Casual Does Not Mean Bad

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It’s a common sentiment, isn’t it? I mean, the disparity between raiders and casuals is pretty epic in comparison to other “lines in the sand”. The question is though, are we really so different?

 

This isn’t a WoW topic. Or a WAR or LotRO topic, either. It’s a conversation born of all MMOs with a PvE endgame, even if it’s small.

 

You see, the two parties tend to not understand each other. Or, in some cases, are even envious of each other, though most would be loathe to admit it.

 

Raiders? Well, they’re just basement dwellers with no life.

 

Casuals? They’re lazy and want welfare epics.

 

Neither is true of everyone that falls into either category. The simple fact is that different people have different obligations in life.

 

I was struck by the recent olive branch extended by an author of the Ensidia guild website. For those who don’t know, this guild is the brainchild of Nihilum and SK Gaming, two of the most well known raiding guilds in the game.

 

The author, while lamenting the difficulty level of the new raid content, draws a distinction between the casual player and the bad player. He’s in support of helping casuals to experience the content and the lore but against allowing players of low skill levels to conquer it.

 

In the grand scheme of things, I agree. As a casual player, I never expected to see any of the upper echelon of raiding, but if I was able to I’d take advantage of the shot. The thing is, I wouldn’t expect to be coddled through it because of my time limitations. Raids are supposed to be hard, so the players earn the level of gear they’re trying to attain.  If you can’t cut the mustard, then stay away from the jar.

 

Now, a lot of people find this sentiment to be somewhat elitist. I don’t understand that. For once, a well known group of raiders are making a clear delineation between the time limited and the greedy.

 

Separating time from skill isn’t a good way to go about designing raid encounters. As I see it, the truth is that if everyone could get the best gear it would wind up worthless. There has to be some limitation in order for gear rewards to maintain their value. There are only three domains in which limitation in place with the current setup: time, difficulty, and organization. All three have been substantially reduced. Time and organization open doors, reducing difficulty is liable to tear down the fence.

 

To make a long story short, I think this guy’s on the right track. He’s identified the subgroup in the casual player base and acknowledged the majority in a positive way. One day, maybe the divisions in the player base will fade.

Blizzard Opens Doors, Even for Mythic

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I commented a little bit in the past about the difficulty level of Wrath of the Lich King. I mean, it’s the bees knees for casuals, right? Since I’m one myself, I can tell you that I’m enthused about the new options available to me.

 

The fact of the matter though is people are flying through the content. We had server first 80’s within a few days of release. Within two weeks, all of the PvE content in the game had been beaten. I know, I know… Naxxramas was in Vanilla WoW. They knew the strategies, and maybe that counts for something, but even a brief review of the changes this expansion brought will reveal that much of the time to reward ratio has been reduced. Similarly, difficulty to reward has also been reduced.

 

This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but as Syp has noted, it does mean that people will expend the content much quicker than we’ve seen in the past.

 

And that’s a good thing for Mythic. The quicker players get burnt out on WoW, the quicker they’ll start looking at other games to spark their interest. Right now, even with all of its flaws and the negative comments floating around, WAR is still in the “runner-up” position for MMO publicity.

 

So, when the hardcore crew beats all that the game has to offer and are stuck waiting (which they will be – they’re waiting now) for content patches, there’s a good chance they’ll look in WAR’s direction.

 

That makes this, right now, a pivotally important time for WAR. Mythic needs to fix the issues that plague the game, improve performance, and make sure they’re ready to accept back players both new and old with content polished to a glare. And that includes PvE, despite the game’s RvR focus. If they don’t deliver, those that come back are liable to write the game off as a lot cause.

 

Even some of the most critical WAR commentators will consent that the game has a lot of potential. When the game was in development, we got hyped for a reason. It wasn’t because of Paul Barnett’s exuberance. It wasn’t because of a few video blogs. It was because the concepts we were hearing evidenced a new direction for MMO gaming. They sung of great, fun, things to come. It’s now up to Mythic to provide an experience worth returning for. They’re on the right track but the next waystation is fast approaching and there’s a lot of coal left to burn.

