Archive for December, 2010

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Star Trek Online: T’Androma Does Genesis

December 15, 2010

I got to check out Season 3: Genesis of Star Trek Online yesterday, following Blue Kae’s nice little guide to hit up all the new stuff.

A few highlights of my day:

1) After enduring months of jumping and twirling around on chairs looking like a complete spazzing lunatic, I finally got to sit down in my captain’s chair like an effing normal person.

Look, I've just sat down and my blood pressure's still normal.

2) I never had a problem with the original Sector Space. I think most people hated the look of it, but all it mattered was whether it served its function and I always thought Cryptic deserved praise in coming up with this system to traverse space. What they did in Season 3 was more like a re-skin of Sector Space rather than an overhaul, but the difference is there. When you turn off the astrometrics data, space now looks and feels big enough to get lost in.

Space actually looks like space!

3) I did the new Emancipation daily from Deferi in the Orellius Sector. It was fun but I’m not sure that I’ll be doing it again. There are a lot of better ones to do, in my opinion, and even after fiddling with my graphics settings, ground combat in new content still crashes my game for some reason.

Frozen again. Now I remember why I hate Breen.

4) Much of my time was spent in Episode Replays. I love this new feature for a couple reasons.

For one thing, I did many of these older missions earlier this year and a lot of the time I was in a group. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with other people, whether they be friends or strangers, but sometimes I just can’t keep up with them. I like to read everything, snap a lot screenshots, and in general take the time to absorb everything around me, but by the time I’m done the rest of my group is already two steps ahead. I didn’t want to be a burden, and rushed through a lot of these earlier episodes as a result. To be able to replay them now at my own pace is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The second reason? I played all these old missions on my old laptop and have since gotten a new computer. Like a geek, I simply wanted to experience everything on higher graphics settings.

I'm a big fan of the sideways bunny hop.

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Project WoW Noob: Days 3-4 – Contemplating The “MMO” And The “RPG”

December 13, 2010

DAY 3 & 4

Player: @jarira
Character Name: Saalua
Race and Class: Night Elf Hunter

Little elf lost in the big city.

After how smoothly Day 2 went, we decided to see how Jar can hold up in the game on her own. So I was pleasantly surprised to log in one night and see that she’d been online just a few hours before, and had actually gained a level by herself. I quickly shot her a message and asked her how Day 3 on her own worked out. Not so good, apparently. I gathered from her replies that the major highlights of her experience was that she had gotten lost, accidentally ran into a named mob three levels higher than her which killed her pet, and then it took a while for her to figure out how to rez him again.

After questing on my own the other day, I’m not so sure WoW is a game I would play on my own much. Its just so much more fun with someone else, especially when everything is new, and I literally get lost like all the time (as you saw today in the cave lol) I think it’s just my lack of experience with RPG type games, but I am really really bad with maps. I know the arrow is “right there” but I will wander around and have no idea where the hell I am going, and it’s not just in WoW, it’s happened in Zelda and stuff like that which is why I’m easily turned off by RPGs.

Having someone guide me around really helps – and even if they weren’t experienced with the game, running around lost together is much better than wandering around alone. Hence my point about WoW being a social thing – it’s like you’re hanging out with a friend in a virtual world.

Despite the quest markers and the mini-map arrows, getting lost still seems to be the main problem for our newbie. Not that I can blame her; Teldrassil is notoriously difficult to traverse (everywhere you turn is a damn hill or a massive Kalimdorian tree trunk in your way) and so on Day 4 we decided to quest together again.

One of the first quests we tackled was The Relics of Wakening. Does anyone else remember this awful, awful quest? At around level 8, a quest giver sends you into the Ban’ethil Barrow Dens, an underground labyrinth crawling with furbolgs, to pick up four sacred items. Well, this quest was given a major facelift in the Shattering patch. First of all, once you find the entrance, a Sentinel Huntress NPC will magically appear out of nowhere to offer to “guide” you through the den. Talking to her will open up a dialogue box with options to take you directly to the quest items, which makes me wonder why they’re sending me on this quest in the first place, if they know where everything is already. But I was like, whatever, this is nice. Choosing a destination will prompt the Huntress to summon a globe of light, which then leaves a lighted trail showing you exactly where to go.

