Sunday, July 24, 2016

Clean Up in Aisle Four

After several years, I've finally pushed past the last Kerrals Jarvis quest in the Agent's storyline on Hutta and begun my last unfinished class story in earnest.

Even after creating another new Agent and reaching that same moral roadblock, I finally decided to bite the bullet and finish that quest. Still, that wasn't an easy thing to do.

(Spoilers after the break for the SWTOR storylines.....)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Have a Nice Trip

I spent most of the past week visiting different colleges and universities with the Redbeard clan, and while that also meant not a whole lot of gaming, I also got a lot of exercise walking around several campuses.

Sort of.

You see, I'd busted my foot back in early June the day of a college visit to Bowling Green State University. I was walking across our hotel's open area, where their attempt to invoke the images of New Orleans' French Quarter included masks such as these:

The photo doesn't do it justice.
The thing is close to 2 meters tall.
As I was staring at these masks that my wife compared to American Horror Story's Freak Show, I tripped over my feet and I felt intense pain in the heel of my foot. To my later regret, I convinced myself that I'd be fine and went on the visit anyway, which included a 90 minute walking tour of the campus.

I discovered just how much of a mistake that was when we left for home after the visit and stopped for lunch along the way. I simply could not put any weight on my foot without pain shooting through my heel.

After a week, I decided to visit the doctor's office since the pain wasn't going away much at all in spite of rest, ice, and elevation. The doctor took an x-ray and discovered that my foot was not in fact broken, but merely sprained. More rest and ice was the prescription.

Fast forward to a month and a half later, I can walk fairly well, but the foot is around 85-90%.

But it still isn't fun walking around college campuses, particularly those with lots of hills.

***

Anyway, after one of the campus tours we stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Latin restaurant. We placed our order, and while we were waiting, I noticed a couple of construction workers eating nearby. Normally, that's not a surprise, but what attracted my eye was the "Blizzard" logo on the back of one of the workers' shirt.

Sure enough, when he went to get a drink, he had a giant Horde symbol on the front.

"For the Horde," I whispered. And smiled.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Anyone for a friendly game of pick-up?

MMO players tend to be a bit of an odd breed.

No, I don't mean in the "u suck noob!" manner, and not in the "obsess over a game" manner either.

But in how a significant portion of the player base is constantly looking at new, unreleased material and that this is considered completely normal.

Imagine about 10-20% of the people who saw The Force Awakens got to see it about 2 months beforehand, multiple times, and a) got to provide detailed write-ups of the entire plot and the fights before the movie was even released, and b) used the viewings to organize friends into the optimal movie watching strategy for the Midnight showing. And consider that the really hardcore viewers were in a race to see who could finish watching the movie first, and you've got a bit of what it's like operating with the PTR servers for an MMO.

It may sound silly when converting the MMO concept of a PTR server into other forms of entertainment, but to a decent sized portion of the player base a PTR server is absolutely vital to playing an MMO. Working out boss strategies, figuring out optimal pathways to world firsts, exploring every corner of a new expac (major or minor) and writing up a world guide, and figuring out what the newest "hot" PvP class will be are all integral to the MMO experience.

For MMO developers, the PTR provides free player feedback and bug reports, so it is a win-win for them as they can tweak the patches prior to formal release. As an IT person myself, I completely get that; it's the equivalent of a QA server where people can kick the tires prior to a formal release to Production. And I like that, as it means that I have a better chance at a bug-free release.

But this also highlights what MMOs are to a certain amount of the player base: an exercise in (group) mechanics and achievements, where the theme is secondary (or tertiary, if you count the toon sex appeal on some games*).

***

I'm guilty as the next person for trying to do things such as figuring out a rotation or going to Elitist Jerks and try to min/max my toons' gear, but I have to wonder whether the MMO community has lost something over the years.

