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Typing With Gloves On

Why do they have to keep the office I work in so darn cold?

Author: streea

WAR Thoughts – One Week Later

Posted by streea Monday September 22 2008 at 10:15AM
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As a basic introduction, I was in the WAR beta for many months and got into the game last Sunday via the CE head start. My main character (a Swordmaster) is level 14, with a smattering of level 4-8 characters because I wanted to play around a little bit.

WAR, first off, isn’t perfect as far as stability is concerned. I’ve been the victim of “WTF where did my game go?!?” as it suddenly and unexplainably shut down. There is some lag, but nothing that keeps me from killing things. And though there have been a few bugs here and there (such as getting a tome unlock at around level 4 that said I killed 10,000 of a particular beast… um, yeah…), but nothing that’s made me shut the game down because I was too annoyed to continue playing. Overall, it’s been a fairly stable launch (as far as MMO stable launches are concerned).

Since the “end-game” is mostly going to be RvRing, I’ve been focusing more so on the PvE/PQ aspects of the game. I have RvRed some, and from what I’ve seen, there isn’t anything that stands out and really grabs me. That’s not to say that RvRing isn’t fun, because it’s a lot of fun chasing people down just to get that final deathblow in, but none of my RvR experiences really make me want to jump right back into that queue the moment I finish the last one.

PvEing is mostly questing, and about 95% of them are pretty traditional. There are always the oddball quests, like recruiting NPCs to fight, but the majority are “purify this, kill that, go talk to him.” As for the stories themselves, I just didn’t care for the HE ones in the Blighted Isles and Chrace. Literally every single one of them was “we’re getting the snot beaten out of us,” or “go find my sister who’s gone missing and oh, yup, she’s dead.” Not a single story stands out in my mind, while I can think of several with the same somber theme in the Empire area that really stand out to me (such as chasing after the daughter and son-in-law, only to find one dead and the other half-mad). The HE stories do get a little more hopeful and a lot more powerful (“Screw the Dark Elves and their silly plans… use your blade and send them back to the arks they came from!!”) as you continue on, but it was definitely a rough start.

PQing is really about the group. I’ve lost track (though luckily my tome is keeping count!) of how many times I’ve been in a PQ and ended up inviting literally everyone in the area into a massive warband when at first they only wanted to solo. It’s not that people are against grouping up, because generally people accept the invites, but I think people are so used to being punished for grouping up that they don’t actively seek it out. In a group, the XP is evenly split up between members, but since you’re killing a lot more, you end up making the same (if not more, since you don’t have to take a breath between kills) amount as you would alone.

The other thing I really love about the PQs is that they’re quite hard (at least the timed phases), but not so much that you all have to coordinate to make sure one person doesn’t face the wrong direction. It’s pretty impressive when you’ve got 10 minutes and 10 people, yet it still takes you most of the 10 minutes to take a single Hero down. And every time you take one of them down, there’s a sense of accomplishment (even if the rolling system is awful… I’ve topped the charts before only to get a horrid roll and end up in 11th place. I’ve also literally run into a PQ before, threw an axe at the boss for maybe 30 damage, and managed to get a loot bag). And the higher rewards for maxing out rep with the chapter you’re on are always great upgrades.

I’ve spent some time with the crafting system and must say that it’s definitely lacking. I understand that they want players to trade and interact with each other in order to get materials, but the community is still too new to rely on such a system. Relying on the auction house will seriously cut into your saving-for-a-mount funds, since everyone else is trying to get the most out of their drops to save up for their own mounts, and unless you come into the game with a large, reliable, and generous guild, you won’t really have others to fall back on.

Instead, I’ve got four characters going, each one with one of the four gathering professions, and two of them have the crafting professions. The (magical) Salvaging portion is AWFUL. Simply awful. There’s no way to know what level an item is, and if you try to salvage one slightly above your level, it fails, gives you “broken” magical items (which I think can still be used, but I’m not certain), and then it doesn’t even level your salvaging up a point. And all of this is dependent on whether you can actually get any. I think by the time I generally maxed out the PQ’s rep, only 2-3 dropped with an average of five people in my group. You’ll easily out-level an area before you get enough salvageables to level it up.