She’s like an in-game GPS system! Now instead of wandering around the caves aimlessly getting more and more lost, we just follow the GPS lady. I suppose this is the definition of hand-holding, but I can’t say I minded it so much, because let’s be honest, this quest needed it bad. And for an MMO newcomer like Jar, this stuff is like a godsend. Here’s what she had to say:

I would say that RPGs are the genre of gaming that I have the least amount of experience with, because I’ve never really liked them. I know it’s blasphemy but I do not like Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc. I clearly cannot handle the open ended gaming worlds and I really need to be hand held and be told ‘do this, do that’. GTA is a good example of a game that is open enough but not too open for me to enjoy. Although, GTA is somewhat RPG style with the missions, etc. there is a lot more structure to GTA and a definitive end to the game.

The big difference with WoW is that it is online, with other people. So what I’ve always disliked about RPGs, it’s not so bad when there is some sort of social interaction to it, and someone around to help you out (real people, not those guides that show up in the game lol – although I must admit, as lame as they might be, they are really helpful, and a nice touch from a usability point of view). They’ve managed to create a help system by integrating it into the actual gameplay. It’s kind of neat.

Her statements sort of bring up another point — I think her feelings about RPGs and her limited experience with them are obstacles that might make it harder for her to get into a game like WoW. For one thing, MMORPGs can be a lot of work when you’re just starting out. Not everyone will have the patience to weather through the learning curve, and I think people already familiar with RPGs will find the transition much smoother and easier. Jar’s a self-confessed ADD gamer, and what she wants is to get in there and play, right away. Keep it quick, or you’re going to lose her attention. Still, I was glad to see that the process of leveling was at least somewhat rewarding, according to what Jar wrote to me:

When I see the (XP) bar about to cap off, I can’t wait until I level up. I’m by no means a completist gamer, but new quests are still exciting to me…and the prospect of getting cool items is still a novelty (I am going to be the worst hoarder, I am so sure about that already).

While I am enjoying the game so far, I can see how my patience might start to wear thin – I think at this point it could go either way (whether I stay with the game or not) but for now, I give my 3.5 days of WoW experience a thumbs up.

While we’re on the topic of RPGs, I also want to make a comment about lore. Pete of Dragonchasers made a statement that the game lore and narrative will mean nothing to someone brand new to WoW, and I made it a point to ask Jar specifically what she thought about that, since I was curious too. Well, he was absolutely right, at least when it comes to her. As a newcomer to WoW, Jar’s initial interest in the lore was non-existent, and it was far from being her first priority when it comes to getting into the game. I am sure as well that her lack of interest in RPGs to begin with also contributed to her ambivalence:

I pretty much don’t know anything about the lore in WoW, what I know is what I have observed in the game, which isn’t much. I have no idea what I’m doing within the game means in a larger context. Right now, to me it’s just a world with different races, that run around doing quests to get money or items.

Of course it would be nice to put everything into context and to know the story behind the game, but I prefer having the story integrated into my gameplay as opposed to massive amounts of exposition. Obviously, lore adds a huge amount of depth to a game, and it enables that emotional connection that I mentioned, but for me it’s like a vicious cycle – I want the strong story line to grasp on to in the game but I don’t really want to be bored by the details of it all cause I just want to play. I am just a huge child! Find a way to tell me without boring me!

I think that’s definitely what Blizzard is trying to work on, because integrating story into the gameplay is sort of what I’m seeing in the revamped Azerothian zones. But I still don’t think that’s going to be a big draw to a new player, at least until he or she starts making an emotional connection to the game.

And I have to say, the starting areas for the pre-Cataclysm races still leave a lot to be desired. At the end of that day, I had a revelation myself — I hate the Night Elf starting area.

Even with the changes, it’s just too bland, too tedious. I kinda got the feeling Jar felt the same way. Plus, based on some of her comments, I think what she really likes about an MMO is the “Massively Multiplayer” aspect, the part where you get to be with other people and be social, and I think Teldrassil is a tad remote for that. It was time for a change of scenery.

Well, I figured if she wants to see people, I can show her people. And since she sounded so enthusiastic about taking a boat the other day, I decided to take her across the ocean to the human lands.

Ahh, I can still remember my first ever venture into Stormwind. Just the grandness of it all, crossing the bridge over the Valley of Heroes, seeing towering statues on both sides and the shining white walls of the city just ahead. And the music! And the people! Definitely one of those MMO moments I’ll carry with me forever. I was hoping Jar could get that same sense of awe that I felt, and from the number of “OMG”s I got from her as we traveled from the harbor to the Trade District, I’m guessing she did:

I can’t believe that there are banks and auction halls and everything! And the amount of people in Stormwind is crazy! When I couldnt find your character in the crowd it was hilarious, it was like we were literally lost in a crowd!

