September 22, 2008

Less > More

I’m sorta torn on this topic, because the research nerd in me loves to let my fingers do the walking and get instant answers to pretty much any MMO question I have.  But there is definitely something to be said about the “good old days” of Everquest, when fansites, wikis, databases, and, yes, even bloggers, were few and far between.  Sometimes it really is best to leave something to the imagination.

“Back in the day,” I remember people arguing about what the spell harmony did – some insisted it was a mana buff, and would cast it on other players, while some, correctly, said it was a threat reducer (although it was still up for debate on whether the spell should go on the player or on the mob).

I also remember being half dazed from doing our second guildie camp of Zordak in a row, (my 16 day proof of insanity) taking an afk, and feeling the blood drain from my head when someone told me that I screwed up the timer because I was sitting on the Zordak spawn point.  Practically every night in /ooc, as adventurers settled in to their nightly camp claims, the neverending debate about the Anti-camp code would always find a way to surface.

There were lots of mysteries in Everquest – some true and some still unresolved.  Don’t kill bixies or you’ll spawn griffons; don’t fall in the lava or you’ll die and have no corpse to loot; Lake Rathe is home to the Krakken, a giant underwater beast; the Tower of Frozen Shadow has a secret 8th floor; don’t organize monk protests outside Freeport or you’ll face the wrath of a 100 foot gnome named Smedley….

………

For better or worse, Everquest had a lot more of “the human element” in it than current MMO titles.  On the downside, players survived the upheaval from such scandals as pie tin exploits, and tumpy tonic turn in abuse.  But we also had the thrilling metagame called vendor diving, where you could explore the recently sold items on any particular vendor’s inventory and, possibly, find a real steal or two.  Some poor sap’s careless sale was another man’s phat platz.

The content of Everquest was also more varied than the crisp decorum of level tiers and linear progression that so many MMOs sport today.  Some zones were definitely better experience than others, but we didn’t have the benefit of a numerical exp tally with every kill, so patchtime often brought on careful exploration to see what the new best hunting spots were.  Market prices were also unpredictable due to changes in drop rates – or the discontinuation of an item altogether.  Rubicite armor was valuable to begin with, but skyrocketed once it stopped dropping.  (and while it was a quest item, I still /mourn the end of the BFG).  The fluctuating drop rates made the market a lot more interesting, because that certain worthless trash drop could suddenly become an overnight diamond.

Over the summer, Everquest 2 has had a lengthy in game event about the invasion of the void, and the murder of the Priestess in the North Qeynos temple.  I’ve participated in each part of the live event quests that launch with every game update, and while I’m impressed with the unique rewards and storyline, I found myself thinking, “why did they have to tell us about it in the patch notes?”  They have kept it vague enough that the mystery is still up in the air, but it would have been cool to log in one day this summer and, out of the blue, run into one of the black void clouds, with no warning or explanation.  We wouldn’t know what these clouds were all about, and we wouldn’t know why the creatures nearby were suddenly afflicted with some sort of tempest-illness.  There would be lots of in-game discussions about the back story, and eventually players would track down and share the locations of the quest NPCs.  These in game chats about the quests would not only do a better job of getting the word out to the playerbase about the live event, but would also help to build *ta-da!* Community!  I’m sure there is a very good reason why so much is revealed in patch notes these days, but I still think it would be cool if we were kept in the dark a bit more.

Warhammer suffers from this a little…..ok, a lot.  By the time the game was launched, so much was written, screenshotted, podcasted, and video’d about it, there is little left to solve.  Heck, a bunch of revelations came straight from the official site, in the form of regular journals, videos, and site guides.  It’s almost like George Lucas blurting out that Darth is Luke’s father.  Or Orson Welles announcing that Rosebud is the sled.  The bright side is that the game is PvP heavy, so no one can predict exactly what’s going to happen (larger side will win).

Developers are, in a way, playing the role of MMO gods.  Why not imitate the ancient gods of Greek and Roman mythology, and keep us on our toes a little more?   More giant Smedley gnomes, less talk.

Posted by jayernh under Archive,Gaming Commentary | Comments (8)

September 20, 2008

We’re Not Press, but WAR *is* Everywhere!

It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.  Right now, in this little slice of the blogosphere, the launch of Warhammer Online has turned blogger against blogger, with the Warhammer enthusiasts facing off against, well, anyone who isn’t a Warhammer enthusiast.  It’s the blogosphere version of RvR, only there are no squigs and no living cities.  (Plenty of Waaagh though).

I remember a long discussion that my “Shut Up We’re Talking” Common Sense co-host Darren started about whether bloggers are press.  Lately, the answer seems to be a resounding NO.  The main job of the “press,” is dissemination of information.  Yes, bloggers can help generate interest in a game, but journalistic credibility evaporates when the focus becomes “them.”  And while it’s true that commentary can fall under the definition of “press,” there is a fine line between insightful analysis and slightly longer versions of mundane forum replies.

