Drfited away – but still playing games!

My blogging career definitely tracks my MMO play activity. If I’m playing any genre but MMOs, I don’t seem to take the time to blog about it. Since I’ve been actively blogging here, I played some League of Legends, a lot of Starcraft 2, Team Fortress 2, and a lot of single player games that I missed while immersed in various MMOs (The Witcher, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fallout 3, among others).

I recently started playing LoTRO again (and tried Rift on a free weekend), and my desire to blog also picked up. It’s curious; I’m a very solitary person within most MMOs. For example, I just finished leveling a minstrel (usually a very group-friendly class) to 65, almost entirely solo. Despite my reticent nature in-game, I’m happy to talk about what I’m doing in an MMO when I’m not actually playing it.

Why do I want to talk about MMOs more than single player games or multiplayer games? Is it something about the persistence of an MMO compared to the more transient experience of multiplayer matches? Is there more of a story to an MMO? There’s a pretty good story in most single player RPGs, but I don’t feel compelled to write about those so much. I spent a lot of time playing TF2 and Starcraft 2 and League of Legends with other people, but I don’t feel the need to blog about it. It must be the persistent world that makes me feel like sharing, the non-instanced nature of an MMO. Anyone can log on to Steam and find me for a TF2 game, or friend me on League of Legends and ask if I want to play, or I can join a variety of Vent/TeamSpeak servers and play a match with friends, but all those interactions happen outside the game world first. The MMO is always there, always on, always the same, and somehow that makes me want to write about it. Maybe it’s a way of connecting with my character who’s idle while I’m not able to log in, and maybe it’s a way of connecting with other people who are doing the same thing, yearning for a bit of persistence while we await another opportunity to enter that world and play.

Whatever it is, I’m happy that my on-again off-again relationship with LoTRO has finally reached a major milestone.

That took long enough

Gallatin at 65

It’s kind of crazy how much work still remains in LoTRO. As you can see, I’ve got trade skills to master, I need to figure out Legendary Items and maximize what they offer, I’ve got plenty of skirmishes to run, deeds to finish, traits to earn, and dungeons to explore if I ever decide to start grouping on a regular basis. I’ve reached level cap, but I certainly haven’t come close to maximizing Gallatin’s potential, and I hope to spend some time figuring out how to make him a useful member of a group instead of a solitary War Speech minstrel. He’s also got a big house to decorate!

LoTRO F2P – An Early Look

I managed to get the LoTRO F2P update downloaded last night, after adding the Turbine Invoker and Turbine Launcher to my firewall exceptions. Never had to do that before, but it worked.

The update wasn’t all that large and I got to play for a little bit. There are interface updates – the experience bar is a little bigger, a little brighter, there’s a Skirmish button next to your bags, and there’s a Store icon at the right side of your toolbar. I got a bunch of deed updates and I got some Turbine points for deeds and reputation. People in my guild were talking about having thousands of points – I only had 80 πŸ™‚ I don’t think I’m a completionist, or maybe my point total just isn’t correct yet. Turbine had a note about a problem with points, so I’ll wait and see what I end up with in a couple days.

I thought, as a current subscriber, I’d get a chunk of points to play with, but they haven’t appeared yet. I think the only points that registered were due to my standings with various factions.

I finished up some Moria quests and logged out. I’ll check out the new zone when I get a little more time to play. So far, so good? Beyond the update problem, everything was stable. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the F2P is live for everyone, though. I wonder if they’ll stay stable through the weekend.

LoTRO and free to play

The Lord of the Rings Online goes free to play in two days, on September 10th. As a current subscriber, I get an early look at the new point store, new zone, and lots of other changes, rules, limits (or lack of limits if I keep subscribing) and, I’ll admit it, some confusion.

I’m not the obsessive MMO player I used to be, where I’d follow official and unofficial forums like a dog on a scent. I couldn’t tell you what my monthly fee might be if I decide to keep subscribing. Does it stay the same? Does it increase? What happens if I stop subscribing? Does my gold disappear? What about the characters I already have over the cap?