The other three gathering professions are pretty simple, but normally you’ll need more than one just to get the supplies to level either of the crafting professions up. Butchering gets much-needed Apothecary items as well as nutrients for Cultivating, Cultivating supplies Apothecary, Scavenging, a profession that you will use a lot since you fight humanoids 95% of the time, supplies both Apothecary and Talisman making (though it’s better for talismans), and Salvaging is NECESSARY for Talismans. I think this system will become much more viable once players start hitting 40 and an actual economy is stabilized, but for now, my main’s Apothecary is still stuck at 44 while I’m Scavenging things level 75 and playing on my alts to get the items I need to maybe one day get Apothecary up to 50.

While this one feature is a downer, overall I’m really enjoying the game. Quests are improving, more skills are popping up, greater challenges are rearing their ugly head, and I’m genuinely looking forward to where the quests lead me next.

AoC Beta Thoughts (Because this dead horse hasn't been beaten enough)

Posted by streea Tuesday May 13 2008 at 1:11PM
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Classes played: Bear Shaman, Ranger, Conqueror. No PvP was involved, but heaving grouping was.

Combat - The lack of auto attack is a nice idea, but there are only three default attacks: right, straight and left. As far as I could tell though, there is no difference between swinging right or left; even if my attacker swings right and I swing right, I'm just as likely to hit as I am miss. If this were based on reality, it would make more sense to have a head shot, body shot and leg shot. Once you start gaining abilities, however, you realize that the right-straight-left attacks are nothing more than DDR-esque triggers to set off combos.

The combo system, at first, seems nice. In fact, a lot of what AoC offers seems, at first, to be pretty nice. In the end though it comes down to just trying to spam as many combos as you can in some random order. Sure, getting the bleed attacks off first might seem like a good idea and if you're in a group, taunting abilities are useful to start with, but the order doesn't really change the outcome of the battle... I've never once thought "oh whew, it's a good thing I got that X combo off in time instead of Y combo, otherwise I would've died!" I'm sure someone with an excel sheet could figure out the best order for the most damage with the least amount of cooldown time, but at the early stages, none of this matters.

Load Screens - The only load screen worth complaining about is the very first one you have to sit through when you try to enter the game. That particular one takes about five minutes to complete and is extremely annoying. Every other load screen I ran across when moving between zones only took about 10 seconds to get through at the most. So why are people complaining so much about it? Probably because it takes several days to download and patch the game, so waiting those five extra minutes when trying to get in for the first time can seem like a nightmare (PS: this is a nice way of saying that people just like to QQ when they don't get their way).

Graphics - Extremely beautiful. The colors especially. The only concern I have is that the armor at the beginning is very boring. It's realistic, but it lacks any artistic touch that makes you hesitate to dump one old armor for a newer one. In fact, most of the time I couldn't wait to get out of the gear I was in, if only so that I could look at something different.

Class Imbalance - First off, if you decide to play a healer, you're going to suffer a lot. I dropped my Bear Shaman when I couldn't continue with the main storyline (which, by the way, you're FORCED to solo) because I had trouble defeating two enemies at the same level (I couldn't even kill one, respawn, and then take out the other). The Bear Shaman was slow and weak, and the only healing ability I had at the time was a HOT.

I then tried a Ranger. Rangers are just warriors who can stealth and have a few bow specials. Yawn. It was pretty boring.

Finally I went with a Conqueror. The warrior class focused on buffs, debuffs (which always seemed extremely weak), and straight up damage. I could survive groups of three if I made sure my enemies were all clustered together, since I had a massive 2-hander that did cone-like damage in front of me. The most important thing though was that I could solo the main storyline. I couldn't do that on my healer. My fiance also had trouble soloing on his Necro, even with a demon pet, and he greatly preferred grouping with my Conqueror since he wouldn't die against every group of two that came at him.

