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Is That So?

Here's where I, Penelopae, blog about all things gaming. From text-based MUDs to the latest graphic adventures, I'm open to playing all games equally and without bias. Why don't you join me?

Author: penelopae

Internet Killed the Video Game Star?

Posted by penelopae Thursday June 21 2012 at 9:34AM
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Two of the first games to offer a free-to-play (otherwise known as F2P) model were Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands in 1997 and Neopets in 1999. There have been others, but these were the two most notable, despite their obvious differences. Here are some of the contrasting and comparison points that stand out between the two games.
 
Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands
 
  • text-based multi-user dungeon (also called MUDs)
  • focused on roleplaying
  • player-run social structure including politics
  • collects real-life money for in-game perks
  • generates profit by offering players an optional, monthly subscription benefits package
 
Neopets
 
  • virtual pet website with bright, colorful graphics
  • focused on caretaking of virtual pets
  • players earn points to get things for their pets by playing games
  • collects real-life money for in-game perks
  • generates profit when players earn points by taking part in advertisement-based forums, games, etc.
 
As you can see, the F2P model has its merits. However, there are a lot of gamers who prefer walking into a store or visiting a website (like Steam) and paying for a game outright via a one-time purchase because they know exactly what to expect. When I bought Skyrim, I knew I was getting, and not just because I’d played other Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda Games Studios made the Games of the Year in 2006 and 2008, so I knew epic graphics and a killer soundtrack were to be expected. And when I first played I wasn’t disappointed. It was easy to become fully immersed I the game within just a few moments of playing.
 
But what if….
 
What if the business model of video games as we know it requires a major transition in order to keep up with changing technology and the needs of society? Fifty years ago stores called Tower Records that sold – you guessed it – vinyl records opened in California and it wasn’t long until they were popular across the country. As the times changed, so did their stock which grew to include CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs, and even MP3 players and video games. They boasted three locations in New York City alone. (The one in the Village was my favorite!) Despite attempts to keep customers with programs like Tower Insider that allowed a membership card and discounts offered through e-mail, they couldn’t compete with the growing popularity of MP3 sharing.
 
While song lyrics claim that “video killed the radio star” it can also be said that the internet killed big-box music stores. But it’s not just affecting music retailers. Sites like Amazon are killing bookstores. Brick and mortar stores just can’t compete with computer technology and electronic gadgets like iPads, e-books, and computer apps that allow people to read entire volumes of books without ever manually turning the first page. Blockbuster video was another company who failed to adapt their business model quickly enough to keep up with changes posed by internet users.
 
Will the internet kill video game stores, too?
 
With this in mind, why wouldn’t video games be next in line? Are stores like GameStop next? Will awesome deals on previously used hard copies of games be sacrificed for the sake of digital distribution over remote connections, as with the popular Steam software? Or with F2P models like ones offered by MUDs? Only time will tell; but I’d like to know what you think about the topic. What are your predictions about the future of F2P and video game stores? Thanks for stopping by!

How I Became a Millionaire Playing Video Games

Posted by penelopae Monday June 18 2012 at 4:55PM
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Okay, I have to confess. It wasn’t me who made millions, but the half-elf mage I play in an MMORPG. And he wasn’t playing video games – he was playing the global commodities market. Can you blame him? Doing the same quests day in and day out is boring. So is fighting the same mobs that just respawn, over and over again no matter how many times they’re killed. Fortunately for me, the game I play has an auction house; it’s one of the most popular features! Before I knew it, I was rolling in millions more than my peers and it wasn’t difficult at all.

But that’s not really what this post is about. You see, a few years ago when I blogged about a similar topic, I started getting spam emails telling me how I could make a million dollars in real life by playing video games. Um…right, and beautiful pink pigs are flying around outside my window in a dazzling techno-color display of awesomeness. Fortunately I didn’t fall for it – but there was one I did fall for, revealed below. Here are some of the biggest scams involving not only video games, MMORPGs, and MUDs on your computer, but also ones on your cellphone, as well as how you can avoid being falling victim to them.
  • Free Phone Games Lead to High Phone Bills – Why? Because while you’re playing the game, your Windows phone is secretly dialing long distance numbers at premium rates that are billed to you, dear gamer. And don’t fall for the “Take this quiz and we’ll text you your results – and give you free social networking credits” trick, either. What they’re really doing is billing you for a high-priced subscription, and no matter how high your IQ really is you’ll feel pretty dumb seeing the charge on your cellphone bill. (I know I did!)
  • One Time Fee for Unlimited Free Games – Does that sound too good to be true? Guess what! It is TOTALLY too good to be true. If the “service” involves file sharing, then it’s probably also a form of piracy and therefore totally illegal.
  • Place Your Bets! – Actually, don’t place your bets. There are no federal laws in America that prevent you from throwing your money away on games like poker, blackjack, and roulette. But why would you throw away perfectly good cash? In all honesty I had a lot more fun at the betting tables in my favorite MUDs.
  • Being scammed? Go Phish! – Phishing scams are almost as old as email itself. Usually you’ll get an email that appears like it’s sent from the game developers, asking you to confirm some part of your account – like your account number, password, etc. Once you click the website and enter your personal information, it’s like you’ve just handed your wallet to a total stranger.
Falling victim to scams leads to a horrible reputation with your friends, your family, but worst of all with your creditors. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. And if it sounds like it might be a scam, it probably is. Never click links in email, ad never accept emails from websites you don’t trust.
 
