Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

NBI Wrapup: Why I Blog

When I started blogging a little over two years ago, I thought I would share some in-universe stories—basically fan fiction—and maybe some stories and observations of my actual gaming experiences. It started out as a WoW blog and a STO blog that I quickly merged. I read a few blogs of other people, like MMOGC, Blue Kae, and Scarybooster, plus some other RP/story-related blogs that now seem abandoned for one reason or another. I joined in the conversations on Twitter, and discovered a much larger community of folks interested in the same things I was. And that's really what blogging is about, interacting with others who share your interests, even if they don't share your opinions.

That's the beauty (and danger) of the Internet at large, and the MMO community in particular. Our circle of friends is no longer limited by geography, but can be "customized" to our interests. Ofttimes, the community can seem particularly negative; but that is because people are passionate about their games, and they forget that there are other real people on the receiving end of their rants on the forums, whether other players, or the very human game developers. Other times, the community comes together for a positive reason, like Developer Appreciation Week and this Newbie Blogger Initiative, welcoming new voices. I consider myself very lucky to have been included in such a positive experience this time.

The Newbie Blogger Initiative is by all accounts a rousing success, far beyond the expectations of its organizer, Justin Olivetti, a.k.a. Syp. Below you will find all the new blogs, plus advice from the veterans. I will make sure my own NBI list to the far right is up to date, so you can continue to find these new faces from this page. Congratulations to Syp and all the new and old bloggers. I am glad to be part of this community. May you continue to find friendship amongst your fellow travelers, for many years to come.

New blogs to check out:
Sponsor advice posts:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hey, Is That Horse Dead Yet? the End of the MMO

I went down a rabbit hole today, through Harbinger Zero and TAGNtwice—to Spinkville. This is the result:

I think current and future MMOs are caught in between a rock and a hard place. We all talk about the fact that success shouldn't be measured by anything other than profitability. Well, I do at least.

SWTOR isn't a complete success, therefore it is an abject failure in the eyes of many. Tons of people are still playing and enjoying the game. Count me among them. On the other hand, I haven't raced to the top, still working to reach 50 on my main, and enjoying the journey. I am definitely an outlier there, I suppose. I also don't see an issue with replayability. At least eight(8) stories can be played through, with other ways besides the planet quests to help level outside the storyline; like space combat, PvP, Flashpoints, random murder. But cool, it's a failure.

Are people tired of WoW and WoW-clones? I don't know, ask the millions of people still subscribed to WoW and its clones. I guarantee only a minuscule fraction of them is even aware of this debate.
Behemoth Roller Coaster
The problem new MMOs have is that they must compete with an almost 8 year old behemoth. Maybe the original game only expected 500k players and had only(!) a $63 million budget, but the three expansions since then have surely topped $200 million in investment, at the same time the game was enjoying unimaginable profits compared to everything else in the genre. What new game can possibly compete?

If you're using a shard system, some costs are scalable, but they're mostly related to hardware and customer service. The basic development of the game world and all the game content and features have to be fronted, and compete with WoW's 4+ current continents with all the different racial starting areas, and the dungeon finder, etc., that took Blizzard well over a decade (including initial development and the development of the expansions)  to develop.

[EDIT] Understand, while I am a fan of WoW, I do not consider it the end-all-be-all of the MMORPG genre. The game has serious flaws, and I haven't played in over six months, haven't played hardcore in well over a year. It is, however, the unbelievably huge blockbuster every other MMO—and several SP games— is compared to.

Until the market splinters more fully, I don't see any developer action replacing the attempt to capture WoW's lightning-in-a-bottle again.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Not a Rant, But a Rumination: Solo Play in MMOs

