Okay. I won’t lie. I’m not the most sociable when I play MMOs. I never really adhere to a set gaming schedule because, as summer is fast approaching, my schedule becomes more and more hectic and my gaming time takes a back seat to real life. Then on top of that I like playing the new games, or a sudden craving might hit to play a game I’ve never played before. And I’m not one to let my cravings go unheeded. So, I’m not the most consistent gamer in the world and as such I make an absolutely terrible guild-mate. Recently I found I was even kicked out of my fleet in Star Trek Online for not playing the game on a regular basis. So sue me. I enjoy that I can play with other gamers playing all around me, like going to the movies and experiencing a film as a collective group, but I’m definitely more the solo player.
So, it even shocked me to an extent that last Monday I joined along with the Knights of Mercy gaming crew, who I consider myself a fringe member of, and joined them in their pursuit of the “phat lootz”. I popped my Secret World dungeon cherry, running my very first dungeon ever in the game: Elite Polaris. Yes, my first dungeon was one of the hardest 5-man dungeons in the game and takes experienced and coordinated players to accomplish. I was neither.
This is why I appreciate the Mercy crew. Their gaming perspective is one of pure camaraderie. They didn’t demand to see accomplishments that I had previously run the dungeon. They didn’t demand that I must be fully geared. They didn’t demand that I even remotely know much about the game. They just demanded that I join them and have fun. This… I could do.
Thankfully, I was in one of the easiest positions: a damage dealer. In my old World of Warcraft days, I was the tank for every dungeon I ran, and let me tell you that is some stress right there. Wipe? Tank’s fault. Can’t keep aggro? Tank’s fault. Going too slow? Tank’s fault. So, whenever I run any group content the LAST person I ever blame for anything is the tank. I know what that job is like, and I give tanks out there a lot of credit.
So how did it all end?
WITH THAT BIG OL’ TENTACLED CTHULHU MOFO FACE DOWN IN THE SHALLOW END OF THE POOL!
How did it happen? Really… I have no idea. I give all the credit to my fantastic group-mates, MMO Gamerchick, Husband-to-Gamerchick, TenTentacles, and Pid, as their experience and awesomeness won the day. Since this was my first TSW dungeon ever, I could not judge to what effect my support/damage did. I could’ve been helping a lot or I could’ve been helping very little. No clue.
So, heady from this big win, we delved into the next dungeon, Elite Hell Raised, and…
WIPED THE FLOOR WITH THOSE BOSSES SO HARD THAT THE DEVIL HIMSELF WAS IMPRESSED!
So not only was my first dungeon run a huge success. My second dungeon run, also Elite, was a huge success.
Maybe I’m not as bad a dungeon runner or as anti-social as I think I am…
P.S. – Sadly, my TSW character, Ocholivis, is unguilded (uncabaled?). I joined the Knights of Mercy for the run, but since they are all Templars and I am Illuminati, I can’t join in their guild. How sad is that? Funcom, seriously, work on that.
P.P.S. – Also, my STO character, @Ambrose99 is also unguilded (unfleeted?). If there are any STO fleets looking for an off-again, on-again member who doesn’t mind donating a great majority of his lifetime-membership resources, hit me up. I’ll definitely be looking for a new fleet once Legacy of Romulus drops in 9 DAYS!
P.P.P.S. – If you’re not hovering your mouse over my images yet, you’re missing out…
I have a love/hate relationship with EA right now. On one hand, I’m a huge fan of some of their franchises like The Sims, and I’m currently enthralled with one of the best MMO’s on the market right now, The Secret World. However, EA has shown a dark side by being a main player in the Always-On feud, creating such hostility among their fans that they’ve been named the Worst Company in America 2 times running, and ruining one of my favorite franchises of all-time, the Ultima series.
So, I was shocked by the news being released today that EA has announced and will be releasing The Sims 4 come 2014. Well, not really shocked. The Sims franchise is a juggernaut and one of those Wil Wright genius games that you have to sit back and truly marvel at. So EA making another one is a no-brainer. But with how EA has been acting recently with some of its other franchises, I’m worried.
In The Sims, controlling a Sim sounds like it would be the most boring thing on the face of the planet. You control a person to live their life just like you do. Eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, going to work, dating, having a family, working on your hobbies, and building a home. And yet, it’s gameplay is some of the most captivating I’ve ever experienced. Stories about peoples Sims exploits are hugely entertaining and the game leaves room for so much creativity from building design and decoration to the ridiculous like seeing how many offspring one Sim can conceive in their lifetime.
So what will The Sims 4 be like? Right now, EA has released almost nothing about it. But I am hoping and wishing and praying that EA has learned something from their mis-handling of SimCity.
…And there is hope. According to the official release by EA, The Sims 4 will be a single-player off-line game:
“The Sims 4 celebrates the heart and soul of the Sims themselves, giving players a deeper connection with the most expressive, surprising and charming Sims ever in this single-player offline experience.”
Thank you! They can be taught! If the Sims 4 ended up demanding we need to always be online, or some other such ridiculous hoop to jump through, I can guarantee that I will not have played it. The same way I did not play SimCity, the same way I did not play Diablo 3. Adding DRM is fine, but give us players the options whether we want to be connected or not, and give us incentive to do so. Otherwise, no deal.
They do have time to change their mind, though. But with that out of the way, I’m feeling a lot better about the Sims franchise.
