Category Archives: Linklove

Weekend Wildstar Beta Round-up

Over the weekend I’ve found time to catch up on the MMO blogosphere’s unleashed Wildstar impressions and by the looks, nobody is unhappy to have played in the beta. While several have mentioned the art style not being very immersive at first, everybody seems to agree that Carbine is delivering a fairly polished game with lots of potential for group play. Generally, enthusiasm isn’t exactly overflowing but given how most of us are grumpy veterans, that’s just as well. Caution, thy name is 2014 MMO blogging!

wvale

Welcome to Whitevale / mmorpg.com

Since I didn’t really give a complete beta review in my last update but rather focused on the “Wildstar versus WoW”-debate, here’s a quick round-up of many interesting posts by fellow bloggers that when put together, paint a pretty comprehensive Wildstar picture:

  • Clockwork thinks that Wildstar is a great game overall but needs serious work in the camera and UI department. As for telelgraphs, they sure take some getting used to! I happen to agree with all his points.
  • Bel over at Tales of the Aggronaut is extremely torn: for him, Wildstar comes close to Las Vegas in terms of busyness, content density and sensory overload. Being fiercely in the ESO camp already, it’s hard for him to find good enough reasons to play (or pay).
  • Braxwolf Stormchaser can say with certainty that Wildstar is an MMO. He likes the game’s overall flair and music and despite its cartoony graphics, found it to be grittier than GW2 or SWTOR. Still, he isn’t over the moon about Wildstar just yet.
  • Stubborn goes on to explain that unlike me, he will name Wildstar’s core gameplay a direct successor of WoW and that’s not a bad thing. Wildstar is the more refined title and Carbine have done a fantastic marketing job – all that said, he has no plans to play at launch.
  • Kadomi at the new blog To Boldly Nerd is exclusively interested to play Wildstar this year. Her review is one of the most complete I’ve found and covers a lot of aspects and great details about the game’s current state, so check it out!
  • As for my Battle Bards co-host Syp, he has already shared his positive Wildstar review much earlier than us ordinary people. Now that the NDA has dropped for everybody, he is back to discuss different purchase and pricing options while being very disappointed in the lack of proper collector’s edition. The fact that releasing the OST doesn’t get mentioned anywhere by Carbine is a big let-down indeed.

If you’re still on the fence about Wildstar, these different reads will provide you with ample input although they might not convince you either way. That last leap of faith is still yours to make. As far as I’m concerned, that pre-order is a done deal.

In case I missed anyone’s review, let me know so I can add you to the list! Happy Sunday all!

The Music of Death Knight Lovestory (A Guest Post by Hugh Hancock)

It’s been a good while since we’ve had any news from Hugh over at MMO Melting Pot. In recent months the pot has quieted down rather noticeably and many bloggers, myself included, have been wondering about what happened or what secret projects may be afoot there. Well, a secret no longer.

I am very happy to feature a new guest post on MMO Gypsy. Having always considered this place a space not just for my own writing but also for my commenters thoughts, for blogosphere interaction and for supporting fellow bloggers’ creative ventures, I was excited to hear about Death Knight Love Story – an ambitious WoW machinima project only revealed today. Due to my interest in videogame soundtrack, Hugh has decided to focus on the creative process of creating the music, the challenges involved and his different MMO and movie influences. From here, all words are his own. (Syl)

The Music of Death Knight Lovestory by Hugh Hancock

What’s the only thing scarier than trying to create something great? Trying to follow something great. That was the problem I bit off with Death Knight Love Story.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Death Knight Love Story is my crazily ambitious Machinima fan-film, the first part of which was released about 8 hours ago. It’s voiced by Hollywood actors Anna Chancellor, Joanna Lumley, Jack Davenport and Brian Blessed. It’s not Machinima animated in the standard way, instead being fully motion captured and rendered using the same software WETA were using at the time I picked it up. And it tells a pretty ambitious story: the story of two Death Knights who fall in love whilst under the Lich King’s sway – but only one of them escapes his power, and they end up on opposite sides of the battle…

Obviously, even more than a game, a film needs music. And with Death Knight Love Story, I had not just one but three great touchstones to follow. My cinematography had been heavily inspired by Lord of the Rings, and Howard Shore’s shadow falls long over the entire fantasy genre. Meanwhile, the purity of the romance was inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge – not a low bar for music there. And finally, of course, there was the music of World of Warcraft, which I personally think is almost the equal of Shore’s work in places.

If it had just been me and Garageband, I cannot stress how very screwed I would have been. Fortunately, I made the best – and scariest – call I could…

So here’s the tale of how we ended up composing an alternate musical take on the World of Warcraft and the fresh new takes on fantasy we found as a result, which I hope might make their way into other games’ scores in future! But first, here’s a quick trailer for you:

A New Fantastic Influence

The music for Death Knight Love Story was composed by Ross Campbell, one of Scotland’s best-known composers for screen, TV, opera, and even house music. I took the same approach to finding a composer that I took to finding a casting director, and subsequently actors: I pulled up a list of Scottish TV composers and started with the person who sounded the most dramatically overqualified to work on my movie. I was expecting nothing more than a rather curt “no” – but was astonished when Ross agreed to work on Death Knight Love Story!