Have you ever been victimized by a scam? Know someone who was? Share your story! I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

VIRTUAL DEATH – WHAT’S YOUR MODUS OPERANDI?

Posted by penelopae Sunday June 17 2012 at 6:06AM
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No, I’m not talking about picking off members of enemy organizations; and I’m not talking about quietly plotting against people on the home team in acts of revenge, attempts to propel yourself up the ladder to success, or whatever. I’m talking about killing off the person who matters the most regardless if you’re into F2P, Video Games, MMORPGs, MMOs, or MUDs – and that person is YOU!
 
A Few Games that Offer Permadeath
 
Origins of Malu – Permadeath takes on a new meaning in this Indie sandbox. Their PvP system allows dueling to the death – which results in PERMADEATH! That’s badass…just as long as you’re the one coming out on top. I’d rather not risk putting all those hours into a character only to have it get wiped out at the hands of another player. (Well, unless it was an LOLalt created for that purpose. Then it could be fun.)
 
Diablo II and Diablo III – both versions offer a mode that’s fairly hardcore and gives characters a way to risk permadeath. Even then, it’s not a true permadeath as players can still access their in-game gold auction house funds. They don’t want people to put real-life cash into a character and then kill it off. The MUDs I play do the same – once you spend real cash on the game for one of your characters, you’re not allowed to kill off that character. However, the rest of them can bite it, through a decision the player makes OR by just not logging in, resulting in being purged.
 
 
World of WarcraftDELETE is the quickest and easiest way to permadeath here. However, I’ve heard rumors that in some cases Blizzard will overturn it. This also happened in a game I play called Achaea. Even though 2 people in the past real-life year have “SAID GOODBYE FOREVER OMG!!!” the admins brought them back. Awkward much? I’m sure they had good reasons, and I heard years ago that you can come back this way, but it is bad RP form, IMHO.
 
Why Do People Do Their Alter Egos In?
 
Reasons why people choose to permadeath include:
  • They feel their stats suck and want to reroll as a new character.
  • They want the game to feel as realistic as possible for their character.
  • They are just ready to stop playing the game altogether.
In the MUDs I play, there’s an option called “suicide” that lets you delete your character forever – just so long as you’ve never paid real-world cash for in-game products, like credits (a form of currency) or enjoyed the many perks of an Elite membership. Personally, my main character is still going strong after nearly 7 years of gameplay, but I’ve had many an alt (I like to call them my Penelopaes.) who did themselves in – usually via dramatic, heart-wrenching scenes that are mostly fun for me.
So what are your reasons for permadeath in a game? Are there any games I didn’t mention that you feel have awesome (or lacking) permadeath abilities? I’d love to read all your comments!

My Favorite Video Game Dads

Posted by penelopae Friday June 15 2012 at 10:25PM
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This coming Sunday many people across the country have plans to spend with their father-figures. However, like many of the rest of you I will be spending time with my favorite video game father figures! Without further ado, here are my top 5 favorites in order of least to most.
 
5. Don Corleone
 
 
In the movie he looked at Johnny Fontane and said, “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Although director Francis Ford Coppola didn’t approve of Paramount’s releasing the game in 2006, I’m so glad they did. I love the Godfather book, the movies, and yeah, I love the video game, too. This is one of the few that can pull me away from my favorite MUDs. It’s always fun stepping into a virtual role associated with your favorite media entertainment, especially when Dad..erm..the Don is there.
 
4. Joe Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden)
 
 
Off in the wilderness through the first Ninja Gaiden game, daddy Joe was off training and thus left the Dragon Sword (ancient piece of weaponry passed down from one generation of Dragon warriors to the next) to his son, Ryu. That is so badass! I would MUCH rather that someone would give me a cool weapon for Father’s Day than me buying my dad another tie he doesn’t need. In the Dragon Sword game in the Ninja Gaiden series Joe eventually returns and impressed with Ryu’s skill with the weapon. Finally ready to parts with the sword, he tells Ryu to keep it…for-ev-er!
 
3. James
 
 
Did you see the movie Taken starting Liam Neeson as the dad who shoots anyone in the way of his adventure through France as he attempts to rescue his kidnapped daughter? His character of James in Fallout 3 is so not like that, at all. James is an uber-scientist who plans to clean up the radioactive water around Washington, D.C. (As someone who lives in the greater D.C. area, and has seen weird fishies growing in the Potomac, all I can say is, “Good luck, James!”) Sadly, he puts his work first which means his kid (i.e. you, playing the main character who is James’ kid) gets neglected. This would keep him off the list, except that personally I’d love to see someone clean up the water around the Potomac! Too bad he bites it shortly after the adventure begins.
 
