Moving Experiment

There’s some things I can’t do on wordpress.com with a free account. Seeing how wordpress is free software, and I already have a dedicated server around, I moved the blog to http://randomwaypoint.fajs.de. You can use the feeds http://randomwaypoint.fajs.de/feed/ (RSS) and http://randomwaypoint.fajs.de/feed/atom/ (Atom) to follow it.

If at some point it looks like the server cannot handle the blog’s load (yeah, right), I might reconsider.

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Guilds, Moves, Loyalties, and Ethics

I said I’d have another topic. A reason why I had to spend part of Sunday away from leveling. I think I have to give some background information first, though.

“My” guild, Disciples of Marr on Antonia Bayle, was something I ended up being in by sheer chance. I know, it’s often like that when you start out. And I had just come back to EQ2 in May after a 5-year hiatus (or, to be more fair, I had tried out the game early on, never made it off the starter isle, and went off playing WoW for the next years).  So I browsed the list of guilds looking for members, and after a small chat with one of their recruiters, which gave me the impression they’d take pretty much everybody and work from there, I joined.

Things started pretty rocky. Just two days after I joined, I logged in to a guild hall in disarray. Explanation that I somehow coaxed out of people was that there had been strife among the officers. Two of them moved stuff around erratically, and then took off with some bits from the bank. Ugh. Oh well, can happen, I guess?

What I did notice over time was that most of the officers never were around. The guild pretty much ran on cruise control. Which was fine for me, because I didn’t play that much anyway, and as I already said in the last post, I was mainly looking for a crash pad and a crafting area. The guild felt pretty dead at times, with barely any people around, and nobody talking. There was only one officer who was constantly around (let’s call her X for reference), and while I found her a bit hyperactive at times, at least she did some stuff.

Then the possibility of a merger was announced. Then the merger was blown off because somebody didn’t like the idea. Then… I slowly started to get worried about where this guild was heading, or rather, whether it actually was heading anywhere, or going in circles with people fighting over the helm. Then, a week ago, I logged in to a T1 guild hall (previously there had been a T3 guild hall). Reason given (by X) was that the T3 was too expensive. No idea how much a guild hall costs, but I guess there’s a point there, especially since I had never seen anything going on in the hall except in the crafting room, so all the space felt wasted. I assume that didn’t sit too well with some leaders though, because the next day, one of them (let’s call him Y), who had barely been around the last months, went and demoted everyone except for him and his wife from leadership positions. Ugh twice. This was getting a bit silly. X, who was demoted, decided now was the time to actually go through with aforementioned merger.

Loyalties and Ethics

I had to make a decision: stay with the guild, or leave? As it were, that decision was made for me. Y’s wife logged in, and asking about what was to happen next, immediately “had to leave because the boys were making a big mess in the living room”. One member pointed out it had been the same a couple of hours earlier. So much for credible excuses. X decided she had had it, and promoted the people who were around at that time to the highest level she could. That meant access to the guild bank and to all furniture in the hall. Then the looting started. Quickly, I realized that staying in the guild was pointless from my point of view, because there would be nothing left.

Now there was a different decision that I had to make. I still feel torn about in hindsight. To loot or not to loot? I pondered my choices. Which side should I pick? Seeing how I at least could talk to X, and Y’s side had refused to explain themselves, I threw my lot with X. I decided I had to go somewhere, and with everybody leaving, the remaining goods in the harvesting box and bank would go to waste anyway. Besides, I was a swashbuckler, right? So looting felt ok. So I duly filled my bags, and later on, dropped everything into the new guild’s reserves.

Me filling my bags.

X laid out all the furniture of unknown origin in the guild hall for taking. (Stuff that was lent via the in-game mechanics was returned to the rightful owners). It looked like a crazy garage sale.

In the end, all that remained were the amenity NPCs. The never had had a name, so I played around with my new rights to leave a message to people who might have missed the whole thing.

I already said, I feel torn about how I behaved there. I’m generally not the type for that. If there’s strife, I don’t pick a side, but lay low. I’m also not sure it was very ethical to just take that stuff before I walked out the door. There’s still a slight chance that the old guild might recover. Plainly said, it might qualify as stealing (not in the legal sense, but still), even if none of that stuff is hard to replace. I got a bit carried away in group dynamics there. Here’s your newly granted rights to take what you want, now go and loot away! It’s ok, we’re all doing it! I guess identifying with my in-game character (a swashbuckler’s a rogue, after all) helped ease the idea.

Now I’m in a new guild, with most people from the old one. Some left over the whole fallout, not rejoining the new one. I wonder whether it was the right decision, too. At least yesterday, the new guild felt filled with a lot of hyperactive people spamming guild chat like crazy. Let’s see how it works out over the week. If it doesn’t… I realize this is probably the worst application post ever, but anybody out there interested in a player with an erratic schedule, new to the game, but generally willing to explore things, to learn fast, and who overall is low-maintenance and easy to get along with?

I’d be interested to hear your opinion. I tried to be as neutral as possible in presenting the whole thing. What do you think? And have you been in a similar situation before, doing something in-game that you later were not sure was the right thing to do?

A Busy Weekend In Norrath

As someone who is pretty new to Everquest II, bonus experience days are still novel concept to me. I’ve only seen two bonus experience weekends come around, and I missed the first one, so this is my first “official” one to take part in.