On our first meeting, Ross immediately and dramatically changed the way I was thinking about the film’s score for the better. I’d had Shore and the WoW music in my mind – classic Western orchestral soundtracks. Frankly, rather cliche. But Ross’s first thought on watching the film was much more interesting. He felt it was an obvious reference, but it had never occurred to me as a lifelong cinephile and fantasy fan: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.

Kurosawa was one of the most influential film directors of all time, a recipient of the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the director of films like Seven Samurai – yes, the original. Ran was one of his later works – based on King Lear, it’s an incredibly dark film, focused on themes of chaos, nihilism, and death.

It’s also set in medieval Japan, and in many ways feels a lot like a mid-eighties, Japanese Game of Thrones. And its music, composed by Toru Takemitsu, fit astonishingly well with the themes of Death Knight Love Story and the Death Knights of WoW in general. The chaos, darkness and violence of a Death Knight’s life is almost eerily similar to the themes explored in Ran’s tale of the collapse of a kingdom led by a ruthless warlord.

(Interesting trivia fact: Brian Blessed, who plays Arthas, the Lich King, is also well known for his portrayal of King Lear – and Ran’s story, and its ruthless king, is based on Lear.)

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The Problem Of Orchestral Sound

I did consider hiring an orchestra to record the score for Death Knight Love Story. It’s actually cheaper than you might think, semi-affordable for an indie film, if you work with an Eastern European orchestra. But in the end, I concluded we couldn’t afford it.

That left us with a problem: how did we avoid the problem of tinny-sounding fake orchestration?

Indie games, indie films, and essentially anyone without a big budget hit this problem over and over again. Whilst modern electronic composition can do pretty remarkable things, one of the things it still can’t do is accurately recreate the sound of an orchestra. Usually, game or film composers will try to create an orchestra as best they can anyway, leading to the soundtrack sounding, well, cheap.

Ross, however, had a different solution. Drawing on the work of another Scottish composer, Paul Leonard-Morgan, he suggested that if we didn’t have an orchestra, we shouldn’t apologise for that. We should go for the “sweep” of an orchestral soundtrack, and the feel of orchestration, but without attempting to use orchestral instruments – instead, proudly using the electronic music and sounds that we had. In essence, he would create a new set of instruments for our orchestra.

It worked phenomenally well. Death Knight Love Story’s music sounds epic, appropriately dark or heroic, but it never has the false note of cheap string or brass samples pretending to be what they’re not. Even in Wintergarde, where we’re closest to the major-key majesty and triumphalism of the WoW alliance theme, we’re still proudly digital.

Given how successful it was for us, and how tremendously well a similar approach worked the soundtrack for “Dredd” (the work of Paul Leonard-Morgan), this is a style of composing that I hope we’ll see a lot more of.

We’ve got amazing musical tools these days, but so much effort is devoted toward making them sound like analogue, offline instruments. I think there’s real potential for soundtrack designers, particularly indie game and film composers, to break genuinely new ground.

A Nod To Lord of the Rings: Leitmotifs

I’d indicated to Ross that I’d been heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings film adaptions, and one technique that we used very clearly is shared with Shore’s inspiration in Wagner: our use of leitmotifs.

A leitmotif is a short, repeated musical phrase associated with a person, a place, or an idea. It was brought to prominence by Wagner in Der Ring des Nibelungen, which hugely influenced Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings.

In the Death Knight Love Story score, leitmotifs proved invaluable, particularly in introducing and linking the appearances of our heroes. Thanks to DKLS’s rather complex structure, starting with a flashback and then going back into a series of historical events, we found that it was easy to get confused as to exactly where in the story we were, and whom we were following. The various leitmotifs Ross put into the score, notably the phrases which could be considered “Miria and Zelieck’s theme” really draw the entire film together. I was amazed at how much of a difference it made to not just the emotions behind the film, but even the simple ability to follow the story!

I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more use of leitmotif techniques in games. Whilst most games have the idea of a musical theme for an area, there’s never any attempt to mix in music representing principle characters, let alone the ideas behind the fiction of the world. The only exception I can think of is the Dhovakin theme in Skyrim.

Having now seen first-hand just how powerful leitmotifs can be, I can’t help but think that games composers are really missing out on an opportunity to deepen their worlds here.

(Note: this last section of the article includes spoilers for the film! Definitely watch DKLS before reading this bit!)

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The Hidden Message of Games?

We struggled with one section of the score above all: the battle between Miria and Zelieck.