2. Eli Vance
 
 
If you love Half-Life like I love Half-Life, then you probably have a soft spot for Eli Vance. Although he only lasts through the end of the [SPOILER ALERT!!!] second episode, his goodbye scene is one of the most heart-wrenching ones I’ve ever seen in any video game. I’ve watched the scene cause grown men to cry like PMS’ing women watching Sleepless in Seattle. He’s not a super-brilliant scientist like James. He’s not a badass mob boss like Don Corleone. He’s just a normal dad, the kind of dad who loves his kid…the kind of dad ever kid wishes they had. And I’m pretty sure that’s why he’s #2 on my list.
 
1. Darth Vader
 
 
Who can forget the famous line “Luke. (whoooosh-swoooosh) I am your father.” It has spurred parodies across generations of entertainment. Except Darth Vader actually never spoke those exact words. Here’s how it really goes down in the original film:
Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke Skywalker: No... that's not true! That's impossible!
 
Yeah, worst father of all time is #1 on my list. Even moreso than some of the "dads" in my favorite MUDs. Sure he abandoned his kids, leaving the ignorance over their parentage to almost enter an incestuous relationship. Sure he fought his sun on several occasions with deadly light sabers. But when push came to shove he ‘fessed up and told Luke the truth. And then he stood by it to the end. How can you argue with that kind of a final chapter? I sure can’t!
 
Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog! If you’re a dad, then Happy Father’s Day to you, and if you have a dad, don’t forget to at least text him on his big upcoming holiday. While we’re here, who’s your favorite father-figure from video games? Even from MMORPGs or MUDs?  I’d love to read all your comments!
 

Post-Apocalyptic Settings and Virtual Realms

Posted by penelopae Thursday June 14 2012 at 9:09AM
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If there’s one thing I love more than a living in a realistic fantasy world, it’s living in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. There’s something romantic about the certainty of the end of the world. Harold Camping, a radio host in California, has claimed the world would end in 1994. Televangelist Pat Robertson back in 1984 was saying the same thing. And the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 caused a mass suicide of people believing we’d reached the end of times. And let’s not even revisit Y2K. Biblical sources claim only God and He alone know when that day will be, so until then let’s all do what we’re doing anyway – play post-apocalyptic video games! Here are a few that I like, from least to most favorite:
  • FALLOUT – I know, I know! Some of you are thinking, “How is this NOT your favorite?!” Maybe it’s because it hearkens more to RPGs and MUDs. When I want to play a video game, I want the whole arcade game experience. And this game isn’t just about surviving after the world goes south. It’s also about moving forward in what remains and rebuilding a society. Corporations that lie, the fear of supplies running dry…it just feels to real. I like to be immersed in my game, but this game takes total immersion to a whole new level. The last time I played several hours went by I a single setting and it felt like I’d only been playing for a fraction of that time.
  • GEARS OF WAR – This game rocks!  Last year at Christmas when it came time to upgrade my Xbox, I splurged for the Gears of War 3 edition. (Hey, the red and black console matches everything else in my living room!) If you’ve never played, here’s a brief synopsis. This is a game that blends military science and science fiction. Basically it’s a 3rd person shooter game and your character is either Marcus Fenix or Dominic Santiago, a war soldier who is also a former prisoner. You’ll need a strategic mindset to advance through the different scenarios whether you’re playing one player, with a friend, or in an online multiplayer setting. Lately I've been playing Gears of War when I want to enjoy time with friends from MUDs in an environment that offers us a break from text. (Except we always seem to go back to it!)
  • LEFT 4 DEAD – That’s right! The zombie-themed post-apocalyptic game is my absolute favorite. It’s like stepping into something like The Walking Dead, but in a video game. The undead are everywhere and they want YOUR brain for dinner! If you’re thinking you can hide out until they dry up, think again. Tank zombies tear through walls like they’re paper thin. While this is categorized as a cooperative 1st person shooter game, it sets a total of 4 survivors against the undead hoard. You can choose to be Francis the biker, Bill the war vet, Zoey a college student, or Louis an IT guy. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose – they all have the exact same skillset, and start with a semiautomatic that you can reload as many times as you want. It’s also the only weapon you can use while laid up and waiting for the other three survivors to lend you a helping hand. Some of the other weapons are Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, and scoping rifles. Players can also hold first aid kits and pain pills. Who doesn’t enjoy a narcotic high in their video game, right? But that’s a whole other blog post!
 
Hey, thanks for stopping by! What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic video game? Maybe they're not your thing and you prefer traditional MMORPGs or old-school, text-based MUDs. I’d love to hear all about them in the comments section.
 

Gamers Gone Wild – Handling Real Personality Clashes in a Virtual World

Posted by penelopae Saturday June 9 2012 at 12:05AM
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The first time I ever played a RPG it was at a friend’s kitchen table with graph paper and a cheap set of polyhedral dice purchased at the local comic book store. Then my parents finally agreed to bring our house up to the rest of the people living in the 21st century and bought the family a home computer. They were so impressed with the fact that my brothers and I were spending hours a day hunting and pecking our way across the keyboard, misguidedly assuming that we were hard at work on things like book reports and term papers.
 
