Archive for May, 2010


SWTOR Companions: Prospects For Fan Writing

May 29, 2010

Note: I know I’m a little later than usual when it comes to discussing the Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update, but reading the new information on companions as well as the IGN interview really gave me a lot to think about. Before I continue though, a word of warning: I didn’t realize there was going to be so much gushing and girly-ness when I wrote this. I guess I’m feeling giddy because I’m going away for the weekend.

I think a lot of people are concerned that the companions in Star Wars: The Old Republic will take on too much of an important role, and start discouraging grouping and social behavior. Frankly, I’m not too concerned about that. Granted, if anyone can make the idea of playing with AI companions seem more enthralling than playing with real people, it would be Bioware’s talented writing team. But personally, I’m into MMOs to play with others, so having companions isn’t going to stop me from being social.

Instead, what I’ve actually been mulling over, are the prospects that SWTOR companions will have for roleplaying and fan lore. This may be a somewhat esoteric subject, but I’ve encountered enough fan writings on other peoples’ MMO blogs to dare hope that I’m not the only one excited about the possibilities.

RP isn’t something I usually do openly in-game, but I am constantly spinning out stories in my head and on occasion I will write them out. Long time readers of this blog will remember my strange attachment to Sleer, my Vulcan science officer in Star Trek Online. Or maybe it’s not so strange after all. I am reminded of a Nerf Herder lyric here (a band whose name is a Star Wars reference! Oh, how nicely this post is coming together…):

You don’t want a boyfriend
What you want is Mr. Spock…

Okay, so I admit I have a crush on Spock, and that Sleer is like my Spock from The Original Series. There are similarities between the two of them in the STO stories in my head (which I will never, ever, EVER put to paper because they’re just far too embarrassing). Sleer is my First Officer, he’s half-human, and I even dressed him up in TOS garb in-game. At the same time, I’ve also given him his own unique character traits and personality (or at least as far as a Vulcan can have a personality) to flesh out his relationship with my character T’Androma.

"Dammit, Sleer, pay attention to me!"

What can I say? I am a self-confessed mushy romantic. I read trashy Harlequins, watch weepy chick flicks, and “ooh” and “aww” over real life love stories. And so when it comes to games, it’s inevitable — whether it’s role-playing or writing back-stories for my character, I will inject a bit of romance.

And that’s the beauty of Cryptic’s character creator — they’ve given us a chance to work with a blank slate, to customize our characters and companions and write in their back-stories however we please. My only regret, however, is that other than them popping up every so often to tell you the status of your mission, there is absolutely zero interaction you can have with your bridge officers.

SWTOR companions, on the other hand, will contribute to your adventures in much greater ways. They are given motivations, personalities, traits like “honorable” or “roguish” or “flirtatious”. Hardly a blank slate, but their personalities won’t be set in stone either. Apparently, players can change their companions’ attitudes and moral leanings through an “Affection system” much like the one we saw in Dragon Age: Origins. I’m super excited about this. It means your interactions with your companions will be dynamic, even if the end results aren’t exactly what you had in mind.

Meet Vette, one of the Sith Warrior's known associates. I'm betting that she's probably romanceable.

Still, I think this will give roleplayers a whole different realm to work with. For the most part, it seems choosing SWTOR companions are about tactical options and strategies, but I have to admit, I’m pretty psyched about the fact you can romance them too. From Carth to Alistair to Garrus, I do love and use certain characters a lot just because they happen to be my Bioware boyfriends.

*mild spoilers ahead*

For example, I am reminded of my first playthrough of DA:O where I chose Alistair to fight beside my human noble in the final boss battle in the Dwarven arena. Amidst roaring applause, I asked him to kiss me after our victory, right there in the middle of the ring. The result on screen was cinematic perfection, the kind of scene you would see in epic romance movies after the hero and heroine has conquered some force that kept them from being together.

Yeah, I know that’s really corny and nerdy so feel free to make fun of me, but the only thing that pissed me off was that no one else was in the room at the time to witness that awesome moment. The point is, I already manage to pull this sort of thing with single-player RPGs, and I believe the nature of MMOs will make it even easier to roleplay beyond the main story line. I’m purely speculating here, but I’m guessing there will be fewer cases of finality, like the kind you’d find in DA:O where if you just so happened to be a poor little city elf, Alistair dumping your ass pretty much meant the end of the romance.

