Monthly Archives: April 2011

Hope They’re ‘Listening’

Wise words from a wise man.

Here’s to hoping that someone at Turbine’s read Syp’s piece and takes it to heart. Better yet, take it to the Board Room. The anniversary festival this year is a disaster; the only thing keeping me from calling it an ‘unmitigated disaster’ is that I just don’t care enough to get worked up over it. Everything about the entire situation reeks of the worst type of game design/customer relationship management, and nothing about the festival or its rewards is even slightly appealing enough to motivate me to care. And guess what happens when your paying customers stop caring about your entertainment product?

That’s right.

The thing is, I want to care. So very, very badly. With Isengard in sight and Rohan just over the next horizon (the fact that they even discussed mounted combat in a recent interview got my pulse up!), there are so many reasons for me to want to be invested in LotRO. In theory.

In reality, I’m just a little bit at a loss. LotRO is becoming “death by a thousand cuts” for me – one tiny (or not so tiny) decision at a time, it’s bleeding the fun out of it. And in the face of some extremely strong competition, both current and future, having a disenchanted player-base is not a situation in which I think any MMO company would want to find themselves.

Oh, we're going to Mordor, Turbine...like it or not.

I just want to see Mordor. I want to fight beside Gandalf at the siege of Gondor. I want to stand behind Aragorn and watch the Black Gates crumble. And I’ll get there, even if I have to carry Turbine and throw them into the fires myself.

I want to finish what I began four years ago; I knew it would be a long road and never did I expect that we would have arrived by now. But it was there, that final goal, whispering in the back of my head, on that first day I logged in. How could we not have wished for it, even back then?

But I feel like someone at Turbine knows all this, expects it from at least a portion of the players, and therefor thinks they can drag us through hell on  the way; because we’ll take it. Because they can.

Can they? Sometimes I wonder.

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Another Week in the Sun

This week marks our (almost) yearly family trip to Florida, so I’m pretty much out of the loop for gaming. This laptop can run LotRO, but it’s not much good for group activities. Besides, the whole thing is a good excuse to take a break and catch up on some sleep; it’s amazing how different it feels getting a nearly full night of sleep (kids still make the “full night” fairly improbable). Still, smartphones and WiFi mean we aren’t completely cut off, so keeping up with the news is still possible.

Somehow it slipped my attention that I’d be on vacation during the end of the first World Event in RIFT; normally, I’d bemoan the fact that I missed such an event, but it seems that I didn’t really miss anything and, given my gaming schedule, it’s not likely that I would have been able to get in to see the end anyway. I’m a little upset about how the whole thing played out, but mostly from the position of “detached observer”. I was barely able to accumulate enough shardstones to buy the few items I really wanted, and other than that I wasn’t particularly invested in the event. I was more interested in it as a concept – that it seemed technically feasible and demonstrated Trion’s intentions.

I’ve ponied up for the Founder’s Pricing (which, to be honest, is pretty tame compared to LotRO‘s Founder’s deal) and subbed for the next three months, which I would have done even without the River of Souls. However, it seems that Trion really has fumbled for the first time. But possibly not for reasons fully within their control; the “Bring a Friend” weekend was probably planned well in advance, and the unexpected delay in releasing Phase 2 just created a truly unfortunate set of circumstances; despite giving “priority access” to subscribers, once a visitor is actually in the game, I imagine that Trion would not kick them out for a paying customer.

While I agree with Syncaine about the overall response from players (outrageous entitlement and completely undue rage), I do have two points where I disagree. First, technical issues prevented players who wanted to play and were online at the time from entering the game world. That’s not the fault of players, is a pretty straightforward problem, and is an issue that Trion needs to address.

The second issue is much larger, and it’s something that makes me think twice about long-term investment in RIFT – the nature of dynamic events and exactly how far Trion wants to take the “dynamic” nature of the game. Syncaine is right – it’s just not reasonable (but then again, how often are we reasonable in our demands?) for players to laud Trion for providing a more dynamic world, while at the same time screaming about that same dynamic content not being available to them at any time they choose to log in. It’s an issue that Trion will have to work hard to tackle – how do you make a truly dynamic world, one that’s always changing, while at the same time providing equal opportunity and access to all players no matter what time of day/week/month they choose to log in? It would seem that one cannot accommodate the other.