***SCREEEEEEEECH***
 
Little did they know that the loud screeching from our “state-of-the-art” dot matrix printer (Hey, don’t let it be said that my parents ever spared any expense at keeping up with the Jones’s!) wasn’t churning out page after page of neatly typed course work, but ASCII-style maps and storylines for our next campaign. While most of the other girls my age pored over magazines like Seventeen and Elle, I was happily ensconced in the basement debating whether to have a dragon upset a wagon of Dwarven ale or a thief offer to lead the merry band of adventurers into the Caverns of No Return in hopes of finding the dragon’s loot – or both!
 
Hello Online RPGs!
 
Fast forward a few years later and with many others I used the freebie 3.5” floppy disk that came in the mail to sign up for AOL’s internet service. I found myself immersed in the world of text-based RPG online. I’d rush home from work to check messages and the forums, and loved that I could help the game by volunteering to write descriptions for items, mobs, and even rooms. I even got to design my own house – it was so cool! And best of all, I got to meet and roll up chars with people from all over the globe. Could it get any better?
 
It Didn't Get Better
 
Then disaster struck in the form of a level 16 mage named Gwinle*. Her negative reputation among the players was only second to the facets of her personality that gave truth to the rumors about her. She was bossy, negative, and always had a snide remark which she was quick to whisper behind the target’s back. Her nastiness knew no bounds and you can imagine my complete and utter dread joy when I found out we’d be working on a project to rewrite the Forest of Miscreants* together.
 
Our first conversation consisted of her listing every single person she’d snubbed and what they’d done to (allegedly) deliberately offend her on a personal level. Before I could think to backspace I typed out, “TEL GWINLE Did you ever think that maybe it’s not them, but you?” and hit enter. Oops! What ensued isn’t worth repeating here but if you’ve ever found yourself facing a problem similar to my situation (or worse, in Gwinle’s situation) here are some things you can do to help resolve it.
  • When in Doubt, Talk it Out – RPGs (and especially MUDs) happen in groups, and if someone is treating it like a one-person game then disaster is bound to strike sooner or later. It’s quite possible that the other person doesn’t even realize a problem exists. If that’s the case be patient with them as they come to grips with the results of their recent actions. And if someone comes to you about the fact that you’re the problem, then evaluate the situation objectively, and apologize where necessary.
  • Plan a Fix-it Strategy – This first involves recognizing who’s doing what wrong to whom. If it’s someone else, there’s no guarantee they’ll apologize so just plan to be the bigger person and forgive them anyway. And if it’s you, those two little words – I’m sorry – go a long way towards righting who you’ve wronged.
  • Take a Step Back – That’s right, step back and try and look at things from the other person’s point of view no matter which side of the proverbial coin you’ve fallen. Reacting to a snarky player with biting sarcasm might feel good in the heat of battle but afterwards, it feels like a wasted use of a good comeback and is a little embarrassing. Turn off the computer and leave the room, or even better leave the house for a few hours. Get some fresh air and sunshine and before you know it, you’ll be ready to return to your virtual realm for a new adventure.
  • Change Guilds – Or change houses, or choose a new race, class, or whatever. You can roll up a new char and start over at level 1 in a different city. Who knows, you may even like it better! In one of the current MUDs I play, my arch nemesis absolutely hates my main character. However, the secondary character who is in her guild is someone she welcomed into her family with open arms, unknowing that I sat snickering on this side of the screen.
  • Rage Quit – There comes a time when it boils down to the old adage, “Put up or shut up.” Nobody wants to hear about how you have big plans for leaving, and after a while it becomes obvious that you’re only really hoping for the attention that comes with that kind of tantrum. Just rage quit if nothing else works to solve your IC drama.
Trust me when I say that your foes won’t like knowing they’re the problem any more or less than you would. But working together as a group – which is the whole point of RPGs – can help find a solution that works for everybody.
 
 
* – not their real names

 

Confessions of a Minecraft Blockhead

Posted by penelopae Thursday June 7 2012 at 7:22PM
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Are you one of the 31 million plus people who have registered for Minecraft? I am, and I can do you one better than that – I am also one of the 6 million plus people who bought the game. Typically speaking, sandbox indie games just aren’t my thing. Give me tabletop D&D or if it has to have graphics, I want something stellar that will totally immerse me into the game, like LOTRO or Skyrim. But Minecraft?

When I first saw the game I chuckled as it reminded me of the epic video arcade games of the 1980s. You know what I’m talking about, games like Pac-Man, Galaga, and Frogger. From what I understand, if you wanted “the good graphics” in the 1980s then you had to look to side-scrolling slash-and-hack games like Golden Axe. But, I digress!

