Monthly Archives: July 2011

Ratchet Up The Excitement!

No, this is not a post about SW:TOR. So far, I’ve been able to keep that particular affliction at bay despite the recent excitement surrounding pre-orders.

No, my hype-meter spiked today after seeing the new set of official screenshots for Rise of Isengard (I can’t seem to locate the official announcement, so I’ll just link to the CSTM post). And I have to say, I’m extremely impressed. I’ve always been a huge fan of LotRO‘s art style – in particular the racial architectures and outdoor environments (honestly, does anyone really like the character models?). But what really got me was this shot:

(click for full size)

I saw that at full size and literally said “Whoa!” (Keanu-style). If you haven’t already, take a look at the full-size version. Impressive, isn’t it?

As a photographer by training (though never by trade…how’s that for getting value from one’s education?), I can say the shot above is good, but nothing particularly impressive. Sure, the tower on the mountain is definitely intriguing and, as usual, the skybox lends significant impact to the environment. However, what it could indicate for the game is something entirely different. What got me the most excited was one detail, which I’m sincerely hoping I’m interpreting correctly. Here it is:

If I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, those are people. A lot of people. This is the kind of settlement that I’ve always wished for in LotRO; I’m familiar enough with the lore to understand that many of the areas of Middle Earth through which we travel are supposed to be rather low in population. But I’ve always felt that too many of the areas seem downright sparse. Bree, for example, is appropriately sized for how I’d imagine it, but it never seems as if there are enough NPCs to account for the number of buildings.

The “camp” in that screenshot, however, is practically bursting with people. What that could mean about new technology behind the game, and it’s capabilities for presenting a “living world”, is very encouraging. Consider this – how many monsters do we see on screen at once, at most? One dozen? Maybe two? With those kinds of limits, how do you think Turbine will recreate something like the siege of Helm’s Deep? Or the battle at the Fields of Pelennor? With the Jackson films setting a high standard, it would be impossible for Turbine to recreate something even close. At which point we’d be left participating in sidelined skirmishes. Not exactly compelling.

Yes, I know they are just screenshots, and screenshots can be misleading. And even if they are accurate, there’s no promise that LotRO will suddenly be able to handle true crowds of NPCs and mobs. The proof will be in the seeing. But if they are representative of increased capacity, I think we’re seeing a nice incremental increase to what LotRO can deliver. We may never see a battle the size of Pelennor (which is more or less a needless desire, considering the only concern in a battle is likely what is immediately around you!), but it looks like we’re getting a step closer!

December may bring it’s requisite flurry of emotions and activity, but at this point, it’s September to which I am truly looking forward!

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TOR: Good to Go

Collector's Edition

Turns out all the rumors and hype were true. Pre-orders for Star Wars: The Old Republic opened up this morning (for me at least) around 3:20 AM; here’s hoping everyone who wants one is able to pre-order (having read the official forum threads tonight, I feel kinda bad reading people’s posts around 3 AM who said they were off to bed…only 15 or 20 minutes more and they would have been rewarded).

I can personally confirm that Amazon has a limit of 1 copy per account, and I’ve seen statements that Origin is the same. Anyway, got my pre-order in and feeling pretty good! Very excited that there is actually a light at the end of this tunnel. I’m still trying to temper my expectations, and as this is by far the most I’ve ever spent on a Collector’s Edition, I really hope it’s worth it!

Good luck everyone!

Conundrum

As Syp notes, things have been extraordinarily quiet in the ‘sphere of late. Obviously, I haven’t found much worth writing about recently and I try to keep from rambling, so that’s led to saying very little! As I’ve only been doing this “blogging thing” for a little over a year (on and off), I’m not sure if this is a natural lull that occurs annually, or if it’s just a symptom of the current “wait-and-see” situation we’re all in. With few recent or near-term releases, and several big titles just over the horizon, it feels like everyone is just holding their breath.

Not that I haven’t been playing games; my renewed enthusiasm for LotRO continues unabated and I’ve been delving into some older titles that have sat neglected in my Steam Library. However, I’ve let my subscription to RIFT run its course. At the point where I ran out of time, I hadn’t logged into the game in weeks, so even though I feel that I missed out on a good portion of the game (I was never able to hit the level cap, or even get out of Scarwood Reach), letting go wasn’t actually much of a loss. Not that I didn’t enjoy the game, and there is a lot about RIFT that I find fun and compelling, but it just couldn’t compete for my limited time.

In reality, for the last few months I’ve found myself in a bit of a tough spot when it comes to gaming; not only have Real Life and Work become increasingly dominant, but I’ve found that on one hand the time available for gaming has been coming in smaller and smaller chunks,  and on the other my staple games have become less satisfying.  Again, not that I’m not having fun, but I constantly find myself looking for something different.

(The last three months have also taught me that when one undertakes a gaming-related project, it (ironically) leaves very little time for actually playing games! Hopefully I’ll have something more tangible to show for all of it soon. As for a silver lining, I’ve become intimately familiar with Python. So I guess there’s that.)

With most of my free time coming in small doses, my primary activity in LotRO has been to grind out remaining deeds in the “low level” areas; it’s easy to step away for several minutes when one is standing in the midst of a field of Grays who pointedly ignore you. Until you walk up and stab them, at least. However, I’ve once again found myself playing single-player titles far more than anything else. I picked up Bioshock 2 for a song on Steam, and continue to chip away at Oblivion and Dungeon Siege III. But mostly I’ve been playing Left 4 Dead. Which, in my mind, is indicative of my ongoing conundrum.

I’ve found that I’m looking for something more long-term than a single-player experience; certainly that type of experience is more tailored to the individual, but there is a factor in MMOs that is hugely appealing. It’s the, shall we say, “permanence”, though I have trouble assigning the status of permanent to anything purely digital – I’ve worked in IT for too long and know how easily these things can go *poof*.  Or rather it’s the persistence of an MMO; the idea that the things we do last, even in the smallest ways, beyond our time in the game. Mostly I attribute it to the social connections; no one in Oblivion cares if I come, go, or die and never boot up the game ever again. Not so in an MMO in which we’ve invested thousands of hours. It’s almost inevitable, by design or by incident, that we will establish relationships with other people, and that has an effect beyond the game world, no matter how small.

Even if it’s only in the pursuit of Achievements, such as in Left 4 Dead, I’ve been looking for something greater than a moment-to-moment experience. But I’ve also been craving drop-in/drop-out, immediate-action gameplay, yet I need something which also allows for easy pauses, which MMOs don’t exactly provide.  So L4D is seems to be the best option at the moment – it’s easy to get in and get out, have some fun, it’s full of action, and I have goals beyond “Survive the next wave of undead”.

Still,  I’m craving something that just doesn’t exist:

  1. an online world,
  2. with Other People,
  3. that isn’t entirely focused around slaughter,
  4. where I can jump in and out with an hour to play (or less),
  5. and where it’s okay if I step away for a few minutes.
  6. (And make it compelling and deep, in visuals and story, please!)

It’s a tall order, I know. And one I’m not likely to see filled anytime soon. And I’m rambling, so let’s try to make a point here…

What would do it for me would be if LotRO was a little less themepark and a little more sandbox; deeper crafting, better housing systems (or better yet, player-made structures/towns à la SWG!), and more exploration that doesn’t involve leaving a trail of corpses like so many breadcrumbs. Something for me to do in the world that doesn’t involve killing Orcs, or necessitate several hours investment (also spent mostly killing Orcs).

But all of that is just wishful thinking. Until then, I’m stuck with bite-sized content and the occasional extended session with the kinship. Not a bad place to be, but not exactly what I feel I’d most enjoy.