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Casual Thoughts from a Semi-Retired Philosopher

I play MMOs as an alternative to TV. Sometimes it even turns into quality time with the girlfriend. Most of the time it's a distraction from doing something productive or meaningful.

Author: Hluill

Good Bye Guild Wars and Hello Everquest 2

Posted by Hluill Wednesday July 30 2014 at 9:55AM
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I've never played World of Warcraft.  And I never really wanted to.

I played Everquest right after the addition of the sexy barbarians and the Plane of Knowledge.  I played for a few years and then my friends there talked me into switching to Everquest 2 a few months after its release.  It's gone through a lot of changed since then.  

But it's still the best all around game out there.  And, more importantly, it's the only game out there that my girlfriend wants to play.  I've gotten her to play LotRO, GW2, SWTOR for a extended periods.  I've let her try a myriad of others.  But she keeps coming back to EQ2.

It has housing.  Housing that can be decorated.  Decor that can be crafted.  

So we've re-installed EQ2 onto our computers.

And I am enjoying it.

The User Interface is so modifiable that it's almost overwhelming.  

Crafting is fun: it involves more than just clicking a craft button.  Though I grimace every time I cook with dirt.

Gathering is fun: because there are plenty of nodes and it's a fun way to burn a few minutes.  And Trapping provides elephant meat!

Combat is okay.  There's a wonky controversy between skill attacks and auto-attack.  Some of the movements are really bothersome.  The two-handed sword stance is really a twisted mess.

Having played a score of MMOs, I realize that they all have their immersion-breaking quirks.  Everquest 2 at least gives me the most choices.

Filling and Unfilling Bars

Posted by Hluill Tuesday October 1 2013 at 1:44PM
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Star Wars is updating and I am bored.  Ignoring my dog for a few more minutes, I've decided to rant a bit.  I am tired of the Hit-Point Race that seems to be the only mechanic that MMO developers seem to use.  Every encounter is a race to empty the opponent's health bar faster than my own.  That's it.  Tack on some cool graphics and give me some buttons to mash and it's all about the the bars: fill mine while I empty theirs.

I've hated the idea of hitpoints since my Pen and Paper days.  My first gaming mod enabled faster and more "realistic" combat.  After a few dozen tours in the military I've learned that "realistic" combat is not possible on a computer, nor would it be entertaining.  The gap between reality and digital simulations will always be vast.

Maybe I'm a sadist, but I still think it would be neat to try to bring it a little closer.  Here are some of my ideas on how.

First: no more freakin' hit-points!  One makes a series of saving throws versus the effectiveness of an attack.  The first being a skill throw that would allow the hit to occur.  The next would be an armor throw to absorb some (or all) of the attack's effectiveness.  There might be throws to stay standing or to maintain an action.  Ultimately, there would be a saving throw  to stay conscious.  Attacks  that hit remove participants.  One's level doesn't increase this final throw's chances massively.  Damage is a very subjective thing.  I've seen guys stub their toes and pass out.  And I've seen guys walk ten miles with a bullet in the gut.  A splinter in the eye will remove most.

Second: gear matters, but not in some magical, makes-you-stronger way.  Armor isn't made out of white plastic: it actually ruins the effectiveness of an attack.  But it's heavy and people look at you funny when you wear it in the grocery store.  Instead of thirty pounds of armor, maybe I want to carry thirty pounds of ammo, or food, or water, or self-help books.  I remember MMOs with encumbrance rules, what happened to them? Give me a pack animal for all that quest, crafting and gathering stuff, and even my armor when I decide to go for a swim.

Third: the trinity needs to be rethunk.  No one goes into combat screaming: "Attack me!  Ignore my healer and just attack me!"  And wouldn't it be nice to fight an enemy that falls for that?  But, combat is full of diversions, distraction devices, flanks, engagement areas and such.  Couple of facts: first guy through the door gets most of the attention but has a high rate of survival, especially if second and third do their jobs -- but, the ambush that initiates on the point man fails (though it sucks to be the point man).

Fourth: twitch is for kids.  I admire the skillz, but there ain't much running and jumping and sideways sprinting being done while attacking.  Sure, plenty can be done between attacks, sometimes.  While many clueless lieutenants dissagree with me, I have found that a slow, steady, aggressive maneuver is more effective than a half-assed, rushed one.  That's why various martial arts spend so much time practicing forms and stances.  Slow is smooth; smooth is fast, sir.