Forced Soloing - This is, without a doubt, the biggest complaint I have about this game. No game should force you to solo something. What's worse is that the solo/storyline content levels up with you, so trying to go back and deal with it when you're a bit stronger will not work. I'm not sure if completing this is required for players to get off the island, but even if it isn't, you miss out on the best quest rewards and interesting stories that change depending on which class archetype you play. Maybe, just maybe, this will be changed for release, but if not, I can honestly say this is what's keeping me away from the game. If I want to play by myself, I'll fire up Mass Effect, thanks.

Final Things - There are a lot of decisions you can make when it comes to customizing your character, both in appearance and skills. Creating characters is probably one of the most entertaining aspects of this game. I also absolutely adore how RPG-like holding conversations with characters is. Actually being able to interact with characters and say different things to them is something that MMOs have been desperately needing, and I love picking between different choices to see what types of responses I'll get.

Sadly, combat, class imbalances and, most importantly, forced soloing, really take away from the experience. Since this is a beta, it's hard to know exactly what things will be like in the official version, but unless there were some major changes done, I just don't see AoC becoming my next MMO.

My Reality and Their Virtual… Where is the Line Drawn?

Posted by streea Monday April 7 2008 at 2:19PM
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First off, this topic is about the growing concern about the lack of rights a player has when they play an MMO and the fact that they don’t “own” the characters/account they pay for. The title is a bit generic and worded as such to lure you here.
The question is… what rights should a player have when it comes to their account, their characters and “property” in-game and the time spent to level up said property? And for companies… what rights do they need to keep in order to maintain control of their own property as well as combat cheating and gold selling?
First, I doubt there’s much need to argue over the fact that MMO companies have far too much control. The EULA basically says they own the game and everything in it and can change the basic functions of how anything works. They can do this regardless of whether players like this or not, and can change how the game works entirely and are not legally required to pay you back for anything. Not only that, but if you decide to stop playing due to these changes, you can’t do anything to recoup your losses (though you can call up your credit card company and have them cancel the most recent payment charge).
They can also ban you for doing anything at all, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong. I remember there were a huge string of gold farmer/seller bans about a year or two ago where a number of people sending large sums of money to their “bank alts” got swept up in the banning. Now obviously with any large company, innocent people will get caught up with the guilty (it happens in our legal system, so why not here?). The problem is that companies take a “you’re guilty until you prove it otherwise,” and proving it could be as simple as making a call to as complicated to sending in a ton of paperwork that costs the innocent real money to mail it all in.
This leads to my first suggestion of how things change: instead of “guilty until proven otherwise,” companies should freeze your account for a set period (say a week) to get in contact with the company and clear things up. During this time too, the frozen period should not count towards your month of pay (again, making people pay for their account while they’re banned follows the guilty until otherwise concept). This period can be extended if requested depending on the extent of the proof required, but otherwise if you don’t speak up within the week, then the account can be banned. Obviously there will be arguments to the contrary of this (“What if I don’t play every week and don’t check my email that much and don’t XXX?”), but I think this is a better middle ground so that innocent people’s wallets aren’t made to suffer.
Now comes the trickier question: what rights do players have over their accounts/characters and what rights should game companies have? I wish I could easily say “players should have the right to sell their account if they are no longer satisfied with the game or a change being made,” but with gold sellers/farmers/leveling services etc., it’s impossible for a company to dedicate their time and money towards verifying that an account is being sold due to dissatisfaction and not to make money as part of a business. The point is to give the consumer some sort of value to pay for basically having their services changed in a way that is against their wishes, but not cost the company anything and keep dishonorable sellers out of the exchange (as much as possible, at least). It also needs to have some sort of feature that keeps too many new players from jumping in at the max level, which would make it unfair for players who just start the game fresh.
My suggestion is this: if a player wishes to sell their account, they contact the company. The company then takes all of the characters on that account, empties their banks and bags of all items, reduces their gold down to a certain number (to keep gold sellers from setting up dummy level 1 accounts to sell/transfer gold through) and basically leaves them with the armor bound to their character (which is now sitting in their bags since a level 1 character can’t wear the stuff) and perhaps a mount and maybe even a certain skill or profession (this type of stuff can be left up to the company to give or keep… perhaps certain “extras” like this are unlocked as you spend more time/money in the game). The only downfall is that you will see an influx of gold/items being given away because people know they are leaving, but it’s hard to tell if this will have any dramatic influx on the economy or will just be another “that time of the month” hiccup (like in WoW when everyone is getting their gems at the first of the month) which will come around patches/updates.
Some middle ground though needs to be reached soon, before this issue becomes worse and the decision-making falls into the hands of people who do not understand the delicate situation that is going on.