I'm opening with a quote that may sum up my TL;DR as well. From Argus or Bust:
"Saving the world is fun and all, but I’m a little burnt out on it."
I follow Syp's Bio Break religiously, so you may have noticed that many of my posts are inspired by his. In a recent post, Syp discussed character development, inspired by Azuriel's post on In an Age regarding the quality of Single Player RPGs vs. MMOs. Keen's post, "MMORPG’s are not Single-player Games," had me all set on Thursday  to rant about how stupid and short-sighted he is. Then I read his post, and while I still disagree with his premise, I agree with elements of his discussion. Well, specifically this:
MMO’s are not about one single individual player changing the world.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  MMO’s are about a world that exists, and the player chooses to participate in that world.  The world is what changes and the players are expected to react to it — not the other way around!
I have long argued that WoW and the other games that have come after have gone too far in trying to make me the Hero/Savior of the world. My first steps into MMOs, through the Dark Portal of Vanilla WoW's login screen, were those of an anonymous adventurer. It's one thing to slay a dragon, it's another thing entirely to slay not one, but two, of the very Aspects of the World, "Dragon-ified." I was perfectly happy learning recipes for Beer Basted Boar Ribs and helping the locals with their problems—that required some violence.
Keen's original post, while making some reasonable statements, was backed up in the comments by a bunch of gamers—including Keen, himself—who sounded like this (imagine me speaking in my squeaky old man voice):
"When I was your age, soloing in an MMO was pure folly! There were dangerous monsters out there in the Wilds, and you had to take friends along. Why, I remember our healer—we called him Doc, even though he was a cleric. And then there Glassy the mage. Hah! could he pack a punch. But he died if you blew on him funny. And there weren't no chicks playing, because they all thought we were weird. Eh, where was I? Oh yeah, our group had to fight monsters barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways! And we loved it, 'cause that's all there was."
One of the commenters hailed Acheron's Call as encouraging group play because "solo a mob would yield 100% XP, in a 2 man group it would yield 150% xp and in a 3 man would yield 200% XP AND SO FORTH." Excuse me? When I do that math I still only get 75% XP when grouping with even one other player. And the math gets worse from there. They were punishing group play even then. One could argue that XP as a measure of progression is the root problem here. But that is outside the scope of this post.

SWTOR, at least, gives me full individual XP whether I am grouped or not. And they're accused of discouraging grouping. There are even open areas of every planet, from Dromund Kaas and Coruscant on, that you do not go into without a group. And they're discouraging groups.

Azuriel accurately pointed out that, even with a monthly subscription, MMOs provide far more game-playing time per dollar than any single-player ever has, with the possible exception of Tetris. Even playing as a single player, It's worth it to me to stay in the MMO genre. While I certainly think MMOs should have plenty of group content, I disagree that solo content is ruining the MMO genre. I also happen to think that end-game should involve more than just group content and repetitive dailies. I play MMOs because they are persistent worlds, flawed though they may be. A true SPRPG could never satisfy that.
To use an analogy, Rolls-Royce makes arguably the best automobiles on the planet. Their 2010 revenue was approximately $477,700,000 (£321.5 million) rounded. Ford Motor Company makes cars that are affordable. Their 2010 revenue was $120,900,000,000. Ford's net profit alone was $6.6 billion, more than 13 times RR's entire revenue. You can make Rolls-Royce games all you want. Only a few people will play them. The big game companies have figured out that Ford games are just fine for most of their audience. (And yes, even with its price tag, SWTOR is a Ford game.)

Vatec, commenting on Syp's Post on leading groups in SWTOR, had this to say:
"Yep, that’s the problem with group-centric games in general. There are reasons that A. soloing in MMOs is very popular and B. automatic LFG queues have been added to several games. Sadly, it’s also not just PUGs: some of my worst group experiences have been with guildmates (mostly in Dark Age of Camp-a-lot).
For example, a typical evening in DAoC might consist of half an hour discussing plans in guild chat, half an hour riding a horse to the chosen zone, half an hour waiting for the last guy to show up, another half hour discussion about exactly where in the zone we should head (often interspersed with the “odd man out” complaining that A. there were no good drops (for him) at the planned spot or b. XP would be “too slow” at the planned spot), half an hour fighting our way to the spot, half an hour actually playing the game, and then the healer would announce that he/she/it was “getting sleepy,” which left the alternatives of A. locating a replacement healer and somehow getting said healer to the camping spot or B. calling it an evening.
And those were the “good” evenings, when the group didn’t experience any wipes, the group didn’t get ganked by an enemy archer (having your healer ambushed mid-pull was a truly … memorable … experience), the evening wasn’t interrupted by a raid on our faction’s relic keep, and no loot drama occurred.
No, I really don’t miss group-centric games very much at all. The modern LFG/LFD system may be rather impersonal, but at least it’s quick and convenient…"
Say it ain't so! Grouping in the alleged golden age of MMORPGs wasn't all sunshine and rainbows? Or mayhem and loot?

