Archive for April, 2009

Book Club

Posted in Background Noise with tags on April 29, 2009 by koljarn

My lack of interest in the fantasy MMOs out there continues like an unfamiliar malaise which saps my imagination.  I have no idea where this came from – maybe something as simple as an overload of dwarf guilds.  There did seem to be a lot of them in WAR.

So, I have been reading through the Discworld books (Rincewind is pretty much how I play my mage characters – nuke and run like hell) and listening to a reading of the Silmarillion during my commute.  Terry Pratchett’s stuff is fun to read, but I really can’t consider it to be fantasy.  Basically, Discworld is to fantasy literature what Blazing Saddles was to Western movies.  The Silmariliion – and all of Tolkien’s works – have a gravity and an epic feel to them which I enjoy.  Unfortunately, they are also depressing.  Each age of Tolkien’s universe is less full of wonders and knowledge, and more filled with ignorance and brutality.  While it makes a nice read once in a while, it’s not something you want to read every month, unless clinical depression is your goal.

I should consider giving my Fritz Leiber stuff a once-over, but some of the books are pretty worn, and the bindings are falling apart.  Wish I could get my hands on some hardcover copies.  At one point White Wolf (yes, the same people who published “Vampire: the Emo-Parade”) published a handful of Leiber’s works in a harcover set, but they only made three books.  Personally, I put Leiber on the same level as Tolkien – he just doesn’t do epic storylines, he focuses on smaller ones.  (Leiber also features far more gore, sex, drinking, and humor)

Which brings me to a series which I consider to be the spiritual heir of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Thieves’ World.  This series made its debut in the 80’s, and was written by a team of authors instead of just one.  Some good editing kept the stories flowing together in the same direction, and the whole project gave rise to an urban setting which I think would make a superb setting for a MMO: Sanctuary.  The fact that City of Heroes could work so well in a single virtual city has just underscored my belief that this could be done.  It should be done.  However, I doubt that such a MMO will ever be made.  I can still dream, though.



Posted in Background Noise with tags on April 27, 2009 by koljarn

I have had many memorable experiences in MMOs over the years.  Some of them made significant impressions upon me.

Ultima Online: Just seeing and talking to another player was amazing.  Prior to UO, the only online game that I had played was Shadow of Yserbius.  Yserbius was OK, for the time, and coming on the heels of the Bard’s Tale in its heyday, it was pretty good, graphically.  UO was completely different.  Your toon’s appearance would change according to what gear you equipped.  That was pretty damn cool, back in the day.  With the lore of the Ultima universe, just wandering through the various towns was pretty cool, as well.  At least, for those of us geeky to know which city was associated with which virtue, and so forth.

Dark Age of Camelot: It took the majority of my guild leaving UO for DAoC to drag away from Sosaria.  I had dismissed Everquest as uninteresting, but I could get into DAoC.  I had minor interest in Norse mythology, and almost no interest at all in Celtic mythology and culture, but I had read some of the Arthurian stories.  I was hooked pretty quickly, upon playing in Albion.  The game changed over the years, but the catacombs in Cornwall and the barrows in the Salisbury plains were awesome dungeons.  They were not instanced, but exploring them was amazing fun, even when other people were already fighting the creatures in there.

Star Wars Galaxies: In hindsight, this was an example of how not to make an MMO.  The things I remember when people talk about SWG are that your starting player had trouble walking up hills (yes, there was a skill you had to develop just to walk up hills), a pistol was only dangerous because someone could beat you with it, and all missile/energy weapons have a range shorter than an NFL quarterback.  I distinctly remember playing my rifleman/ranger, and shooting Neanderthal-like natives ten or twenty times in the head to kill them – yet, if they spotted me, they could hit me two or three times and instantly kill me with a stick.  To hell with military technology, we need to equip the armed forces with sticks!