*spoilers over*

I’m sure the interactions with SWTOR companions will be heavily scripted affairs as well, but I think we all can still have our fun with them (and if you can get over the possibility of walking into a highly populated area with a few dozen versions of your companion standing in front of you). I am very much looking forward to shaping my companions through dialogue, building relationships with them, and expanding on the stories that come out of it. When the time comes, I can only imagine the RP perspectives we’ll be getting from all over the blogosphere.

Even though you might not have the complete freedom to build your team from the ground up the way you want, I think it’s a small price to pay to have companions with elaborate personalities that will actually interact with you. Or, you know, at the very least, acknowledge you’re alive when you walk into a room.


Try New Things

May 28, 2010

As I’ve reiterated so many times before on this blog, I’ve just started playing World of Warcraft again after a long period of being away. But I realized I never really explained why I took my break. Yes, I was a little tired of the raiding, the heroics, the dailies, the treadmill and all that jazz, but the ultimate reason was much more than just plain old burnout. You see, back then I was mostly just playing WoW. Meanwhile, as the market expanded, new games were popping up left and right. All of a sudden, I felt like I was missing out on these other great titles because I was too focused on just one game.

I also want to take this opportunity to talk about a disturbing trend I’ve been noticing. Certain segments of the MMO community seem to treat WoW like a disease, don’t you think? That’s nothing new; people can say what they want about a game and it doesn’t bother me. No, instead, what really irks me these days is the ostracizing and belittling of all the game’s players like they’re mentally handicapped or that their opinions don’t count or matter if they “only play WoW”.

Well, I think dismissing people solely based on their game of choice is a bit elitist and unfair. But then I’m also going to play devil’s advocate here and say that if you look past the insults and attitude there’s a smidgen of logic there, even if it’s just barely. If your only focus is on one game, whether it’s WoW or some other MMO, you’re limited to a very narrow view of the genre.

So with this post, I want to talk about the matter of playing one game versus many games, and the notion of branching out and trying new things. Now, I don’t think it’s a bad thing if a player only sticks to just one game, because what it really comes down to what you enjoy. In the end, you should play the games you want to play, not because of what anyone else thinks. Yes, I used to only play WoW…and am currently playing it again along with a few other MMOs. Its critics can crap on the game all they want and I don’t care; they’re entitled to their opinion and the only thing that matters to me is whether or not I’m having fun. Sometime last year, however, I made the decision to experience more MMOs and broaden my horizons. It was my own personal choice, and it had nothing to do with anyone or anything else.

For me, my hiatus from WoW availed me to try many other MMOs out there and I don’t regret any of them at all. Especially now that I have this blog, I find it easier these days to engage in meaningful discourse with other gamers like the ones on my blogroll. Whether or not I agree with a certain point of view, I feel more informed and thus more comfortable now with piping up on many MMO topics than I ever did before. It’s wonderful when I find that I actually “get it” when I read about someone’s unique take on things, or their thoughts on certain playing styles. Even when they talk about a game I’ve never played before, at least I feel I can add to the discussion by drawing parallels or giving examples.

My time away from WoW has also taught me a lot about my own gaming habits. I look at the games I’ve played over the last couple of years, and see all these titles I’ve tried (EvE Online, Champions Online, etc.), subscribed to and dropped for good (Warhammer, Aion, etc.), or canceled only to be picked up again (Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, etc.) Regardless of the result, I think each game was a valuable experience. It made me realize what I liked, or what I didn’t like.

For example, while it’s arguably one of the most polished MMOs on the market, WoW isn’t perfect. I knew that before, of course, but it was hard to pinpoint exactly why. But now that I’ve seen some of what’s out there, I am more aware of the various mechanics, features, systems and other things related to gameplay. I think to myself, I love this from Game X or that from Game Y, or I think such-and-such in game Z isn’t as well executed compared to Game A, B, or C, etc.

Playing more MMOs has also given me a new perspective on how their developers operate. Obviously, not every company has the resources Blizzard has,  and it’s interesting to see how different teams tackle the same challenges. I’ve come to recognize that while a certain solution might work for one game, it doesn’t automatically mean it can work for others. Instead of making me go, “Well, Blizzard can do it, so why can’t they?” it’s actually made me a lot more open-minded and sympathetic.