 

… Okay, maybe Barnett had a weeeeeency bit of influence 😉

Happy Thanksgiving!

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For many of us, today is a day that to reflect on what we’re thankful for in life. Whether or not you celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving I hope we all set aside just a moment to think on this.

We all have things to be thankful for. Friends, family, good fortune, or even the simple fact that we are able to wake to meet each day. We can feel thankful that we are in a position where we can access to the internet, play games, and interact with one another.

In the spirit of today, I’m thankful that I have all of these things and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

Today though, I’ll be spending some time with family and enjoying a nice roast turkey and some pumpkin pie.

Have a great holiday everyone!

Oh, and if you happen to see a turkey on WoW and are a little hungry, give it a nice kick in the rear and see what happens 🙂

First Impressions on the New Vanguard: SoH

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In my last post, I talked about how I was still in between EQ2 and Vanguard for my high fantasy fix. Then, a very helpful commenter (thanks Ardwulf!) pointed out some very salient points that make EQ2 really stand out. I was intrigued. As I sat at the download page though, I realized that I wanted the opportunity to form my own opinion on a game that’s been much maligned since its release. As much as I’m interested in giving EQ2 a whirl, I decided to try Vanguard first to see if all of the criticisms held water. Maybe, I thought, they’ve fixed enough in the time since release to hold up some of their lofty pre-launch goals.

So, I downloaded the client, made my character, and leveled up to 5.

Now, before I continue, I should disclose my current system specs:

2.8Ghz Pentium D (read: one of the first released dual core processors)

3GB DDR2 RAM

200GB HDD

MSI 8600 GT 256MB DDR2 Video Memory

Windows Vista Premium SP1

As you can tell, my system is a bit dated. For your knowledge, I’ve included my FPS in many of the screenshots. I’ll get into how the game performed in a little bit.

Here are my first impressions:

Character Creation:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Vanguard offers you more ways to customize your character from the onset than any other MMO I’ve seen. You’re able to adjust everything from your characters height to the arm to leg ratio. To put this in perspective, you can also choose your body width, cranium size, ear positioning and depth (are you Dumbo or Johnny No-Ears?), lip fullness, cheek height and fullness, arm width, breast size (and yet no one was dancing naked on mailboxes), beginning clothing (or lack thereof), eye size, eye width, skin, hair, and eye color, and hairstyle. And that’s not all!

I must say though, for all of the options you’re provided for proportioning, I wish that there were more hairstyles. There are only four hairstyles to choose for a Thestran human and about as many facial hair variations. Overall though, character creation was incredibly detailed and very impressive.

Classes/Races:

Before I even got to customize my character, I had to choose a starting race and class. Vanguard has no shortage of each. In total, there are 19 races and 15 classes. Believe it or not, based on descriptions, these classes don’t appear too homogenized either! The endgame would be the true test of this, but I was pleasantly surprised to see so much choice right off the bat.

Click to enlarge (sorry, he wouldnt move from inside of me here!)

Click to enlarge (sorry, he wouldn't move from inside of me here!)

The different races have racial bonuses and attributes. Race seems to be an important decision in Vanguard. If you’re going to play a brutal warrior, a class with a strength or damage mitigation bonus may be good for you.

My Necromancer

Ultimately, I settled on a human necromancer. The class just looked cool and, being a pet class, seemed like it would be good for a newbie. The necromancer was fun to play with and had some neat skills right off the bat. Plus, I was able to summon my “abomination” by level four. My Abomination looked kind of like Venom from Spiderman – mean and evil looking. My only criticism with this is that I wasn’t quite sure my pet was doing what it should have been. My pet action bar had a little “+” above the “always assist” setting and yet I always had to tell my pet to attack my current target. Maybe I was doing something wrong but, if so, I wish this could have been a little clearer.