City of Heroes:  As innovative as the instanced mission system was, the environment was just amazing.  You had to play a flier in order to appreciate the effort that the artists put into Paragon City.  But, it was worth it.  The size of the city, the skyscrapers, and the reactions of the civilians to player and NPC activity made it feel more dynamic than almost any other game that I have played.

World of Warcraft: My close friends decided that they had experienced enough of CoH, especially the flip-flopping going on with respect to class balance.  CoH was originally a PvE game, and when PvP was tacked on, players began to cry foul about other archetypes.  My friends and I never played for PvP – we were PvE players.  And we didn’t like having to respect every month.  So, we tried WoW.  And we got involved in raiding, and ended up respeccing every week, instead.  Sheesh.  There was two major positives that I remember from WoW, though.  First, the client was smooth as silk, after the first year of jitters had been worked out.  WoW and CoH definitely have had the best game clients of all the MMOs that I have played, but I put WoW slightly above CoH.  Second, the voice acting at crucial moments added a great deal to the game.  This is something that other game develops should note: quality audio performances are just as important as quality graphics.

Warhammer Online: WAR has many features which people touted as new, groundbreaking, and innovative.  Despite the epic RvR, PQs, and instances, there is only one part of WAR that I will cherish when I look back on it: you feel engaged in the whole struggle even at level 1.  Everything that you do, PvE or RvR, it all contributes to your realm.  The feeling that I was actually making a difference, even when I was just pounding away on a handful of puny PQ mobs, made things more worthwhile.  No one likes to grind for weeks on end before feeling that they are contributing to the overall effort which lies at the very heart of a game.  When I started to play, I wasn’t just a neophyte adventurer, I was a soldier in the service of Order.  It makes a difference in the way you play the game, and I appreciate that above other features, in hindsight.

Keep On Keeping On

Posted in Background Noise, Offline gaming, Tabletop RP with tags on April 27, 2009 by koljarn

A weekend almost completely free from computer or video games, I think this is a sign of the Apocalypse.  In all seriousness, though I had the time, I had no urge to power up either the computer or the console, aside from my weekly web-based D&D game.  This game session was, of course, fulfilling in ways that computer game developers can only dream about.

I loved the Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, the old Gold Box AD&D, and Ultima series for the computer.  They were a great deal of fun.  However, a human GM will adapt their game on the fly for maximum enjoyment, drama, and story.  A computer just can’t do that.  The closest that I’ve seen would be certain MMOs that scaled the difficulty of an instance according to the level and size of a group, but storylines are pretty much written in stone.  I’ve heard of a few games where the world is permanently shaped by the actions of the players, but without any real organization, it really just degenerates into chaos in the end.

Not much is on my radar right now.  I pre-ordered Champions Online.  I also bought a few movie tickets from Costco, but so far I have not seen any coming attractions that really grabbed my attention.  Even the new Star Trek movie just looks like just another action/special effects flick, so I may be holding on to the tickets for a while.  Buying the tickets did make me think about how stuff has become really disposable, now.  For the price of two or three people going to a theater to see a movie, you can buy a DvD, watch it as much as you wish, then throw it away.  Something’s not right, there.

I Don’t Really Wish I Was Eighteen Again

Posted in Background Noise with tags , , on April 23, 2009 by koljarn

What I wish is that I required as little sleep as I did at eighteen.  Yeah, I’m in the middle of two more weeks of second shift, and it’s kicking my ass again.  Not much time for anything, if I want to get enough sleep to avoid getting sick.  So, no real gaming happening this week, as you might have noticed from the lack of posts.

I did pop in to WAR long enough to get the first title (Grave Robber), but that’s about all I could do.  I haven’t seen anything compelling in the new content, yet – so far, it’s just another live event with the usual assortment of check-boxes to fill in and titles to get.  The real intro will come next week.

In an earlier post, I noted that the guitar/rhythm games on the console have really grabbed my attention.  I’m considering making time in my schedule in order to learn to play the bass guitar.  Not enough to perform, mind you, I just want to play along with some CDs as a hobby.  It’s time I picked something up that didn’t involve pixels or imaginary people shooting/stabbing each other.  Of course, this will mean a reduction in gaming time (which is already minimal during night shift weeks).  I think that in the long term, it will be worth the effort, though.