Ross’s initial inclination was to score this as an extremely dark, twisted moment. Whilst I didn’t disagree about the darkness – after all, this is two people falling in love through the expression of lethal, unbridled violence – I really wanted to get across something that I felt was key, both to the roots of much of WoW’s joy.

World of Warcraft, like almost all computer games, is significantly about violence, and the joy of destruction. And that’s what Death Knight Love Story is expressing in part – the idea that a meeting of minds might come through battle, and anger, skill, and archetype of the Warrior. And that is still as true an expression of love as any other. (If we’re going to get really Jungian about it, Death Knight Love Story is a story about two Warriors who become Lovers, trapped under the rule of a twisted King.)

I’d penciled in music like the Dropkick Murphys here – Shipping Up To Boston, most notable from the soundtrack of “The Departed” – and possibly the quintessential expression of rage and the joy of conflict in cinema, “After The Flesh” from the soundtrack of The Crow. But for some reason, Ross and I weren’t quite able to meet in the middle on this one.

Until one day I remembered a particularly impressive show I’d seen at the Edinburgh Festival some years back: a performance by Tao, the Japanese drumming ensemble who mix traditional Japanese drumming with martial arts to produce one of the most electrifying musical performances I’ve ever heard. It’s like angry, uproarious thunder.

I suggested Taiko drumming to Ross, and he immediately got where I was going – and that’s the reason the fight sequence ended up with such a unique soundtrack.

Hugh Hancock

Artistic Director, Strange Company

http://www.strangecompany.org
http://www.deathknightlovestory.com

Battle Bards Episodes #17 – #19 and yet more Links, so many Links!

I am a slacker when it comes to updating news for the world’s most famous, and only, MMO music podcast. That’s because we already have a fabulous stand-alone page for which Tesh, Lord of the Tinker Dice (and deck!), was so kind to design the logo. I am simply assuming that anyone following Syp, MMOGC or myself is following that page too but then I’m probably mistaken. So, let’s round things up then, shall we!

Early December made for a particularly nostalgic episode 17 in which the bards visited the music of MMO starting zones – a topic dear to many players. Even if you tend not to care much for soundtrack, you will probably remember a track or two from bygone starting zones or that’s my experience talking to other players, anyway. Back in WoW, it was always Elwynn Forest vs. the Barrens; which side are you on?

For Christmas, Syp decided it was time for payback (probably for episode 15) and to pay homage to Vanguard; a game neither myself nor Steff played much and had the hardest time listening to. Vanguard has made for my most difficult picks on the podcast thus far and our regular listeners will notice us squirming and fighting for words which happens rarely enough.

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Being the jolly ironic bunch that we are, we celebrated this New Year with an episode on “Dead MMOs“. One might say the podcast can only get livelier from here. No really, looking back on the music of MMOs past and digging up buried pearls for the rest of you, was a most gratifying experience. Games might fade away but memories and music are forever.

Links, More Links!

Beside visiting Salzburg and wolfing down new Steam games over Xmas break, which was absolutely wonderful, I’ve been rather busy adjusting and updating my stagnant youtube channel. Google has finally forced me to G+ for this reason although I have my doubts that the page will ever serve as much more than a dummie. There is only so much social networking I can handle (or maybe this is going to be a second twitter experience, so ask me again two years from now!).

For all the VGM fans who were too lazy to click on the links in my Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2013 post, there is now a new video up with teasers of my favorite music of last year. Having had some mad fun with Cook, Serve, Delicious last week, I also decided to give another let’s play video a go. While I have no fancy ambitions, I am still working out the best way of doing these and improving my way of speaking, or so I hope.

Still on the subject of new games and GOTYs, I was happy to be back for another great chat on MMORPG.com’s GameOn podcast with blogosphere buddies Chris and Liore. I believe we’ve covered a wide variety of games for 2013 and certainly managed to stay representative, as in delivering some very different opinions!

As for our favorite blogosphere, December was a most entertaining and creative month on many a blog, so here’s a couple links in case you missed them:

  • Liore held a most excellent “Trivia Showdown on 2013” on episode 41 of her Cat Context podcast (it was hard!)
  • Murf vs. Internet got a fair number of bloggers to bring all their end-of-the-year posts together for Listmas. The final result can be found here.
  • Joseph Skyrim continued his Darklands story, an epic journey starring many familiar blogosphere names and characters. He also did KILL off “Gypsy Syl, a bard and vagabond of 30 years” in chapter 5, for which I shall never forgive him.
  • And finally, Jeromai shared a similarly goofy and entertaining blogosphere experiment with his two-part play-through of Sleuth – and you may guess who was brutally murdered this time, again. I will try not to interpret this further!

Make sure to check them out for some great roundups and good laughs!

Your MMO world on twitter

Ever since joining twitter one and a half years ago, I’ve been very happy with the overall service and benefits it has provided me since. I was a twitter skeptic for a long time and I still have no facebook or G+ accounts, yet I am not looking back when it comes to my decision to join the twitterverse. I never really expected to write this but hey – you can’t always be right, can you?

