Don’t Cross the Streams!

In a rare treat for you all today, Rowan from I Have Touched The Sky is making a guest appearance on this blog…


Rowan on the far right. I’m the one in the center that Rowan’s Shadetouched Hound is sniffing at.


What, you thought he was going to post his stream of thought here or something?! He has his own blog for that.


When I was online the other night, I opened my friends list, expecting to toss and invite to my brother, since my Friend count was at: 1.  Turned out it was Rowan.   And we were actually in the same zone.   I told him later that is the MMO equivalent of seeing somebody you know in the grocery store.   So one thing led to another and we spent the night playing around in The Gloomy Woods (TM).


Anyway, it was a good time, and was a fun crossover type event for two people whose primary interaction is comments on each other’s writings.


That actually came together with another unique life event for me yesterday.  My awesome TOR guild, Beskar, has left me with many friends I keep contact with.  But yesterday was a rare treat – one of the guys I have known for over three years now (!) was driving through town on a trip and we got together for lunch and to see some of the sights downtown together.


We had a great time, and it left me wishing I had an opportunity to cross paths with more of them.  Some of them are simply too far away and/or live in small towns that I won’t travel to or near unless it is a specific trip to see them.  And some do not wish to be seen in real life – and I don’t want to be critical about that choice, because it is a perfectly valid one.


But…I have a feeling that maybe the biggest problem with internet friendships and acquaintances is that we don’t let them far enough outside the box.   Like the title of the post, we are afraid something bad will happen is MMO friend or FB friend somehow becomes RL friend.   Or vice versa – how many of us grew up scared to share our RPG hobbies with RL friends?   Which is scarier – inviting someone to church/social event, or asking someone out on a date, or inviting them to come play some DnD with you?  Or are those things, as I suspect, just about equal in the “nope, nope, nope” category?


And what happens when those interactions, already difficult in real life, have to cross into real life from cyberspace?  I friended two people from my World of Tanks clan on Facebook two weeks ago, and one of the guys jokingly said “Is this allowed?”  But we had a lot in common (his wife is a pastor at a church not far from a seminary buddy of mine) and got along well – why not?  I consider myself fortunate that in addition to my regular feed of English on Facebook, its not uncommon for me to see posts in Danish, Czech, Spanish, German, Arabic, and Urdu.  All from gaming connections.


Again, I’m not lobbying for everyone out there to knock down my door with Facebook requests.  I’m just saying its nice to see a trend of crossing streams in lots of different ways – cross game guilds and clans, social media contacts outside of games, the occasional real life lunch get-together or Con meet up.   There is always something refreshing about spending time with friends, no matter how you first met or what brought you together this time around.


So, unless you are facing Zuul on a rooftop at night with an unlicensed nuclear reactor strapped to your back…consider crossing the streams occasionally.  Its pretty awesome.

Weekend Gaming Hops Dimensions

Over the summer my little family gaming group – my brother and sister-in-law and myself, have been working out way through LotRO.   Granted there has been a lot of travel and busy time, but whenever we could, we would log in and tackle some content together.  LotRO has its flaws, but it is a solid game, and for anyone who grew up reading Tolkien, simply being “in” Middle Earth is a bit of a treat.   We also did some unholy trinity swapping.   My brother normally tanks while I heal, but we traded places this time around and I was tanking and him healing.   Or at least that was the plan.  As it turns out, in Soviet LotRO, Minstrel Healers out-DPS everyone and Warden Tanks don’t actually have an taunts.   None the less, we have had a good time.


But, with LotRO’s model being what it was, we eventually ran out of free content.  And while I don’t think any of us were opposed to dropping the $5-$7 to open up a new section of the quests in the game world, it did give us a pause in our playing that led to the question – stay here?  Or try something else?