P.S. – Fun story. There was one time I got so mad at The Sims that I stopped playing it for a few months. It was one of the first houses and families I ever made and my Sim got a call one day, offering to adopt a baby. I was thrilled. My single-parent bachelor was given the opportunity to build a family. I received the infant and since my Sim was alone, he took some time off of his job, received a demotion, didn’t get much sleep, and essentially was a living wreck. Finally, the baby grew-up into a child! It was like a whole new game. Instead of one Sim, now there were two to control! Since I wanted to teach this new kid some responsibility, I sent him into the bathroom to replace a lightbulb. He went over, pulled out a little stool, reached up to change the lightbulb… and was immediately electrocuted and died.
I was soooooo angry that I just quit playing right there. All that time spent, and the kid electrocutes himself on the first freaking light bulb?! Seriously?!!
P.P.S. – Also, if you have any great Sims stories, I’d love to hear them.
Edit – As seen below in the comments, it was the fantastic MMOGamerChick herself that did the Sims population explosion experiment. Go check it out.
There is a saying: MMO’s would be so much better if it wasn’t for the other people. It’s funny because without other people, it wouldn’t be an MMO… and yet, it’s true in so many ways. It’s because other people can do simple innocuous actions that won’t benefit and actually hinder other players, even if their intention is good. This is what happens when multiple players play the same game but have different reason for playing, or different goals in the same game. So here are a few suggestions to make The Secret World much better for everyone.
Open Mob Tagging
I mean, really. This is essentially the future of MMOs and needs to really be here now. Guild Wars 2 has this, and people who aren’t grouped together can tag and get loot and experience from the same mobs, and here’s why The Secret World needs it, too.
Scenario 1: The other night I was playing The Secret World and ran across a guy taking down a few mobs. He wasn’t having any trouble, but I was nearby and could’ve easily helped out. I didn’t. I ran right past like I didn’t even care. And I hate myself for it. My helping him would not help me in any way, as once a mob is tagged by a player, and they are not grouped, that mob becomes theirs. Any loot or experience gained from it would only benefit the first player to tag it. I would receive nothing for helping him out and still cost me my time. Also, there is the chance that helping them out angers the other player, like my interference is a judgement against them. I have received this numerous times in numerous games, and so, when I see another player fighting mobs, my first instinct is just to pass on by.
Here was also a lost chance at loose grouping, meeting someone new, and essentially taking advantage of the sociable side of the game. With the standard tagging rules in place, though, there’s the chance I would be hindering them, interfering, by helping out. And if there’s even a chance at causing more harm than good, it’s better to pass on by.
Scenario 2: Then, not more than a few minutes later I encountered another player. I was doing a quest where I had to take down a lot of mobs in a small area. Another player showed up and I assumed they were on the same quest, so out of courtesy I threw them an invite. They accepted and sweet, we took down the mobs together. Loot dropped, as it does, and the Need/Greed randomized system came up. Since all the items were dropping wouldn’t help me directly, I was rolling “Greed”. The other player, obviously better geared than I was, and obviously didn’t need the gear either, was rolling “Need”. They were acquiring every piece of gear and there was nothing I could do about it except to roll Need too, despite not actually “Needing” it. They could’ve been collecting crafting materials, or just looking for fodder for lower alts or something, but in either way, I was annoyed. They weren’t playing by friendly social conventions and yet they were entirely playing within the rules.
So, although the system is “fair”, unless I were to essentially lie that I needed every item, it really isn’t fair. So, what is? How about ALL loot being individual to the player, not just basic normal quality stuff, but everything. This would be the way for all items that are Bind-On-Equip. The system in place already chooses items for the players to get, and they can still be traded back and forth without barrier, so why still have this other layer for people to essentially grief on each other?
Flavor of the Month Builds In-Game
One of the hallmarks of a good system with multiple skills but few skill slots is in the creation of builds. The Secret World has these and has some suggestions with their decks, but the decks are far from perfect. So, players create their own builds and some of these builds are so efficient, due to a skew in balance, that others pick up on them and use them as well. This leads to websites designed to help people who want to use the strongest and most efficient builds. When certain skills are nerfed or buffed to make them balanced, this process starts over again as the theorycrafters search for and make the best builds. The elite then turn to those who don’t use these builds and claim them to be lesser players.
So, why not cut out the middle man? Have an in-game system where players can submit their builds under different categories, and others can pick and choose to use them along with the multitude of decks created by the developers. This one is more of a stretch as I don’t believe it’s been done before, but where the “Flavor of the month” builds essentially defined Guild Wars 1 and it’s hardcore players, having player-submitted decks could make The Secret World more of an elite deck-building game, like it seems like it was intended to be.
This one wasn’t on my list originally, but after reading Rowan’s excellent post on cross-faction cabals, I totally agree.
Scenario 3: I’m an Illuminati character. My gear is almost to all QL 10 greens and I’ve been working on the same character for a long time now. I only recently found that most other people I know playing The Secret World are all Templar. I know, I can group with them and run dungeons with them, and communicate with them, and everything else in the world I can still do with them… but I can’t join their guild. So, my choice is either to just put them on my friends list and try to join up with them when I can, if I remember to look, or to give up on my character and roll a Templar. Both options aren’t that enticing, or making me really excited to keep playing.
I think Rowan sums it up the best when he says:
“I understand the importance of separate factions in PvP—or different servers in the case of GW2. However, in most cases, limiting cross-faction cooperation only fragments a playerbase that could not care less about interfaction rivalries.”
It’s true. Right now, I could care less about PvP, and the only time I care about the different factions is when it comes to the storyline between them.