As a blogger, there’s a multitude of things twitter can do for you, once you get over that initial only-140-characters?-eeew-I’m-a-writer!-cringe. Once you stop thinking of birdchat as an alternative/competition to blogging, which it absolutely isn’t, you’ll discover an endless stream of inspiration, information and entertainment casually on offer for the taking and completely customizable to your wishes. Whether twitter becomes an active asset to your writing, interacting and researching or whether it remains a passive tool, whether you use it to chat or just to promote, whether you’ll join a wider “community” (not formalized in any kind of circles) or only ever follow your five favorite people – it’s all up to you. Don’t be surprised if your list of follows keeps growing rapidly though; once you peeped down that rabbit hole, things may develop a life of their own.

twitterverse

Some bloggers use twitter for link exchange only, to post blog updates and keep track of launch news and developers. That’s a great way to start out and certainly good enough for some users. Every once in a blue moon, twitter will draw a bigger crowd of readers to your blog, although in retrospective you might wish it hadn’t. If you’re one of the players who are desperate for the latest news and updates, twitter is where developers and community services usually update first, which is especially handy during launch weekends and whenever the servers have gone offline. Again.

For me, that’s the tip of the iceberg. I love how twitter opens up direct channels between fans and creators, consumers and producers. Blog updates are nice too but if you have a functional blogroll, it’s not the most important thing in the world. What twitter really does for me as a niche blogger somewhere in the heart of Europe, is opening up channels of shared interest, discovery and communication with an ease you don’t usually find in other social media. There’s a world of like-minded geeks, gamers and MMO players (who don’t blog and never will)  just one click away – all of them sharing the kind of info, interesting or hilarious content and special pearls it would otherwise take me years to come across just browsing the internet. As I’m sure is true for so many others, this is not the type of social environment I have access to in my everyday life (unfortunately).

As far as the MMO blogosphere is concerned, reading twitter has not just fueled and inspired many of my articles thanks to link or comment exchange (while waiting on the bus or filling the bathtub), it has in fact made my blogging much more personal. Fellow MMO bloggers can be talked to without formality and many will let a more private person shine through on twitter – someone who is tired at work (and playing games instead), burning dinner because of the latest Wildstar trailer, posting pictures of their cat with a Pikachu hat. Whatever other interests you bring to the table besides MMO blogging (just think VG music!), you’ll be able to build your own little neighborhood of secret agents keeping you informed at all times. You’ll be surprised to find how many other passions you share with people you’ve blogged alongside for years and oh, the laughs! There are no lonely geeks on twitter.

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This brings me to the main point of this post which isn’t in fact twitter promotion (although I guess that kinda happened now) but sharing my daily twitter MMO resources for those still starting out, looking for news and community hubs, or those just generally interested in the topic. I’m always on the lookout myself too; some accounts keep eluding you for years so this is by no means a finished list.

Your MMO and general gaming news on twitter

As a preamble, I am not going to link any of the awesome private twitter accounts or MMO bloggers I follow on twitter (many of which can be found on my blogroll) at this time, nor any podcasts (separate post), single personalities or official accounts as in ArenaNet or ArenaNet’s affiliated accounts. If you’re looking for a specific gaming celebrity, company or game, you’ll have no problem finding them.

What I am going to link instead are generally bigger and therefore active MMO and gaming resources I personally follow and find useful. This means daily news and reviews, community websites/webrings and fan organizations all around the topic of video gaming and related geekery.

General MMO news / communities

General Gaming

Game design / criticism

Videogame Music

Indie Games

Retro gaming

Geek Culture

As you can see, I am sadly light on VG music related accounts, so if you have any recommendations there (and elsewhere), let me know what I missed! (edit: some new links added!)

To all my fellow MMO bloggers still resisting the urge to tweet: I’d be happy to see you there! Of course that’s a choice everyone needs to make for themselves and whatever reason may keep you from more social media is to be respected. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be nagging you again in the future for purely selfish reasons (I am looking at you Redbeard, Bhagpuss and Jeromai!). We are gonna get you yet!

New bloggers Monday

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I’m starting this new week of blogging with a lovely MMO screenshot and lo and behold, a new bloggers-on-the-block roundup! It’s shocking how long I haven’t done this and not for any lack of intention. As we all know, the MMO blogosphere hasn’t only become more generalized in more recent years (which I like) but become somewhat more private since the waning of the great WoW boom. I expect all of that to change come early 2014, when TESO, WS and EQN fan blogs will be shooting out of the ground like mushrooms. New MMOs always mean fresh meat for the blogosphere, also the more generalist one.

Until then and hopefully not for the last time, there have been four newer blogs catching my personal attention lately – so in good old blogosphere neighbourly spirit, go check them out sometime and say hi!