Why Hate Microtransaction Free MMOs?

Posted by streea Tuesday January 22 2008 at 2:12PM
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I've noticed a certain amount of distain towards these types of MMOs. They are an option for people who cannot spare $15 a month on average for a monthly subscription, who don't play a game enough to warrant paying a monthly subscription, or just like to play several MMOs and don't have the time/money to dedicate to all of them.

So in comes another option, what is generally referred to as "microtransaction" MMOs. They're free, but they have some sort of service that lets players buy items that they can use in-game. The thing is though that every free MMO uses this system differently.

First off, I've played a LOT of free MMOs and browser games. So I can safely say that the large majority of free MMOs (that you can play in America without speaking a second language) utilize one of four types of "buy if you want" systems:

1. Items bought affect the game itself. That is, you can buy super elite +8 Swords of Doom and toss it onto your character, or turn around and sell it for in-game currency to buy something else. Sometimes you can actually BUY in-game currency.

2. Items bought don't affect the game itself, but can be sold to other players. These are the goofy clothes, the XP/Stat buffs, the silly pets... anything that adds a fun or unique element to the game. The catch is that they can be sold for in-game currency.

3. Items bought don't affect the game itself and are bound to your character/account. I've also found that sometimes time limits are placed on these items so that they aren't permanent. In this case, you just get to look cool and nothing else.

4. You can play for free, but to experience the full game, a subscription must be paid. Generally, these games limit things such as how high you can level or what items you can access. These act as teasers, because while you can partake of the core functions of the game, all you get is the appetizer... if you want the rest of your meal, you have to pay for it.

The first system is one I don't really run across because, well... I ignore them. For me, this type of system is no different than paying $15 a month to play a game. If anything, it's worse. At least pay-to-play games put everyone on an equal field (ignoring, of course, people who buy gold illegally). But in these, you're constantly competing with your wallet, and there will always be someone else out there willing to shell out more than you. So I can see why there would be some distain or hesitation towards this type of "free" MMO.

Skipping ahead to four, this type of "free" MMO isn't free. It's a trial period that has no time limit. So hating this type of "free" MMO is like hating any normal pay-to-play MMOs.

Two and three are the ones I run across the most. In the case of number two, the economy is generally borked. For 99% of the people playing, however, this doesn't really matter. You don't really need that +8 Sword of Doom at level 25, and when you get a lucky drop, you can turn around and sell it for a ton to catch up with the economy a bit. It's not the easiest thing to live in, but if you're smart, you can sell things that you get in-game without having to shell out the big bucks. Thus, there's really no reason to hate a game that just takes a little longer to earn money in. Online sites like Gaia Online work off of this too; sure, having 15 pets and giant wings bursting forth from every part on your avatar's body looks cool, but you don't need all of that to enjoy the little games or post on the MBs.

For number three, these are the best types of free MMOs. There's no pressure to buy stuff unless you really enjoy the game and want to give something back to it in exchange for nifty glitter to add to your character. Unless you're obsessed with looking uber leet. Then that's your own problem.

With so many different types of microtransaction MMOs out there, it would seem to me that people would dislike some and favor others, like saying "I don't like sci-fi MMOs because I don't like that look." Each has something different to offer players who'd like to have options aside from paying a monthly fee. So why is it then that people talk about ALL of them as if they're a plague on the MMO genre?