Thanks for bothering to read my rant.  And I really don't care what your thoughts are on it, unless it's to say how cool you think it is and you want to give me a few million to design a game.

 

The Coolest MMO Ev-Ah!

Posted by Hluill Wednesday September 4 2013 at 11:44AM
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Yeah, it doesn't exist. 

I've been playing Star Wars: the Old Republic (which my friend calls sweater) for a couple of months now.  I am having fun, but the girlfriend isn't.   She finally admitted this to me today.  She plays it because I play it.  I play it because it has a cool story line and fun character development.  

She misses EverQuest 2's housing and crafting.  But she thinks it's questing is rather bland.  And she hates subscribing.  I still have my account with Sony, but got tired of feeling like a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.

She misses Lord of the Rings Online because it's so pretty, but she's pretty blah about the rest of the game.  I stopped playing when the level curve left me behind.  It seems like such a worthless grind to me.

I still enjoy infrequent forays into The Secret World.  While I think the Ability system there is the absolute best of any game I've played, my girl is intimidated by it.  Knowing when to equip which abilities can be a bit of a pain, to be sure.

So, we're probably headed back to Guild Wars 2.  It's pretty.  It's straightforward.  With dynamic leveling and events there is always something to do.  Because of the discoveries, the crafting isn't completely intolerable.

So, I'll miss my trooper in her white armor and my bad-ass juggernaught and her lightsaber.  But it will great to get back to my warrior and her greatsword and my rogue with his underhanded knife-attacks.

My Favorite MMO Mechanics

Posted by Hluill Monday December 10 2012 at 9:48AM
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There are days I reminisce.  I am old and I can't avoid it.  Sometimes I even reminisce about MMOs.  They're getting old too.

So, there are days that I miss the social interactions of old Everquest.  I wouldn't call it forced grouping.  It's not that one couldn't solo, but things were certainly easier if you had friends. There was plenty of stuff for friends to do together.  And EQ had the coolest language mechanic.  Groups of players would sit around spamming each other in different, in-game languages.  On my server there was no "common" tongue, which made me happy because I think the concept is ridiculous.    

It's intriguing that Lord of the Rings Online didn't use a similar mechanic.  Professor Tolkien was a somewhat accomplished linguist. Language was an important dynamic in his stories.  But LotRO has an awesome music mechanic.  I have spent hours in game watching concerts put on by fellow players.  I would love to see more games try similar things.

Everquest 2 doesn't even have instruments for its minstrels.   But if there is one thing I miss about EQ2 it's its housing system.  I am afraid to total the hours I've spent arranging furniture in my instanced homes.  And I have a Y chromosome too.  I think housing was the primary attraction for my girlfriend and her daughter.

And while I have to give EQ2 a tip of the hat for its crafting minigame, the best crafting minigame I have found so far is Vanguard's.  The crafting in Vanguard is almost as challenging, frustrating and repetitive as its combat.  Sometimes I wouldn't even know what I was making.  But Vanguard is old, and slow and inflexible.

Until I played The Secret World, I didn't realize how inflexible most MMOs are.  In TSW, Abilities (attacks, spells and buffs) are equippable, like gear.  A player has eight active slots and eight passive slots.  I choose which abilities to buy and equip.  I can change my character from tank to healer to damage to utility as often as I like.

Guild Wars 2 does something similar, but it's still weapon and class specific.  Where GW2 rocks is the event system.  Couple this with the ability to share mobs and heal downed players and GW2 has taken things to the point where one begs to ask: "Why group at all?"  And while I enjoy healing strangers while playing a warrior, it can be a very lonely game to play.  And this makes me miss old EQ...

A click away from cancelling my SOE Account

Posted by Hluill Wednesday October 17 2012 at 10:11AM
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My "old"computer died last week.  I love the idea of disposeable laptops, especially when I buy the high-performance ones to satisfy my gaming addiction.

So almost two-grand later, I am loading my files and games onto a new computer.  I am required to give credit to the girlfriend here, she did most of the work, MMOs' massive downloads require her office's high-speed connection.  I have yet to reload Everquest 2 or Vanguard.  I probably won't.  I've reloaded The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, and even Lord of the Rings Online, but not my SOE Games.