  • Maldwiz at More than just a game is ready to roll on a variety of MMO subjects, being interested in different titles as his “personal MMO history” post reveals.
  • Scree, longtime lurker and resident cynic with a focus on EQNext, contacted me a while ago to say hi and check out his new place. He is still working out that blog template (and I hope he will add a comment function sometime).
  • Steppen over at WoW Politik is “Analyzing the community and media environment of MMORPGs” with a focus on WoW. Already he proves to be a resource for clever, in-depth and well-spoken analyzis on a more meta commentary level.
  • Last but far from least, I’ve recently discovered Ravanel’s place which features a diary on her journeys through various MMOs. I am behind on this one because Ravanel has been around for the NBI in 2012 but alas, it’s the nature of blogospheres that some paths take longer to cross than others.

 
A warm welcome from me guys and keep blogging! Happy Monday, everybody.

[GW2] A couple of useful links

I meant to post something long and meaningful all night but I’m so mentally drained and exhausted I can’t bring myself to focus. Right now with so many great games to play out there, work really is my biggest enemy. Even my GW2 sessions suffer with my weekends becoming gaming prime time. Is this what it means to progress in your professional life? I think a part of me will never grow up (or go to bed early).

In lieu of WoT, a couple of useful GW2 links I’ve been collecting for a while and meant to publish in a round-up. Hopefully they’ll be of use to some of you – I certainly learned a thing or two.

  1. Weapon and Armor Stats Explained; I am still familiarizing myself with GW2’s different gear quality/rarity levels. An awesome introduction to different stats and also where to get what equipment from. 
  2. *NEW* Attributes and Equipment in GW2; A great must-read, in-depth guide on getting to grips with speccing and gearing in GW2, understanding basic attributes, enhancements and synergies. Don’t miss this one!
  3. *NEW* Basic Naming Conventions and Runes; this concise overview will bring some light into the gear jungle on the market place and help you find what you’re looking for.
  4. Cultural Armor and Weapons Guide; I always liked the concept of cultural or racial armor sets in MMOs. GW2 has them too, even if they’re somewhat hidden.
  5. GW2 Trait Calculator; while costs for respeccing keep going down in the game, it’s well worth experimenting online first what to go for!  
  6. *NEW* Combo Fields and Finishers; as interesting as combos sound, many players don’t quite grasp how these are set up in GW2 and how to best leverage on them. Find out what combos are available to your class!
  7. Where to find Jumping Puzzles; Hunter has been working on completing an overview to all jumping puzzles in GW2 for a good while now, taking great care not to spoil anything.
  8. Chef Helper and Dyealogue; Aro has created two awesome and fancy tools to make both cooking and dye collection easier in GW2. I wish I had such coding skills!
    1. Minis and their idle Animations; Paeroka published this useful video of 84(!) mini-pets plus animations a while ago. I don’t feel like becoming a big pet collector in GW2, but this overview certainly helps with selecting favorites. 
    2. Guild Emblem Creator; in case you ever wondered what kind of options GW2 offers to guild leaders in this department, there are quite a few. I was personally delighted to find the ape design for my own guild of olde WoW monkeys. 
    3. GW2 Storylines; heavily influenced by the personal choices you make, it’s worth looking into how the system works – especially if you consider running alts at some point 
    4. GW2 “Census”; finally a visualized representation of race-profession spreads in the game. In case you were wondering just how popular your own combos are. Not many surprises there.

    What I’m still looking for is a (more) useful world map and a guide to mini-game locations. That last feature has been completely ignored by myself thus far and seems too easy to miss in the game. Any link recommendations much appreciated!

    [GW2] Voices of the Blogosphere

    As expected, Guild Wars 2 has set the blogosphere on fire and I am trying to catch up on all the great articles that have been released these past few days, while I was also frankly playing a ton of GW2. I haven’t played as much of any game since WoW…and boy, did I need coffee this Monday morning! All that said it feels awesome – awesome to feel like an MMO player again, rushing home after work, eating at your desk with your red eyes burning from staring at the screen. Never mind sleep, sleep is for the weak!

    While I take a precious break from playing the game, just a few (far from all) blogger highlights that caught my attention:

    • Bhagpuss is at his usual, delightful posting speed, sharing many interesting GW2 details with a sharp eye and overall impressions. He is also asking the question of how serious that future “events desertion” worry truly is, considering that fun is an individual factor in MMOs and that frankly, this issue is far from new nor unique to GW2. Personally, I call premature hype on the matter. Yeah, it remains to be seen what happens to some of the mass events later in the game. Tadaaa!
    • The ever keen-witted Klepsacovic compares WoW’s hegemonic influence to the stereotypical American tourist, lacking the open-mindedness to accept different cultures as equal. While most MMO players tend to vigorously compare games they play, there must be room for a new game to do its own thing and also time granted to evolve in areas WoW had years to polish. No doubt, there is a fraction of the MMO population approaching GW2 with very WoW-tinted glasses right now – alas, that really is their loss! Or as Syp from Biobreak recently pointed out so beautifully: “I keep thinking, if you can instantly dismiss GW2 and hop on the backlash wagon, there’s just no saving you whatsoever.”
    • Meanwhile, Chris from Game by Night struggles with playing his Asura thief; something just feels wrong with that particular race-class combination! He goes to explain how especially in GW2, the accomplished overall story and setting for the five races impact heavily on players’ class choices. I’d be interested to hear how others feel about this issue!
    • Rohan takes a stand talking about all the ways in which GW2 does not appeal to him, naming lack of story, combat mechanics and character models as main offenders. I think he makes some good points, although I disagree completely where combat and events are concerned. It was interesting to read all the balanced comments to his post – yes, the blogosphere can actually deal with nay-sayers! Whoever expected a flock of trolls to show up for that article got disappointed.
    • KTR, namely Ravious and Zubon, have been busy bees sharing their GW2 launch experiences, covering a lot of ground: Zubon is “full of love” for all the ways in which GW2 let’s you complete heart challenges, while Ravious highlights the not-to-be-missed meta-events (!) and comments on ANet’s unorthodox, yet effective way of dealing with their community. I was impressed with that reddit thread; while ANet could have communicated more here and there in the past, it does feel like they’re much more active and approachable ever since official launch. (Considering there’s still so much to fix in the game, that is a good thing.)
    • And last but not least, Keen turns a critical eye on the speed at which the first GW2 player reached max level, already during head-start weekend. Is this a sign of bad pacing in the game and something developers should/could prevent in MMOs? I agree – leveling in GW2 is rather fast, it seems to happen in spite of you. However, this also steers focus away from the whole leveling process which is quite enjoyable. The fact that the gem store still offers EXP boost items is somewhat baffling in that context!

    Naturally, all these short summaries are meant as teasers and you should absolutely go and read up on all articles! So much for today, with no doubt more to come. Happy Moday everybody, inside and outside of Tyria!

    Highly overdue weekend roundup

    “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, 
    I would plant an apple tree today. [Luther…not Lex Luthor]

    In the face of doom and the end of the MMO world as we know it (…), it’s appropriate to focus on the fresh and new. It’s been a while since my last New Bloggers on the Blogroll roundup, so this Friday is dedicated solely to some great and new (to me) writers that have made it into my much tended blogroll over the past few weeks. And yes – you’ve probably encountered many of them by now, if you’ve in any way followed the NBI some time ago, but I do things in my own time and spreading the attention is never a bad thing. The blogosphere also never seizes to amaze in terms of surfacing older blogs I’ve never countered for some unknown and no doubt shady reason. Alas.

    Without much more needless explanation, I’d like to highlight those few MM-O/game bloggers who have caught my eye more recently. They’re generally awesome and fulfill different criteria I am personally looking for – a variety in perspective, consistent, intelligent writing, creativity and a sense of humor. Alternatively, their site just looks pretty……err needles to say, pay them a visit sometime!

    While I am pointing out places you should know, I’d like to make the MMO Melting Pot my special mention of the week: it’s come to my attention that the center of the geeky gamers bloggiverse, or Hugh’s MMO crossroad as I like to think of it, is still unknown to many a blogger and blogreader out there. How that’s even possible after 2 years of busy meta-blogging I don’t know, but anyway – if you’re in any way looking to follow the comings and goings in the blogosphere with more ease and are tired to miss out on some of the good stuff, the Pot is the place to go for some great reads and weekly highlights. There’s also ways you can actively contribute or just spread the word to make the Pot an even livelier, buzzing MMO blogging hub for everybody!

    With that I’m off to the weekend to plant that proverbial tree, maybe even in The Secret World. To the rest of you I wish, as always, wonderful online adventures and many new beginnings ahead. Happy weekend everybody!

    Apocalypse now: The future of social gaming

    It’s national day today where I live, which means fireworks, bonfires and barbecuing – if only it wasn’t around 35 degrees Celsius outside, so I guess we won’t get much of that until way late into the night. Exactly 721 years ago, according to legend, did the three founding factions (today cantons) of this country get together and swear a sacred oath to stick together and join forces against their ever-warring neighbours. A confederation was born that has maintained much of its sovereignty up to this day, and has since served as direct rolemodel to other nations, the United States of America among them. Or in much less solemn words – 721 years ago a couple of swashbucklers shared beers on a meadow and decided it was time to kick some ass together and cooperate. Time for a new era, time for change. How romantic.