I know I could find these answers in a thread on the official forums, but I hardly take time to blog any more – I’m hoping that nothing really changes, I get charged the same amount, and the game I’ve casually enjoyed through 56 levels, deep into Moria, doesn’t change too much for me.

I’m happy Turbine is experimenting, I like some aspects of the free to play model, and I think it’ll be good for the game, but I’m also being selfish. I don’t want to do any extra work. Sue me, I’m lazy πŸ™‚ I’m looking forward to logging in and checking things out, though. Think I have to give it the usual patch-day level of expectations? Probably. Right now the updater is bombing out behind my Word Press window – maybe it’ll be tomorrow before I get to check things out.

I’ll post my opinions about the F2P changes, and if it impacts an old casual subscriber, or if the game just keeps ticking along for me.

Anyone else going to start playing, or return to play, now that it’s free?

Why I’m not allowed to decorate the house

I’d choose prints like this, and my wife would threaten to leave me.

I found the above site from a link in the Gamers With Jobs Dwarf Fortress thread. Someone was pointing to a story Tim Denee drew about one of his Dwarf Fortress games, and I found the link to his store at the bottom of the story. Great illustrations, and great marketing for his prints. I love seeing people take their hobby, marry it to their skills, and put it up for sale for other hobbyists who’d never be able to find prints like that in a stupid mall store.

That still doesn’t mean my wife is going to let me put it up in the living room, though.

I really like the Bronzemurder story print too. Maybe I’ll have to buy it for my office πŸ™‚

Hope everyone’s doing well – I haven’t posted in a while, because I’ve largely been out of the MMO scene, and I usually find myself most motivated to blog when I’m playing an MMO, opposed to playing single-player games. A quick recap would find me mostly playing through Fallout 3, replaying Dragon Age:Origins, playing Mass Effect 1, or playing Team Fortress 2 or League of Legends for my multiplayer fixes.

I’m still subscribed to LoTRO and playing on occasion, slowly working my way through Moria. I should emerge from the mines shortly after the game goes free to play, and maybe I’ll be back to update then. I’d like to be back – we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve finished my last course for my Masters degree. All I need to graduate is to finish my qualifying paper and have it approved, and I’m officially finished. Then I have to figure out what I want to do next! Doctoral degree? Top-secret gaming/university project? Write a book? I think it’s going to be one of those three, although there’s an outside chance I’ll work on a teaching certificate as well. Plenty to do, not enough time to game!

Gameloft giving away free iPhone games

I don’t have an iPhoneTouchPad, but someone on The Well mentioned Gameloft is giving away free games in celebration of their tenth anniversary. If you’ve got an iTouchPadPhone, follow ’em on Twitter and pick up some free stuff.

I’m trying to get an iPad through work, but it’s an incredibly political item to requisition, apparently. I work with software that has an iPad application, and I think I have a great reason for testing it and seeing what else we can develop for it, but it’s turned into “He’s getting one? I want one too! In fact, I want HIS!”, with much foot-stamping and other grown-up behavior going on. *sigh*. We’re asked to innovate, and then questioned when we ask for tools to investigate innovation. Yay for corporations. Meanwhile, much, much more money is being spent on other items.

Didn’t mean to rant – I meant to just point out the free games. So, go! Game for free πŸ™‚

Guild Wars (player) fail

I bought Guild Wars through Steam the other night. NCSoft does a security bit at login where you have to type in the name of one of your characters. I suppose this prevents scammers from hijacking accounts, and I’m in favor of it.

However, I screwed myself. I made a new character, made up a name I’ve never used in an MMO before, played through the tutorial until I got sleepy, and went to bed. I tried to log in again last night, and was greeted with the “Type in the name of a character on this account” box at login. Doh. I have no idea!

Clearly, I’m not the only person to do this; the NCSoft support site has instructions how to request the character name. My ticket is in their queue, and I’m stuck waiting to play until they hook me up.