 
 
Mine It, Craft It, Play It!
If you haven’t played Minecraft, then let me tell you what you’re missing. It’s a dynamically-generated map created from blocks that are one cubic meter in size. Plants grow, items are created, and hostile mobs come out to fight the moment the sun dips beneath the horizon. That’s right, it has zombies! (Sadly, they’re not as cool as Walkers but hey, zombies are still the big Schmidt. Even my favorite text MUDs have them.)
 
You can make tracks across your maps that allow you to travel in your mine cart. When I tried this, it was actually faster for me to run or fly my character over to the destination point. I know because when a contrary cow got himself stuck in my mine cart, I pushed him uphill and raced along easily beating him to the finish line. Then I freed him from his makeshift cage. (Mmm, steak. Glad I won’t have to share it with the Zombies and Creepers!)
 
One Crafty Game
What I love most about Minecraft is that it’s bringing back the crafts that I enjoyed growing up. From counted cross-stitch and plastic canvas to plastic perler beads, types of crafts that I thought were a thing of the past are back in fashion. Apparently I’m not the only person who’s fallen victim to Minecraft addiction. Have you been to Etsy.com lately? People are selling everything from tissue boxes to magnets that feature a Minecraft-inspired design.
 
 
Lego MineCraft Micro World Sets
In the winter of 2011 Lego caught the Minecraft bug and just a few weeks after the New Year announced that they would develop sets inspired by the sandbox indie game. A month later they announced that the first Micro World set of Lego Minecraft blocks were available for pre-order and would be released around 2012. In the world of Lego, Minecraft now ranks up there with film greats like Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Marvel hero characters – which by the way are not only based on a movie, but also a video game.
 
MineCon, the official Minecraft convention, took place in November 2011 in Las Vegas, three months after the launching of the MineCon website. The convention coincided with the launch of the game and offered contests, parties, and exhibits by Minecraft-related and other gaming companies. The best part was the free codes that were given to every attendee that unlocked two other games. All 4500 tickets were sold out, and it’s no wonder. If I would have known then what I know now, then I definitely would have shelled out the cash for a ticket.
 
MineCon 2012
Whether you went to MineCon 2011 or not, if you’re a fan of the game then you’ll be interested to know that MineCon 2012, while no date has yet been announced, is scheduled to take place in Europe. If it doesn’t completely sell out, I for one will be shocked. In the last 24 hours from the point at which I’m right now typing this, over 90k people have registered for Minecraft, and of that number more than 11k bought the game. Overall, an average of 20% of the people who register end up buying it, whether it’s the Minecraft Pocket Edition or the Xbox 360 version.
 
It's still not as cool as my favorite text-based MUDs, but overall it's not bad for a mere sandbox indie game.

Got Steam? Get LOTRO at 50% Off for a Limited Time!

Posted by penelopae Wednesday June 6 2012 at 6:21PM
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There’s nothing Tolkien that I don’t love, and that includes the popular online F2P RPG, Lord of the Rings Online. What’s not to love? The graphics are awesome, the storyline and characters are intriguing, and the fantasy setting is my absolute favorite genre. It’s rated T for Teen for the typical MMORPG features, like blood, violence, and booze. In fact, the only author that comes close is Terry Pratchett, but I digress.
 
When I heard that you can get Lord of the Rings Online at Steam (at a limited rate of 50% off!) it made me want to play even more. I mean, it's the perfect juxtaposition of fantasy book, epic graphics, and interactive video game. Steam will bring in a lot more people which will also mean a lot more interaction between characters. I can’t wait! In the meantime here are the top three things I really enjoy about LOTRO.
 
The Fluff
 
Yes, I am a girl. Yes, I like the fluff. But so do guys! A friend of mine in WoW saved up for the motorcycle and helicopter. Really? A helicopter? I’d much rather have the LOTRO pony that shoots sparklers out its butt, thank you very much.
 
 
The PvP
 
Usually I hate PvP. In other games, whether graphics-heavy MMORPGs or completely text-based MUDs, I am a pacifist. You can find me hugging trees or healing knights and staying far away from the front lines of battle. Even my stealthy thief stays hidden 80% of the time he’s in the game. But in LOTRO the PvP is more strategic. I was playing as early as level 10! And I was actually enjoying myself. For once it was less about winning and losing, and more about kicking back and finding amusement in the game.
 
The Pie Quests
 
My favorite is the spoiled pie quest, featured here. First, you have to deliver Lobelia’s Pie, and it rewards you with loot. The plot for the quest is that Holly Hornblower of Hobbiton accidentally baked a pie using spoiled berries. Oh noes! Can you find the bad pie and bring it back to her? Sure, because Gerd Whitfoot of Bywater happens to have one of them. Here’s what Gerd has to say about it:
 
'Ah, so you're back. And you're here about the pie, aren't you? I thought so! I knew something was wrong with the pie when you brought it by.
 
'Bad berries, right? Don't be so surprised. I've eaten more than enough pies in my life to know when something is off in one of them! Holly probably got her berries from the Rushock Bog, and they've been having more than a few problems with the berries lately.
 
