The Pieces Fit!

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Today, we found out exactly what our Valentines were hinting at! It looks like we have the Orc Choppa and Dwarf Slayer classes coming our way. On top of that, we have two live events and a new Darkness Falls-esque dungeon to look forward to. I can’t wait to check all of this out. I’ll be waiting until the classes are available to play before I dive in (mainly due to RL butting in… damn college, taking my time),  but I’m already excited.

I was trying to hedge my anticipation but after today’s announcement, I’m officially antsy.

Sorry Darkfall, I only allow myself one monthly subscription. This news officially reserves a warm and comfy bench spot for you. Don’t worry though, I can be easily bribed away from my rule. At least for a while.

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Of Instances and the Heart of the Genre

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I’ve recently gotten back into Vanguard again, an event ushered in with the installation of a few much needed computer upgrades. In my search for metagaming material, I’ve stumbled across various pages on the dungeons of VG and there are lots.

I love to instance. Well, let me rephrase that, I love to dungeon crawl. In WoW, I’m always using the Looking for Group tool or keeping an active eye on the chat channels for a group looking for someone to fill a DPS slot. The same behavior applied to WAR. If I was online, I was looking for an instance run or PQ group. And if I leveled a character high enough in LotRO, I’m sure it’d be the same.

But it’s not the amount of dungeons Vanguard has that I find interesting, it’s that most of them are totally open. And not just that, some of the early dungeons can be completely soloed.

Talk about something you don’t see very often. Generally, I think that instanced dungeons is probably the better way to go for AAA MMOs. There’s less kill stealing, griefing, and personally, it tends to boost my FPS fairly substantially. In today’s gaming world, instancing solves issues created by players who don’t work well with others. Open dungeons definitely feel more immersive, though. That castle you’re raiding is actually part of the world and not a mini-game within a wider universe. Keeping dungeons “in-game” so to speak means that the world is now layered and not simply “what you see is what you get”. Maybe you can enter that cave and find a sprawling underground citadel. Or maybe beneath the ocean is a city of ice serpents.

In my mind, the main draw of MMOs is that they provide a virtual world to adventure it. The key idea there is adventure. Flat worlds, totally charted worlds, or instance segmented worlds tend to lack the unknown that makes exploring an exciting past time. In the age of the internet, to expect a game to be unknown isn’t realistic, so games must compensate for that in other ways. Regardless, an MMO that lacks the essence of a world also lacks a big part what makes the genre appealing to many, if not most, fans.

The tagline of Vanguard sums up this concept nicely, “The Only Limits Are Your Own”. Freedom. Choice. Adventure on your own terms. I know that it may seem like I’m promoting Vanguard at the moment but I’m not. That tagline is so representative of the heart of MMOs, that I wish it’s essence could be something that all MMOs subscribe to. I’ll play a Sorcerer not to deal the most DPS but because the class can do the fantastic. The same could be said for any class; you can’t experience that type of adventure in the real world, so we turn to MMOs for the opportunity to step outside of ourselves and, with the aid of imagination, feel like you’re a part of a whole different place. A place that is whole heartedly at your fingertips.

This article started about dungeons because of the amount that they can lend, through teamwork, challenge, excitement, and reward; and that they can make the world more than what it may at first seem. WAR’s PQ system is perhaps the first of several revolutionary steps towards world immersion. They bring the best parts of dungeons into the open world, breathing life into it. It brings players together and, instead of encouraging griefing, encourages team work. They provide you with a means to make an impact on the world, even if temporary. And, speaking for myself, I find some of them just plain epic. Monsters ripping trees from the ground before looming over you? Yes please.

The heart of the genre began its lifebeat in the MUD world and then exploded in a Big Bang with Everquest. Since then, pieces of it have spread from universe to universe, each without all of its missing pieces. One day, a game will come out that pulls all of those pieces together and presents it in a new… revolutionary… Evercrack.  😉

Until then, we recognize the grandeur of each game’s particular approach on the bigger gaming picture. WoW’s epic dungeons and wonderful PvE, WAR’s PQ system and RvR, LotRO’s epic questlines, and Vanguard’s massive world and open dungeons. Every MMO can have something good pulled out of it that future games can learn from. Some day, a new gorilla will come home to roost.

I Received My Valentine From Mythic Today…

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So, imagine my surprise when I get home from a long day of student teaching to find a blood splattered envelope. I can only imagine my fiance’s surprise and, probably (hopefully?), deep concern.  Did Raegn get in with those card sharks again? Quizzically, she never called to tell me of the mysterious arrival.