I’m definitely ticking that “remember my answer” box under the login info once I get the character name back.

Guild Wars on sale on Steam

The Guild Wars trilogy is on sale on Steam for $19.99. It’s been on my list of “I should really try it” games for a long, long time, and the sale did the trick. I’ve heard good things about it, mostly from the Van Hemlock podcast, and I think I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out the purchase.

It’s a smart move by NCSoft. With Guild Wars 2 coming out soon-ish (I don’t follow the game, and I’m too lazy to google it), selling the original at a discount is a good way to get people like me to experience the original, and maybe be more likely to pick up GW2.

You can check out the sale on Steam’s NCSoft page. The original game and the two expansions are on sale individually, as well as a bundle with all three games.Cheers!

I thought this was an Onion story, but no…

Game teaches sex through the eyes of a superhero

From the article: ‘Players can either be a man wearing a condom on his head named Captain Condom; a virgin named Wonder Vag; a boy named Willy the Kid who believes size doesn’t matter or Power Pap, a sexually active gal.”

Wonder Vag? Really? Please, tell me, what’s her special power? And if Willy has only one eye, I can die a happy gamer.

The argument that video games can be educational just took a punch in the face.

Games and Social Innovation

Tyler Barber, of Rebel FM podcast infamy, tweeted last week about a TED talk given by Jane McGonigal called “Gaming Can Make a Better World.”

Damn, that’s a lot of links in the first sentence. This ain’t no flat blog post. It’s relational.

Anyway, I’m glad I caught Tyler’s tweet because Jane McGonigal has some kick-ass ideas. I remember hearing about her earlier games “World Without Oil” and “Superstruct” from someone on The Well (probably Jamais Cascio?). I didn’t get pulled into either game, but hearing Jane’s talk gave me a broader appreciation of what she’s trying to do with gaming and social innovation.

I won’t go over the TED talk in detail in this post, but the summary at the link above says

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Her talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your life if you’re a gamer and think that gamers have skills that bleed over into “real life”. She’s connecting a lot of dots for me, dots that developed over my sixteen year gaming and Internet history.

Her current project is called Evoke. The “About” page for the game says:

EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.

I wouldn’t call Evoke a game, exactly. It’s more like social networking, at least in the beginning missions I’ve been working on. It’s a thinking exercise too, and it requires some introspection. It’s not an escape from reality at all – but that’s not where gaming skills come into play, at least for me.

Over the past sixteen years (I count the beginning of my real computer life as the year I first sat down in front of Mosaic at work), everything I’ve learned from gaming has migrated into skills in my career. Games weren’t just something to play. I wrote about them, lived on message boards, tried to learn how to make games, learned how to make web sites, learned about IRC and instant messaging, learned about tearing down computers and building them back up, and learned about networking all because of games.

I learned how to quickly search the internet for information. I learned how to store and retrieve that information, and I learned how to produce more information. I also learned how to connect with other people and share thoughts and ideas about games.

I think those are the skills that Evoke draws from. No one is going to log into Modern Warfare to end hunger in Africa, but the skills people develop to play and learn more about Modern Warfare and participate online in the MW community are the same skills that can be applied to Evoke.

I’ve always been a bit of a dirty hippie (see: Well membership referenced above), a vegetarian, interested in organic and sustainable farming, interested in history and other cultures – maybe I’m a specific type of gamer already interested in the topics Evoke, well, evokes. I see people posting articles about farming, sustainable energy, power shifts, and lots of other ideas about how we can change the world.

I don’t expect any one idea, or any one person, to really change the world by playing Evoke, or any other video game out right now. I do think that McGonigal is tapping into a really powerful idea, though, a combination of games, information sharing, and social networking that does have the potential for powerful impact in the world.