Questing:

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Click to enlarge

Questing is pretty straight forward, at least on the Isle of the Dawn. Kill ten rats, go find this guy, etc. Since I only leveled to 5 though, I don’t feel that I can give an accurate first hand analysis of how quests in the game are.

Some research online indicates that grinding xp may be an issue in the later levels. The implications of this are vague, however, as we must compare the xp to level to the difficult of mobs and their experience reward per kill. Vanguard does feature a rested xp system which may help a bit.

I did like how quests are split up between spheres of play. Which leads us to…

Leveling:

Covered in questing, right? Wrong! Vanguard is unique in that you can level in three different spheres: Adventuring (killing for xp, quests), Diplomacy (a card game, of sorts) and crafting.

Diplomacy:

I haven’t been able to try this yet, but it sounds neat. Effectively, you talk to people throughout the world and engage in a battle of words via a card game mechanic. To my understanding, diplomacy allows you to sway the community and manipulate things to your advantage. Sorry that I don’t have a more on-point analysis for you but I’ll get there in time.

Crafting:

Just as it sounds, you have a level specifically for crafting. Throughout the game, you can get crafting specific quests and “work orders” where you must create certain pieces for NPCs in exchange for a reward. I love craftin

g in other games so this aspect of Vanguard really appeals to me.

Crafting:

By the time I got around to crafting, it was about 2AM so I wasn’t able to play around with it as much as I would have liked. I was able to do the beginning tutorial though.

Crafting in Vanguard is more complex than in most other MMOs. I was an artificer (woodworker), so the first thing I had to do was get specific tools for my profession. It seems that each profession will have several tools you have to use to complete a recipe. My trade had about five, not including additional materials that had to be purchased from an merchant. Thankfully, the five were quest rewards in the tutorial, as well as a toolbelt to save me some inventory space.

When you go to fulfill a recipe, you are presented with a menu featuring several steps that must be done in order and within a certain amount of available action points. Each step can be repeated to achieve a higher quality which results in a better end product both statwise and valuewise. Repeating steps uses additional action points, which is where the strategy of crafting comes into play. Generally, steps will feature a more expensive “quality” technique and a cheaper “quick and easy” technique.

Your ability to craft the item increases with practice and features a grade rating. As you get better, your grade on that item increases.

I liked the system. It seemed like it could be a lot of fun and have some real benefit. It also looks like it could be really engaging, especially since (I hope) you’ll be crafting items of comparable, or better than, what you’ll get through adventuring.

Equipment:

Gear in the game features traditional stats. Con, dex, wisdom, intelligence, and so on are found. Others I’m not so familiar with, like vitality, are also present. Now, by toying around on my character sheet, I was able to see that these attributes were also my base stats. Left and Right arrows would have allowed me to allocate points and decide what I was to emphasize.

While I was happy to see some of the stats from my MUD days in a game again, I was unsure about what they affected. In MUDs, con and int affected hp and mana gains per level. Dexterity affected how much you can hold. In Vanguard, I really have no idea what they do. I’m sure it would be easy enough to find online but I believe that this is something that should be explained in the game.

One neat thing I found was that named mobs tend to drop good named loot. I killed about four named mobs while I played and each one had an item with his name in it. For example, Darok dropped “Darok’s mask of something-or-other”. Every other mob did the same and the stats on the gear were on par with quest rewards. It looks like named mobs will have more value in Vanguard than in many other big titles.

Visuals:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Simply put, the game is a visual masterwork. It is far more realistic than any other game, save LotRO, I’ve played. Due to my PC, I was forced to reduce the graphics quite a bit but they were still quite impressive and afforded playability. I also really liked some of the graphical effects you can enable as well. Tone Mapping was one that especially stood out to me. This option allows the game to render changes in light as the human eye would perceive them. Combined with the bloom effect, it’s totally possible to come out from a dark wood and be momentarily blinded by the light only to see a magnificent vista before you. I could see this lending a lot to the immersion factor of the game.