    The blogosphere has been abuzz with topics of change lately (again), and much doomsaying has gone around about the future of pretty much anything: the MMO genre, online gaming, social games and cooperation. Some wonder if this MMO era is finally over, while many others ask what GW2 and MoP can still do for the genre? It’s a complex question, one that at its core encompasses a much greater issue and development currently touching the entire online and gaming market. If Facebook games are in decline that doesn’t mean MMOs are doomed, but it means that everyone is currently affected from the same intangible shift, maybe towards a next generation of social games, online games, multiplayer games. Somewhere there is a common denominator beyond just overfed customers, classic concepts beaten to death and cows milked into oblivion.

    In this context I feel compelled to promote one article that stands apart and that I’ve just come across (also because just retweeting it isn’t enough). Tadgh Kelly, probably known for writing on Gamasutra or WGA, recently went to elaborate on the downfall of Zynga but didn’t stop there; in what’s one of the most well-argued and insightful articles I’ve read on the subject, he analyzes the future of social gaming, what motivates players to cooperate and the next generation of social games that may be at our doorstep. He takes a look at the past and beyond that considers other media who have gone through a similar process and progress. It’s must-read material if you’re in any way interested in social mechanics and online, multiplayer games and crosses paths with many MMO-relevant issues. Really, you don’t wanna miss that one!

    To tease you with just a few paragraphs –

    “Social games do not bring people together. Most players in fact play them in a largely single-player fashion, making contact purely for reasons of necessity like trading, earning Energy and so on. Many have tried large multiplayer designs, and failed because the players were just not there.
    “Players play to achieve, to do, to build, to create, to explore, to destroy and to win. They need the game to provide them with a fascinating system which enables them to do all of those things, and usually for the game to also provide an absorbing fiction. This is as true for The Sims as for Skyrim. […]….You build to have something better to win with.”  
    “Aside from being free to play, the answer is advancement. Social contact in the context of games provides real value to players when it substantively helps them to win without tying that up in synchronous loops. In other words, to be worth it the contact needs to get me where I’m going, but without obliging me to turn up to do likewise.                             […] So play Journey. Play Realm of the Mad God. Get into a multiplayer server on Minecraft. Notice how they are about cooperation toward advancement? Notice the lack of obligation? Study that.”
    “For G2 to be about true value, the game graph also has to be valuable. Connecting interested strangers produces much more game interaction than limiting it to just friends (such as Monstermind, which doubled its engagement rate in a day by connecting strangers). Players don’t really care about whether they are playing with their friends. They care about playing with others who can help them, and if that happens to be a friend then so much the better.”
    “If Yahoo was “Search, Generation One” then Google was “Search, Generation Two”. The first generation was the one which became cluttered with all manner of complicated ambitions, poor performance and a whole load of “conventional wisdom” which often proved contradictory. Generation Two, on other hand, realised what mattered and delivered just that. A similar shift is what will make “Social Games, Generation Two” real.”

    Of course, Tadgh doesn’t just drop the big, vague words such as “depth” to contemplate for the reader, but tackles what exactly constituted depth in the past, where contradictions lie and how future games may outgrow the formula – and really need to throw some of the classic tropes overboard. Needless to add how much of this resonates with me personally, namely that we shouldn’t cling to old formulas especially when they make no sense, or why I believe that more open, free-for-all and automated forms of cooperation are the way to go for future MMOs. Not because they’re meaningless but because they create opportunities for more without detriment to more casual cooperation.

    In any case, it’s interesting times. While I agree the traditional AAA+ MMO is a dying breed already for financial reasons, I am not too worried about the future of (massive) multiplayer online gaming; it will continue to prosper, there will be variety and there will always be cooperation among players in some shape or form. The quality of community and cooperation has never been about server sizes and subscription numbers, either. There’s plenty more ahead, maybe in a different way, but I will always find games to play and enjoy myself with together with others. And that is all that counts.

    Blog updates and 2011 honorable mentions

    I have been fighting with myself for many months now about switching Raging Monkey’s to wordpress or not; or rather, I have been struggling bigtime with blogger – mostly for still not featuring the most essential feature: individual commenting / replies. For years it has cracked me up how blogger would not add this to their top priorities and how, after having had the probably most abysmal service in terms of customer care and responsiveness forever, very little changed after the Google takeover. I cannot recall how many hours I spent looking at wordpress templates this winter, although I was still reluctant to make the switch for various reasons.

    Also, I had this strange hunch: “what if after so many years, they introduce a better commenting system right after you switch to WP? It could happen – think how annoying that’d be!”

    And so I didn’t. And so they did. I couldn’t believe my eyes yesterday when blogger comment sections were suddenly showing up with individual reply links! That settled the decision for me (because overall I’m still happy with blogger’s simplicity) and also finally gave me the kick to update Raging Monkey’s overall blog appearance. Still true to its original, minimalistic template, it now comes with a slightly more polished, fresh look. And best of all: threaded commenting! Blogger bloggers rejoice – it’s alive!!!