'Anyway, go ahead and take the pie back to Holly. And tell the poor thing not to rush about getting me another. I'll tell the guests I ate the last one, and they'll just have to wait for another! Holly's home is just north of the Hobbiton main square.'
 
 
If a hungry hobbit (The little guys eat six or seven meals a day!) gets a whiff of it then you could be done for, but overall the quest is VERY easy, and best of all fun. By far it’s my favorite quest.
 
I really, really love pie. But not as much as my friend Wivylma in Achaea, one of the popular MUDs produced by Iron Realms Entertainment. She saved up her credits (a type of in-game currency attainable through games and contents or purchasable with both in-game gold or real live cash) and bought a custom pie that’s not only unique to the game, but also resets to her character no matter how many times it’s eaten. Now that’s what I call fluff!

Mother of Dragons I’m not….

Posted by penelopae Tuesday June 5 2012 at 1:39PM
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If you play the F2P game Rusty Hearts then you know that it’s currently the Month of the Dragon. And if you play, then you know that you can get a rare costume consisting of 3 pieces of coveted Dragon Armor. And even better – a Mini-Bone Dragon that’s loyal to your character. That’s what I’m talking about!
 
Back in high school I had a love affair with fantasy, collecting anything with a unicorn, wizard, or dragon. I was the only girl in my neighborhood’s tabletop D&D group. (Yes, my polyhedral dice were marbleized pink and white thank you very much.) During college most of my collection was handed down to younger family members, donated to charitable thrift stores, or destroyed by mildew when my parents’ basement flooded. I never expected my interest to extend offline beyond the occasional renfaire, but then Game of Thrones happened. Here are my current top three favorite dragons of all time.
 
 
Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons
 
When she’s given three petrified dragon eggs as a wedding gift, Daenerys Targaryen begins caring for them. She cleans the grime from the stone-like orbs and their true color emerges, and keeps them in a chest surrounded by shrine-like candles that flicker day and night. After an unsuccessful attempt to hatch the eggs, she places them on her husband’s funeral pyre, lights the structure, and walks inside. Despite the fact that her husband’s tribe believes she perished in the flames, the next morning she emerges with three baby dragons. In the season 2 finale, one of the little critters blasts a fiery breath towards one of Daenerys’ enemies, which burned the man to death. If you haven’t watched the series or read the books on which the series is based, then I highly recommend you do. It is fairly badass.
 
Smaug
 
Anyone who’s read The Hobbit knows about Smaug! The primary antagonist in the Tolkien tale and covered with scales and makeshift armour, his only weak spot was a small bare patch on his left breast. Later in the story, Bard the Bowman fires a Black Arrow which aims true, killing the beast. And the moral of this story is? Don’t underestimate the Bard! I’m pretty excited about the upcoming two-part epic movie, not only because Peter Jackson is directing but because Luke Evans is playing the role of Bard who, in a sad twist of irony, isn’t really a bard at all. (In case you don’t know who that is; he was also Apollo in Clash of the Titans and Zeus in the film Immortals.)
 
Spyro the Dragon
 
I don’t know anyone who didn’t know a time that Spyro was their favorite dragon. He’s brave, stubborn, and just cocky enough to still play the role of friendly hero. With Spyro, curiosity wins out over cautiousness every single time which appeals to the rough and tumble kid in everyone. Mischief? Oh, he’d have to slow down a little to just find mischief. Spyro takes mischief to a whole other level of fun, charging enemies with his horns and of course breathing fire in their direction. If you haven’t played, don’t expect to take Sypro flying to new heights while shooting a continuous stream of flame. He’s just a wee laddie of a dragon! He tends to glide rather than fly, and his fire is more like little bursts of flame. As the game progresses you can teach Spyro more complicated tricks like how to shield with his wings, how to double jump or dive headfirst, and yes, how to breathe a continuous stream of fire. Just writing this blurb makes me want to hook up my old PS2 and take the little dragon on a little adventure to fight off Gnasty Gnorc.
 
I have way more than just three favorite dragon characters. Here are a few of the others. Some aren’t even real dragons!
 
  • The tattoo that is worn by Lisbeth, main character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just sheer awesome.
  • Canth, who is the brown dragon ridden by F’nor in the Dragonriders of Pern, the fantasy series written by Anne McCaffrey. He’s also the largest of all the dragons.
  • Ruth, who has her own story in The White Dragon a book in the above mentioned series by the same author and is the smallest of the dragons in Pern.
  • Moody Dragon, found in the infamous Moody River. It’s in the RPG called Blue Dragon, in case you’ve never heard of this one.
  • Maleficent, the evil fairy godmother from the Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty who proclaims that she is the “Mistress of All Evil”. She turns herself into a dragon towards the end of the movie. It’s so cool.
  • Ashaxei, who is the white dragon of Han-Tolneth in the text RPG Achaea which is one of my favorite MUDs, comes to visit characters who reach level 99. My character is nowhere near close but someday…someday I will get there!
 
What are your favorite dragon characters? I’d love to hear about them, whether they’re listed here or are something else entirely. Thanks for reading!