Go ahead and Google "legion is coming are you ready", and scan the results. I see forum and blog and YouTube posts from as far back as August and September 2015 on how to maximize your output and prep your stable of toons to be ready for when Legion drops. Remember, these are posts from almost a year ago about what, mechanically speaking, you need to do to prepare yourself for the new WoW expac that hasn't dropped yet.

To me, as a long time boardgame player, these articles remind me of discussions surrounding the hard core Eurogames, such as Puerto Rico or Tigris and Euphrates. If you hang around BoardGameGeek enough, you'll find that there's an "optimal" strategy for Puerto Rico, and if you play with some of the hard core, you'll be berated if you deviate from that strategy; yes, the exact same "L2P NOOB!!!" behavior exists in the board game community. And, like the MMOs, the theme is less important than the mechanics and the team requirements to win the game (or finish the raid). Eurogames in particular were infamous for a tacked-on theme hiding behind an optimization game, and if you were out shopping for boardgames it made a lot of sense to read the entire description on the back very carefully so you'd know whether the game is the sort that you'd be interested in or not. What might be a game that sounds like wheeling and dealing in Istanbul's grand bazaar is really an economic simulation that requires you to figure out how many wheelbarrows you need to transport goods to market to exchange for rubies. The theme itself is secondary to the mechanics behind the theme.

Comparing a Eurogame to an MMO isn't really fair, since MMOs are much bigger than any Euro, and because they are bigger, they can appeal to far more than simply the min-maxers and the others. But at the same time, those subgroups do take up a lot of the oxygen in the room.

***

I used to gripe at Blizzard for shoving a lot of plot and background development off screen and into their books. "The game is right there," I'd say, "why not incorporate all of this into the game instead?"

My belief was that Blizz had decided that it was cheaper to pay an author to write a tie-in novel rather than develop the story in WoW itself, and I'm sure that's still part of the equation. But what if Blizzard did this because it wanted to get some of the story out of the game? Maybe Blizzard recognized that enough players weren't interested in the story, so to preserve the story as much as possible yet still accommodate those players that weren't interested, they decided to push the story into novels. The critical path storyline is still present in the game, but all of the background material that a decent portion of the player base wouldn't be interested in was moved offline, as it were.

If this is the case, then Blizz is performing one more balancing act that I'd not have considered beyond the traditional PvE vs. PvP and the class balancing ones: how much story to incorporate in game and how much reveal before release.

***

I've picked on WoW a bit in this meandering post because Legion is due out soon, but this argument that MMO players are focusing so much on mechanics --to the extent that they spend time in playing the game in PTR to be ready for when the game is actually released-- could be applied to just about any other MMO out there.*** It just seems somewhat unreal when you think about it, that a player willingly sacrifices their sense of wonder at seeing something new just so that they've got their practice in when the big day comes.

In that respect, maybe MMOs are a bit like sports after all. There are those who play for purely social reasons, and those who make a commitment to dedication to work hard and do well. And then there are the pros (and the wannabee pros) who practice so that nothing is ever left to chance.

As for me, I realize that I'm never going to be hardcore, and I know that my physical skills aren't as good as they were even 5-6 years ago, so I'm not worried about being the best I can be. Competence is enough. And I know enough now to realize that while I've got elements of a completionist and a perfectionist in me, it's about the journey rather than the destination.

That's not going to keep me from griping at rules changes, and nothing screams "stay off my lawn!" more than grousing about how things were back in the day.





*gamebynight.com pretty much covered my opinion of TERA, particularly Item #4.

**I'm sure Blizz could generate statistics based on how quickly players click through quest text.

***Or MOBA.


EtA: Corrected a grammatical issue. Or two.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Whatever you do, DON'T piss off a Sith

In honor of the Dark vs. Light event going on in SWTOR, I thought I'd post a link to a Taylor Davis video.