So speaking of which, if I seem overly positive in some of my articles, it might also be due to the fact that many things are still so new and fresh to me. After all, I’ve only been playing MMOs for about four years, and for more than half that time I was only playing WoW. So admittedly I’m a noob compared to some of the MMO veterans out there, but just give me another ten or so years and a few dozen more MMOs! Who knows, you may make a cynical and jaded gamer out of me yet!

All joking aside though, I thought I knew what things were like until I took a break to try new things. Some MMOs have pleasantly surprised me, others have lead to disappointment. Regardless, I’m still having fun and my eyes have been opened ever since I started giving more games a chance.


I’ve Conquered The Darkness – Thoughts On Alan Wake

May 27, 2010

I actually finished Alan Wake on the Xbox360 earlier this week, but I needed time to gather my thoughts before writing about it. After all, it was quite a ride, and like many of the good ones it was over way too quickly.

Combat – I outlined in an earlier post about why I decided to pick up the game in the first place, but despite my optimism I still had my concerns. Footage I had seen of Alan Wake was action-filled and intense, but the entire game seemed to take place in the woods, with very little variation in setting. Trees, trees and more trees…that could get tedious.

The creators of Alan Wake, however, saw that coming. They’ve done an extremely good job at mixing up the action. For one thing, I love the way you kill the bad guys in this game — before you can pump them full of lead, you first have to destroy them with light. It’s a great take on just your plain old shooting in an action game, in my opinion. Thus you’re provided with an arsenal that includes devices such as flashlights, flare guns, and flash bangs on top of your other firearms, and deciding when and where to use what’s given to you can mean the difference between life or death.

Story – the game promised a story-driven experience and on that front, they delivered. The plot gradually unfolds as you play through the “episodes” and discover more as to what’s going on. This keeps the player on their toes and also encourages them to “explore” (I use that term loosely though) off the beaten path in order to find more clues.

Horror and thriller fans will also find homages to classics like Twin Peaks or the works by Stephen King. For more on this, I recommend going over to Screaming Monkeys to see his take on the game. I have a feeling he’s more well-versed in the genre than I am, and as such probably picked up on a lot more easter eggs than I did!

Without giving away any spoilers, I felt that the only downside was the ending. It was a tad anti-climatic, and in the end it did not provide all the answers I was looking for. On the other hand, others might prefer it when some of the mystery is left unsolved, so I can understand that. In any case, there’s very little replay value once you’re done, unless you want to do it all over again on Nightmare mode. It was also much too short. Raptr shows that I finished it in about 15 hours, and even then it was with much dawdling, pausing and idling.

Yeah, but was it scary?

I think that depends on who you are and how you approach horror survival games. I think achieving the state of being “scared” is a two way street. On the one hand, the game has to provide you with the right elements: visuals, music, atmosphere, and the like. On the other, the gamer has to “let go” in a way, and allow themselves to be taken away by all of this. For example, I don’t find slasher films or games that use excessive gore or loud noises very appealing, or all that frightening for that matter, because I refuse to open myself up to cheap tricks.

Psychological horrors and thrillers seem to have better luck with me. My mind is my biggest enemy here; give me something chillingly subtle instead of in-your-face, and I’ll freak myself out in ways you can’t even imagine. Alan Wake falls more into this category for me, and I let myself get so absorbed to the point I couldn’t play it at night. As a young child, I was afraid of the dark and would imagine bad things lurking in the shadows. This game sort of brought some of that back.

That isn’t to say Alan Wake is without its fake-outs and cheap shots. But surprisingly, those weren’t the moments that made me jump. Oh no, every time I did jump, it was always in one of the more innocuous daylight segments. While nothing threatening was happening on screen, I still found myself wound up tighter than a $2 watch. I didn’t realize until then that this game had its hooks in me good.

Some examples of my pathetic-ness:

  • Standing in daylight while panning the camera caused a bush in the foreground to flash across my screen really quickly. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
  • While running around indoors in a brightly lit country lodge (again, in the light of day), an NPC gives a loud and cheery “Hey, Alan!” causing me to jump and yelp. Not my proudest moment for sure.
  • Then there was the hedge maze. And we all know how I feel about those. It was like this game was out to get me.