Essentially, Funcom, your game can be so much more than it is. Your storylines and missions are some of the greatest from any game I’ve ever played. Your settings are fascinating and your attention to detail is top-notch. But by holding to old MMO conventions that keep the casual playerbase apart from each other, you’re holding yourself back.
Make these changes, and I can guarantee you’ll see an increase to not only your playerbase, but their overall enjoyment of the game.
Would you look at that… a full year has passed, and Casual Aggro is still up and running. Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. Although I had a few warm-up posts, I claim the real starting date of this blog to be May 1st, 2012, when Syp of Massively and Bio Break started a movement to help new bloggers find their footing in this crazy interwebz.
So, Happy Anniversary to all my fellow NBI brethren! To which, I’m happy to say, there are many still around.
After taking a look at the full list of blogs posted back on May 30th, 2012, there were 111 new blogs formed during the initiative. I opened up every single one to take a look and see how many were still active (yes, I had 100+ tabs open in Chrome and my PC didn’t blink… this thing is a BEAST), and the results surprised me. One would expect a great number of these blogs to have slowed down or stopped updating entirely, and a great number did. However, a large number did not close up shop and are still updating today! In figuring these numbers, any blog that has updated anytime in the past month qualified as being “active”.
And, guess what? Out of the 111 starting blogs, 28 are still active today, giving a retention rate of over 25%!! So, yeah, I’d call it a huge success!
So, out of the 28, I’d like to spotlight a few of them as blogs that you should add to your RSS feed immediately.
Spearheaded by the fantastic Ravanel Griffon, Ravalation is all about the adventures and misadventures of her time gaming in Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. She is also the most prolific blogger in the entire group of 111, and her words jump off the page with so much energy that you can’t help but be a fan! I know I am. If you check out one blog from the NBI 2012 group, make sure it’s this one.
Most recent post: LOTRO’s 6-Year Anniversary!
If there’s a game-jumper who even out-jumps myself, it’s the MMO Juggler. Everything from Lord of the Rings Online, to Age of Wushu, to EVE Online, to Guild Wars 2, to The Secret World. You name it, he’s probably played it and has a comprehensive write-up about it. Now THAT’s dedication.
Most recent post: GW2 Lowbie Zone Exploration
No, I didn’t just pick Kanter‘s blog because he based his latest blog post after something I wrote (which I’m very flattered about, by the way). I’ve been reading his blog for the past year, and I love the premise as it’s a universal one: Not enough time, but a love of gaming. Although most of his gaming time is spent in World of Warcraft these days, a game I’m not too terribly fond of, I still like to hear about his exploits from the perspective of an uber-busy gaming fan.
Most recent post: MMOs and Gambling
Forgive me Jason, but I did not start following you on Twitter until today. However, I’ve been following your blog for quite a while!
For those of you who aren’t Jason, yesterday’s rant on Candy Crush Saga, for example, is a must read. Seriously. Go check it out. Jason mixes his impressions of games with a humor that is spot-on and 100% relatable.
Most recent post: The aforementioned Letter to Candy Crush Saga
Trust me when I say that these are not the only worthwhile blogs out there from the Newbie Blogger Initiative group. Here is a list of the remaining active blogs, please go and check them out:
Why I Game / Healing Mains / Stynlan’s Musings / Neurotic Girl / Warp to Zero / Dreadblade / White Charr / FunSponge / World’s End Tavern / Wynniekins’ Adventures / That Was An Accident / Altaclysmic / The Adventures of Danania / Red’s Roid Rage / Bloodthorne / Unwavering Sentinel / Sephora’s Closet / Warlockery / Elfkina Vezicka (Slovak) / Beyond Tannhauser Gate / Noob Raider (Japanese) / The Delver / Geotia’s Letters
That’s a much easier list to swallow than the whole 111 that started.
So, again, I wanted to give a huge Thank You to Syp for starting the movement in the first place, and an even bigger Thank You to all of my friends, supporters, and readers who make me look forward to creating my future posts.
You all rock!
P.S. – I still can’t believe I lost the “Promising Star” Award by only 3 votes… to a blog that is not even active anymore! Ah well. So it goes…
Well, folks, in about 16 hours Neverwinter, the latest MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World will be entering it’s open beta phase of development. Past this point there will be no character wipes, though, so for all intents and purposes, consider Neverwinter launched. After all, the difference between a soft open-beta and a full-on launch is just bug fixes and patches, which happen all the time in MMO development anyway.
So once the floodgates open, we can fully start enjoying our time on the Tarnished Coast in all the glory the Dungeons and Dragons setting can muster (without really being very Dungeons and Dragons). But, to be honest, I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve spent a long time playing in Perfect World and Cryptic’s other games, namely Star Trek Online and Rusty Hearts, and the trend I’ve seen is a little scary. Namely, that the psychology behind relieving the player of their money is getting better and better.
Now, I’ve lived around gambling for quite some time. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the great state of New Jersey, so all my life I’ve been less than an hour drive to one of the USA’s great gambling meccas, Atlantic City. And now, Philadelphia itself has started to becoming a gambling destination of its own, sprouting up a few casinos in the past couple years. With my fascination of human behavior, this has led to a keen understanding of how the casinos are able to pull the money out of your pockets so easily.
And with the rise of Free-To-Play MMOs and casual mobile gaming, I’m starting to see the same signs invade our hobby…
Seeing Others Win
Have you ever put money into a slot machine, and even if you’ve won just a few coins the machine started whooping and hollering like a banshee? This is 100% on purpose. The noise and alarms that arise from slot machines is both for your benefit (You won! Woohoo!) but also for the benefit of others around you (Look! That guy won!). The draw of seeing others win with lights and sounds is a signal to others that they can win, too.
