t played Witcher 3 this year, I can’t help you!

2) Fallout 4
I got Fallout 4 from my better half and knew from the moment I installed it, that it was gonna be a tough order. Games like this are epic timesinks and once I saw the whole housing feature in action, I got a little scared at what it might do to me. So, I’ve not touched the game since playing through the intro scenario but I will…..that’s the thing with steam gifts, you feel doubly obliged to play and finish them, ack!

Impress the Gods - or die!

Impress the Gods – or die!

3) Jotun
Jotun is one of those titles I wanted to play the moment I first saw them and then – nothing! I blame lacklustre keyboard controls but it’s not like I don’t own an Xbox controller, so all I really need to do at this point is set it all up and get comfy in my big gaming chair with a mug of hot chocolate. I have a thing for Norse mythology and this is the perfectly sized title to play through over XMAS break!

4) Undertale
Undertale continues being weird and awesome at the same time, I’ve already talked about it before and fully intend to see it through. This game is too quirky to pass me by in 2015.

5) Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked!
Klei are a bunch of wonderful, wonderful people and every time they release a DS update, I am majorly excited to go back and plunge down that spooky rabbit hole. One of my personal best value games ever, I am bound to play DS forever; whatever whimsical expansion the devs come up with next, count me in! Shipwrecked has just seen early access launch on steam and unlike for many other titles, I have never once regretted buying early into DS. Maybe you can tell where I am going with this: whether it’s usually your genre or not, Don’t Starve is basically a must must and highly addictive!

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The Don’t Starve ARK experience – only better!

6) Sword Coast Legends
I blame this one on an old WoW buddy who is a longtime mate and totally instigated my SCL purchase (I can’t say no to people, dammit!). Tactical cRPGs and isometry are really not my thang but apparently it’s fun to play in DM-mode or something and really conserves some of that olde D&D spirit. Naturally, we haven’t played a single minute in coop to this day but here’s to hoping that will change soon!

7) A Bird Story
A title that was gifted to me by a fellow blogger, I’ve always wanted to play this unofficial sequel to “To the Moon” and feel way overdue with my feedback. RPG Maker games or not, the first title was stunning from a narrative and musical point of view and from what I could tell 30 minutes into A Bird Story, this is a most worthy next chapter.

8) Life is Strange
Another gift and newest addition to my unkempt steam library, I have heard so many good things about Life is Strange that it’s only logical I should play it. Soon! Very soon!

Then there’s FFXIV of course, of which I can never seem to get enough and once upon a time I was contemplating going back to GW2 checking out that HoT expansion. Ha-ha. Maybe someone knows a way to split myself into ten copies that can go off and play alllll the games until next year!! *firstworldproblems*

What are your personal gaming plans for this XMAS break?

FFXIV “High Adventure #7″: Daybreak

My screenshot journey through Heavensward is far from done. The game keeps being breathtaking and it’s not just that it has pretty graphics because many MMOs nowadays do. No, there’s something about the settings in FFXIV, the atmosphere, the light that swallows you whole at unexpected times, and you seemingly transcend the boundaries between the real and virtual without effort. I can smell the brisk morning air in Idyllshire as I stare into an early campfire and ponder, what will the future hold?

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