My guess is that there are a lot of conversations about this very topic going on right now; Trion has already acknowledged their missteps and seems to realize the nature of their error. My guess would be that, in the future, “dynamic content” will fall into one of a few categories:

  • World Events – these will come and go, but each phase will last several days or weeks instead of being as brief as the final phases of River of Souls.
  • “One offs” – these will be very short events (days or even hours) that have minimal impact on the world, almost no real benefit (i.e. loot drops/currencies), but provide the “living world” feel and are fun for those who experience them.
  • Rifts/Invasions – these are well established and will continue as they always have.
  • Something else(?)

It will be interesting to see the outcome, and considering that the next World Event is probably right around the corner, I think we’ll see how their design decisions have shifted based on this first event.

In other news (for the games I play!), Turbine announced the Fourth Anniversary Celebration. I’m always a fan of Turbine’s events, but this one just seems like more of the same. Not to mention that it’s apparently quite a grind (when Goldenstar decides to skip, you know there are issues). The mount is nice, and I’ll certainly be working towards it, and I’ve always liked the “Beer Battle” (I still have a title to achieve, if this is the same mini-game as what’s in the seasonal festival), but nonetheless it seems like there is a distinct lack of content to motivate participation. I know that they can’t “hit one out of the park” every time, but after the rather bland Spring Festival, I was hoping for something a bit…more. Four years is an achievement, but not exactly an easy milestone to promote – it’s not a multiple of five. I’m hoping that they really pull out the stops for next year!

That’s about it for now. Back to the beach!

Can There Be Good Grind?

Another festival come and gone in LotRO, another new mount for my stable and a few new items in my wardrobe (this year’s Festival cloaks were particularly nice!). I always enjoy Turbine’s events, and even though this Spring Festival hadn’t undergone the overhaul that the previous Harvest and Winter Festivals saw, it was still a good time. Stomping shrews, for all of its barbarity, has always been one of my favorite mini-games in LotRO.

Thanks to the extra quest at the Hedge Maze, this particular festival saw me accomplish a goal I’ve held in-game for a very long time – achieving Kindred with both the Inn League and the Ale Association. Getting to Kindred with the Ale Association was fairly straightforward; the number of quests available during each festival made it a fast climb up to the top, but for every quest completed there is a loss to Inn League reputation. You gain more than you lose, so if one is diligent enough and does all of the courier quests for both groups, the net effect is a gain for both. But I’m stubborn, and once I reached Kindred with the Ale Association, I went for the long route so I wouldn’t lose my status. This means there’s normally only one quest available – The Inn League trial run.

Let’s just say I’ve done a lot of drinking in-game over the last three years. It’s a good thing the Inn League makes you check your liver during the initiation quests, because at this point I’d be on my death bed from a catastrophic failure of any number of organs. (I wonder how many Badges of Taste it will cost me to get it back?)

Of course, the hard part now is getting the Badges to buy the Inn League mount. That’s going to entail a loss of reputation no matter what, so I guess it’s time for some math.

I was really happy to have completed this particular achievement; not only because, towards the end, the Trial Run was getting a little stale, but also because it represents the completion of a goal I set for myself a few years ago. So often in MMO’s we measure time in hours or days – at most months – and while I’m not maligning a standard in-game achievement, I think it speaks volumes to our attitudes about commitment and the rather shallow value of “achievement” in our gaming. If it can’t be completed in a gaming session or two, it’s generally labeled as a “grind” (valid or not).

On the other end of the “satisfaction spectrum”, I also managed to finish up the last of my slayer deeds in the Misty Mountains (on to Evendim!). While the Inn League reputation brought me a real sense of accomplishment (and even a touch of pride), completing these only brought a feeling of having finished a chore and a sense of relief that I’d never, ever go back and do that again. Which makes me kind of sad. Having all desire to go back to an area as beautiful as the Misty Mountains absolutely obliterated, it’s just not nice.

Which leads me to my point; not all grind has to be bad.