In the beginning, WoW created the heaven and the earth

Posted by streea Friday December 28 2007 at 1:43PM
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You know what's amazing? How many people seem to think that WoW is now synonymous with MMO. Does it have Elves, Orcs, Dwarves or other fantasy-based classes to play as? It's a WoW clone.

Does it have anything remotely fantasy-ish in nature? It's a WoW clone.

Does it have instances where people get together to kill a big boss? Yup, WoW clone.

Do you kill things in it? WoW clone.

It doesn't matter that there were plenty of games and MUDs before it. It doesn't matter that IPs like Warhammer and LotR have been around far longer than WoW, and that it wasn't WoW that introduced races like Orcs and Elves to the MMO world. It doesn't matter that things like instances, reputation gain, all classes, all races, world pvp, world events, arenas, instanced pvp, crafting, and let's face it... everything WoW has, was done first elsewhere. Nor does it matter that many games have features that make them stand out from other MMOs or were completely invented, brand new, for these MMOs.

They're still a WoW clone.

Honestly, whoever started using this term needs to be taken out back and dealt with and anyone who uses it needs to be sent back to kindergarten. There, it's okay to say that anything round-ish is a circle.

If you want to say "It's like WoW because..." and then explain why, that's fine. But saying "it's a WoW clone" means that you are obviously not using whatever it is that's sloshing around between your ears. Give it away to science... at least then it won't be wasted. And don't bother typing. The moment "WoW clone" shows up in any post, your entire post is null and void as a pile of ...

Being a Good Beta Tester (and not a whiny five-year-old)

Posted by streea Wednesday December 12 2007 at 5:19PM
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     When it comes to beta testing, there really is a generation gap. Pre-WoW, getting into a beta was, in a way, an honor. Not just anyone got into a beta, and open betas were not nearly as common. And why should they be? It was fairly standard for people to either A) wait to hear from their friends about how good or bad an MMO was or B) drop the $XX and use that free month to see if they liked the game.

     Post-WoW, on the other hand, is all about the “me, me, me.” A huge majority of people sign up for betas not to test them, but to play the game and see if it’s something they might like to buy. This generation of players is turned off by the idea of actually paying for something to see if you like it. It doesn’t matter that they’ll shell out money for normal console games without a second though and then trade it back in for $7 and think they got a deal… if they can’t get in for free to try it out, they’re not interested. And this isn’t an age thing either… I’ve seen plenty of mature adults say the exact same thing.

     The problem is twofold with this generation, though. One is that they are not ‘testing,’ they are ‘playing.’ It is not called beta playing, it’s testing. And it’s not that hard either… you click a couple of buttons rating a quest, type in a few words about your experience if you feel like it (though this isn’t required) and hit enter. It takes longer to send an IM to your friend then it does to actually report your testing to the developers.

     The second problem is the fact that people don’t realize that they’re in a beta. This is not a complete game. There will be lag, there will be bugs, there will be changes and there will be annoyances. This falls back to point one: you’re testing a game. A nearly complete game that’s letting you play in order to help work out these issues.

     Yet time and time again an NDA is lifted and the first thing out of people’s mouths is “OMG lag and bugs!” Of course there are bugs and lag. More often than not, those games are released without lag and with fewer bugs because a handful of testers actually bothered to help out the company and the company listened and fixed the bugs.

So before you log into the most recent beta you’ve gotten into, keep these things in mind:

* When they ask for input, give it. Even if you don’t write a paragraph about how things can be tweaked or fixed or are incredible the way they are, just give the questions a few seconds of thought, rate them and continue on.

* Expect lag. Expect bugs. Expect problems. That’s part of why you’re there. If the game was perfect, they wouldn’t need people beta testing it, now would they?

* If you’re there because you’re wondering if this game is worth your money, and you’ve followed the above two rules, what you need to focus on is how the game plays. Do you enjoy the features? Do you find the lore interesting? Look at what type(s) of games you like to play and see if the features presented are things that’ll keep you entertained. 

* And finally, do not start telling people that you aren’t going to buy the game before it’s even gone live. There is a big difference between beta and live, and assuming that your experience in one is going to be the same in the other just makes you look stupid.

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