If you may recall, Taylor is the violinist who has been making videos of her arrangements of music from all corners of geekdom. People who have read PC before may recall my post referencing her rendition of Theme for Rohan by Chance Thomas for the LOTRO expansion Riders of Rohan. Well, she's outdone herself in this video, uploaded just prior to the release of The Force Awakens last December.



And yes, that's her as both Jedi and Sith.

I could have done without the synthesized backing music, but that's because I hear that and get flashbacks to the Star Wars Theme by MECO.

For the curious, here's the YouTube video of the behind the scenes making of her Star Wars Medley:


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

1200 down, only 1200 to go

It's kind of ironic to me that a game that has so many expansions --LOTRO-- has slowed to a grindy crawl for me.

I've finished Shadows of Angmar, and I've got the epic questline for the Mines of Moria, but I don't have the expansion purchased. And, I'm determined to handle this with Turbine Points, which means I have to grind deeds.

Lots and lots of deeds.

as the title of this post makes plain, I've got a loooong way to go before I can purchase the expac. And even then, I'll likely need to wait for a sale in the LOTRO Store for me to actually get enough Turbine Points to buy the thing.

Will it be worth it?

Everything I've read online has said that the Mines of Moria is fantastic, but that only goes so far with motivation when you're killing another 100 orcs.*

***

With LOTRO becoming a slog, I've returned to SWTOR for the time being.

In an amusing bit of topsy-turvy, just as I got heavily invested in the Shadows of Angmar ending, the mini-Reds went back to SWTOR and started playing that heavily.

Having created somewhere along the lines of about 16 toons across several servers, I know the SWTOR zones fairly well by now, and so I was amused by hearing them talk during lunch about what they're doing with the characters they've created. And the comparisons between World Chat on LOTRO and Zone Chat on SWTOR.

From my perspective, World Chat on LOTRO has declined a bit of late, with a few people on Gladden spamming WC with stuff for sale (at a grossly excessive price) and people following along behind them telling them to move it to Trade Chat. And then there's the Trump fans --and those who think Trump isn't going far enough-- and let's just say that I've not been enjoying LOTRO's World Chat much lately.

However, SWTOR's Zone Chats aren't exactly better, either. And to be honest, I'd really really hate to see what Trade Chat on WoW is like right now.

Seems that the coarsening of public debate has hit the MMO genre in a huge way this Summer. Not that things were great before this Summer, but I feel there has been a distinct drop-off in quality and behavior since both the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Brexit referendum kicked into high gear.

And if it's bad in MMO space, I hate to think of what it's like in Xbox Live, Playstation Plus, or in chat for MOBAs right now.

***

At times like this, I wouldn't blame people one bit for turning off World/Zone/Trade Chat and focusing almost completely on Guild Chat.

If you're surrounded by a bubble of friends, it can make all the difference between enjoying yourself and throwing your hands up in disgust. Sure, it's a bit of an echo chamber, but there are times when you want to seal yourself off from the rest of the nuthouse and just enjoy yourself.

Me, I go take a walk for some peace and quiet.**

Or maybe I should just go kill another 100 orcs or so.





*Per region. Or whatever the numbers are, but they're pretty high.

**Well, kind of. I busted my foot pretty badly a few weeks ago, and I proceeded to hobble along on a walking tour of a university an hour later. (Which was a big mistake.) The docs confirmed the foot isn't broken, but I was limping around in a boot for a few weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

As Memes Go.....

I'm not exactly a great fan of memes.

The ones you find floating around Facebook and other social media outlets often tend to reduce a complex topic down to a few partially correct zingers. Or they misassign quotes* while passing them off as correct.

That said, there is a place for memes of the sort that are making the blogging rounds again, such as the Creative Blogger Award. They provide a means of peeling back the facade and revealing a bit about the blogger behind the site without forcing the blogger to shout "Look at MEEEEE!" any more than they have to.**

Before you smirk and say "what are blogs for, anyway, if not for expressing your narcissism?", consider that most of the bloggers I know aren't the classic extrovert personalities. They do all love something, whether it is gaming, writing, or something else, and they use blogging to share their love with the world in a (relatively) passive way.