I think she was glad we didn’t start out in the human lands, because it was so much more fun for her to see the hustle and bustle of Stormwind after being in the relative quiet of the Night Elf area. Since that was the eve of the Cataclysm launch and I had to haul ass to the midnight release, I left her after that hoping she would do some exploring on her own. Exploration is one of the three pillars of MMO gaming after all, and even though I didn’t think she was into that, I figured if being in Stormwind doesn’t make you want to explore, I don’t know what will. Sure enough, I got an email from her the next day:

In the night elf area I never felt compelled to discover the area cause there was really nothing to discover, but Stormwind is a whole different story. I actually didn’t mind exploring a bit before I looked for any quests – and trust me, that is a lot coming from a lazy ADD gamer.

It was funny to see little children running around and stuff and the different merchants there are. I ‘talked’ to one of the guards just to see what kind of places I could go to, and yeah, there were a lot. I found the profession guy that I was looking for. I picked up a few quests and had the intention of starting them, and after crossing a few bridges it seemed like it was kind of far (or I got lost, who knows really lol).

So, at this point, I’m not sure if WoW is going to be a game for her, but at least Stormwind was a big hit, and I had a feeling it would be.

I actually bought candy from a candy vendor cause I thought it was so funny. I was like OOH CANDY!!!

Oh yeah. I totally did that too.

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SWTOR: Father Of The Modern Imperial Military

December 10, 2010

Today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update is a new timeline video, focusing on the Rebirth of the Sith Empire.

Maybe it’s just me, but Master Gnost-Dural sure seems to have a major hard on for the Sith Emperor. Every other word out of his mouth seems to be about his “dark genius” or his “visionary planning”. Just whose side are you supposed to be on, “Master Jedi”? Nevertheless, Lance Henriksen’s voice acting was as excellent as always.

Hey, I never knew James Marsters was a Grand Moff...

Lore junkies aside, I’m starting to think that these timelines are geared more towards Star Wars fans than actual gamers. But as someone planning on playing a Bounty Hunter, I appreciate any update featuring the Sith empire, especially when it has to do with imperial military strength.

This particular timeline seems to throw us non-force users a bone, with the introduction of Odile Vaiken, first Grand Moff and founder of the modern imperial military, who became an adored symbol to the imperial citizenry. Yes, such an important character, and we haven’t heard a smidgen about him until now because he’s the product of Bioware retconning, obviously. Even to me, this feels a little extreme. Still, given time and a little attention, he may have the potential to establish himself within the lore. After all, I can’t imagine the writers spending so much time fleshing out his character in a longer than average timeline record, only to have him fade into the background again. I expect to see many mentions of him and his legacy in the game, especially for the Sith.

Great music for the video too. Dun da da dun da da dun da da da!

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A Canadian Werewolf In Gilneas

December 9, 2010

There are so many things to do in World of Warcraft right now, but on Tuesday night I decided to plow on ahead with my Worgen priest and finish up the area.

Yes, I'm aware I look completely ridiculous. And no, I don't care.

I’m impressed. I really am. And it’s not just my excitement over a new race and a new zone talking. While the novelty of that is there, I suppose, I’m mostly just amazed by how well the entire Worgen starting experience is put together, like a storybook unfolding in front of your eyes. Compared to it, the Night Elf starting area I did last week on my mage was a snoozefest.

For one, I think Blizzard has certainly raised the bar on their starting zone quests. You see these types of changes applied to other lowbie zones like Darkshore and Westfall as well, but even then you wouldn’t normally hit these areas until you’re about level 10-12 or so. Hence to be experiencing these new quests mechanics — stuff like aerial bombing and vehicular warfare —  as low as a puny level 5 in the Worgen starting area came as a bit of a pleasant surprise. It all felt so grand.

That said, there are still quests there to teach you all the basics (my priest had to use her healing ability this many times on an injured ally and yadda yadda yadda) but for the most part even all the dry tutorial aspects are incorporated into the overarching story. Contrast that to an NPC just telling you to hit that target dummy over there a few times. Most kill quests were also implemented in creative ways (like having to launch yourself onto a ship with a catapult), are so visually compelling (like being thrust into a chaotic warzone), or are just so humorous (like blowing up abominations and splattering their guts) that I’m willing to overlook the otherwise mundane nature of the task.

And here’s where I’m really impressed — that even at a time when everyone and their grandmas are rolling Worgens, not once did I encounter any problems having to do with overcrowding. Some of the measures put in place to accommodate the initial onslaught were pretty obvious — like increased spawn rates — but there were also plenty of the type of quests that didn’t encourage much mob camping — like tasks that involve being able to spawn your own targets, or looting from stationary objects, etc. Phasing probably helped a lot too in separating the influx of players into more manageable-sized groups (though it was also the cause of several hilarious glitches). Subtle factors, but appreciated by me nonetheless.