McGonigal’s first two games passed me by without striking a chord, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people reading here don’t click the links or get involved. This time. Maybe though, in the future, some designers in the audience at TED will think “you know, there IS a way to make a game that’s fun to play that also accomplishes some of the things Jane was talking about.” Or maybe a gamer will say “Hey, I remember hearing about her – and this time, I do want to get involved.” Bit by bit, piece by piece, I think there’s a chance of gaming ourselves into a greater awareness of and greater service to the world around us.

There and back again

Yep, I’m back in MMOs, back in LoTRO. This was the longest break I’ve taken from MMOs in the 11 years I’ve been playing them. I wasn’t game-free during that time; I played a lot of Team Fortress 2, Dragon Age, League of Legends, and a bunch of other stuff on Gametap, including fairly regular Civ 4 games.

I think I played so many MMOs for so long that I lost my appreciation for the genre. Everything felt like work, and my burnout from one MMO was bleeding over into any new MMO I tried, or old MMOs I reactivated.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back in an MMO if it wasn’t for Turbine’sΒ  free Welcome Back weekends. The Activity Log on My LoTRO page shows that I was last subscribed to the game in April of last year, and I only played for about a month. Then, last October, I came back for my first free Welcome Back weekend, and returned for free weekends in November, December, and January before resubscribing in February.

Maybe it was playing only occasionally that allowed me to reconnect with the world and with my character without quickly burning out again. Maybe it’s just the depth of LoTRO after a couple years of adding and tweaking and upgrading the game experience. The depth of LoTRO is pretty significant compared to a lot of other MMO’s out there; Turbine hasn’t shied away from crafting, housing, and their skirmish system is pretty damn cool. I like the Deeds/Traits system, the world lore is significant, the Book quests now have solo options (which work pretty well for me as a mostly-solo gamer), and I’m always looking forward to logging in, instead of feeling like it’s a job.

I re-applied to the Old Timer’s Guild, and hopefully I’ll get enough sponsors by the end of the month to become a full member. I’m also hoping that playing an MMO rekindles my desire to blog a bit. No promises – I’m trying to finish up my Master’s degree by the end of June – but playing MMOs seem more blog-worthy than single-layer games. There’s plenty to talk about in LoTRO, and I haven’t felt that way about an MMO in quite a while.

What I played – 2009

I can’t do a top 10 list for 2009 that’s anything other than completely subjective. I don’t have time to play a huge variety of games, so I can’t compare what I do play to recent releases. I rarely pay full price for games any more, so I’m off the new-release train, and that prevents me from making any sort of objective game-quality comparisons.

With that disclaimer, I’ll mention some of the games that got a lot of play time, or were memorable for one reason or another.

First, my Gametap subscription is worthwhile for the Codemasters racing games alone. Colin McRae Rally, Dirt, and Grid are all great fun. They’re not ultra-realistic, so I can play them sans driving wheel and I don’t have to spend a lot of time tweaking the cars to have fun driving them. I’ve heard Dirt 2 get a lot of praise this year, and I’m not surprised. Codemasters makes racing fun.

Second, I haven’t heard any mention Team Fortress 2 in their yearly wrap-up, but Valve hasn’t rested on the laurels of their original release. The class updates and new maps are a lot of fun, and I’m still spending a lot of time enjoying TF2. It’s probably my most-played game of the past six months.

I did buy myself Dragon Age for Christmas, although I did so with a bit of hesitation. Baldur’s Gate, BG2, and Icewind Dale are all games I played but never finished, and I was concerned I would have similar issues with Dragon Age. Thankfully, DA has more in common with Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, both of which I loved, and I’m really enjoying Dragon Age so far. In fact, I was having so much fun playing Dragon Age, I stayed up too late and forgot to buy Mass Effect for $4.95 when it was offered on the Steam holiday sale.

I played quite a bit of S.T.A.L.K.E.R through Gametap earlier in the year, so that was a definite buy on Steam for $1.99. When it’s time for a break from Dragon Age, I’m looking forward to jumping back in to Stalker, especially with the STALKER Complete high-definition graphics mod that really updates the look of the game.