The recent interview of Erling Ellingsen by Daedren of MMOCrunch is one example of that blurring line between journalism and ownzj00 forum flaming.  What should have been a newsworthy and timely interview of AoC’s Product Manager instead turned into a piece largely about Daedren.  His original review of Age of Conan was important, because whether one agrees with it or not, it presented a thorough recap all things wrong with the game.  But he did himself a disservice when he forgot that it was the review, and not him, that readers found newsworthy.  As soon as he inserted himself into the equation, credibility was lost, and the result was a Jerry Springer-esque feel to the interview, rather than a professional tone that might have helped to push forward the discussion of AoC’s troubles.

There was also a certain weirdness to the whole revelation of Tobold getting a lifetime subscription to Warhammer Online.  Tobold is definitely an established blogger, with a prolific entry count, and a plump readership.  But when he made the announcement that he accepted a lifetime subscription, it made for a very awkward moment.  What’s the point of A) taking a subscription that he probably won’t use much at all and B) making it newsworthy by devoting an entire blog entry to it.  With the title, “Full Disclosure on my Relationship with Mythic,” it’s little surprise that Tobold, the Blogger, was the focus of the debate.  Right on cue, the blogosphere abided, and Toboldgate was born.

And in the past few days, we’ve become witness to a tag team blog-off about Warhammer Online that included references to Kool-Aid, Communist Russia, and the Bible.  I don’t necessarily endorse the beehive-prodding strategy of Tipa (although her recent entries are hilarious and have become the only sparkling gem that’s emerged from this showdown), and I also disagree with going so far as to start a crusade against Warhammer fans.  But at the same time, it’s slightly ridiculous that the same people over and over are making it personal, and rejecting any thoughtful criticism about this particular game.

Tipa wrote an entry a while back that still rings in my head from time to time.  She threw down the gauntlet, and challenged the blogosphere to roll up their sleeves, dive into a game, stick with it for a year, and write about it.  Not write about press releases, developer videos, and breathless anticipation of future titles, but about what exactly we are doing nightly when we log in to the game of our choice.  That’s something that I used to do regularly, and something that I have had trouble doing of late.  I agree with her that we don’t see enough of that, and it’s too bad, because that’s when blogger personalities are a welcome part of the writing process, and, if done well, really improve the quality of the storytelling.  Tipa, Stargrace, and Van Hemlock are just three bloggers who do it well, and make me wish I could get back into that groove again.

Over in my guild, I’ve made it our philosophy that if someone has visions of their toon’s name, lit up with flashing bulbs that become so bright they explode into flames because the name is so powerful, they probably should look elsewhere for a home.  I think the same should go for blogging.  I’ve never had any aspirations of this blog becoming anything newsworthy, and I also don’t consider myself press.  But to those that might, it’s worth noting that it’s the games, and what happens in those games, that’s newsworthy.

Posted by jayernh under Archive,Gaming Commentary | Comments (8)

August 14, 2008

That’s How We Roll

I was putting together the “Fall Goals” for the guild today, and it gave me a nice opportunity to step back and look at the big picture for a moment.

Above:  RnH on our first trip to Shard of Hate.

We started up as a guild back in January, about 8 months ago. In that time, we have successfully raided almost all content up to T8. We also worked together to complete several heritage quests and some of the larger questlines, like the class hat quest. Several members have dinged level 80 in adventuring, or tradeskilling (or both!), and many of those have completed their fabled adventuring epics and tradeskill epics. Our guild has reached level 60 now, and this past week, we ventured into our first Tier 8 raid zone – Shard of Hate, to try our luck on scooping up loot from the trash and to play around with Demetrius Crane.

Above:  Ah, memories.  Guild pose on the pyramid in the “Spirits of the Lost” raid zone, after taking down Venekor.

The part that I think is the coolest, though, is that we did it on a very laid back, casual playstyle. We only raid two nights a week, and raiding isn’t mandatory. Any guild events we do run from 8:30 EST to 11 EST, and I think we’ve gone over that 11 PM time only once. Our motto is, “Focused progress, but not at the expense of a good night’s sleep.” For me, it sunk in last week that we actually have been able to do exactly that.

Above:  Celebration after taking down Harla Dar in Temple of Scale.

Funny thing is, that moment has come and gone. I’m always uneasy about the direction of the guild, and I’d love to know if that’s a common feeling among guild leaders, or if it’s just me. I find that leading a guild can be a lot harder than other leadership positions, like coaching or teaching, primarily because it’s impossible to know whether everyone in the guild is “on board,” with your philosophy. When you’re facing a team or a class, you can instantly tell how your words are being received. That’s impossible with a guild, because of the distance between you and everyone else. That can make things very frustrating at times, but it also makes guild accomplishments that much more enjoyable.

Above:  RnH taking on Cthulu, one of the Guild Raids.  This was one of our first raids, “back in the day.” (about 4 months ago).

We’re definitely not a uber guild, but we’re also not trying to be one. Given our limited playtimes and flaky schedules, I think we’re doing pretty darned good.

Above:  The RnH carpet brigade, back in March, taking on Rahotep for the Scepter Heritage Quest.

…and now I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop…..

Posted by jayernh under Archive,Everquest II,Gaming Commentary | Comments (0)

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