Game hoppers that we are, we decided to duck into Rift and see how the F2P transition had gone (turns out we aren’t the only ones who have done this).   We all have fond memories of the game, and truth be told, we only let go of our subs there to embrace the world of The Old Republic in all its grandeur.   That worked out so well, we had to do a little gaming cleansing before we were ready to commit to anything else.   So after some discussion, we decided to try out the Guardian side of things and rolled some new characters.   And we kept the same role-swapping.   Of course you have more leeway in Rift, so I could tank as Warrior, Rogue, or even pet tank with a Mage, since we tend to be content with the regular content (though I have heard that pets don’t perform all that badly in normal level dungeons).   But after the frustrating experience of not being able to hold aggro with the Warden,  I just decided to belly up to Warrior and give it a shot.    So far I haven’t regretted it, and in fact have come to realize that one reason I hadn’t looked at the Warrior too seriously before was because there weren’t just one or two souls therein that I was interested in – I wanted to play them all.   This could cause a problem – since I am at level 10 and haven’t spent a single soul point.   But I’m sure I will eventually settle in on something.


The last time we were in game, I was able to behold the beauty of needing a new graphics card.  Badly.
The last time we were in game, I was able to behold the beauty of needing a new graphics card. Badly.


My brother meanwhile seemed to be having fun with his cleric.   In the one hour we got to play this weekend, I think I saw him with hurling fire and armed with a staff, and then beating people with a two-handed hammer.  The only hitch was that Rift, in all its joy to cater to the weak-minded, managed to enable a button somewhere that spent all your soul points for you, without giving you a “hey you sure you want us to do this for you?”  Yes/No confirmation.    Not that its bad, but we are very much “make your own build” people.   And one thing that has not had the “make it terribly convenient” makeover is the ability to respec your spending (oddly enough).


Still, overall we had a good time.  We have a nice stash of credits for all of us and some fun loyalty rewards to play with.   And the Defiant/Guardian divide means we have a new storyline and leveling content to play with.    And if things do get frustrating or we just want to tackle some higher content, well – we always have those 50’s sitting around ready to take a stroll.

Four Years and Counting…

Yeah, I may as well go ahead and post it since Ysh outed me.  Its been a little over four years since I started this fun little adventure.  If I remember right, there are a couple of others who share similar dates. The stats will be a little off since there is an extra month in there, but what the hay – here ya go:

Quick Stats: 

Total Views:  93,987  (41,363 last year, 21,407 or so the year before)

Best Month:   9350 views in May, 2012  (2,947 last January,  2281 the year before)

Busiest Day:  971 views on  May 2nd, 2012 (602 last year, 270  the year before)

Top 5 Posts:  Tips and Tricks for World of Tanks, Naming Your Ship,  TERA Online Review, How Well Will the SWTOR Launch Go? That Depends on How Tolerant You Are, Naming Your Ship 2

Top 3 Most Popular Tags (By Game):  Star Trek Online, EVE Online, World of Tanks

* Note, views to my home page blow all of those away.  This is the up and down of not requiring you to “jump” after a break in the post.

Search  Terms that Make You Go Hmmm:

minecraft hotel lobby  (if you build it, they will come…)

hot jedi  (we’re not that kind of site really)

вестибюль гостиницы (Russian for hotel lobby…apparently I am source zero for hotel lobby information)

otel lobİlerİ (Turkish that time…)

tera character nude (Also about six variations of “tera online sexy” – are people this desperate for porn?)

star wars the old republic nude (I’m seeing a trend here…)

real world controversy (We have that in spades…)

Referrals and Referees:

Top 3 Bloggers Who Helped Me With Traffic:  Nil’s Blog, Bio Break, Stonee’s EQOA Blog

Top 3 Bloggers I Helped With Traffic: GCTAGN, Rowan

Again, theres much bigger numbers in the former than the latter…

Thoughts and Goals:

At this time last year I was still looking for my first level cap.    I got that not long thereafter!  And then once more in April when I did the same in Star Trek Online,  a month after I hit 30.  And STO may be the first game for a multi-cap as well – my Klingon character is a day away from the same Captain milestone.   I have been blessed to have a regular playgroup for a long while.  Starting last June and continuing straight on until this past July, when my little playing group folded its tents in TOR and took a little enforced break while one of the members prepares to head off to basic training, and when my beloved TOR guild shut its doors.  These days I am mostly guild oriented, chatting amiable with my 12th Fleet and Knights of Mercy friends, or some of that old Beskar crew in World of Tanks.  Sadly though – guild oriented does not always equal group oriented.