In games that use subscription models, this acts more like a Skinner Box, pushing you forward to your next dose of positive reinforcement. In Free-to-Play, though, seeing others win is an impetus to get where they are, and spending money is the easiest way to get there. In Star Trek Online, for example, whenever a lockbox is opened and the top prize is given out, a message goes out to the entire playerbase that you have won. Every… single… online… player. And there is NO OPTION to turn it off!
Giving you the option to do so would seriously hurt their income, too. Seeing others win is the biggest driver of sales of the lockbox keys, which puts money directly into their pockets. With the odds of winning being as low as they are, and the frequency at which people are spending money on keys to open the boxes… they aren’t going anywhere. Lockboxes make them money hand over fist, and despite the loud complaining about them, the players keep buying them, hoping for the big hit.
Playing With Points and Not Real Money
When you want to start gambling at table games, the first thing you do is head to a table and drop some money on the table. These are then replaced with clay chips that are used at the gambling tables. Universal, and nobody thinks twice about it. But really, they should! Why chips? Why have tokens that represent money? Well, for one, the casino finds it easier to transfer money en-mass and little chips are easier than stacks of paper. But the biggest reason is that, in the players mind, those chips stop representing real money. They become a plaything, a toy used in the transaction of gambling. The most I’ve ever dropped on a single hand of blackjack was $60. In chips, that’s two green $25 chips, and two red $5 chips. This was very easy to do at the time. If, in order to play, I had to pull three $20 bills out of my wallet and bet them on ONE HAND of blackjack… the better part of my mind would’ve stopped me. Those three $20s aren’t just bills… that’s food, gas, etc. However, in chip form, there’s a disconnect between the chips and real money.
In MMOs, the same goes with store points. Most games don’t do this, but Perfect World’s Zen has a direct 1:1 correlation with the American dollar. 1 Zen = $.01. So $20 = 2000 Zen and so forth. So that big Andorian Kumari Vessels 3-Pack that’s 5000 Zen literally translates to $50! However, once those bills are transferred into points, they don’t go into the same category as cash in your mind. And with Star Trek Online’s Dilithium or Neverwinter’s Astral Diamonds, even these have a direct correlation with Zen, which has a direct correlation with real cash. They become just another game currency, and as such, they’re easier to spend as your mind treats them differently.
Comfortability and Keeping You Active
In older casinos, finding clocks is relatively tricky. There is, however, a new thought of casino design that since people have easy access to a clock themselves, changing the environment to hide the outside world isn’t the primary thinking anymore. It’s more about being comfortable. If people are comfortable and they enjoy their environment, they will spend more. Roger Thomas, the head of design for Wynn’s Resorts has essentially reinvented the modern casino. Now, instead of a cave setting, Wynn’s casinos feature sunlight, opulence, and artwork. The key here is that a casino is now an adult playground, designed to be so comfortable that you’ll want to spend more time in them seeking whatever pleasures are offered. More time, afterall, equals more money in the casino’s pockets.
The same goes with MMOs. The more time you spend in them, the more money you will spend in a Free-To-Play game. And so, the key is to make the players as comfortable and as busy as possible, with reasons to keep coming back. Comfortability is easy. Players like the familiar, and are too thrown off by the different. If they see mechanics that they’ve seen in other games, they’ll find it all very comfortable. My recent review of the game posited that Neverwinter is really just a blend of other games, not doing everything the same, but not really adding to it, either.
And then keeping players active is Perfect World’s modus operandi, something they have perfected. How many times have I logged into Star Trek Online to stay for a few minutes, only to end up staying for an hour or more? From Forbe’s exultation of the game’s Landing Page and timed events to STO’s real-time Doff system or Neverwinter’s timed crafting system (like Zynga’s multi-billion dollar strategy), giving you stuff to do and giving you reasons to come back is paramount, and they do it well.
So What is The Future?
Really, it’s not going to stop. With Zynga opening up real online casinos, and Perfect World using casino strategies in their games, it will just lead to a bigger and bigger industry. Casino psychology has been around for ages and is only going to get stronger. Although Neverwinter is taking the chance by not offering a subscription at all, they know the psych game well and so it’s not really a huge risk for them.
You will find me periodically heading into Neverwinter, and I will most likely periodically be spending money there, too. If the game is fun, I don’t mind it at all… but always in the back of my mind is that itch. That little voice that says “The House Always Wins”. So, I don’t see myself spending tons of time in Neverwinter, maybe just a weekend trip here and there.
Just like a vacation to the casinos.
So how behind am I on this? A month? That’s not so bad. The first fully paid content pack for The Secret World was released on March 14th, and only over the past week or so have I been able to check it out. Let’s just say that I still wasn’t ready for it.
My Illuminati character, Ocholivis, finally reached the level where the quest ratings for the expansion turned from “Devastating” to “Normal”. But I think they lied… in playing through the missions, I’ve just had my behind handed to me again and again and again. Quality level 10 items are dropping, fully replacing my current QL 7 items, which I’m happy about, but making my way through the content has been arduous.
So, since the bevy of players have already worked well past this content pack, allow me to give you my belated thoughts on it.
Simply, it’s awesome.
It’s based off of Indiana freaking Jones!