Draw Something Users Seem Drawn Elsewhere

Posted by penelopae Saturday June 2 2012 at 9:15PM
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As a graphic artist, when I learned about the game Draw Something of course I was interested. Not only did I enjoy showing off my talents to both Facebook friends and random users, but I also enjoyed mentally poking fun at their lesser attempts. Take for instance this one by Uncle Jackson. That man can whittle wood into realistic animal shapes like nobody’s business but when sketching something for someone to guess his skills are lacking. (If you read this Uncle Jackson, I’m sorry but you know it’s true!) It took me a few tries to guess that this was a Pegasus. My first thought was "barfly". Oops!

 
Uncle Jackson's Pegasus
 
WARNING – Draw Something is Highly Addictive
 
The first week saw me playing Draw Something every spare moment. I slacked off on studying; I slacked off on working; but most importantly I slacked off on gaming. Friends from my favorite RPG inquired about where I’d been and instead of pulling me back into the game, their attempts only resulted in me introducing them to my newfound addiction. When Draw Something came out with new words, cheats were my new best friend. Me, who preaches against cheating in any form, was reduced to using an app that helped me decipher words for sketches that were less than helpful. (For cheats that help with Draw Something, just Google search it. There are a few different ones now.)
 
Here are a few of my favorite words: Gandalf, jigsaw, Rhiannon, dubstep, Tom Hanks, daftpunk, Titanic, and firefly. If you play Draw Something and are as addicted as I was at first, try these tips for better success with your sketches and guesses:
  • Google Images – When in doubt about how to draw something, search on Google images. Country flags, cartoon characters, and other people’s Draw Something sketches are all great ways to find inspiration for and improving your own attempts.
  • Google Search – You’d be surprised how easy it will be to guess when you use Google to search for clues. “ANIMAL HORSE 1 HORN” brings up the Wikipedia entry for unicorn on the first try.
  • Scrabble Word Finder – This thing is genius, especially if you’re not ready to sacrifice a bomb to erase unnecessary letters or worse, if you’re out of bombs altogether. Enter the letters and it brings up suggestions. Of course, I doubt it will bring up something like Angelina or Iron Man, but you never know unless you try.
It seemed I wasn’t alone in my obsession. WebMediaBrands tracks showed that about ten weeks ago, around the time I started playing, Draw Something was easily one of the most popular social networking games available. That’s probably why Zynga shelled out a whopping $200 million for it, saving the game’s developer (OMGPOP) from bankruptcy. This made it easier to find and play with Facebook friends, as well as random users. I loved reconnecting with old friends again. Draw Something was like mobile Pictionary without the time limit. And because it was on my phone I could play anywhere – during work, while waiting for my food in restaurants, during a routine checkup at my dentist’s office, and even in church.
 
Slackers Gonna Slack
 
I liked the free game for Android, but absolutely loved the paid version. Before Draw something I had a policy, only free Android game downloads. This one had me hooked, for at least three weeks. Then I discovered that the producer of my favorite MUDs had an Android app, and I began drawing less and roleplaying more. The ways I could describe things through sketches was nothing compared to how I could describe them in cold, hard text. And the pullout keyboard on my LG phone made it very easy to keep up with the various chat channels. Like 4 million others who quit playing Draw Something between April 2 and May 2, I had found something else to occupy my time.
 
Have you played Draw Something? What are your feelings about it? Do you still play as much as you did when it first started? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
 

Today’s Forecast – Slightly Gamey with a Hint of RPG

Posted by penelopae Saturday June 2 2012 at 2:32PM
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The latest patch for Mists of Pandaria includes weather. This is one of the more aesthetically awesome expansions for WoW. But really…weather? That’s nothing new in a MMO or RPG setting. Second Life has been doing it for at least three years, and text-based games like Achaea implemented a weather system long before that. So what is it that makes weather so important to the in-game environment? Read on.
 
Dynamic Stat-Altering Effects
 
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re playing Final Fantasy XI. In addition to aggressive NPCs and an already diverse environment, imagine maneuvering through blizzards, gale-force winds, and dust storms. FFXI boasts a whopping sixteen types of weather that could vary according to what season it is in the game. Weather affects a character’s ability to dole out magical damage as well as their resistance to it. Not all games offer such complex weather systems, but the more that in-game weather affects my character, the more immersed I find myself while playing the game.
 
Total Immersion
 
Speaking of immersion, have you played Skyrim during the wintertime? I’m not talking about during the months that winter weather affects the area where you live for real. I’m talking about winter inside the game. When I walk, I hear my feet crunching on the snow. Yes, I was first blown away by the superb graphics. Just looking at the winter scenery commanded my undivided attention. But the extra sensory details, like the wind whistling past, are what caused me to become more immersed than I would in games without weather. Unlike FFXI, weather doesn’t really have much of an effect on your character. If it’s raining, the field is muddy but you can still walk at normal speed which means I don’t have to adapt for a changing environment. Here are a few screen shots to help those of you who haven't yet played Skyrim understand what I'm talking about.
 