Pewdiepie, we're not.

As much as I groaned about it when I received the Creative Blogger Award nomination from Ravanel Griffon of Ravalation last week, I didn't mind quite as much as I let on. It's not a series of Truth or Dare questions, or even Twenty Questions, but rather 5 facts about yourself.

That, I can do.

***

In no particular order, here are five facts about me that I'm pretty sure nobody in the blogosphere knows:

  • I once had a letter to Radio Austria International read on the air.

    I believe I may have mentioned once or twice that I do listen to shortwave radio, but my habits today aren't what they were back in the 90's and the 00's. Before the Web, I would get my international news from shortwave heavyweights such as the BBC World Service, Radio Deutche Welle, and Radio Nederland. Among the smaller players that beamed to North America, such as Radio Japan or Swiss Radio International, was Radio Austria International (or Radio Österreich International, ORF for short). Due to my work schedule, ORF's English Service was often the last program I'd listen to before bedtime, and they managed to pack in the news from Vienna as well as the program Report from Austria. One day, after listening to the news, I decided to send ORF a reception report as well as a comment on a story in the news --something I rarely did-- and a few weeks later I received a letter saying my letter was going to be read on the air. Sure enough, at the date specified, my letter was read on the air with a short comment from the presenter.

  • The letter suffered from water damage dating from
    the move into our current house, but here it is after some cleaning up.


    Sadly, Radio Austria International is now defunct, a victim of budget cuts and the changing methods of broadcasting news for nations worldwide.


  • I once had to type three lab reports in one night.

    This might not sound so bad until you realize that each lab report was 20 - 30 pages long. And that the only reason why I did it was because my save disk became corrupted, ruining my copies of my reports.

    I'm dating myself here, but I'd been using old word processor program WordStar to work on my lab reports, and saving the data on 5.25" floppy disks. (Kids, if don't know what 5.25" floppy disks are, Google it.) Anyway, I was working on cleaning up the reports before a presentation at my lab final exam when I tried saving, and I heard the familiar ka-chung of the floppy drive's gears screwing up. Sure enough, my data was corrupted.

    In a panic, I realized I had about seven hours to rewrite about 80 or so pages to turn in for a grade.

    To make a long story short, with a lot of effort, a lot of tea, and a lot of semi-insane muttering to myself, I finished the reports in time. And I even survived the presentation during the final, which I believe was due to my being so tired I really didn't care how I sounded, so I wasn't scared at all.
  • I am scared to death of needles.

    This isn't that much of a surprise, I suppose, since a lot of people don't like shots, but my personal reason why I could never do heroin centers around two specific incidents.

    The first one was a shot I received when I was 13 and I'd broken my collarbone at school. The needle that the doctor used to give me a shot of morphine prior to setting the bone was so large --about 0.25" diameter-- that I could see the hole at the end of the needle clearly. That terrified me, but because I was in such pain and was shoved down onto the table, I couldn't move as the glorified Morgul blade slowly moved in and punctured my shoulder.
    I feel for you, Frodo.
    From lotro.wikia.com.

    The second incident happened when I was much older, and as part of a life insurance application a nurse was dispatched to my house to draw a blood sample. The process was supposed to be simple: draw some blood from a vein in my right arm. While the nurse prepped my arm, I looked away, gritted my teeth and waited for the needle. I felt the needle prick, and then a whole lot of extra, well, movement in my arm. "Does that hurt?" the nurse asked. I glanced over and saw her wiggling the needle in a wide arc while it was still puncturing my arm.

    "Uh....." I began, my brain not really registering what I was seeing.

    "Ah, dammit, I went right through your vein. I'm going to have to use the other arm." She yanked the needle out, put it away, and grabbed a new needle and my left arm.

    After she was finished, my wife said something to the effect of "If you weren't scared of needles before, you definitely are now!"