    My honorable blog mentions for 2011

    It’s tradition on some blogs and networking sites to hold nominations and blog awards towards the end of the year; the MMO Melting Pot has taken up the Piggies this winter (are they finally all out?) and other blogs have either posted their nominees of the gaming and blogging world or run their very own “awards”. I’m not too big a fan of the term “award” honestly; in general I find it rather problematic and often presumptuous. However, the idea behind nominations is fun and personally I appreciate annual summaries and honorable mentions. It’s basically just another way to spread link love and that’s why I’ve decided to present my personal blog(ger) mentions for 2011 – to look back, to give kudos and recommend further. I’ve linked newcomer blogs a couple of times before, but never actually dedicated a post to my most frequent reads!

    I keep a very active, regularly updated blogroll though, so in that way I’m already giving out recommendations every day. Still, I’d like to turn the spotlight on a few fellow bloggers I appreciate for various reasons, and who’ve been blogging alongside me (some longer than me, too) through the past year. I’m also taking this opportunity to give thanks to all of you who have been providing me with wonderful reads and inspiration and for active, interesting debates. So, without any further ado, here are my honorable blog mentions for 2011 in no particular order –

    Most solid content provider / allrounder
    Some bloggers excel at starting discussions in the community, writing frequently on various topics, if not always too in-depth or long. I use several such blogs as a resource for ideas or simply to keep myself in the loop on more general topics. One blogger who keeps managing this task with consistency after such a long time is yes – Tobold, as boring as it might sound! Despite not always agreeing with him, I appreciate his analysis and frequent counter-voice to teh l33t kids.

    Best game design analyst / critic
    My honorable mention goes to Nils here whose astute, rational (often plain mathematical) analyzis of many an MMO design topic and grumpy veteran blues have inspired some great discussions and also smiles over the past year. We’ve somewhat lost him to the world of politics lately, but I’m sure he will return as soon as there’s anything interesting happening in the world of MMOs! ;)

    Biggest game design insight
    When it comes to profound, professional insight on game design, we are lucky to call both Tesh and Psychochild our blogging neighbours. They’re the ones that will make you feel terribly “young” as you browse through their archives and realize that they’ve already written about your latest design epiphany 5 years ago on their blogs. Consider each a goldmine for interesting MMO design reads and discussion.

    Great player commentary and writing
    Some bloggers I appreciate for their unique, authentic voice and dedicated writing. Both Shintar and Stubborn will regularly make you smile, grieve or nod along enthusiastically as they share their personal gaming experiences and perspective very openly and honestly on their blogs. I will even read topics on alt-play or SWTOR for their intelligent and well-structured thoughts (!)

    Wittiest / funniest / most comically enlightened blogger
    If you happen to be a more regular reader on my blog, you will know that I’m drawn to the ironic and cynical. Not just that, I love laughing at things (especially when laughter is the alternative to crying horribly) and I consider well-delivered, witty and subtle humor a high (and most courageous) art – be it in literature, movies/theater or song. There’s no middle ground for the comical: you can only deliver or fail horribly in making others laugh the right way, while working it into layers of meaning.

    Two bloggers who have not only managed this balance brilliantly but consistently for a long time, are Klepsacovic and Melmoth. If they’re not already on your reader, now is the time to do it!

    Best (formal) writing
    A similar class of writing that makes actual blog focus secondary, is masterful storytelling as much as elaborate and eloquent writing. Again, kudos go to Melmoth here for being such a distinguished writer (with a dose of very British charm). I would also like to mention Rades for his fascinating, well-researched (and voluminous!) storytelling of WoW lore (which I’d otherwise never read).

    Most missed bloggers
    There are a few bloggers who have either completely disappeared in 2011 or gone very quiet; they have left very sad, noticeable gaps in my daily blog reading. A warm /wave goes out to Gronthe, Issy, Scrusi, Epic Ben and all those with “more wit than honesty, (…) more villainy than virtue, more passion, more revenge and more ambition, than foolish honour and fantastic glory”. You are deeply missed.

    Newcomer’s welcome
    While I’m at it, I would like to give a (in places belated) greeting to a few newcomer blogs who have caught my attention in more recent weeks/months. Pay them a visit sometime!

    • Doone and Ahtchu who both appear to join our ranks of general MMO critics / design analysts.
    • Flosch of Random Waypoint; an “ex-hardcore raider” providing general commentary and design analyzis on various MMO topics (and he has awesome plushies!)
    • Play from Play:Life Game Style, a personal game commentary blog that also focuses on mastering gaming as a passion while maintaining a “healthy lifestyle”.

    That was it for my 2011 nominations! Cheers to all of you out there who make this blogosphere an interesting and lively place – and of course: happy blogging in 2012! 

    P.S. Due to my template update, I actually lost my entire blogroll and also the image I thought I had stored of the old one (duh)….I believe I was able to reinstall most of the links from pure memory, but should you spot a grave oversight or yourself missing there (which totally can’t be because you’re awesome!), please give me a heads up! :)