Skyrim Weather
 
Run for Cover
 
Yes, I am one of the over 6 million people who own Minecraft. I bought it for my Xbox 360 just to see what the hype was about. Before I knew it, I’d built an entire castle! Certain ores were needed to complete the last room of my awesome creation so down into the mine I went. I wasn’t there very long when I heard a loud “KA-BOOM!” echo through my headset. Double-you tee eff! Had some griefer sabotaged my hard work with dynamite? I quickly returned aboveground to find rain falling and thunder sounding. Yes, Minecraft is a very basic game and I was not expecting something like dynamic weather. This wasn’t just for looks – rain made my crops grow and I actually heard it hitting the ground. The Tundra biome turns water to ice. And if I get hit by lightning…let’s just say, “OUCH!”
 
Even in the most basic MMORPGs and text-based MUDs, weather adds a certain element that adds something extra to the overall atmosphere. One text MUD I play called Achaea has blizzards. Now, the whole point of a mud is to read all the text but try reading a room description or looking at what items are in the room with you during a blizzard. The result is a message that’s something like, “The blinding snow whites out everything around you.” Your only options are to wait out the blizzard (and hope that no aggro mobs happen to stumble upon your sight-afflicted self) or buy a stat-altering pair of goggles or spectacles from the item mall that help you see through the extreme wintry precipitation.
 
Whether you play MUDs that are all text and feature ASCII art or something that offers visually dynamic scenery that’s worthy of hanging in the world’s finest art museums, weather plays a big role. What are your favorite aspects of weather inside a virtual realm? Do you have any weather-related experiences that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear all your comments!

Another Dota...Another Item Mall

Posted by penelopae Thursday May 31 2012 at 11:54PM
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There’s good news on the Dota front. Developers just announced that Dota2 will be free to play! Yup, completely 100% free for everyone. So how will developers profit from the latest Warcraft III live-action strategy mod? They’re implementing an item mall, of course!

When a game implements an item mall, it’s usually with the goal of generating real currency for the developers through the sale of virtual items. The concept is nothing new. Text-based MUDs written in C++ were employing the concept as early as 1997 when Matt Mihaly developed a concept for his newly launched game, Achaea. Other games were jumping on the pay-to-play bandwagon while Mihaly went in the complete and total opposite direction.
 
After a few successful in-game auctions, Mihaly scrapped his original plan to charge by the hour (which was apparently the norm for that past generation of gamers) and instead launch an item mall. Other games have since latched onto the concept and taken it to whole new levels. For instance, in Perfect World couples are allowed access to special couples-only items for sale in the mall. WarpPortal allows a “Friends with Benefits” program, allowing players to invite friends for a chance at premium account upgrades or special objects from the item mall.
 
The Item Mall!
 
Typically things in the item mall boost stats or give some kind of special power. For instance, in the Iron Realms Entertainment game Lusternia things stocked in the item mall are called artifacts, and there are three types: personal, dwelling, and loyals. Personal artifacts can be runes that will make certain in-game objects permanent and resetting to that character, things that improve weapons, objects that boost your stats, items that offer instant or quick travel methods, and some miscellaneous things that don’t fall into any of those other categories. The dwelling-related artifacts apply to the aethermanse and aethership, two types of personal spaces that players might obtain. And loyals are just that, things that are loyal to the player. So what are some other typical benefits of an item mall? Here are a few:
 
  • You can often gift items to other users. Most of my online friends prefer virtual items to real ones on their birthdays and at Christmas, which makes my holiday shopping virtually stress-free.
  • Item mall objects often never decay and reset to a player’s inventory if dropped or misplaced. This lulls players with a sense of security that lets them know that even if they take an extended break from the game, their items will be there upon returning.
  • Enhanced game experience is enjoyed by those who can afford the luxury of shopping in the item mall. I've shopped from the item mall in my favorite text-based MUDs and don't regret any of my purchases.
  • Helps keeps games free to play for everyone, even if developers offer some kind of elite subscription package or other monthly memberships that include statistic-enhancing pay-to-play perks.
The Dota2 item mall isn’t like those other MMO item malls. This item mall is filled with items that serve purely aesthetic purposes. That’s right. No large increase in stats. No super powers or abilities to give you an extra edge against your opponent. Just a bunch of armor to make your character look tough – or maybe look pretty, the choice is up to you. No really, the choice is up to you because apparently the items aren’t just ones created by Valve staff. You as a user are able to create items in the Steam Workshop.
 
The concept of allowing players to help create items isn’t new, either. Some text-based MUDs allow players to alter how their items appear to others, and the social entertainment website IMVU, which boasts 10 million unique users per month, has a whole content creation program. The program shares IMVU software which allows players to create items for the program’s online product catalog with other player-created 3D objects. The difference is that IMVU allows players to make a slight profit from the sale of their items.
 
How do you feel about the Dota2 item mall? Do you think cosmetics alone will be enough to satiate players who are looking for reasons to keep playing? I’d love to hear from you!