I was a little thrown at first. There was no “sender” information on the front of the envelope but an EA Mythic stamp on the back made it all clear. Eagerly, I opened it up to find the following (click for the full size):

And here’s the bloodied envelope:

The text on the card reads:

Roses are Red

Khaine gives me power,

I’ll hunt you down,

In the Twisting

Tower…

Very cryptic, very WAR, and very cool; but, there’s more. I didn’t know what to make of the coding on the back of the card at first. Student teaching has taken so much time, I didn’t realize these cards were being sent out until just tonight. The back of the card reads 10/13  and the letter “E”. Don’t let the look of the letter fool you. At first, I thought it was an “L” but if you check out the from of the envelope, the “E” in my name is identical.

So far, we have the following letters: T, I, N, V, R, and E. The wording also seems to hint towards a Dark Elf event. Rainbow MMO’s card is more direct and tells us to be in RvR in the second week of February. So, if we take that with the “hunt you down, In the Twisting Tower” where does that bring us?

At my count, this makes two big (and hellaciously provocative) things coming our way soon. Or, perhaps we should look into that a bit too. The Greenskin’s “Predator” tip (largely assumed to be a hint towards the Choppa class) says that there’s “More to Come 1-29-09”. So, two separate dates have been thrown out. Thoughts?

These little hints really exemplify what an outstanding company Mythic is. I can say that it really enthuses me about the game and its future in their hands. This type of community is really unprecendeted in the MMO world and, if I can speak frankly, is wickedly sweet. Oh yeah, I went to high school and back in three little words.

Way to go, Mythic. If every development and community team could be as involved as yours, the gaming world would be a better place.

Wicked.

Sweet.

Update: More clues have come forth! We currently have: TNITNLVERA. Tome of Knowledge has the same letter as I do, but we’re leaning different ways on what letter it actually is (poll to be posted soon). Wizard’s and Wenches have some great ideas on what the message may be. Check it out!

So Your Spouse Hates Video Games – Part 1: Dropping Your Threat

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If you live with your significant other, you’ve probably experienced the disturbing phenomena known as “Spouse Aggro”. This behavior is usually typified by exasperated comments, sideways glances, or the ever popular guilt trip (“You’re always on the computer…”) however, it has been known to escalate to yells or even physical violence.

Fear not, you’re not alone! Across the country, nay, across the world men and women are forcing their way through spouse aggro into the lairs of evil dragons and forelorn wizards. You can do the same.

Want to get your Waaagh on? Want to strut through Stormwind? Then read on!

Step 1. Diagnose the Problem:

Let’s face it, gaming is a prejudiced hobby. If you’re spending your time playing a video game, you’re #2 on the threat meter and approaching the number #1 slot fast. The first thing you need to do is figure out what her problem is. Why doesn’t she like gaming? Is it a blanket prejudice? Bad gaming experience? Misinformation? Or, are you just playing too much? Listen to what she says and then use that to level your avoidance.

Take her words and learn from them. Educate her if need be. Remember, success if based around a level head. It’s a situation that requires more DoTs – but you must also know when to stop the DoTs. Under no circumstance do you blow your cooldowns. I repeat, do not use burst damage. If this is your first encounter, use it to build your strategy. You two can come to a reasonable conclusion but don’t expect epic loot your first run through.

Scenario: But Raegn, she says I play too much and I know I don’t. A few hours a night isn’t a lot to ask!

Answer: Actually, it is. To the non-MMOer, three hours a night makes you as hardcore and negligent as they come. If your spouse is throwing this at you, the first thing you need to do is evaluate your priorities. If you know she’s blowing things out of proportion and her needs are being met otherwise, then figure out a schedule that works. Play more when she’s not home or is, you know, unconscious. You’re an MMO player. Sacrificing sleep is in your nature. Think of it as stealth. If you can’t, however, set a time to get off the computer. Reach a consensus.

Step 2. Educate Don’t Berate

To the non-gamer, MMOs tend to look pretty darn stupid. I mean, seriously, what are we doing killing boars all the time? And why is some kobold more important than spending free time with her? Just let her know that you happen to find boars exceptionally tasty and elven women very attractive.

Now, if she’s a common spouse, now’s the time for a threat dump. First, tell her you were kidding. Your sense of humor should be able to help her see that there’s something more to gaming than that. Or maybe, if she’s a rare elite, you should just avoid joking all together. Explain to her, in non-fantasy-gamer terms, what you like about the game. Focus on the social aspects, so she realizes there’s lots of other people you’re interacting with. Downplay the spell-casting and up-play the aspects of the game that she could relate to – or that she could see you relating to in a real life way, for example, engaging storylines. Don’t explain the stories, if you can help it. Glass Eyes is a debuff that negates your previous 10 attacks. The aim here is to appeal to her sense of reason and humanize the enemy without exposing it.

Scenario: I tried to tell her but she just thinks it’s pointless! Guh, she just doesn’t get it!