Indiana! Nazi-beating, tomb-spelunking, Ark-opening Indiana! And I don’t mean it’s based like the uber-cheesy way that World of Warcraft sprinkles pop culture in every other sentence. I mean in that you-experience-the-adventure kind of way. Time travel? Check! Infiltration? Check! Fisticuffs? Check! Taking an ancient artifact from an old Egyptian tomb? Check! Stopping a train carrying a bomb set to explode in a major metropolitan area?! Check! Holy hell, even the music during the final mission takes its cue from the movies. The tropes you see in the fantastic Indiana Jones movies (except the last one, which I refuse to acknowledge even exists) become viable in The Secret World’s setting, even down to picking up a whip to use as an auxiliary weapon.
And of course, busting out the classic fedora.
Story, Story, Story, Story, Story
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, I’m a fan of story. Whether it’s a short 90-minute story found in movies, a long drawn-out story found in novels and serialized TV shows, or an interactive story found in video games and MMOs, story is the driving factor of the medium. There are those who disagree (and with good reasons), but why I play these games is to experience the storylines behind them. Not just small, colorful, localized vignettes, but a full over-arcing complete storyline. I’m not here to be a plain citizen (a really overpowered super-citizen) of a fantasy world, I’m here to experience the story of why my character is heroic and how that changes his or her society.
And The Last Train to Cairo is chock full of delicious, delicious story. From fleshing out Said and the villainous Abdel Daoud to the pop-culture loving Nassir, the first full content package for The Secret World is well worth the $10 pricetag.
Most of the Missions Can Be Played Under-Level (But not the final mission, apparently…)
Now, my progress in The Secret World has been, compared to most players, very slow. So far, I’ve only been to 4 zones in total and haven’t left the Scorched Desert yet. So, seeing as how this content pack is supposed to be for players at “max level”, I entered the missions way below recommendation (not actually true, the mission’s description said I would probably be okay, but the reality was far from the truth… one of the downsides of not having levels, I guess). To that end, the first 5 missions in the 6 mission quest chain are all completely doable with little trouble, and max QL 10 items drop to boot, very quickly boosting your abilities.
However, I have not yet finished the final climactic mission yet as the mobs just whoop me left, right, and sideways. But, maybe with a little tweaking of my build I may be able to push through it. The Secret World is more about flexibility and skill than it is your straight-up level. Similar to Guild Wars 1, it’s about building your character horizontally. The more tools you have to play with, the better off you’ll be.
So, in closing, the first true paid content pack in The Secret World sets a very high bar for any future updates. Heck, even on top of all the story missions, they even threw in a 10-player raid and a new PvP zone!
All in all, impressive as heck, Funcom, and I can’t wait to see what’s up your sleeve next. … Also, try to keep EA as far away as possible.
P.S. – The Buzzing has pointed, to those that will listen, sweetlings, a couple creative character blogs based on The Secret World. Check them out!
Conduit – Tales from the Other Side of the World
Through a Lens – Facing the World From Behind a Camera
So last Sunday I was all set up to write a post about crafting in The Secret World, how there is no real guide for it, and essentially make a guide for those not really knowing what to do with the random runes and dust they pick up. However, my Comcast internet would have none of it. Trying to play the game for research was an abysmal failure. Every mob I fought would straight-up slaughter me during a lag spike. My once strong download speeds without packet losses, lag, latency, or jitter, great for gaming and watching streaming video has, over the past week, degraded to the point that my primary hobby is fully out of commission.
Now, I’m relatively tech savvy. I built my own gaming rig, I know a thing or two about the multitude of OS options out there, and I’m asked frequently by friends, family, and strangers for tech advice. So, when I encounter network problems, I generally know how to approach them. After going through all the checks and rechecks, the problem is not my router, it is not my cable modem, nor is it my computer. The problem lies outside of the tech that I can affect, and now I must rely on Comcast to come and attempt to fix the problem, which could take weeks (or as a friend lovingly told me about dealing with Comcast, possibly months). Lovely.
Gaming wise, though, I have been stuck on The Secret World. Trying to play it now is utterly futile. Any MMO I would play is futile. Without a stable and reliable internet connection, there is no point in even trying.
But ANY game needing a full-time internet connection is out, for possibly weeks. With the current trend in gaming this would also means games like Diablo 3, SimCity, and if I had the next generation XBox, literally any game I would own for that console. These aren’t just MMOs, games where always being connected gives you the benefit of community, these are single-player games with unnecessary multi-player extras tacked on. But yet, if I owned them, I would now be completely unable to play them.
So, tell me, honestly, who hasn’t this happened to? Who hasn’t, at some point, lost usable service? Apparently, if you have Comcast as your service provider, which in my area Comcast is the ONLY choice for wired internet and holds a monopoly, service drops are frequent and the norm. Getting lines repaired could cost me more out-of-pocket expenses (on top of my monthly fee) and take weeks or months to fix. I’m sure it’s not just Comcast, though.
If there is any physical component, and hardware involved in your network, that hardware is capable of failing. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it, either. It’s not a question of how or why, but when.
So who is this shift in the always-on trend really supposed to be benefiting? With Microsoft telling us to just #DealWithIt, EA being named the worst company in America due to gamer backlash from it, and Blizzard straight-up not caring, it is certainly not the gamers. And yet, gamers will still throw money after money at these games and think nothing of it. Think nothing of the possibility of having their single-player games servers being shut off, or the possibility their hard-earned money is going to a purchase that can instantly become as useful as a paperweight (less, even, a paperweight can still hold down papers).