My dissatisfaction with EQ2 has been a long time in coming.  I think the server merges, where my server lost its Roleplaying title, began my discomfort.  Then there was the Attribute nerf, after I had spent hours and currency on balancing my characters' stats.  Now it seems all the content is outleveling me.  This is also my complaint with LotRO, but I've a Lifetime subscription.

As to Vanguard, there is much I enjoy, but it is such a slow game.  I don't mind taking my time with most of the game's aspects, except grouping.  I am just tired of old-school leveling systems that make it so hard to group with different leveled friends.  This was one of the reasons I continued to play EQ2 and GW2 improves this even further. 

So why is it so hard for me to click the "cancel my account" button?  Am I missing something?  I am anticipating missing something.  I still miss my old Everquest Acount.  But it's similar to missing a past girlfriend: "those days are gone forever, you should just let them go..."  What I miss about those games are memories that cannot be recreated.  I should could concentrate on making new memories.

Maybe I'll think about it for another month.

So I took a break from TSW to play GW2

Posted by Hluill Friday August 31 2012 at 9:11AM
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The girlfriend wasn't interested in The Secret World.  She listened to my stories of adventures there with interest, but not enough interest to join me.  She was busy anticipating the release of Guild Wars 2.  And I was to.  It looked interesting, to be certain.

So we bought the digital download and got into the prerelease.  We had to poach her office's really high-speed for four-hours of downloads.  And then we had to sit through a few more downloads.  Finding each other and grouping was a major pain in the ass, but we did eventually and stayed grouped even after logging out.

My first challenge: create my old favorites, Hluill and Leyek.  This was tough.  From my old EQ days Hluill is a barbarian rogue and Leyek is his half-elf daughter.  Leyek became human in EQ2 by means of a handy potion after I couldn't stand the skinny half-elf model anymore.  They both became human in TSW, but I am still wrestling with my faction choices there.

After a few rerolls, they became Norns in GW2.  I want to rant about the avatar models in GW2, but, in fairness, all MMOs have issues in this area and GW2's are no worse.  Getting the tough-chick look for Leyek was easier than the charming-rogue look for Hluill.  I am still a bit irked that the naming filter didn't like "Hluillsdottir", especially after seeing similar names in game.

So now Leyek is twenty-second level and I've been having fun.  The game is designed to be fun.  I am free to help other players without having to worry about loot or experience.  I can explore and quest at the same time.  Gathering earns experience and materials are deposited with a simple click.  Leyek has completed several dailies and finished a few maps.

Part of me wonders and worries: Is this it?  Are these five Greatsword-attacks all that I get for the next sixty levels?  Is crafting just going to be this mindless?  Is it always going to be this hard to "Join in" with my girlfriend's characters?

I can't help but harken to my days on old EQ.  Sure, some of my nostalgia is based on the newness of it, but a bigger portion is based on the friends I had there.  I would get up early just to play with friends in different time zones and different work scheduals.  Why did I have so many good friends there?  Because I needed them.  Old EQ was fifty-percent solo-able, at best.  In one form or another, a group made grinding experience easier and faster.  And during the mandatory pauses for mana and health regeneration, there was time to chat and get to know each other.

I made some friends in the the original EQ2 this way.  I haven't made any since.  As I look at current MMO design, I don't think I will.

The Secret World may be worth a Lifetime Sub.

Posted by Hluill Saturday August 18 2012 at 6:12PM
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If you've read my last two blogs you'd think I was less than excited about this game.  I am very critical of its inaccuracies.  Of course, I am the guy that almost walked out of "The Two Towers" during that ridiculous cavalry-charge scene.  I still bought the movie and watch it from time to time (and certain Jackson-ized scenes still really irk me).

I know the world is an imperfect place.  I think our imperfections are what makes us perfect.  But enough philosophizing.

I am enjoying this game.  It's hard to play.  There is no mindless grind.  Even green encounters can kick my ass.  It ain't just pull, kill, pull, kill, etc.  Some of the missions (I still want to call them quests) are taking me hours and several sessions to complete.  I get done with some of the encounters and I am feeling drained.  This game has made me sigh and shout and scream.  I like to be challenged.