Answer: Well, what’s the point of any video game? Fun, enjoyment, relaxation. Explain to her what the game does for you. You’re at home, so you obviously want to be near her, so you’re trying to get what you do from your hobby while being close to her. The truth, that sweet frosted Cinnabon of relationships, will set you free.

Step 3. Join Forces

We all know that two healers are better than one, so come together with your partner and get those HPs back. This can happen in two ways, first get her to try the game out as a means of spending time with you and doing something together. If you’re lucky, she’ll bite and run away with the proverbial worm. You can be a Tauren and Gnome in love, spreading steak and rainbows to the kiddies.

Failing that, join her in her disdain for the game. If you’re invested enough in the game to want to play it despite aggro, you’re probably invested enough to recognize its negatives and other silly aspects. Use this to your advantage. Sometimes an unconventional strategy is the one that leads to the purplest of epics. If she thinks you’re only playing for “something to do” or until something better comes along (a little less demanding on your time, perhaps?), the crystal face of “video game addiction” will start to crack for her. And let’s be honest, if something as much fun as your current game came along, and actually took less time, most of us would be down for it. I’m still waiting on that game myself.

Scenario: Raegn, you doorknob! I tried to get her to play and she got offended! Now what do I do?!?

Answer: You have a few options. You can apologize. Or, you can turn it around. You were just trying to spend time with her, after all. We’ll get to guilt tripping in the next article in this series though, so stay tuned. For now, placate the dragon. Be nice and she may come to see your true intention.

And that’s it for this installment of “So Your Spouse Hates Video Games”. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself better equipped to manage that aggro and maybe even get a boost to some of your stats. Until next time, equip your sword and board, build up your resists, and get ready for that incoming tank and spank.

[I understand some of the video game prejudice but certainly not all of it. I’ve been lucky enough to not get a ton of aggro from my fiancé because of my casual playstyle. I’ve been there in the past though, as many of us have, so keep your priorities in order and have fun in whatever world you choose to spend your time in.]

Darkfall’s Better Chance – Killed by Gear?

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I have to say, I find it somewhat interesting that so many people are coming out in support of Darkfall all the sudden. I mean, that’s good for them and all, and certainly good for the game, but it makes apparent the changing nature of people’s interests. When Darkfall released it’s gameplay video touting “actual gameplay footage” so many criticisms poured over the web, it was hard to find anything positive to be said about it. It’s a demonstration of how the pack mentality pervades when market conditions are flush.

Still, the lack of true competition places Darkfall in the position of “next best thing”. It’s no secret the its target audience is narrowly scoped but as people scour the market and find it as the only MMO pending for release, it’s sure to garner more players than it could have otherwise hoped for. Now, new player rush doesn’t really mean anything. Look at Age of Conan. Darkfall is in a position where they’d better deliver or they’re almost doomed to failure. When it comes to the degree of “hardcore” Darkfall wins. That, in and of itself, will guarantee that a lot of the initial “release players” will be gone before the dust settles. The lack of PvE dungeons will ensure it.

Yet, I believe the many will remain. The promise of the game lies not with its hardcore pvp so much as its player driven nature. It brings to the table more sandbox content that we’ve ever seen in an MMO and that’s to its credit. It also brings back a lot of the classic elements of the MMORPG genre, such as alignments and your actions having meaning in the world. The PvP is the frosting on the cake.

One of the more dynamic elements of the game is the lack of levels. Now there’s something you don’t see any other big titles going for. On one hand, I think it’s awesome. This new approach, should it succeed or fail, will influence the decisions of other developers for years to come. And yes, I know other MMOs have tried it. But none on the level of this game. On the other hand, however, it concerns me.

If there are no levels, then character advancement must be skill driven. Or, to put it more like I imagine it, driven by skills. Does this mean that quests will reward skill points instead of xp or will we be looking at a massive grind? Long grinds are another characteristic of former MMOs but one that I hope is minimized from those levels.

And what of gear? Stats? If there are no levels, then stat advancement is based either on questing, skill advancement, or gear. It may even be a mix of all three. The lack of level based advancement will almost assuredly place an increased emphasis on gear though. Based on this, as well as the full-loot PvP structure, Darkfall strikes me as a gear game like we’ve never seen before. Thankfully, it should be easy enough for players to kill each other that there will be a nice turnaround on equipment. Still, gear dependency is a wolf vs. sheep game concerns me.

I just hope we have the ability to free auction people’s gear without having to use the auction house. Salt in the wound and all.

Paul Barnett Interviewed for the Age of Blogging

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As a special mid-month treat for you all, we in the blog-scene were able to line up an interview with Mythic’s creative director Paul Barnett. If you’ve followed the game for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a lot from him as he’s become one of, if not the, most recognizable face for Warhammer Online. And guess what, Paul wants you to blog!