Client Stability/Performance:

This was a point of high contention in Vanguard’s early life and, in truth, still is today.

Performance:

My machine, far from the best, is able to run the game and get some good visual affects. That being said, I’m forced to reduce the graphics options to “High Performance” which is a step down from the default “balanced” setting. All of the screenshots feature this graphics setting, so you can still see how visually impressive the game is.

On this setting, I was able to average about 20-30 frames a second, which is very playable. With a newer system, I’m sure you could do much better.

Client Stability:

Overall, the game seemed relatively stable. In two hours I received two CTDs but each followed extensive switching between the graphics settings. Apart from that the game ran well and once I quit switching graphics profiles I didn’t crash again.

Population:

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At the hour I was playing, I figured the Isle would be a ghost town but it actually wasn’t. As a matter of fact, there were people pretty much everywhere, which is impressive given the sheer size of it. I have to reflect upon the fact that it was the trial island, however, so it’s more likely that more people would be found there at any time of the day than elsewhere in the world.

Despite this, general chat was extensive and mature. Several veteran players were around to help and answer questions, which is also nice.

Overall, I was quite happy with my first play session. Does Vanguard still have issues? Absolutely. However, it’s no where near as bad as it’s made out to be. At least in the beginning. The game was fun, the quests were good, and it has some novel approaches to leveling and crafting. It also seems that Sony updates the game all the time to continually fix issues that plagued it at launch, as well as bring in new content.

If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to download the trial. It’s worth checking out.

If you do though, don’t plan on playing the day you begin the download unless you have an amazing connection. I’m on broadband and the game took forever. It seemed to go in two big chunks, the first took 6.5 hours and the second took about 11. Don’t let that phase you though. Just start early.

Vanguard, LotRO, EQ2, and WAR

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I like to dabble my feet in many waters. Sometimes, I find myself sitting on a dock, lazily fishing away the day and I think “Hey, I bet there’s some bigger fish in that lake over yonder!” So I get up and go. Usually though, I find that those waters bear half mutated man-fish that, while tasty, don’t sit quite right. And I find myself back where I started until my next bout of “what if” sets in.

I like to think that it’s a natural result of experience. Once you get used to an MMO, I mean really used to it, you start to wonder what else is out there that you may be missing. You get an itch to peep at your neighbors. So, ever so stealthily you sneak into your neighbor’s house and poke around in their drawers.

When I had my first touches of WoW burnout, I scanned the MMO horizon and tried out a few of the bigger fantasy titles that appealed to me. First was LotRO. On a whim, and with a fresh bonus check, I signed up for the lifetime subscription figuring that, hell, a $200 investment will keep me with it until I got that “hook”. Unfortunately, it didn’t do all that much. Before I had really played it, I was already looking at other MMOs. My level 13 loremaster still sits.

Next was Vanguard. Despite all of the criticism it’s received, I really liked it. The graphics were great and the game had a “classic” MMO vibe to it. Traditional stats on gear (dex, wisdom, etc), a “recall” spell instead of a hearthstone, the works. That didn’t least either though. As much as I was intrigued about the game, the prospect of leveling up only to find a dying world population scared me off.

Finally, I downloaded the trial for Everquest 2. That was probably the shortest lived. This took place during the “Play the Fae” campaign, where you could only play as a faerie. Who would have thought that a guy who usually plays evil characters wouldn’t connect with a little purple faerie. Go figure.

So, back to WoW I went until WAR came along and you all know what happened there.

I’m about 10 quests from being able to start Northrend and yet, when I wrote my piece on Darkfall, seeing that world map inspired something in me. I have this yearning to play a game of high fantasy. In truth, I feel the urge to go to Vanguard again and give it another try. Yet, LotRO and EQ2 may be better options for longevity and population.