I've spent hours angsting over how to spend my Ability Points.  When I play more level-oriented MMOs, leveling is cool, but many times meaningless.  A new level translates into more health and maybe a new attack.  In The Secret World, I am always plotting and saving and drooling over new abilities.  Should I continue to save for the Elite Ability?  Should I finish out lower parts of the wheel?  Do I need more damage?  Is that heal worth it?  How can I exploit the hinderences and impairments I've created?

Sure it's discouraging to save and save and save only to find out that fifty-point ability ain't as awesome as I thought.  And I had to waste over a hundred points on other useless abilities just to get to it.  But then I learn more, experiment some, and try out some funky builds.  Sometimes I get really desperate after getting my ass kicked a few times in a row and I try some really weird stuff.  Sometimes having "wasted" all those points on those "useless" abilities pays off.

Truth is, the animation of the attack is as important as the effectiveness.  And I am spending most of my tokens on molds.  A couple of my weapons are probably out of date, but I ain't givin' up my M4 for no one.  And my tank is still carrying her Taurus Pistols (though I miss her Sigs).

This game, with is limitless outfits is as much about appearence as anything.  I am cool with that.  I am playing it on a screen.  And while "Sarge's" uniform makes me want to puke, I'm still doing missions for him.

An Email to the Developers at TSW

Posted by Hluill Tuesday August 14 2012 at 4:32PM
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I wrote the following after finally working my way through the Savage Coast to the Blue Mountains.

 

Concerning The Secret World:

I knew I was going to have issues with the game.  I am an old soldier and a firearms instructor, so most modern-day media depicting firearms give me some issues.  Most of the time, I just grimace and move on.  The weapon-use animations in this game are mostly silly (like dual-wielding pistols, short-ranged ARs, hip shooting, etc.) but they are fun and I understand the context.  Then I started seeing some interesting weapon graphics...

I flinched at trading my Sigs in for Glocks, but then I hate Glocks.

I shake my head at how the grenade launchers are mounted on the ARs.

Then I see sniper rifles.  Then I see crew-served machine guns being carried like rifles.

Okay, so I try not to pay too close attention.

Then I travel to the Blue Mountains, to the Forward Operating Base by the southern entrance.  The scene is absolutely so ridiculous that I may quit the game.  I am embarrassed by how upset I am.  I am truly offended by the sheer ignorance  the scene displays.  With all the veterans running around, looking for work, no one thought to consult one for a little technical direction. 

I was debating on whether to renew my subscription or not.  Now it is seemly enough to make it not.  Apologies for my sensitivity.

Thanks for your time.

 

I have since reflected much about the scene and why it upset me so much.  And I still don't have an answer.  Part of me would love to dismiss it and keep playing.  Part of me wants to wait and see what kind of response I receive.  I received one quickly in game and it was cordial.  I do appreciate that.

I guess part of me is dissappointed.  Some much thought went into the lore of this game.  So the developers then display such blatant ignorance.  Well, I guess I am overly sensitive to such things...

A Few Hours in The Secret World

Posted by Hluill Tuesday July 24 2012 at 8:35AM
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It happened to be on the shelf.  We were in the store, pricing computers for the daughter, and I saw it sitting there on the shelf.  The girlfriend says: "You know you want it, go ahead and get it."  Yeah, she's sexy that way.

So, home to the installation and update process.  What the f@#$!?  Four Gigs?  Really?  I buy the frickin' disc and I have a four gigabyte update?  Even on the girl's high-speed, I have a twenty-seven-hour wait.  I buy the game on a Friday and get to play it Sunday Morning.  Sure, I hear ya, shoulda bought it and taken it to the office, then it would've only been a few hours.

Did I mention that I am getting kinda burnt out on MMOs, the internet and computers in general?  Well, internet access at my home has always been spotty.  It's getting worse.  So I am finding other ways to waste my time, like reading or walking the dog.  I mention this because I am feeling less than stellar about TSW.

Sure, it has a cool skill system, but the combat is the same ol' hit-point level-system.  I hit you, you hit me, rinse, repeat until someone has to respawn.  I also have I major issue with the firearms.  Pistol-grip shotguns, hip-shooting rifles and dual-wielding pistols are all extra silly looking.  Namely because I've tried all those things with real weapons and found them to be worthless, if not plain unwieldy and uncomfortable.  