The folks at Mythic have been involved in the community more than any other major label game company we’ve seen in some time. Due to time constraints we had to conduct this interview via email. Let’s see what Paul has to say…

Raegn: Does the Warhammer team read anything from the WAR blog scene? If so, is it possible to name who (individuals or departments) and if they have any favorites.

Paul: We have a six-page long list of WAR-blogs that we keep an eye on regularly. Obviously, the Community Team monitors these things more closely than anyone else, but we all have favorites that we tend to check out at least a couple times a week. As for listing them, that would be a little unfair as the reasons that one might be read more often than another are usually somewhat arbitrary and are rarely an indication that the quality of other sites is lacking. I will say that we tend to read sites that are dedicated to WAR far more often than more general sites and, obviously, sites that update regularly get the most attention.

Personally, I like sites that don’t try to ignore the other WAR blogs and instead make an effort to capture the overall moods and attitudes of the fans from all over. Try to capture the “zeitgeist”, as it were, and don’t worry too much about constantly focusing on personal opinion and “exclusive” rants.

Raegn: What role does Mythic see blogs playing in the world of the gamer and the larger gaming industry? What value do you feel they have?

Paul: Primarily, they act as a means of condensing information and ideas from a VAST array of sources and present them much more concisely and conveniently. In addition, they act as an important advocacy mechanism for the players. While we try to maintain a good relationship with our fans, both in terms of praise and in terms of criticism and concerns, it’s always important for there to be neutral third parties that can help to make sure we’re doing our jobs properly. They champion the hobby, act as a sort of soul.

Raegn: Do you feel that blogs play a more important role in information flow without official forums and will their role/import change should official forums ever come to be?

Paul: Again, for us, the blogs are more about telling US what the fans think than they are about telling the fans what WE think. From that standpoint, I think the two are largely autonomous.

Raegn: What can an aspiring blogger do to get their blog noticed by Mythic?

Paul: Write regularly about things that matter to the community. Have a pro-active voice and aim for ways to make a contribution rather than ways to throw stones. Become a resource for us to use and rely upon. Be critical AND constructive. Most importantly, be about WAR. I won’t read a blog that requires me to wade through ten posts about games I’ve never heard of in order to read something about WAR. If I want general gaming news and blogs, I already have a full list that I consult. Don’t assume that if I post a reply its not me!

Raegn: How does Mythic envision the Warhammer community growing over the next year and what of interest have you seen arise from the community so far?

Paul: Hopefully, the community will continue to expand and new, interesting voices will appear. Diversity of opinion is important.

Raegn: As creative director, what type of community content is most important to you?

Paul: To be honest, I like to hear considerate presentations of what people LIKE in the game. I realize that people are far less likely to enjoy something and then blog about it than they are to find a problem and decide to voice an opinion, but it’s just as important for us to know what we’re doing RIGHT as it is for us to know what needs fixing.

Raegn: Related to that, do you have any favorite blogs and why?

Paul: As I mentioned about, we all like different blogs for different reasons. It would be unfair to offer a partial list that would necessarily exclude a lot of great sites.

Raegn: What’s the most important community outlet that Mythic looks at when considering changes to the game?

Paul: To be honest, all of them are vital. We use different sources of feedback for all sorts of things. I do read the greenskin a lot though and yours J

Raegn: Unrelated to blogging, can you tell us something about Mythic’s development process we haven’t heard about before?

Paul: We don’t use the scrumm system. We have design training workshops and we have taken down some of our posters to replace them with new ones. The price of pop (or sodas to you yanks) hasn’t changed since we launched DAoC.

Raegn: Can you give us any new clues as to exciting things players can look forward to in WAR’s future?

Paul: Yes. But then evil marketing try to kill me.

Thanks Paul! I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and, on behalf of the larger WAR community, I’d like to thank you for all of your time and effort interacting with us, informing us, and encouraging us. Keep up the great work!

Mythic’s Mysterious Mailing

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Hm, so it seems Mythic has taken advertising to a new realm. Keen, from Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog, recently received a package at his home directly from the company. What should be inside other than some red hair dye and an electric trimmer! Well, that and a mysterious card indicating a January 29th announcement. We can all surmise that this is a hint at the probable Slayer class, that is, unless they’re trying to tell Keen that he needs a new doo.

You see, this is the reason I love Mythic. Not only is it a totally “outside the box” form of viral advertising, it’s also ground floor with the community. I wouldn’t expect this kind of thing from any other company. Bravo Mythic, you continue to impress me with your involvement in the community.

So,  are we looking at the Slayer class? I sure hope so. Gotrek and Felix would be honored, I’m sure.

It might even be enough to convince me to reroll. Again. 😀

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