I hope companies like EA and Blizzard really are getting the message that this is not acceptable. We, as intelligent people making intelligent purchases, should not give them a single dime for any product that demands these always-on connections. We’re simply paying them for the privilege of giving them more power. Power that they, frankly, don’t deserve. Give us real reasons as to why an always-on connection is beneficial, or options to use it or not, put the power back into the consumers hands.
Until then, I’m voting with my wallet, as it seems the only language these companies understand.
Show of hands, how many of you actually listen to the music in the games you play? Hmmm… wow, that’s more than I was expecting. If you’re not, though, you should really start as video game music is already it’s own artform with known and highly sought after composers like Jeremy Soule, main composer of the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. No longer are we in the age of simple MIDI compositions, but full orchestrations take center stage. This is a good thing. A very good thing.
There is even a new podcast, recently started, called Battle Bards that showcases the music of our favorite MMOs in a roundtable discussion. The podcast is hosted by the quartet of Steph from MMO Gamer Chick, Syl from MMO Gypsy, Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and Justin from Massively and Bio Break (and since I’m link-dropping, Tesh from TishToshTesh did the artwork). I listened to the pilot episode, and it is fantastic and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a music aficionado like myself.
So, in honor of the Battle Bards newly minted podcast, here are my top five favorite video game musical compositions of all time. In order of simply how awesome they are.
#5 – Guild Wars – Lakeside County – Jeremy Soule
When I first started playing Guild Wars, it was as a quick break from the game I (and everyone and their mother) was addicted to, World of Warcraft. Because of my addiction, I never gave Guild Wars a fair shake and have always been disappointed that I never really played through the storyline. From what I can see of Guild Wars 2, the story from Guild Wars 1 seems superior, so it’s even more of a shame. Anyway, after the introduction and the stroll into town, the first zone you visit is Lakeside County in Ascalon. I could listen to this music over and over again, and frequently did. The beauty of the landscape, the autumn foilage slowly falling off the trees, the picturesque sky and valleys, and then this hauntingly beautiful flowing melody that didn’t quite fill you with hope of a new adventure, but set the tone of “everything is not what it seems”. Perfect foreshadowing for the trials to come.
#4 – Lord of the Rings Online – Shire Hills 03844 – Chance Thomas(?)
When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in 7th grade, it was my first real foray into medieval-style fantasy fiction and the writings of JRR Tolkien was one of the best places to start. The culture presented of the Hobbits was instantly likable as one of curiosity and adventure. Whether that adventure was a full fellowship or just an adventure down the river to visit a neighbor, Hobbits, to me, always represented movement, motion, and progress. Even shoes held them back, they were always on the move. Why do you think they needed so many meals? For being such small creatures, their metabolism was through the roof and adventure was the way to burn off all those calories. They were the beginning of something much larger than themselves (as everything was much larger than they were), and this song with its upbeat guitars, light drum, and clapping gives the feeling of that forward movement. The song revolves around a single theme, but is intertwined periodically with other melodic phrases and joined by many other lines, like all the different sights to see and friends to meet while traveling down the road.
#3 – Skyrim – Main Theme – Jeremy Soule
I won’t lie. I played the EFF out of Skyrim. I didn’t stop playing because I grew tired of the game, I stopped playing because at level 65 I RAN OUT OF STUFF TO DO! I had completed every faction’s quests, the main storyline was done, and aside from grinding every skill up to 100 I was already maxed out in my favorites. Some guard would want to tell me about an old injury or something, but really there was nothing left to do. However, the theme song makes it sound like there’s always something to do. It’s got that grand, majestic feel with the chanting and horns that makes you feel like shouting from the tops of the mountains.
It starts out like a thunderstorm, bass drums and chants, and then slowly gathers steam until you’re in the thick of it. The horns pick up the main theme, and then take it over. The vocals pick up like thrums of lightning, then crescendo like gathering bursts of wind. A slight break, with a falsetto line leads into a joining of the chorus with the horns into the heart of the piece. After a couple more crescendos, the song lightens and ends on a clear and crisp note just like the storm having finally passed. With Skyrim being a land of harsh climate, both politically and physically, creating the music around a coming storm just ties it all together nicely.
#2 – Ultima IX – Stones – David “Iolo” Watson
I know I’ve been posting a lot about Ultima lately, but what can I say, it’s a big part of my own gaming history. And if there’s one song that would represent that history, it’s Stones. Encountered in the game sometimes at random, it was always a song that made me stop in my tracks. Say what you will about Ultima IX (and it’s all justified), but this is hands down my favorite version of Stones yet. Starting with that slow lute and then being picked up by the flute, it presents a haunting melody that feels very melancholy. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of hope. The song lightens and the skies part. However, just as quick as they part, the melancholy comes back in the final strains of the piece. It’s like saying “yes, there are times when you will be down but remember there is always a ray of hope to lift your spirits”. Even if, in the end, you’re still sad, that ray of hope has a way of melting it away if only for a small time.
#1 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin
Trivia Time! What was the first piece of music made for a video game to ever be nominated for and win a Grammy? You’re looking at it. I can’t say enough good things about Baba Yetu that I’m not even sure where to start. The Civilization series of games is all about building an empire to stand the test of time from humble beginnings and this song shows that by just not letting up on the hope and majesty, constantly building on itself over and over again until your goosebumps find goosebumps of their own. And just when you think it can’t build any more, it smooths out and ends on the main theme that puts that extra faith in humanity’s future. Plus, the fact that the song is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili just adds that extra spark of faith that wraps the entire thing together into just an amazing piece. Christopher Tin ended up winning a Grammy for this song, and although I don’t agree with those that pick the winners of the Grammys usually, I couldn’t help but applaud their choice here. Simply amazing.