Grinding out 240 Signature mobs for a tick on one of my virtues and a ten cent tip is not fun; especially when it’s only purpose is to “extend the gameplay”.  Which it does, I suppose, but not for fun. Running the same quest nearly a hundred times, while somewhat tedious, led to real satisfaction. The former took a few hours, the later a few years, and yet I would do the Inn League reputation again. So what’s the difference?

It comes down to intent. And context. Killing Giants in the Misty Mountains only took a few hours, thanks to a Deed Accelerator (which may be the real issue here – I don’t like feeling like my hand has been forced) and has a real impact on character development, albeit a fairly small one. But it’s tacked onto the game, artificially adding hours to my “gameplay”, and has absolutely no context within the stories or character progression. I’m not killing them for a reason, I’m just wandering around Giant Halls until I fill a progress bar. Running a series of drinking games, while not of direct benefit to the world or even my character, makes sense within the context of the world and the factions with which I’m trying to curry favor. They only take 20 minutes or so, spread out over years, so the time investment is minor at any given time. And it’s fun, or funny. Both.

To be sure, it’s a fine line and a very difficult balance to attain. And it’s an issue of personal preference. For some people grinding out hundreds of mobs constitutes fun, or at least fun enough to stomach. Maybe it’s meditative. Or cathartic. The point is that, done right, long-term achievements can be extremely rewarding without being downright tedious. Even those that require repetitive tasks.

It’s Been a Long, Long Time

This past weekend was all about RIFT for me; I even took last Friday off and had one of those ultra-rare gaming marathons! Six solid hours of RIFT, followed by a few good sessions over the “official” weekend…good times.

I have to say that I’m very impressed with the new World Event. Though, so far, the event doesn’t seem like much more than a few daily quests, some new vendor items, and an increased number of Death rifts. I’m looking forward to seeing the next two phases, however, and if the whole thing is an indication of Trion’s ability to roll out dynamic content, I’m pretty excited about the future of the game. Supposedly Trion has built a framework for delivering this kind of content into the game, so my guess is we’ll be seeing a lot of this kind of activity. It’s not Update 2, but so far River of Souls feels like a success.

I stretched some long-unused “MMO muscles” this weekend, and did a lot of things I haven’t done for far too long. I’ve pretty much come down on the side of the Defiants – running a Paladin/Warlord/Void Knight tank for groups and a Riftblade/Champion/Paragon for “fun” when running solo. The Warrior is a class I haven’t played in a very, very long time – the last time I considered a tank as my main was when I played World of Warcraft oh-so-many-years-ago. It’s a very different experience trying to keep all the attention on me, instead of staying out of sight as a Burglar. Though with RIFT‘s system of “all-things-to-everyone” classes, I’m still not sure if Warrior is my true calling. What’s still surprising is the almost complete lack of interest I still have (don’t have?) in Rogues. Not like me at all.

I managed to run my first dungeon as well – Iron Tombs. It’s fairly standard as far as dungeons go, but I wouldn’t expect much more for the first dungeon players experience. Aside from being a bit of a maze, the Great Barrows is pretty straight forward. As much as RIFT seems custom-built for MMO aficionados, Trion still has to keep new players in mind. And introducing complex scenarios requiring the type of coordination to which veteran gamers are accustomed isn’t exactly the easiest way to break in first-timers. I particularly liked one mechanic involving “Death Shards” – mounds being tended by keepers that need to be killed first, then the Shards spawn waves of undead as you destroy them. The first time we took one down, no one knew about the spawns, so we had it down to less than half health when we suddenly realized we were swamped with monsters. At first I thought they were just a few non-elite adds, but it turned out they appear as the Death Shards lose health. Very nice – nice mechanic, requires a bit of coordination, but not overwhelming.

Still, it was a fun time and I ended up running it twice – once with a group with one healing Cleric, a Chloromancer, and two Rogues and the other group with two Clerics (one healing, one…not), an Elementalist, and another Warrior. It was appropriately scaled for 5 players, and I’m absolutely impressed that Trion can create any group content so finely tuned that it can require certain roles but still be flexible enough to allow for the kinds of class mixtures we ended up having available.

I was surprised at how lazy I’ve gotten on the social aspects of these games; apparently having a solid and active Kinship, while immeasurably helpful and fun, has caused me to forget how to make friends. “Pick up groups” were never my favorite, but so far they’ve been necessary and actually quite fun.