Archive for July, 2011

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To CE Or Not To CE

July 21, 2011

Pre-orders for Star Wars: The Old Republic started today. So, based on my anticipation for the game you might assume I’d automatically go for the boxed Collector’s Edition, but no no no that’s not the case. Different people have different reasons for wanting to buy CEs, but while I enjoy little exclusives and goodies as much as the next gamer, when it comes to CEs or other special edition purchases, personally I like to decide not with my heart but with my economically-minded head. And I have to say that currently, it is still unsure.

Pretty as CEs are, I wouldn’t say I’m easily dazzled by the quantity-limited nature or the little trinkets. Instead, more often than not I think about what I’d like to get out of it versus what’s offered. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for soundtracks and artbooks for pretty much any game, and I’ve passed on many a CE in the past because it was missing either one or the other. But believe you me, even if those items weren’t bundled I would have been getting those separately anyway, so then it comes down to a matter of value.

Take World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, for example. The only reason I bought the CE was because, yep, it included the OST and an artbook. And say what you will, but based on that, I think it’s a good deal. My thought process to rationalize my purchase, because even if I were to buy my must-haves separately:

The base game: $40
Soundtrack: $10 (on iTunes, but lets say $15 because it’s a physical copy)
Art book: Retail list price $25.
Standing in line in the cold with a whole bunch of other WoW nerds at the midnight release party: Priceless, ha!

At $80 for the entire thing, it was a no-brainer, even accounting for the other junk I don’t really give a crap about. A mouse pad’s just a mouse pad even if it’s got Deathwing on it, I don’t play the card game, and I didn’t end up watching the exclusive DVD and probably never will, but that’s all gravy. In my mind I’ve already broken even.

The SWTOR CE gives me pause, however. For a game like that, I really can’t believe there’s no artbook. Even though the soundtrack’s definitely a plus, that makes the CE probably a no-go for me. If you like certain little extras, that’s cool, but for myself, I can take it or leave it. I can’t say I’m too crazy about the journal of Master Gnost-Dural nor the galaxy map nor the Malgus statue. Actually, even if there was an artbook, I don’t know if I would have gone for it, because of course, they’re asking for $150.

Yes, I’m pretty psyched about SWTOR, but that just means I really want to play the game. That’s the most important part, and sometimes I think we can get blinded by the extras and lose perspective of that. Sure, the idea of the CE retail box is appealing and it’s oh so pretty, but do I really want to pay $150 for it when I’m like “blah” about more than half its contents? Even factoring the $60 for the base game and $15-$20 value for the must-have game soundtrack (very likely to be sold separately later too, methinks) does the other stuff really make up for the difference, considering all of it will no doubt end up sitting in a box somewhere collecting dust?

So last night at 3am I ended up pre-ordering the Digital Deluxe edition from Origin. At $80, I think I can live with paying the extra 20 bucks for digital items I can use in-game, at least.

Edit: Oh, FFS… Not 10 seconds after I wrote this up, my husband informs me he had ordered his copy of the boxed Collector’s Edition from Amazon. Guess this household will be blessed with a Gentle Giant Darth Malgus after all.

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Songs To Soothe

July 19, 2011

5 lovely game songs to soothe the mind, settle the stomach, fall asleep to when your  body’s on the mend.

Minecraft – Sweden

Back during my early days of playing Minecraft, I happened to chance upon a zombie pit while digging for coal in the side of a mountain. Because this was on Blue Kae’s multiplayer server back when all of us were still invincible, I was able to rid the place of the undead rather painlessly, plant my torches around the spawning pen and loot the treasure box at my leisure. Amidst its contents, I found a record.

Of course, it was another handful of days or so before I found the diamond block necessary for the (literal) centerpiece of my jukebox. I stuck it in, and the synthetic and upbeat “Cat” began to play. I think working on my in-game beachfront property to this tune is what made me fall in love with C418 and Minecraft music. When I bought the Volume Alpha soundtrack, this song “Sweden” was and remains one of my favorites.