Checking In With LOTRO

May 27, 2010

On Tuesday, Turbine kicked off yet another Welcome Back Week for Lord of the Rings Online. I gotta say, it’s stuff like this that makes me realize how much I *heart* Turbine.

It also made me feel a little guilty for neglecting my Hobbit Minstrel for so long. My better half came back from work today and immediately crashed, so it was the perfect opportunity to spend a quiet evening with LOTRO. I wanted to take advantage of the +5% XP boost to get Kiskadee a few levels.

I think the last time I logged in was about three weeks ago. I had left myself in Bree. What the hell was I doing in Bree? For the life of me, I couldn’t remember. But it didn’t matter at the time, because the first thing I checked on was my house. I wasn’t sure if I prepaid my upkeep fees in advance, and I was a little worried. I don’t have a clue what happens if you don’t keep up with the payments, but I have no desire to find out. Luckily, everything was still there according to the Housing tab.

I realized something as I played today — LOTRO is my escape. Playing Khitans or Taurens with my husband is fun, but sometimes I just feel like playing at my own pace, without ever feeling rushed or pressured to rein in my leveling. So far, he hasn’t followed me to this game yet, so I can still do whatever I want, whenever I want in it. The world of LOTRO provides the perfect atmosphere for that too. It’s calm, it’s mature, it’s relaxing. In other words, this MMO is my virtual spa.

While questing in the North Downs, I noticed an adventurer in the LFF channel looking for more to do some of the region’s fellowship quests, which I also had in my log. I’d never been in a real fellowship before this (now that so much of the content is solo friendly), but I felt confident enough with my skills by then that I figured I should give it a shot. I got invited and was immediately cheered at for being a Minstrel. Guess it really pays to be a healer.

For the most part, I was very impressed by the group. One player did leave the fellowship without a word after an accidental wipe though. I seriously hate it when people do that. So the wipe was caused by our Rune-keeper, who ran into a bunch of mobs. But it was a genuine mistake and she apologized for it, there was really no need to drop the group in such a haste. Oh well, I guess there are jerks in every MMO, even in LOTRO.

Even with one member down, I think we fared pretty well. Plus I got my first taste of healing in a LOTRO fellowship…and I didn’t totally suck ass! I did my job and managed to keep the group alive; however, I had to keep reminding myself to use certain abilities that would be beneficial to my companions, but that I would never normally touch if I was playing solo.

It was a good experience overall. With the exception of the idiot who dropped group earlier, everyone else was very nice and patient. Case in point — much to her mortification, that Rune-keeper nodded off while auto-running and stumbled into yet another group of elite orcs and managed to wipe us again! But this time, everyone just laughed it off. Not bad for my first fellowship. Did I get lucky? Or is the server Landroval just that cool? In any case, I got to add a handful of new names to my friends list, and that always puts me in a good mood.

Before I knew it, I’d been playing for almost five hours. My eyes felt like they were going to bleed…and the same went for my ears. Like, holy cochlea, Batman, LOTRO groups are loud! With myself being a Minstrel and two other Champions and a Captain in the group, all I could hear in combat were snippets of lute music and gruff yelling. If Nickelback ever played at a Renaissance fair, I’d imagine it would sound much like that.

My next stop will be the Lone-lands. It’s a pretty barren zone, if I remember correctly. It’s also quite a ride from Trestlebridge. Hunter noted the other day in a blog post how expansive the territories are in LOTRO. He’s also right about the lengthy travel times. But you know what? I just look at it as a chance to stretch my legs, make a cup of tea, and put on the Bree-land Jig. Is that like the best travel music ever or what?


Guild Merger Imminent, Guild Merger Complete: A Success Story

May 26, 2010

When I took my hiatus from World of Warcraft late last year, I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only one who needed a break from the game. It seemed several other members of my main’s guild had sought greener pastures and moved on to other MMOs, or curtailed their WoW time due to real life obligations. For example, our guild leader, an architect by trade, has been extremely busy in the last year helping to build a new casino. Others have dropped their names from the raiding roster, citing burnout or busy schedules.

We’ve always been this small but closely-knit guild. Even before this we’d had troubles filling out a full raid group, which is why we were also a part of several raiding co-ops on our server. It was a good way to keep a relatively stable roster by teaming up with other modest guilds in similar situations. And recently, all the other co-op guilds were also running into the problem of low raider turnouts.