And now, thanks to making this list, I’ll now have these songs stuck in my head for the rest of the week.
PS – There could be a lot worse songs to have stuck there…
PPS – Think I missed any, please post them in the comments!
Blizzard, EA, and apparently now Microsoft, too, have thrown their companies full-ahead into the age of Always-On DRM. In other words, you must always have a stable Internet connection and be communicating with their servers at all times in order to play their games in an effort to crack down on piracy. The issue of always-on DRM is one that has been long in coming with the industry having finally taken the leap and now making the worst fears of gamers a reality. So far we have seen massive server problems, delays, and stoppages preventing players who have purchased games like SimCity and Diablo 3 with their own hard-earned money from accessing these games. Games that could have easily been played without the need to be connected at all!
Murphy’s Law at it’s finest.
However, Shroud of the Avatar, just 35 hours away from finishing up it’s successful Kickstarter venture (for which I am a proud backer) is bucking the new trend. Bucking it, hitting it over the head with a chair, and throwing it completely out the window. The 5th update given during the Kickstarter campaign, only 3 days after it started, came right out and said they were listening to feedback and decided to make the Kickstarter version of the game DRM free and thus could be played completely off-line. 5 days later, the 10th update kicked it into high gear and is making, what I think, one of the greatest methods of handling gameplay I’ve ever heard.
You can play SotA in 4 completely different ways. Single-player Offline (SPOff), Single-Player Online (SPO), Friends-Play Online (FPO), and Open-Play Online (OPO).
Just like pretty much every single-player game ever made since the dawn of gaming, single-player offline is a DRM-free, completely offline version of the game. Your character is stored on your own computer, there are no micro-transactions, and the game is played entirely client-side, no internet connection needed. Any character you create will only be playable offline to prevent hacking or exploits to enter the online play, but you can still experience the full story.
Single-Player Online mode is a version of the game where once more you are the only player in the game. However, you connect to the server, receive content updates, and get to see any long term changes other gamers have made on the world. You play the game still entirely on your own, but it would be like a single-player MMO. This is like the instanced-solo dungeons that you see in games like Neverwinter, the original Guild Wars, or Star Trek Online. You see the effects of a changing game, can participate in the economy, but you don’t have to play along with anyone else.
Friends-Play Online is the multiplayer that we see cropping up in numerous games these days. In effect, it’s the same as SPO, but you see other players that you have already tagged as friends. It works as a limited online experience and is described as “For those who prefer the quieter game with friends or maybe for those who prefer a more focused role playing experience”.
And finally there is the method of playing that is most like the MMOs we have come to know today, Open-Play Online. In OPO, you will not be seeing everybody, but when you enter an area you will see other gamers that the server thinks you should see. Based on your own style of gameplay, you will see strangers, but strangers you might have a connection with. If you enjoy role-playing, you might find yourself surrounded by players who also enjoy role-playing. Or PvP. Or grouping. I take it you would have to fill out a small survey about your gaming style ahead of time, but even the complete strangers you’ll meet in Open-Play you’ll still have some sort of connection to.
Also, not only can you play Shroud of the Avatar in these 4 different ways, but you can switch between SPO, FPO, and OPO almost at-will while playing!
I don’t use this phrase often, but this is Revolutionary. Seriously.
What are Yew looking at?
Just imagine if a game like Diablo 3 had launched with this system in mind. For those without the greatest internet connections in the world, they could enjoy the game off-line, just like they did Diablo 2. Or, they could create an online character and play the game solo with benefits like the auction house, or only seeing other friends they have played with through Battle-Net, or a version of the game that randomly grouped like-minded and skilled gamers together. Then, if the Auction-House was only available to players who played the online versions, that would be reason enough to play online for most people and DRM would’ve just been an afterthought. Under that model, I really could’ve seen Diablo 3 being named game of the decade. As it stands now, I’ll never even touch Diablo 3. See the difference, Blizzard?!
Playing on Portalarium’s servers is now a choice that is in the gamers hands. A choice that discourages piracy, not through brute-force like EA does, but by giving tangible benefits to those that don’t pirate, playing with others and seeing the game change over time.
Instead of being treated like a criminal, SotA is going to treat gamers like guests into their world. When you empower the gamer and give us a voice, it’s not surprising at all to see the pledge number edging ever closer to $1,500,000. Through this simple action, Portalarium, and Garriott himself, has shown that he wants to work with us gamers, not against us, to make the best gaming experience possible for everyone.
Think you have what it takes to beat the puzzles in The Secret World?
Currently, I’m back into playing The Secret World and the game once more reminded me why it’s hands-down awesome. The way it mixes gameplay styles going from pure combat to defense, to mind-bending puzzles to platforming and stealth and then has a gripping setting and compelling storyline backing it up, I wonder sometimes why I ever leave the game.
And then I remember.
In The Secret World, it is entirely possible to spend an entire gaming session bashing your head up against one of their devious puzzles and not make any progress. It’s frustrating, as you know when you finally have time again and you decide to go back into the game, that puzzle will still be there taunting you.
Signal Effect seems like a good litmus test to show their deviousness. So here I will present to you the research part of the puzzle Signal Effect (without giving the answer away, of course). See if you can figure it out.