I’m not sure about taking formal lessons, though – the piano lessons I took 25 years ago still rankle with me, and they thoroughly killed any desire on my part to touch a keyboard.  If I meet Bach, Mozart, or Bartok in the afterlife, I’m going to smack them with a piano.

Anyway, this week is almost gone.  New plan next week: hit the sack as soon as I get home, no relaxing.  That way, maybe I can do something during the morning hours.  Right now, I get an hour to do something after I get home and eat dinner, and I get one hour in the morning.  That’s not enough time to concentrate on anything.

Single-Player Madness

Posted in Background Noise with tags on April 20, 2009 by koljarn

I’ve been letting my rested XP accrue on my Vortex characters, so I haven’t logged in to play WAR lately.  A little time to rest and recharge before the new content gets released was probably a good idea, in any case.  I’m so burned out on fantasy games that even the previews for Blood Bowl didn’t rouse much interest in me.

I purchased Guitar Hero for one of my roommates a few weeks ago – it was dirt cheap on Amazon.  Everything was fine, before I made the mistake of playing it.  Now, I play the game every other day or so, and even bought one of those full-sized Starpex guitar controllers.  When I was just a kid, I was subjected to 5 years of torment under the tutelage of a classical piano teacher which thoroughly crushed any interest I might have had in playing a musical instrument.  I have to admit that this game almost resurrected an interest in music for me.  Almost – I’m not nutty enough to run out and buy a guitar at age 40 and try to learn how to play from scratch.  I’ll settle for playing along with various 70s and 80s bands in the game.  Escapism at its finest.

I originally bought a console (PS3) for the Blu Ray player feature.  I may be purchasing more console titles in the future.  This disturbs me, probably unnecessarily.  You see, my generation saw the gaming evolve from pong to the Atari systems, to the Mattel and Coleco systems, and then to computers like the C64, and eventually to the “IBM Compatible” lines (that means Intel-based DOS and Windows systems to you young whippersnappers).  Playing games on a console just seems like de-evolution to me.

In the meantime, I need to find something to get the lyrics to Missisippi Queen out of my head.

May You Live in Interesting Times

Posted in Background Noise with tags , , on April 17, 2009 by koljarn

I logged in very briefly lat night to see what was new in the WAR.  There wasn’t much, so I beat a hasty retreat.  Plans are being made to grind out another rank for my Archmage via PvE, though – the rested bar should be ready to go tonight or tomorrow.   A respec to the Asuryan is definitely in the cards.

I’m really getting nothing done at home, lately, and work is an exercise in clock-watching, since we aren’t being assigned any jobs.  There’s negotiation going on regarding our future role, and no one wants to stick their neck out and task us with anything that we aren’t going to finish.  That’s about as detailed as I can make this, maybe I can speak about it a little more when this is behind me.  The sooner, the better – this is wearing me down, physically and emotionally.

Stormy Weather

Posted in Background Noise with tags on April 15, 2009 by koljarn

Weather has a definite effect on my mood, and not just because humidity gives me a sinus headache, either.  As soon as I find a place where it is always 60 degrees and is dry as a desert, I’ll move there.  For now, I have to confess that wet weather makes me a tad grumpy.  OK, more grumpy than usual.

I couldn’t bring myself to log in to WAR last night.  It’s not that I’m completely frustrated with the game itself, I just didn’t want to deal with the other players.  Vortex is a pretty good server – people respect your activities and give you breathing room, but I didn’t even want the possibility of a friendly conversation.  It’s OK, this allows the rested XP bar to build up a little more on my Archmage.

I played Dawn of War 2 for about an hour, watched the tube for a little while, and read a little Terry Pratchett.  Overall a quiet evening.  I’ll get back into the swing of things over the weekend, when it dries out.