My vision this year is tilted backwards.  The only MMO I am looking forward to is ArcheAge, and there is little evidence that it will land here in the next year.  And my Beta stuff has slowed down – only one I’m actively involved in at the moment is MechWarrior Online, and for my two cents, once you take people’s money for the game, its not a Beta anymore, no matter what you want to classify it as.

That said, there are several games I want to revisit this year – EVE Online, and Vanguard.  Pirates of the Burning Sea and maybe a stint in Everquest, since I never could bring myself to log in and say goodbye to EQOA.


MMO’s: Rift (3 months), TOR (7 months), The Secret World (2 months), TERA Online (1 month), GW2 (1 month), STO (7 months), Istaria (1 month)

Other Online:  WoT (12 months), WoWP (2 months), MWO (1 month), Stronghold Online (1 month)

Alphas/Betas:  Dawntide, Heroes and Generals, MWO, WoWP

Table Top/RPG:  Call of Cthulhu, Mansions of Madness, Anima: The Card Game, Anima RPG, Hellas RPG, Houses of the Blooded RPG


Thanks to the Casualties of War crew for keeping the wheels turning all these years, especially Genda’s hard work, though I do miss his blogging (poke, poke).   Thanks also to my wonderful – dare I say – online family in Beskar, who made the last two years so fun.  And thank you to KoM and 12th Fleet for taking me in – here’s to the future.    And a big thank you, and congratulations to my brother and his then-fiance-now wife, for helping me make so many of my gaming dreams come true in the last year.  Big ups playa.

Rift’s New Deal: Something No One Has Picked Up On Yet?

I’ve seen some good coverage of Trion’s move to offer the Storm Legion expansion for free if you pony up for a year long sub.   Some good discussion about whether or not its worth it in the end.   And some good reminders that Trion continues to take what others do and both copy and improve on what it sees.

Like oversexed celebrity spokeswomen.

It was the former though that got me thinking about one thing that Trion has done right that we so often complain about.   This deal with the Storm Legion pack is a great promotion, because unlike many others done by other MMO’s – it most directly benefits current subscribers.   As Flosch points out, you really have to play 7 or 8 months to come out ahead in the promotion.   That’s something that is great for the loyal subscribers who love the game and are sticking with it long term.   Its not as enticing to those who are new or who are half-hearted in their dedication.

And please note this is a little different than Blizzard’s Diablo III offer because the free program here is a direct benefit of the game you love, giving you lots of extra content for it, rather than stealing your precious time away into a side project.

I think we’ve all said this before, but…would that Bioware had taken a good look around itself in the last year or two, the shroud of the dark side might not have fallen as hard and fast as it did.
Execute Order F2P

Loyatly is more than just Veteran Rewards.   Its listening, crafting opportunities to reward those who invest time and effort, and regular feedback and thanks in return for what is given.   Trion does that as well or better than anyone afloat right now, and its a part of what makes them as successful as they have been.  Others…take note!

Skill Points and Talent Trees: A Rebuttal

First up, as this post is focused in on a recent post at The Ancient Gaming Noob, let me say a few things about Wilhelm and his site.   TAGN was one of the first gaming blogs I read, and has been a huge source of encouragement to me in my blogging over the years.  I have a great deal of respect for him as a blogger and gamer, and I don’t want this to come off as a personal attack of some sort.  This is just one of those areas where he and I disagree. 