I loved the Torchlight demo and bought it during the Steam sale for $9.99, only to see it drop to $4.99 shortly thereafter. I’m not concerned; in fact, I’m happy to give Runic a few extra bucks for another game I’m looking forward to playing after exhausting Dragon Age.

The Hunter, which was going to be my Overlooked Game of the Year, wasn’t completely overlooked, getting mentioned on the Gamers With Jobs 2009 review podcast. I bought a three-month license for The Hunter back in May, and it was a great value and very cool gaming experience. Even if you don’t hunt (I don’t hunt, I’m a vegetarian, for chrissakes), the game totally delivers an exciting simulation of finding, tracking, and shooting game. The Gamers With Jobs thread about the game has some tips if you’re curious about playing.

The Hunter can feel slow at first, but once you figure out your PDA (which pinpoints the direction of your calls and helps you track game) and you get on the trail of a target, and then spot the target, and then try to creep closer or, better, call the animal in to you for a clear shot, it’s an adrenaline rush of the highest gaming order.

You can play the game for free, with limited weapons and hunting only mule deer, but it’s totally worth paying $15 for a three-month license to also hunt whitetail deer, elk, turkey, and coyote.

Dwarf Fortress also got a lot of play this year. Graphically simple but otherwise wonderfully complex. It’s not a new game (the last release was in 2008), but it was new to me, and it got a lot of play this year. GWJ has two threads about it that are worth reading if you’re curious.

Those were the games I played the most (other than LoTRO and Eve Online, in which my interest faded away this year). And, like every year, Civilization always gets a good amount of play, so I’ve got to give it an honorable mention. Civ is consistently one of the best games of every year.

I missed a lot of quality new titles, but I don’t mind too much. I have lots of good gaming to look forward to in 2010 as more games drop in price and start to hit my “Buy” threshhold. 2010 looks like it’s going to be a great year for gaming.

The Year I Fell Out of Love

I’ve never done reviews or predictions here. I’m not nearly timely enough in my posting to pull it off. That doesn’t mean I don’t mentally review the past gaming year, though, and this New Year’s brought the revelation that 2009 was the year I fell out of love with MMO’s.

I’ve gone through multiple stages of MMO burnout in the past, only to return with a vengeance to a new game/new world, but I suspect that’s no longer true. 2009 found me subscribing and unsubscribing twice to LoTRO and Eve (the closest current examples of the MMO design I prefer), and I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW again. I’m playing a lot of single player games and Team Fortress 2, and I don’t think I’m simply burned out in need of an MMO break any more. I might be done with MMO’s, unless something really interesting appears on the horizon.

MMO bloggers seem to be looking forward to Blizzard’s next WoW expansion, Bioware’s The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online in 2010. I have almost zero interest in any of them (TOR being an exception because of how much I’ve enjoyed Dragon Age, and I hold a shred of hope that Bioware will surprise me with TOR the way DA surprised me). I really don’t expect to buy or play Star Trek Online, and I can’t imagine ever returning to Azeroth. I had three good years in Azeroth, but I think I’ve exhausted that theme park. And honestly, I expect The Old Republic to be a similar theme park, albeit newer and shinier.

I don’t have the same sense of anticipation about new MMO’s that I once had. Maybe WAR broke me; I had so much hope for a DAoC-style game, and Mythic just abandoned so much of what I enjoyed about DAoC in WAR. It felt like it had been influenced far too much by WoW, and I have a fear the same will happen with The Old Republic. I’m still bitter about WAR, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to play the free trial to see what’s new.

The only game I can see myself perhaps trying again in the future is LoTRO. The new skirmish system in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion sounds interesting, and if they make the Book quests solo-able, that might be enough for me to give it another shot. I do enjoy my house, the crafting, and the huge world of Middle Earth, and there’s a lot I haven’t seen there yet; I’m not nearly as burned out there as I am with WoW. I suspect I’m going to have a long stretch of MMO-free gaming ahead of me before that happens, though. I just don’t feel the love any longer.