Give the people what they want. The mystery demographic Keen can't figure out is not blogging, or paying much attention to blogs. It's not really a mystery who they are either. They're the silent majority, voting with their wallets, not whining on blogs. They're the millions of people playing WoW and every other MMO since about 2004. The old guard can complain all they want, but they are no longer the audience, nor do they have the developers' ear anymore.
Hvalsey, Greenland --- Ruins of Viking Church --- Image by © Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS

For someone playing a game that then goes away because it is not profitable, I am sure it is a sad day. I watched the heartbreaking closing minutes of SWG on YouTube. It made me tear up, and I never played. All the games that I have played and enjoyed are still going reasonably strong, making a profit, most of them without my current subscription. Are they all failures because they aren't boasting WoW-like numbers (except of course, WOW itself)? The only quantifiable measure of a game's success is whether it returned a profit on investment. I read a book a couple years ago called Collapse by Jared Diamond. Bringing up a common question posed to him about why did the Norse Greenland society fail, Diamond pointed out that the Greenlanders lasted longer than has the American society started by the English colonies and continued today by the United States. They may have collapsed in the end, but that does not mean they were not a success.

Just a Reminder . . .

A soldier places flags at Arlington National Cemetery.
It's not "National Barbeque Day."

Whether in the United States or elsewhere in the world, remember those that gave their lives to ensure your freedom. If your country does not enjoy liberty, I pray that someday you can.

100 New Blogs

So after Syp's latest update, there 100 new blogs in my NBI blogroll (far right column).

Plus, I added Hipstalotro to my regular blogroll because it's just that awesome. Here's hoping they don't all burn out like those fireworks.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Carrying a Torch

Weiden, the Outlander, with her trusty pet, Wolfgang
So thanks to a timely tweet by Scarybooster, I was able to sign up for and get in to the beta for Runic Games' Torchlight II this past weekend. I managed to get some screen shots, though it was a bit complicated for me, and involved MS Paint. Hopefully there is a better way to actually capture screenies than I was able to figure out.


Taking aim. (Notice the her three fingers.)
When I say "Fire," I mean it.
Torchlight II is very cartoony, almost appearing hand drawn, down to the human(?) characters having only three fingers. I happen to be comfortable with that aesthetic, though some may prefer the more realistic graphics of, say Diablo III. The starting areas I explored had a somewhat gloomy atmosphere, with cool palettes dominating; though you can see from the screenshots that the game is fairly well lit, and there are bright colors where appropriate. I liked the special effects, like the "Glaive" which reminded me of Krull. Things like gore and death effects were consist with the cartoon style, not super realistic, but limiting the game to older children, IMHO, at least thematically.


The lesser mobs tended to go splat.
Here I refer to my moment-to-moment interaction with the game interface, as opposed to the underlying dice-rolls. While it is possible to zoom in fairly close, you are always looking down at the environment from a certain angle, as opposed most MMOs I've played where you are usually looking over the shoulder of your character is whatever direction they're facing. I really liked the game interface, which was similar to most games of this sort, I suppose, though mouse navigation took some getting used to. I basically dragged Weiden around with my curser. There were two quickly available using the right and left mouse buttons, plus the quickbar had potions and spells I had learned, which could be right-clicked for action or by tapping the numbers on the keyboard.

Character Progression

There were a four different classes, a caster Embermage, a melee Berserker, a tanky Engineer, and the pistol-wielding Outlander, which is the class I chose. Every character has a combat pet, with a variety of animals to choose from.

I only got to level 14, having played for an hour or two. I had limited time play on Sunday and Monday, but didn't realize Runic had extended the beta till Thursday, I read somewhere that the beta only included about six hours of playable story or Act 1 of the game, but I am not sure exactly how far I got. As you can see from the above screenshot, when you level, you get both freely distributable  attribute points and semi-restricted skill points (some skill point distributions have level requirements). I dumped as many skill points as I could into the two special attacks I had, including the aforementioned "Glaive."
Equipment and inventory were fairly standard RPG affairs, with some equipment having customizable slots where "embers" with various stats could be placed. Your pet also carries a pack where you can put extra loot until you are close to a vendor.


I liked the bit of time I spent with Torchlight II and intend to get it when it comes out (currently available for preorder). I didn't focus too much on the story, figuring I'd have time to check it out when I play "for real." While the beta was online only, the game will be playable offline or on a LAN mode—the lack of which, along with other factors, led me to steer clear of  Diablo III. If I am able and willing to play tethered to the internet, I may as well log into my current MMO, SWTOR.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Got 89 Problems . . .

But a Newbie Blog ain't one.