Anyway, we’ve had a longstanding relationship with one of these great guilds. A lot of our members were already on a first name basis with many of theirs, so I wasn’t surprised to hear rumors of a potential guild merger with them not long after I returned.

Now, I’ve never been part of a guild merger before this. One guild I was in a long time ago came close, but it was a disaster and the idea never really took off. In fact, I would say that things kinda blew up in the hangar. I’ve also heard a lot of horror stories about guild mergers, and so I admit I was a little concerned when I heard the news that we were going to go forward with ours. Then a couple nights ago, it happened.

In the end, my worries were unfounded as our guild merger was undoubtedly a success. Everything was carried out smoothly and painlessly, and here’s why:

1. Our guilds have a long history of cooperation.

That’s a huge advantage, one not afforded to a lot of guilds involved in mergers. We already knew we were compatible based on past experiences in our raiding co-ops. Many months of grouping together in raids and five-mans have shown both sides that we shared the same values and goals.

2. Everything is business as usual.

No one in either guild took this opportunity to further their own agendas, and everyone was informed about the merging process. No drastically new or different rules were implemented, except for one condition regarding guild bank permissions — the tabs with the most valuable items can only be accessed by people who have an authenticator. Both guilds have been burned in the past by bank thefts via hacked accounts, so I can understand this precaution. People without authenticators can still obtain items in those bank tabs, but only through someone who has one, so start parading those core hound pups!

3, Officer assignments are fair.

By fair, I mean equal representation from both sides. Understandably, their guild leader took on the role of GM because ours has been unavailable as of late due to real-life demands and his online presence will continue to be sparse, at least for the foreseeable future. One of our members, however, became the new XO. Four other officer positions were added, and each guild chose two members to fill those roles.


The majority of guild mergers aren’t true mergers, but I would argue that ours is genuine. For one thing, it is not simply just the absorption of one guild by another. A new guild was formed out of the partnership, and even a new website is under way as I type this. A new name was chosen by consensus: Emergence.

What's NOT happening here.

So, I learned something from this — not all guild mergers end up being overblown, drama-filled affairs. The key is communication. Our guild already had this established relationship with the other guild before merging with them, which helped us a lot. Convenient, I know…but it just goes to show the importance of at least taking the time to find things in common with the guild in question before jumping headfirst into negotiations.

As far as I know, we haven’t lost anyone to this merger, at least not when it comes to our side of things. I can only assume the other guild is taking these changes equally well, just based on how relatively stress-free this whole process has been. I used to raid with their members a lot, and they truly are great people. I look forward to re-connecting with old friends, as well as making new ones.


They Were All Out Of My Size

May 26, 2010

I played some Age of Conan tonight, and was able to gain a couple more levels. Now that I’m almost level 30, I’ve collected almost a full set of Khitan armor. So, I put it all on. Hmm. Feels a little…loose.

Fellow blogger and guildie Thac0 (Minjee) asked me, “The belt makes more sense now, doesn’t it?” He was, of course, referring to my ginormous hula-hoop belt that I complained about last week.

Just kidding, Minjee. Love you! -- Having some fun before server lag crit them both for 5000 ms.

In answer to his question…well, yes and no. The other day I was walking down the street and I saw this huge ad for a major fashion chain. I can’t remember what it said exactly, but it was something along the lines of “It is not the jacket that is oversized but it is the model that is undersized. In the end, the effect is the same.” Whatever, fashion ads and their slogans never make much sense anyway, but looking at my character tonight, I couldn’t help but remember those words and chuckle to myself.

So maybe that’s it, eh? It’s not the armor that’s freakishly large, I just made my character too darn small!


Kodo Kouture

May 25, 2010

So, last night in World of Warcraft my Tauren got her Kodo and I just wanted to do a quick post to celebrate this milestone. I know, big whooping deal right? Yes, I realize this achievement would mean a lot more if we didn’t get our first mounts at level 20 now.

Though that change has been in-game for a while, for someone who has been around since the Vanilla WoW days I still find it a little hard to wrap my head around it, especially since I left the game not long after it was implemented. I guess I can’t complain; this is going to shave hours off travel time in the long run, and I can only rejoice. This should help make traversing the Barrens a lot less painful now.

In any case, this is still cause for a celebration because I’m excited that for the first time ever, I have a Horde mount.