It’s also my alarm because it’s such a beautiful song to wake up to.

Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer – Villages of Khitai

Thanks to composer Knut Avenstroup I think Age of Conan has the best soundtrack of any MMO. We had Helene Bøksle’s haunting vocals spicing up the soundtrack for Hyborian Adventures, but the Asian-themed expansion required something different. But the result is no less beautiful. I mean, my GOD, listen to this. If you’ve never listened to the whole thing, do yourself a favor or at least go to what in my opinion is the best part, which starts at approximately 1:39.

Oh, and a funny thing about the above video is, whoever made it actually grabbed one of the screenshots they used from this very blog. At 0:36, I was like, “Helloooooo, that’s familiar”. It’s my very own Khitan alt Xiaohuli.

Rift – Stillmoor

Inon Zur is another genius in the music composing business and he does a lot of games. Rift actually has a pretty good soundtrack all around, but the first time I set foot in Stillmoor and I heard this beautiful tune I was floored. Still patiently waiting for the day Trion decides to release the soundtrack separately, digital download would be nice.

But this might not actually be as soothing as I think it is, because really, only the intro is like that and even listening to that part actually gives me chills every single time.

Lord of the Rings Online – Red Stone and Golden Leaves

Same as I wrote last year, the song “Hills of the Shire” remains my favorite LOTRO track, even though the Tom Bombadil theme comes close (seriously, doesn’t that song just make you want to kick off your shoes, put on a floppy hat and prance around in a flowery field outside) but ever since I hit level 30-ish this “Red Stone and Golden Leaves” song has started growing on me. It’s probably not a coincidence that this is around the time you get to Rivendell, and that’s the song that plays when you enter the city.

Dragon Age: Origins – I Am The One

Another gem from Inon Zur. I think everything sounds infinitely more awesome when sung by a woman with a somber voice in an unintelligible language, in this case, the Dragon Age elven language. Heruamin lotirien. I don’t know what any of it means, but it doesn’t make me love it any less.

There is also a DJ Killa remix which if I remember correctly played during the end credits. I don’t know what it is, but when I heard it I just thought it was the perfect conclusion. Is a song still considered soothing if it makes you cry?

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Feeling Better

July 18, 2011

I know things have been quiet here for the last week, so I’m just popping in to say I’m still around. I got really sick last Tuesday, and since then my regular schedule has taken a good pummeling. It was difficult to stay upright without feeling dizzy, nauseous, and weak as a little kitten, so I haven’t been writing. And quite honestly, there wasn’t really anything to write about, because I haven’t been doing anything relevant of note.

For the last week my days have been filled with sleeping, reading, eating (whenever I felt I could force anything down), rinse and repeat. It was just…BAD. The newest book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series A Dance with Dragons has been my constant companion during those days of bed rest. It’s a monster of a book, but for once I’m glad that it’s long as hell because it was something I could savor and enjoy, and get me through the times I was feeling crappy.

Like the post title says, I’m feeling better, if not 100%. I’m going to dust off this blog, but I do have a backlog of things to do, so bear with me while I gather my wits and thoughts about me. Cheers, all!

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How Would You Make Real Life More Like An MMO

July 11, 2011

Time for a Monday Musing.

Back at PAX East earlier this year, I think one of coolest events I attended was the panel hosted by MMORPG.com, the one featuring some of the industry’s best and brightest answering audience questions about MMOs and the future of online gaming. I recall one fan asking something along the lines of, “How would you make real life more like an MMO if you could?” and Scott Hartsman of Trion answered, “More lives” whereas Curt Schilling of 38 Studios said, “Hot elf chicks”.

Seriously, though, what an interesting question. What feature from an MMO would you bring to real life if you could?

For me, as I finally capped out all my professions in Rift this weekend, it occurred to me what my own answer would be — crafting.