Secondly, I have a house rule for myself, sometimes I refer to it as the “Last Word Rule” or the “Four Comment” rule.   That is, on any blog post where a disagreement breaks out, I comment my disagreement, and if I get a response, I get one rebuttal/clarification, and then the blog owner gets the last word (that makes four posts for those out there keeping track).  And since I reached that limit and had more I wanted to say, I go to my own space, rather than continue to sidetrack or argue all over someone else’s blog, which is not only rude to the owner, but rude also to all the other readers, many of whom may agree, or just don’t want to witness the carnage. 

In any case, TAGN argues a number of things about talent trees that provoke responses in me ranging from incredulity over to straight up anger.  I’m going to take them one at a time to try to address them in a cohesive manner:

I see [talent trees] as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face….We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past! ” [Bolding mine]


First up, a history lesson – talent trees are simply the most common form of what is known as Alternative Advancement – customization and evolution of the character beyond the basic confines of their class. (From here out, I will use AA/talent trees/etc interchangeably based on my mad writing whims.) AA joins the MMORPG scene at the end of 2001 with Shadows of Luclin, and to a lesser extent in the mechanics of Dark Age of Camelot. They really took the page from Diablo II’s success, who in turn had lifted the idea from pen and paper RPG’s. The point in every case was to allow players greater customization options. Something that they have been doing successfully for nearly 11 uninterrupted years. To say that talent trees are flawed or failed is to claim that they in some way did not afford players greater customization, and that would be pure fallacy. Their very existence gives lie to the statement.



In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal. So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer.  In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right?  I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.”


The very fact that you have options to fulfill in terms of your role is proof that AA’s have succeeded. The problem here lies in the assumption that finding the correct answer is where the locus of choice rests. But it does not rest here. The locus of choice rests in deciding what role you wish to fulfill. You could argue that you want talent trees to offer more in terms of role choices, but that’s another discussion. And even then, I would argue differently. Do your talent points stop at the top of a given tree in your game of choice or do you have extras? Then even your role choices are flexible and different from character to character.


I suspect the mistake here lies in the assumption that everyone in an MMORPG is playing the content the same, and that’s simply not true. Some people play for endgame raiding, some for PvP, some for solo play, some for storyline/roleplaying, some for PvE progression. To have success in your chosen role or playstyle is a fuction not only of your AA, but also your choices in how you play the game. TAGN’s weekly instance group of five is a wonderful example of this. Even if we all act out of intelligent self-interest with respect to the game mechanics (and I would argue that we do not do this anyway), the choices that are “correct” for that play style are in fact different than the choices that would be “correct” for my group of three playing through the non-instanced content. Please bear in mind – this dichotomy would not be possible without AA to begin with!


Lastly, I do not view a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, because I do not know what is sub-optimal. I do not use 3rd party mods, damage parsers, or anything else to determine my talent layouts. I would argue that this is true of most players, by simple fact that most players don’t need them to enjoy the game. Even if I did know what was sub-optimal, I wouldn’t care. I choose to place my points in ways that I think are fun or cool, not based on what is “best” (as if I had a way to define that!).



And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being…But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure.  They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.”


Except that that’s not why repec’s came into being. They came into being because players desire change. EVE allows respecs over its attributes not because the player made a mistake – but because the player now wants to explore a new play style. I respecced my Paladin in WoW not because I was doing a bad job keeping my group patched up, but because I was tired of healing and wanted to play my character a little differently. So I broke out a two-handed sword and spread my points evenly between helping me heal and helping me hurt. I didn’t make a mistake – thought if I had, why would fixing it be a bad thing?


I’ve also respecced a few times in SWTOR, based again not on mistakes, but because I realized I was having more fun with my knives than my gun, and I wanted to put some points into the tree to get more stabby and less shooty. Did the developers give us respecs because they thought I might find a flaw in their talent trees or because they thought I might, in the course of 50 levels and 200 hours of gameplay, change my mind once or twice?