Now I can’t wait to try out the Goblin area. If the fun factor is anything like the Worgens, I’m sure it’s going to be a blast. Plus I don’t know if I can bring myself to go back to the starting zones of the any of the original races again.

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Ahroooooooooooo!!!

December 7, 2010

So last night’s foray into night was successful, and I am now admiring the contents of my Collector’s Edition of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. While I’m excited for this expansion, I think living through the launches for the last two have mellowed me out somewhat over the years. I rushed to complete all my goals when The Burning Crusade came out, and did the same again with Wrath of the Lich King, and where did that leave me? All I got for my troubles was a severe case of burnout.

Well, lesson learned. After coming home last night and installing, the first thing my husband and I did last night was — wait for it — go to sleep. And this morning we were rewarded with a flawless start to our Worgen adventures, clear and smooth sailing from login screen to level 5. As planned, I made a new Worgen Priest. Meet Daeshara:

From proud noble...

...to chained dog.

I have enjoyed everything I’ve seen in this area so far, from the gorgeous new environments to the posh NPC accents. I also love the new story-telling aspect in these new starting zones.

Once you start, I have to admit it does get harder and harder to stop. And it’s even worse when you’re surrounded by the giddiness of so many WoW players in the MMO and blogging community today. You want to slow down and remind yourself that all the new content will still be there tomorrow, but the atmosphere is bloody infectious. For better or worse, I’ve got my husband to help me keep a good pace. Mr. MMOGC doesn’t have all that much time to play, so whenever we start new characters together, longtime readers will remember the dreaded Spousal Leveling Contract.

Besides leveling, however, I even hesitate to do anything that might involve any form of progression in-game, lest I accidentally dishonor the contract and invite spouse aggro of a whole different sort. I found out the hard way just this weekend (it’s a week for all sorts of lessons, apparently) when I didn’t think he would mind if I went off on my main to do some of the new zone quest achievements on my own. I’d only done Westfall, Redridge, and Duskwood but from the earful I got you’d have thought he had just found out about my plans to run off with our life savings to live in some remote villa in Tuscany with my secret twin Antiguan lovers or something.

Anyway, to be fair, ever since I came back to WoW after my break, I’ve always thought of it as “his” game since it’s the only MMO he likes and plays. Sometimes I wonder if I would even bother to maintain a subscription if it wasn’t for my husband. And there is something to be said about the joy of being able to experience new things together for the first time, and share those in-game memories for years to come. And it is very sweet of him that he wants to do everything with me, so for the sake of marital bliss I will strive to resist all cataclysmic temptations.

Heeeey, WATCH THOSE HANDS, old man.

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Midnight Run

December 7, 2010

As I stand here in the December chill, typing this post out on my phone with numb, barely-working fingers, I can’t help but remind myself why I’m doing this when I could be upgrading to World of Warcraft: Cataclysm digitally from the warmth and comfort of my own home.

It’s true that I want the Collector’s Edition and I tell myself if I’m going to end up buying the artbook and the soundtrack anyway, this is the best way to go. But that’s not really it. The truth is, I just love midnight releases — for games, movies, books, anything.

For a brief window of time, it feels like every stranger in line is your friend, the way everyone is so happy and eager to chat and share stories about their WoW adventures.  Even the QQ is without its vitriol this night. Yes, the true joys of attending a midnight release for me are the festivities, and the opportunity to hang out with folks in your area who share your interest and are just as nuts as you are.

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Project WoW Noob: Day 2 – Questing…FINALLY!

December 6, 2010

DAY 2

Player: @jarira
Character Name: Saalua
Race and Class: Night Elf Hunter

Well, Day 2 started off on a rather inauspicious note:

@jarira: “I’m ready to play now!”
Me: “Sure, go head. I’ll be right there.” *logs in, types /invite Saalua*

Two minutes pass…

WoW: Saalua has declined your group invitation!
Me:
*retypes /invite Saalua*

Another two minutes pass…

WoW: Saalua has declined your group invitation!
Me: WTF? *Sends direct message to Jarira* “What’s wrong, are you not past the loading screen yet?”
@jarira:
OMG some random bitch keeps trying to invite me to their party!
Me:
“Wha-? That’s ME, you fool!”

Clearly, a quick lesson on how to use the social window and to add friends was in order. She’ll have no excuse to forget my name ever again.