So far, thanks to Syp's NBI posts,  I have 89 blogs listed for the NBI blogroll in the far right column.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NBI QOTD: But I Put In So Much Effort! :\

From Bio Break's NBI Tip of the Day:
It’s a weird maxim that the posts you spend tons of time writing will sometimes get few views while the ones you shoot off in a couple minutes end up being your big hits.
I spent four hours on that post!
I have found this to frequently be the case. Certainly one of my longest posts, one I spent a ton of time on, got relatively few views and no comments. Granted, it was not gaming related. On the other hand, many of my most popular posts, based on hits, are simply from people mining the blog for pictures. I'm OK with that.

If you are writing to have an audience, you are going to be disappointed. Obviously you are writing a blog so people can read it, otherwise it could be an offline diary. But people will not always share your passions, even if they share your interests. Be happy when something you have written strikes a chord, even when for you it was a toss-away post.

Kinda like this one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

To the Cloud!

I'm very excited to display my tag cloud as envisioned by Lilpeanut, author of the Heal Over Time blog.

I Have Touched the Cloud Tag Cloud by LilPeanut

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Come Into My Parlor: Blog Lists and RSS (NBI)

I have with a link over to Scarybooster's advice post on the myths of blogging advice. He's right, I say don't worry about hits, but I regularly check my stats on the Blogger Dashboard, on top of which I have a Statcounter.com widget tracking things in more detail.

A lot of other advice from NBI (not Scary's) centers around gaining readers, like it's a good idea to join Twitter or G+ and "advertise" yourself and your posts. While I believe this is of value, you can't simply simply declare you have posts and otherwise ignore whichever social site you post to. You'll get ignored. (Full disclosure: I am guilty of this with G+, which is blocked from my office network.) The point of Twitter, G+, and Facebook is to engage others in a conversation. You'll only gain audience from those venues if you are actively using them to reach out in "normal" conversations. Then when you do advertise a blog post, people will click on your link to see what you have to say. As Tish Tosh Tesh said, "Blogging is a social activity" (Yes, I linked his post twice. It's that important.) Your blog is your own little corner of the Internet, but you want to invite people to your corner.


RSS Symbol
The thing about hits—and what is behind at least my own advice not to worry about them—is that not all of your readers will do so by visiting your blog directly. Many do so through RSS readers, including Google Reader, Bloglines, and various smartphone apps. If you've ever subscribed to a news feed online, you're using RSS. Really Simple Syndication is a way to let others know you have a new blog post. RSS readers pick up these feeds. Blogger provides for RSS feeds on the Dashboard, under Settings>Other
I know Wordpress has a similar setting where you can enable RSS feeds. Whether you allow the full post to be read without hitting your site is up to you, but realize that many people might not be able to get to your blog because of access issues beyond both your and their control. For instance, I can't get to many gaming related blogs from my work computer because the net nanny used by the IT Nazis blocks "Games" sites. (But any professional sports are OK o.O)

In any event, you may have a wider readership than your hit stats indicate. Plus, you may get hits by people searching for pictures and such, but having no real interest in your blog. My greatest hits list in the far right column has a couple examples of this, in addition to being a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. More people click on "popular" links, thereby reinforcing their popularity.

This started out as a simple post about bloglists, and look what happened!

Blog Lists (a.k.a. Blogrolls)

You may want to try to get on the blog lists of others in the blogging community. There are a few ways to do this, but only one legitimate one: Write blog posts worth reading. If you write quality posts (this covers a wide variety of styles) that inform and/or entertain, people will follow you, subscribe, and maybe even put you on their lists. I currently have two lists in the right columns. One is the blogs I regularly follow (no, I don't read every single post) and the other consists of the new blogs posted by Syp in his NBI updates on Biobreak.
One thing I like about Blogger's list gadget (which can be added from the layout screen) is the option to show Latest First (the other option is Alphabetical), then limit the number showing (5, 10, 25 or All). The blogs that don't post fall off after a while, saving me the trouble of pruning my list of inactive blogs. I currently have all the NBI Blogs showing with the latest post from each. But later, I will probably limit it to the 10 (or 25) most recent posts. Notice that, as of this post, The Poison Mushroom does not actually have a feed, showing as broken in my configuration window, and sitting at the bottom of the actual list. Maybe they don't want an RSS feed, but maybe it's just not set up. When I limit my bloglist to the most recent ten, that blog will never show up. I have a few on my Blogging Friends list that I guess I should call out, too: I Am Writezalot, Mattplanet, and The Self-Aware Colony. I love you guys, but your blog never shows up on my list of latest-greatest, because you don't have RSS set up.

Bottom line (TL;DR): Look through your blog settings and set up the RSS (Site) Feed. You may choose not too, but you will be limiting your potential audience.