This is, of course, my view of the world.  It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game.”


History does not support the idea that AA’s or talent tree’s or whatever have failed. It has shown us that developers are more likely to listen to players who do utilize 3rd party add-ons and who are serious about crunching the numbers – in other words, the hard core raiders and the hard core PvP people. And the reason for that appears to be the believe that those people are the ones who will make the game profitable by paying more money and sticking around longer. And guess what – those people are always going to find the optimal build. And guess what – that in no way invalidates what AA is trying accomplish, because that build may still not be right for you based on how you play the game.


Now, my suspicion is that TAGN (and many others) would like a system where there is more than one correct build. And at that point I don’t know what to offer up other than maybe to insist on adding “for a particular role and play style” to the end of that comment. And I would remind everyone that at some point, numbers and plans and chaos collide, and the results are always less than ideal. Otherwise, I too could DPS like the greatest raiding Rogue ever to land on Azeroth. My suspicion is that the idea that there is only one correct build is a myth perpetuated by the sociological phenomenon known as official forums. And if that suspicion is incorrect, it could only be because the developers are playing the game with that subset of the gaming population in mind – intentionally tweaking particular builds to be “best” and then moving them from update to update to force iterations, advancement, and additional subscription time from players who derive joy from searching for and implementing those schemes. Again, I cannot logically accept that those people represent all gamers or even a majority of them.


I’m happy with talent trees or whatever other forms of AA developers want to add (In fact, like Syp, I would prefer more). For me, and I suspect for the many players who are not like those I described above, the end result is simply more choices, more possibilities, and more fun. And I am hard pressed to understand how that is a failure.


Now – your turn at the microphone. Fire away.

The PvE Sandbox; or how PvP is ruining my MMO’s one by one.

Does it exist?  And if so where can I find it?  That mythical game with no PvP.


I am reading over at The Ancient Gaming Noob about how Rift is now traveling invariably down the same path that crashed Warhammer and Fallen Earth.  That is, turning your MMORPG into an a  competitive 3rd person whack-a-skill-watch-the-dps-meter-and-create-some-macros paradise.  Granted, Rift is not there yet, because they haven’t, say…changed their entire damage and armor mechanic because it wasn’t good for PvP, or scaled their XP progression primarily around how many matches it would take to cap level.  But its the beginnings of those paths.


I’m beginning to wonder if its a foregone conclusion for any MMO that decides to saddle itself with the burden of PvP.  Its like a cancer that eats away at the heart of the game.  I wonder how many developer hours are wasted on balancing and fine tuning classes/skills/macros/3rd party support that could instead be used to generate new content.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-PvP, or World of Tanks would not loom large in my life.  Nor would I have spent as long as I did in EVE.  But the games I play for PvE content always seemed to be subjugated for some bizarre PvP dominance, as it that were the lifeblood of the games players.   And perhaps it is, which leads me, for yet another reason, to ask the question about the PvE sandbox.  Even TOR does not seem immune to its effects, as the earliest indications of patch 1.1.2 indicate.


Just for once, I’d like to see some PvP players crying a developer said “no” to their desired changes on the reasoning that it would disrupt the rest of the game world who are playing (::gasp::) an MMO.

A Dream Long Realized.

I finally did it.  It took…I don’t know how many games, and almost nine years, but I finally accomplished what I had thought at one time would be impossible for me.


The Ultimate Ding


So Rift made this process painless, and fun, and…well, quick.  I played my first MMO for nearly two years and never came closer than 36/50 (which within six months was 36/55).  I think I’ve said before, but  I will say again, two things in particular got me here.


The first is the multiple roles and ability to swap on the fly was probably the biggest help.  I tend to be a bit of an altaholic, particularly as levels climb and groups become more and more useful.  But here I alternated between all aspects of the trinity, jumping around a bit.  I also found my center though – with all the options available, I tried them all and tried them early, and then locked into two particular builds that I used for the entire game (with minor tweaks along the way, of course).