The irony, of course, is that I am not particularly a fan of in-game crafting at all, as evidenced by the months and months it took for me to finally max out my foraging and apothecary skills. It’s not that I hate crafting, it’s more that I’d much rather quest and level. Fighting through an army of undead just to pick a flower on the far side kills my groove and just isn’t my idea of a swell time. As a result, working on crafting is usually the last thing I do, only once I’ve hit the level cap.

But strangely enough, I can see the appeal of it if it were real life. More than anything, I think blacksmithing would be amazing if it worked the MMO way. And I do mean the whole shebang, including going out with my pickaxe, finding some random nodes with a special radar, stuffing lumps of ore into a satchel and bringing it back to a forge to melt it down and craft myself a big ass two-handed great sword.

In fact, weaponsmithing the real way is actually something I’d love to get into, if only I had the means and time, and then I’d learn to use my wares. A seemingly esoteric interest, but maybe it’s the artist in me — there is just something incredibly gratifying to me about the idea of creating something from the ground up, using raw materials. It’s also about making something original and one-of-a-kind. And traditionalist that I am, I am big on doing it with your own two hands.

I muse about MMO blacksmithing because I’ve always felt that it comes closest to that, and unlike consumables and intangible enchantments, you can also display the things you make on a wall and make chitchat about it when company comes over. And sorry, while being able to sew an enchanted robe or concoct a health potion is totally cool and useful and all, it’s just not the same as being able to say you made your own magic sword.

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STO: Shoot ‘Em Up

July 7, 2011

Steady...

Star Trek Online Season 4 launched today, and brought changes to ground combat. A lot of changes. Like, I don’t even know where to start.

But I kept a clear enough head to know that in order to experiment with ground combat, I first had to find ground combat. Thus I went with good old “Diplomatic Orders” even though I’ve done that mission about a gazillion times, but you know what they say about tried and true.

Nevertheless, the level of cognitive dissonance between what I’m presented with and what I’m experiencing is alarming! At once I am thrilled with the changes but also at the same time painfully aware I’m going to have to relearn the fundamentals of ground combat all over again, ahem, as evidenced by the fact my Vulcan butt was handed to in a sling me by a horde of smug Klingons not ten seconds into the fighting.

The biggest thing is Shooter Mode, which you can swap in and out of by pressing B. It’s not Call of Duty or anything, but it’s everything the devs promised — faster, more responsive, and significantly more visceral. I felt like a big game hunter, stalking the jungles of P’Jem for a nice Klingon trophy for my wall.

The ground game has also been completely rebalanced or modified, including values for health, damage and most abilities. You really can’t approach ground combat the same way anymore, which was probably why I was clobbered so easily. Simple cover mechanics have also been added, which I suppose I should learn, STAT!

Quite honestly though, the changes are a huge improvement. Throughout STO’s lifetime, there have been months where I’ve canceled my sub and many more times that I’ve been tempted to let it run out, but there’s a reason why I always come back and these major updates are it. There are a ton of other things I need to try out, but the ground combat revamp was what I was most anticipating.

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A Long Weekend Of Patches

July 5, 2011

I hope everyone stateside had a restful long weekend this 4th of July. Personally, I had planned on getting in some gaming time, but instead found myself distracted by other activities — activities such as grilling hotdogs and burgers out in the yard, and enjoying many nights of firework displays around town, for instance. It was my first Independence Day in America, and I wanted to make it count!

I might not have done as much gaming as I’d have liked, but while I bustled about, my computer and internet chugged away at downloading updates all weekend, which was just as well:

Star Trek Online

I almost missed this, but Cryptic had another one of their Tribble test events this weekend, inviting testers to check out Season 4. I dabbled for as long as I dared, without revealing myself to too many spoilers. What little I did see was impressive enough, and I am itching to experience the new and revamped ground combat system as well as duty officers with my character on the live shard. Spending an hour or two on the Tribble test server this weekend also qualified players for a special reward, and this won’t end until 10am PST today so there’s still time if you hurry.

Age of Conan: Unchained

I’d been talking about jumping back into Hyboria ever since last week when AoC officially went freemium, but of course, I’m procrastinating already. I didn’t take the time to update the client until a couple days ago — and it was a massive download. Oh right, I’ve been away for a loooong time.