I’m really stuck in between. I have no plans to drop out of WoW at the moment, so I’ll be playing two games at once. LotRO has the natural advantage here because I’m not stuck with monthly fees. Something about it doesn’t quite click with me, though. It may be because I haven’t played it enough but, either way, I’m not sure. And EQ2, to be honest, I know next to nothing about the game.

Is there PVP? Small group dungeons? Raids? How long do these things take?

Based on my research, I could probably answer those questions. What it really comes down to is how the different titles conceptualize these activities. I’d hate to get into a game only to find myself let down after hours invested.

As of right now, I’m downloading LotRO again but if that doesn’t work I may well be giving you a noob’s report on Vanguard or EQ2.

If you have any suggestions for a side-MMO, feel free to toss them in. I’m always open to new things, especially when my inner fantasy nut is grasping at straws.

So long, Book of Grudges…

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I just wanted to give a proper send off to Arbitrary, Spinks, and Hawley over at Book of Grudges. These three wrote some great content that occupied many hours of my downtime at work. Their posts were insightful, humorous, and always worthwhile.

If you haven’t yet, head over there and give them your best. The WAR blog seen shines a little less without them in it.

So long, Book of Grudges!

I don’t care about being “bad”

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I was reviewing the blog scene recently, as I’ll so often do at work, and came across this post. To sum it up, the author felt moral implications after completing a quest chain. What really stands out to me are the commenters.

Apparently, there’s a lot of torture that goes on in Northrend. And baby stealing. And eyeball eating.

But you know what? I don’t care. None of it bothers me in the least.

And why? Because I’m not torturing people, stealing babies, or eating eyeballs. My views in real life do not apply to minute scripted events or action timers while I’m kneeling by virtual cradles.

Death Knight’s are killing women and children? Suuuuuure, right on. It’s the G-rated version of an R-rated movie and I can live with that.

One commenter on that site asserted that “on some level of consciousness this normalizes and justifies torture”. Really? If you’re using that logic, “on some level” watching the Looney Toons normalizes and justifies dropping an anvil on people’s heads. Watch out, Mom! I have a rocket strapped on my back and I’m not afraid to use it!

People can have whatever opinions they want and freely share them. I enjoyed reading these people’s thoughts but I couldn’t help thinking that some people need lighten up. WoW, WAR, or any other game, should not have anything to do with waterboarding or Guantanamo Bay and I doubt that’s what the developers were going for.

On top of that, I notice that people elaborate a lot on what their characters are actually doing. Let’s not confuse your imagination with what’s actually happening though. Your character is not “scooping babies”. He’s kneeling and you’re watching a loading bar. Your character is not “eating eyeballs” you just got a little buff icon by your minimap. I could see if there was a detailed animation for all of the things people are morally outraged by. If I could see the fear and pain on the torture victim’s face, maybe I’d be bothered too. But I can’t. I see a scripted bit of animation with a little bit of optional backstory to accompany it.

So, no, I don’t care about being the bad guy.

The simple fact is, some people have fun with being evil. If you’re not that person, skip the quest and move on. And if you have to do the quest? Skip the text. Problem solved.

God help some of these people if they happen to read some of WAR’s quest text. They won’t ever play an MMO again.

Update: After reading a little further, this comment really epitomizes the difference between how some people see gaming and how I see it.

“I had to stop killing the Arctic Grizzly Bear and her cub. Couldn’t decide which was worse: killing the mother first so the baby saw her die, or killing the cub first so the mother saw her die.”

I guess I just can’t bring myself to that level of immersion, or identification, with the my character and the game as a whole. Maybe I’m missing out because I bet you this person feels a lot more “in the game” than I do sometimes. I feel immersion sure but everytime I see these kinds of comments, I can’t help but think “jeez”. Nothing against those people. I just don’t feel it myself.

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