Since I am talking about stupid-gun mechanics, let me rant for a bit.  The rifle only has less than thirty-meter effective-range.  The shotgun has a ridiculous spread.  And dual-wielding pistols?  Only in Hollywood was that ever a good idea.  The ground-impact graphic at the target's feet make me feel less than accurate.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It's just a game.  The weapons are just a focus of the avatar's anima.  And I knew this would be an issue for me going in.  I just didn't realize that that it would kill my immersion so severely.  I should've known, though, because even melee graphics are starting to do the same.  If I want cool gun graphics, I should learn to play some twitch-fest RTS.

The quest system is really cool, though.  I like how I am limited to just a few at a time.  But do I have to sit through a five-minute cut-scene just to get them?  I am not a fan of the long cut-scenes, especially since I am experimenting with different characters and rerolling quite a bit.

The game world is fun, and rewarding, to explore.  There are all kinds of back alleys, tunnels, rooms and such in this game.  Exploring and finding lore is great.  But, everyone is doing that, running about, looking for that golden honeycomb.  No one is talking, waving (the emote system in this game sucks) or helping each other.  There is no community.  Admittedly, my standards are high.  My first game was old EQ, more than ten years ago.  I was making friends there as soon as I logged in.

So, fun game, but I see no reason to stay with past my free month, but maybe I will change my mind...

A Good, PvP-Centered MMO?

Posted by Hluill Thursday March 15 2012 at 9:29AM
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There's a debate raging on the forums about a need for a "Good PvP-centered Game".  Why do I hang out on a PvP forum?  I do have masocistic tendancies, but I would love to see a good PvP game as well.  I just don't they can exist, considering developers, marketers and fans.

 

I deleted my response as it started to get really long.

 

 I cannot believe that I read all seventeen pages...  I feel a little less intelligent now.  Heck, I don't even know what the debates are about anymore.

 

I thought I understood the question, to which I answered no, by the way.  I answered no because there are enough PvP-centered games out there, cool ones, too.   I realize that they are not MMOrPGs.  I realize that the top sellers are not PvP centered.  In PvP-centered games, people seem centered on PvPing, surprisingly enough.  Stuff like crafting, house decorating, exploring and the other stuff for the RPG part of MMORPG, all fall by the wayside.  If somebody whines because they got ganked while decorating their house, they're dismissed for being a Carebear.  I think Mortal Online is a great example of an MMO trying to have a cool world system, but if you don't like PvP, it sucks to play (unless you like killing weasels, chopping wood and getting mugged).

 

The other problem with PvP is combat mechanics.  Since the early D&D days, they've sucked.  They're written by geeks who intellectualize mortal struggles but probably don't even know how to make a fist.  At some point in most rule systems, more advanced characters are immune to their lessers' attacks.  Sure, a full suit of chainmail (the uber gear a millenium ago) greatly reduced one's chances of dying in combat, but, number one: it did not reduce them to zero, and two: it didn't mean one didn't get knocked unconscious and held hostage or killed later.  Point is: that lowbie wood cutter?  Yeah, he should have a chance of taking you and all your uberness down. 

 

Another factor is that ganking is called a well-coordinated attack in the real world.  Sometimes it's an ambush, or raid or a deliberate attack.  It's about killing the enemy while he's still sleeping, surprised or distracted.  If I don't have an unreasonable advantage, then I ain't fighting.  And even with that unreasonable advantage, I still know I could lose.  But where's the fun in playing a game where one has to be in sneaky-sneaky, stalky-stalky mode all the time?  Maybe that's the thrill die-hard PvPers crave.  I have a hard time believe that it's that popular.

 

So, for anybody unfamiliar with my blogs, I am going to make this point absolutely clear, again: The first rule of combat is that anybody can kill anybody.  If the game does not allow for Uber-elite guy in top-teir gear to be owned by lowbie in rags with a rock, then your combat-system is for sissies.  Go back to sucking your thumb.  History is filled with examples of the top guys getting owned.  Sometimes it's a fluke, sometimes it's a well executed ambush.  Sometimes the top guy just spends too much time reading his own PR and believing it.  Yeah, boom, you're dead.