I’m definitely tempted to play, especially since I miss my level 80 Priest of Mitra, but seeing as full access to all the best gear, the best zones, and all the best content including the Alternative Advancement system requires a premium membership, looks like there’s a good chance of having to shell out at some point if I intend to do anything fun.

World of Warcraft

Another game I haven’t touched in a while, but decided to update anyway because of Blizzard’s recent announcement that you can now play WoW for free until level 20. I also got an email from them offering me seven days of free game time to experience Patch 4.2 Rage of the Firelands. Not that I have any interest in any new raids or gear, but one thing I do regret is canceling my WoW sub earlier this winter without first playing the Goblin starting zone. I may jump back in one of these days just to do that.

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I’m So Gonna Pay For This…

July 1, 2011

There’s a new buzzword making its rounds in the MMO world these days, and it is “Freemium”. A portmanteau of “free” and “premium”, this business model is like a hybrid of the F2P and P2P payment models, brought together into one neat little package. A freemium game is free and there is no monthly fee, but if you want the whole shebang like extra character slots, more travel options, or bigger bag space, etc. you have the option to sub.

As for whether or not it’s a good model, well, that’s all a matter of opinion. Personally, I like the freemium model because of the choices it gives me — I can either play for free, purchase content piecemeal whenever I feel like it, or straight up subscribe to get all the benefits. Factoring time and effort, sometimes going that last route is even considered to be the most economical.

Still, I know plenty of people who play freemium games long-term and still manage to enjoy themselves by paying just the bare minimum, or not a cent at all. Just because you think you’ll be spending a lot of time in a game, doesn’t automatically mean you have to shell out for the premium VIP package. The beauty of the freemium model is the “free” option. FREE! is a powerful marketing technique that few can ignore, FREE! is always awesome.

My brain, however, works in funny ways sometimes. I think some perverse part of my mind still convinces myself that if I don’t pay I won’t play.

It’s not about the restrictions I wish to avoid, or about gaining the upper hand. It also has nothing to do with being suspicious of anything I don’t have to pay for, because I don’t buy the whole “free”-must-equal-”crappy” myth at all. I see freemium games and F2P games the same way I see any other MMO — if it looks good and I happen to be looking for something new to play, then count me in; I could care less about the business model.

Except it does kinda matter, but not in the way one would expect. I’ve looked back at my gaming history and seen that I’ve had a really bad track record of staying committed to “true” F2P games. Why that is the case has nothing to do with perceived quality, but has everything to do with the fact that little motivation comes from little investment. In other words, it’s not the games. It’s me. When an MMO is free, I put things off guilt-free and say to myself things like “I can always just play later” and “Hey, it’ll still be free tomorrow!” I say that again and again and again, and end up never playing at all.

This might sound strange, but I like P2P models sometimes…because knowing I paid $15 this month is a huge motivator. When I pay, I know I will play, as I am compelled to make the most out of my sub. It’s like my great desire to someday learn Latin. As much as I’d love to take the initiative and start on my own, uhhhhhh, it’s not gonna happen. I think the only way I’d ever get off my ass and do it is if I enrolled into and paid for a class. An MMO sub is sort of like that; just a little reminder each day that I should stop whatever work or messing around I’m doing to pay a little visit to my favorite virtual worlds, because I paid for it after all. Yes, I’m ever the procrastinator, apparently even with the hobbies I enjoy.

Anyway, games that offer the freemium model let me do that, but with considerably more choices. Despite what I said about P2P vs. F2P games, I’m definitely not an all-or-nothing kinda girl, and I still get excited when yet another MMO goes the freemium route. For the reasons I gave, most are games I’ll likely still fork over a sub to if/when I jump back in (like Age of Conan: Unchained), but sometimes simply dabbling is enough for me, and there are more than a few MMOs that I’d be happy to log in to for just a couple times a month. At least the freemium model allows me the flexibility to find a balance.

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