Monday, May 7, 2012

NBI: Avoid Barriers to Commenting on Blogger

I was going to be inspiring on my first advice post for the New Blogger Initiative, but a more prosaic topic seems in order. You've probably read blogs where there is a lively discussion on many or most of the posts. Tobold's MMORPG Blog comes to mind. This is a good indication of the health of a blog. As Tish Tosh Tesh so eloquently points out, blogging is a long-form social endeavor.  On the other hand, Syp was ranting this morning on Twitter about the barriers to commenting on some Blogspot blogs. One of the great things about having a blog is the opportunity to interact with your readers through the comment system. Anything that inhibits this system interferes with that dialogue that you want to have with your readers. If you have chosen Blogger (the blogging site also known as blogspot.com, run by Google) you may have some barriers to your blog that deter potential comments.

Blogger has several options to be set by the blog author. My settings are visible in the screenshot below.
Sorry if it's small, click on it to see the full size. Notice the setting third from the bottom, "Show word verification." I have it set to "No." This is the CAPTCHA™ option. You've seen CAPTCHAs if you've spent any time on the Internet, a misshapen version of a word or characters that you must type in to verify your status as a human being. This is an annoying hoop that many people will avoid, depriving you of comments. I recommend not requiring them of your readers, which is why mine is set to "No." Blogger has a spam filter, not perfect, but sufficient, in my estimation.
Another way to avoid spam ending up on your blog is to set up comment moderation. I have moderation set up for comments on posts older than 14 days. I saw somewhere once that that is a good range, because spammers sometimes attempt to spam older posts. People rarely leave comments on my really old posts, but it does happen. I get an email notification when something comes in. Of course, I have options set to receive notices on all incoming commentary anyway. This is found on Blogger right under "Posts and Comments" called "Mobile and Email." The options on that page are fairly self explanatory, but there are small help buttons next to each setting, if you have a question.

Syp said that non-Blogger users have to input their basic info every time they want to comment, something that Wordpress blogs remember for you. I can't verify this easily right now because of browser settings at my office. I actually have to input my info on Wordpress from here, whereas on my personal computer running Firefox, I don't have the same issue.

One last thing that is a personal preference: I like to have my comments at the bottom of my blog posts rather than have a separate page like some folks on Blogger. To be honest, I am not sure what the purpose of a separate comments page is. Don't take your commenters to a different page. Let them comment in line with the post and other comments.

Bottom line (TL;DR): You want comments. Don't make it hard for real commenters, even if you have to deal with occasional spam.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Opinions Are Like . . . The Newbie Blogger Initiative

You know the saying about opinions?

How everyone has one? And some . . .? I bet you have one, maybe several. Maybe you game. (If you don't, what are you doing here?) Maybe you've read some blogs or gaming news sites and thought to yourself, "That author is a complete moron. He or she doesn't even understand the pure awesome that is my favorite game. I could have done a much better article."

Prove it.

Syp, of Massively and Biobreak fame, has organized the Newbie Blogger Initiative as a way for a few (OK, quite a few) veteran bloggers to help out and encourage any fledgling bloggers out there who may be teetering on the brink, not sure whether they can or should really take the plunge in this exciting aspect of the online community. Whether you focus on only one favorite game, or have a dozen you are interested in discussing—or even only occasionally touch on gaming amongst many other interests in your life—now is the time to jump onto your own soapbox.
The Mouse is mighter than the Dragon. © Moran 2012
When I started blogging a little over two years ago, I had no idea if I would even have any readers, much less thousands. I still don't have thousands of readers, but that is not important. What is important is that I found a community of folks with common interests. We are not all like-minded; in fact, we often disagree vehemently. Hopefully, the discussion stays civil. Some of us write stories, some provide gaming guides, some offer commentary on games and gaming news. Some do a little of everything.

I have never met some of my best friends.

Throughout the month of May, my fellow bloggers and I will be offering advice and encouragement through posts and the forums. Head on over to the NBI forums and introduce yourself. We are here to help. If you are a veteran blogger with advice to give, we need you, too. Come be a sponsor. The forums are a way to organize the effort, but we'll mainly be posting on our own blogs for public consumption.

Sponsors participating as of this post:

Long list, huh? Syp is keeping a running tally of sponsor posts here.

Thanks to Greg "Rackham" Moran, author of The Jedi Gambit, for the most excellent NBI banner. And a special thanks again to Syp, both for organizing this month-long event, and for inviting me to help out. I am truly honored to be included in such company.