The second, and perhaps more helpful, was having a regular gaming group.  We played 2-3 times a week, usually for 1-3 hours, and here we are, 6 months later.  The group was my Cleric and a pair of Rogues.  One of the Rogues did have a Riftstalker tank build, and I did have a Justicar tank build, but until the end of the game, we only used them in Rifts or for particularly difficult missions.


So what’s next?  Well there is still one quest out there bugging me.  The arena where you have to face down a Cyclops and two other people at the same time.  We got our butts handed to us at level 43 and 44.  Now we will see how they handle a trio of 50’s.


Oh, and I capped here too, just for good measure.


Bouncing From Rift to Rift

First up, in my continual quest, lets just get this out of the way:



Yeah, turns out when I logged out the other night I was already halfway to the next level.  Rift if sneaky like that.  Even now I’m halfway to 48.  We spent a good chunk of our time chasing down rifts though.   Shimmersand is our current haunt, and its not a bad zone as they go.  But it is a zone that is shared with the Guardian forces and its a high end zone.

And we have discovered that the end result is that there are any number of level 50’s from *both* sides trolling around.  Its fine, we are on a PvE server, and we’ve even had some good cross faction team ups on occasion.  But the reality is that its really hard to get credit for closing rifts and killing extraplanar creatures when all these max level people are able to beat you to the punch.

But is also gotten a little nostalgic for us.  We all want some items from the current world event, and we have really enjoyed the game, so with the “end” in sight, we have been taking a little more time to stop and smell the roses.

So, just a pause again to thank my brother and his fiance for making my dreams come true this year – a regular gaming group to hang together with.  Its been a blast and I’m looking forward to capping with these guys…and getting those alts on the right track too!


Ever Closer.

Last night, I had the joy of this, thanks in part to Rift’s half-birthday gifts of accelerated XP gain:



Now this is joyous for a number of reasons.  First and foremost it happened only with the help of my re-assembled regular play group.  I don’t think I would have made it this far without them.  That continues to be a strong force in my playing and enjoyment of the game.  So much so that I can’t imagine trying to play an MMO without one from here on out.

The second is that this marks the closest that I have ever been to maxing level.  I almost said capping level, which is probably an indication of how many battles I’ve gone through in World of  Tanks over the last 7 months or so (hint: including Beta, I’m inching in on the 3k mark).  With only ten more levels to go, the question that arose last night in our little group was – can we max out before TOR launches?  We decided that we have at least two months, perhaps more to accomplish the feat, and I see no reason why not.

The third is that this marks the first time that I’ve not had to deal with what is undeniably a self-handicap, and that is my serious case of alt-itis.  In addition to my Cleric above, I do have a Warrior and a Mage that I have played through the first 6 or so levels, just enough to get them beyond the tutorial instance.  But neither has gone any further and I have no real desire to do so.  I have three roles now that fit around all the play styles I could desire from my character, so there has been no need for them.  And if an unusually high level artifact I stumbled across sells in the next two days, I’ll be able to buy my fourth, even if it means putting me 22p in the hole to try and get my level 50 mount.

The fourth reason its such a joy is Trion itself.  The half-birthday was extended a week (and by some accounts continues today beyond the planned week extension) for the simple fact that Hurricane Irene interfered with much of the East Coast’s ability to enjoy the free time.  Trion continues to show whythey are the best developers on the block – by knowing, understanding, and responding to their player base.

Also, and this is just a bonus mention that I will eventually get around to doing a full post on:  I love the Cabalist rebuild.  As someone who actively played the class before its tweaking, I love it even more now.  That says something about design too – its not often that you can take something someone loves in an MMO and fiddle with it extensively and end up with something *better* than before.  But that’s exactly what they did.  Kudos Trion.