    Gee, thanks.


  • I once owned a car that had a hole in the floor.

    Seriously.

    The car was a 70s era Plymouth that had more rust on the body than actual metal, and one day I realized the the place where I'd been putting my left foot while driving felt, well, breezy. I checked out the place after I parked, and sure enough there was a heel-sized hole in the floor, with rust flakes all around. All that kept my foot from plunging through the floor and striking the pavement was the carpeting.

    And for the record, I just kind of kept driving the car, but just made sure that I put my left foot someplace else.
  • When I was a teen, my D&D collection was thrown out to save me from the fires of Hell.

    Yes, I'm a refugee of the Satanic Panic that gripped the U.S. back in the 80s. In those days, many parents blamed societal ills affecting their kids on heavy metal music and D&D. This belief was whipped up by the story of James Dallas Egbert III, who allegedly vanished into the steam tunnels underneath Michigan State University in 1979. The reality is more than a bit mundane, but the ordeal and others such as Patty Pulliam's Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons organization pushed D&D into that "SATAN IS COMING FOR YOUR KIDS!!!" mini-hysteria that gripped a lot of parents of that era.

    My parents were no exception.

    I trace my own problems with it to the time my family visited some in-laws of my aunts, who happened to be very much in the Pat Robertson fan club.*** Robertson was one of many televangelists who rode the Satanic Panic bandwagon, constantly warning about Satan's minions trying to get their claws on the American youth.

    While I was at the in-laws place, my brother and I were both separately brought before what I'd call a tribunal of my mom, the in-laws, and my aunt. And we were grilled over D&D for about 5 minutes. I don't recall anything particularly strange about it, but that afternoon it was declared in a family meeting that D&D was now forbidden as tools of the Devil, and the stuff was all collected and thrown out.

    Yes, this was from an actual Jack Chick comic called Dark
    Dungeons. And this was one of the milder forms of anti-D&D propaganda.
    From Geek and Sundry's How D&D Writers Fought the Satanic Panic of the 1980s

    No protests could sway them. Not even the obvious parallels with role playing games and acting helped, because my parents believed**** that acting, playing a role, is fine, but role playing is something else.

    Perhaps more than anything else, those years in the wilderness as far as RPGs are concerned shaped my viewpoint on what RPGs are and how they are played, as well as my views on how religion and power can be misused when people are afraid of something new.

    I had to wait until later --college-- before I really was able to embrace RPGs once more, and I've never looked back.

At this point, I'm supposed to nominate people for this award, but no fear to my reading list, I don't intend to do so. Many of them were nominated already, so there's no reason to re-nominate them. And besides, all good memes have to come to an end anyway.





*Or worse, simply make them up. John Oliver had a great piece on this.

**Admittedly, a running blog is one of the worst things for someone who is a) shy, b) an introvert or c) both to work on.

***If you don't know who Pat Robertson is, count yourself lucky. He's a televangelist who loves to appear during disasters --natural or man-made-- and claim that it is God's wrath that brought about the tragedy. If you Google "Pat Robertson nutty statements" you'll get an idea of what I mean.

****And they still believe it. They also think Harry Potter and the Rick Riordan books lure kids into Satanism, and I've chosen to ignore their disapproval when they see my kids reading Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. The irony is that my parents were the ones who got me into SF&F in the first place with television shows such as Lost in Space and Star Trek, and books such as Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara.


EtA: Added a few links that I'd missed.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ancient History Unearthed

For the past month, I've noticed something odd about page views here to PC: there's a lot of page views for really old posts.

The first time it started up, I figured that it was due to some search engines winding their way through the blog, but now I have to wonder who is reading some of these articles from 2010. It's not like they were any great masterpieces of writing --trust me, I cringe whenever I read them and realize that was my voice back then-- but I have to wonder what is causing the interest.

It still is likely bot related, so I won't lose too much sleep over it, but it still does make me wonder.