Amazingly, we managed to get through the rest of our play session with no major problems. We only had some slight issues with combat, when she kept trying to use her dagger on her enemies — *cue the exasperated groans that only a melee hunter can incite* — but come on now, she’s completely new to this so let’s give her a break. First of all, let’s put ourselves in a new player’s shoes. Jar couldn’t have known right off the bat that her bow would do considerably more damage. In fact, I think most would think, Why else would I be given a knife, if not to stab stuff with it too?

Anyway, when we finally got to questing, Jar was able to pick it up really quickly thanks to the markers and the arrows on the mini map.

Also, never underestimate the value of the quest text. More than a few people I know do not ever bother reading those; if an NPC offered a quest to sell crack to children in the next town and convince the mayor’s daughter to be a prostitute they would never realize it. Even I’ll admit that some of us who have been playing MMOs for years can probably afford to quickly skim some of the dialogue when it’s clear it will be a rather straight forward quest. For the newcomer, however, it is imperative to REALLY read the quest and understand the details fully.

Being in a group with Jar, I realized belatedly that my presence might have made her feel rushed. Some of these post-patch quests were brand new to me too, but they came much more intuitively to me than to her.

Here are some of the newbie’s thoughts on her second day of WoW:

The 2nd time around was way more enjoyable than the first. Once you get the hang of things it’s really fun to collect shit and level up, and get items etc etc but I can see how it would get repetitive after a certain amount of time – so I am intrigued to try the next level of gameplay once I get there.

Yes, I should mention that once we started getting the hang of things, Jar really got going — to the point she was finishing quests before I did! So while the game arguably still falls short of teaching a complete newbie ALL the basics even after the changes, they may have gotten the questing part of it done right. From her statements above, I gather Jar is already eager to see content beyond the starter/tutorial zone. It’s not a cry of “Gawd, I’m so booooored!” by any means, but another part of me wonders if Pete might be on to something after all.

Another insight from our newbie:

I can really see how the game can be addictive – especially from a social aspect.

Interesting. It’s no secret that one of the MMO genre’s biggest appeals is the social factor and community. But for that to be the “addictive” part? Personally, I always thought that it is the combination of in-game progression, competition, and a carrot-on-a-stick loot system that makes WoW and other MMOs like it so addictive, because they appeal to our natural inclinations to give ourselves goals and to achieve them. On the other hand, I guess I can’t say I’m all that surprised, since I myself have been known to log in to a game for no reason other than to see what my friends are up to, or to chat in Vent. I’m also wary of sweeping assumptions, but I do happen to agree with the generalization that most women love the social aspect a game offers.

Speaking of Vent, I also want to add that one of my guildies jumped into our channel to cheer Jar on once she found out what we were doing. I really do have some awesome guildies.

Some closing thoughts from Jar:

Before we played last night I went to get dinner with some friends who are gamers (console mainly, only one of them plays WoW, the RP-PvP dude) and we were discussing WoW and the dark path that it can take people down.

My friend claims that it’s not that time consuming, but he forgot that when he started to play again, he had just been laid off and leveled up to 80 in a short amount of time cause he was at home all day and had no money. He works full time now and only plays casually but I don’t see it as a casual game right off the bat.

And we also discussed the responsibility it comes with because a big part of the game is the social aspect, so it’s not like you’re gaming for one anymore, you have sort of a commitment and responsibility to your guild which is what makes us all very hesitant to go down that WoW path.

Another intriguing statement. I originally started this “project” for fun, but it has given me more food for thought than I expected. I’m curious as to what others have to say about this.

Me, I said, “It really depends.” I don’t know this friend of hers, but I do know some people might find themselves in a hardcore guild that demands you commit to five raid nights a week or else you’re out. Others prefer a more laid back environment and a guild that’s more casual and flexible. Some guild leaders run their guilds like a boot camp. Others cater to a large range of playstyles and allow their members to be as active or non-active as they please.

In the end, however, no one should be able to force you or tell you how to play. No one.

But this also made me realize something. Game mechanics you can review, quests you can research, and class abilities you can master…but perhaps the most difficult thing about getting into an MMO is something you can’t really learn — finding a place for yourself in the game’s community. It can take a while to find the perfect guild to fit your playstyle and schedule, and above all else, your personality. It is especially hard if you don’t know anyone else who plays, and let’s face it, the less said about WoW’s dismal community the better.

I feel fortunate that the guild I’m in is friends-and-family oriented, has a leadership that is so understanding of its members’ real life obligations, and that everyone has a good sense of humor, is mature, friendly and supportive. I hope Jar will feel at home, because once you find your niche in the world and a great bunch of people to play with, it’s the most rewarding experience you can imagine. And for a new player, that can make all the difference.

Note: Go here for Project WoW Noob: Day 1.

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