Down the rabbit hole…
An odd transmission has been picked up. However, it’s not that strong. You are sent to find satellite dishes around the town and alter them so that they all point to the source of this transmission. You platform jump to find all 4 satellite dishes and point them in the right direction. However, each dish tells you different things when you search for the signal…
Satellite Dish #1:
29 21 68 6f 24 28 23 23 2c 20 63 28 23 20 5f bf
23 20 68 24 21 29 20 24 23 3f 20 43 26 3d 2a 28
25 20 40 2b 72 20 29 5e 78 20 24 21 79 24 20 40
28 21 20 23 24 2a 25 6e 20 21 2a 67 23 29 23 2e
20 21 63 21 28 23 73 20 74 26 24 20 25 5e 26 40
20 6f 2a 20 24 69 2b 40 2e 20 46 5f 24 2a 21 79
2d 28 5e 75 29 20 21 65 61 23 2b 23 20 5e 26 5e
76 21 20 21 68 5f 25 20 2a 20 21 28 40 23 79 2c
20 62 40 25 20 2a 20 63 24 69 29 40 20 28 2b 20
69 40 20 5e 2a 20 23 28 65 20 5e 2a 26 21 65 20
2b 7e 20 21 65 21 5f 24 21 20 48 25 2a 40 20 6d
2a 20 5f 6f 3d 24 40 21
Satellite Dish #2:
83 33 61 42 108 97 35 35 44 32 33 40 110 32 95
61 35 32 64 101 33 41 32 109 35 63 32 64 104 61
42 40 100 32 102 43 37 32 41 94 40 32 100 33 42
36 32 97 40 33 32 115 101 42 37 35 32 110 105 36
35 41 35 46 32 65 41 33 40 35 61 32 64 104 36 32
37 94 38 115 32 33 42 32 36 94 114 64 46 32 64
45 117 114 33 42 45 40 94 40 114 32 98 38 42 35
43 35 32 94 38 94 64 101 32 33 64 97 37 32 42 32
99 40 64 114 94 44 32 42 117 37 32 42 32 33 36
37 110 64 32 40 111 32 36 64 32 94 110 32 35 40
36 32 104 42 38 33 42 32 43 102 32 33 42 97 95
36 33 32 40 37 42 100 32 36 42 32 119 33 61 36
Satellite Dish #3:
Satellite Dish #4:
00101001 00100001 00111101 00101010 01101100
00101000 00100011 01110011 00101100 00100000
00100001 00101000 00100011 00100000 01111001
00111101 00100011 00100000 01000000 00100100
01100001 00101001 00100000 00100100 01100101
00111111 00100000 01000000 00101011 00111101
01110011 01100101 00100101 00100000 01000000
01101111 00100101 00100000 00101001 01101001
00101000 00100000 00100100 01100001 00101010
00100100 00100000 01000000 00101000 01100100
00100000 00100011 00100100 00101010 01100101
00100011 00100000 00100001 00101010 00100100
00100011 01110100 01110011 00101110 00100000
00100001 00101001 01110010 01101111 00100011
00111101 00100000 01000000 00101011 00100100
00100000 01110000 01101001 00100110 01000000
00100000 00100001 00101010 00100000 01100110
01011110 00101011 01000000 00101110 00100000
01000000 01011111 00100100 00101010 01110100
00101010 00101101 00100001 01101111 00101000
00101001 00100000 00100001
00100110 00101010 01110011 00101011 00100011
00100000 01100011 01110010 01011110 01000000
00100001 00100000 00100001 01000000 01011111
01110100 00100000 00101010 00100000 00101100
00100000 00101010 01000000 00100101 00100000
01001001 00100000 00100001 00100100 00100101
00101001 01000000 00100000 01110100 00101011
00100000 00100100 01110100 00100000 01011110
00101010 00100000 00100011 01101000 00100100
00100000 01011110 00101010 00100110 01110011
00101010 00100000 01101111 01111110 00100000
00100001 00101010 00100001 01011111 01101000
00100001 00100000 00101000 01100101 00101010
01000000 00100000 00100100 00101010 00100000
01011111 00100001 00111101 01100100 01000000
Got it? Okay. All the quest log states now is that in these transmissions is the answer on where to go next. So, let’s say you find the answer and head to the location given. There you find a box. This box needs a 4-digit code to open.
To finish the mission, what is this 4-digit code?
Space. The final frontier.
If you’ve solved it without looking up the answer (here), Congratulations! You’re a better person than I.
But… a SIDE-MISSION?! Really?! Compared to the big investigative missions that have multiple steps, this one is relatively short, but I still wouldn’t have called it a side-mission.
Up until this point I’ve enjoyed and have taken pride of the fact that I have not cheated or looked up any solution on any of the investigative missions so far, and the rush you get when you solve one is wicked and makes you crave more. I’ve even gone so far as when I’m researching to use the ‘-”secret world”‘ command in search engines to keep any spoilers from showing up.
But then I hit “Signal Effect”. In other missions, I’ve researched Bible translations going back to the 16th century, read full websites dedicated to fake authors, translated latin, used ISBN numbers as passcodes, and used children’s nursery rhymes to summon dark spirits. And the Morse code. Oh god the Morse code! The mission Signal Effect finally stumped me, though, and I had to look up the answer. It could be that the mission was misclassified, and was listed in-game as just a “side mission”, meant to only take up a few minutes, and so when I hit it near the tail end of the night I didn’t have the fortitude to solve it and, in a moment of weakness, looked up the solution.
So sue me.