The guild was bustling, at least much more than it used to. Overall, my guild feels pretty dead most of the time. There generally is little to no chat except for a “grats” now and then. As somebody who doesn’t want to commit to the game much, playing ever now and then, maybe once a week, that’s fine for me. The guild basically is only a home base with a second teleport (on a 15 minute timer), and lots of harvesting materials to level my tradeskills. I guess it’s a mutually beneficial agreement, because using up harvesting materials to do rush orders gives the guild status points that in turn are used to pay for amenities such as the guild harvester NPCs. If anybody has a nice guild to suggest on Antonia Bayle for someone who barely knows anything about the game, but is willing to learn fast, friendly to have around, and overall pretty low maintenance, I’m all ears!

So, where was I? Oh, bonus XP weekend, right. It seems Everquest II is really big on bonus XP. Rested experience (or “vitality” in their terminology) gives you a bonus 200% to start with, much more than I’m used to in other games. Bonus weekend XP adds another 100% on top, so I was running around at effectively quadruple experience for a long time, until I ran out of vitality. With nothing much to do this weekend, I spent quite a bit of time, and got Tabascun, my half elf swashbuckler, quite a few levels and AA.

I started out in Lavastorm at level 47 with 78 AA…

Interesting architecture... and I hope this saddle is made of asbestos!

Overall, the zone wasn’t too much to my liking though, so I hit The Sunken Sands soon. It’s here where I hit the original level cap of the game.

EQ2: Tabascun hitting level 50

I then found a static group of 4 people within the guild, and we went camping triple-up heroics, and did some of the small dungeons in The Sinking Sands. AA started to fly at this point. I ended the weekend at level 57 and 118 AA.

Lots of thing going on in this picture: First of all, level 57 and 116 AA, yay. Second, I have no idea how to spend AAs on the swashbuckler tree and just go with something. Third, yet the wrong palace sweeper again! Fourth, note the Gamblin' Goblin in the lower right corner who I spent a couple of gold on waiting for the correct spawn.

Overall, a nice experience. I really like the desert zones, though for some reason, the Pillar of Flame sometimes gives me horrible lag. I even enjoy the magic carpet mount. Yes, I do, Wilhelm! Though I guess it would be different if everybody flew around with them, and I’ll probably go back to a standard horse once I’m out of the zones that have the fitting flair.

Next plans: continue the Peacock Club Quest Line. It looks really fun, with a lot of things that can be frustrating in the beginning (collecting items randomly strewn across Maj’Dul), but it has this “vintage” feeling that has been mostly ironed out of the early levels of the game in exchange for streamlining. Notable, for example, the mob camping (palace sweepers, I’m looking at you! 16 rounds!). I really enjoy that for a change over the “kill 10 foozles at X” quests. I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the quest line any time soon, because the last parts require groups or even raids. I might eventually be able to finish once I’m high enough level, though.

The reason I didn’t progress even further on the weekend was that something happened in guild on Sunday that ate up a bunch of time. But I’ll make a separate post about that later.

What More Can a Hobbit Want?

What more can a hobbit want?

That’s how I ended my last post. And the answer to that is obvious: a nice hobbit-lass. And an ale, I guess. And some hearty food. And pipe-weed. But let’s stay with the first for a second.

So I’m in love with hobbits in this game. I love the shire and the little tidbit quests that go with it. I even ignore the fact that the epic story line feels somewhat tacked onto the hobbit line (“Now you’re in Archet, now you’re not. Now you find an old skull, and now you’re off fighting somebody you haven’t much heard of before.”).

I also love the way music works in this game. Having instruments that you can actually play yourself? awesome. So, why not go with the music theme all the way? Thus Latakia was born. The character creator says “hobbit-women are named after flowers or jewels”. I guess Latakia is borderline, but I want a sturdy, tomboyish kind of female hobbit, the kind that just pops up in my head when I hear the word “lass”. So she’s a minstrel, a farmer and cook (or yeoman, in LOTRO’s choose-one-vocation-get-three-professions jargon), and she’s fond of pipe-weed. Being a (these days mostly ex-)pipe smoker myself, I love the smell of tar and ports of Latakia.

Farming

Latakia working in the field, though slightly overdressed for the occasion.

Presto, pipe-weed!

By now, I’ve finished the Shire quests and need to branch out to the Bree-lands. Naturally, starting in the shire meant the usual staples (apart from the ubiquitous (boar|wolf|spider|bear) slaying.

Mail had to be delivered...

...pies returned...

...and some fireworks nonconsensually set off.

The first two also rewarded traits that I could make good use of as a minstrel. The later just make my little pyromanic heart cackle. Finally, level 15 came around, and it was time to choose a surname.

Latakia Brandybanks, cook, brewmaster, and enjoyer of pipeweed.

Look, Hiltibrant has a little sister. Or, I guess with the size and scope of hobbit-clans, it could be just as well a third cousin twice removed. I wonder whether other people also tend to have their characters in a game have a common background story; it seems I often end up with 2-3 characters in a game that I consider related, or forming a close party of friends. I half expect to log in one day into a game and find all my characters sitting together over a game of cards.

Gameplay-wise, the minstrel plays a lot better than I expected. Or at least it is getting better and better. The beginning was very slow, but with War Speech at level 10 and Call of Oromë at 14, it got a lot better. I wonder how it will be for soloing at higher levels; it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of grouping happening on Laurelin in the lower levels.

Following the Ring

While I was busy most of last week, what with a paper deadline and a wedding coming up (not mine though! but I was co-organizer), I finally had some time to invest on Sunday and Monday night. After the inevitable pondering (EQ2? LOTRO? something completely different), I settled and took out my LOTRO warden for a walk again.

Hiltibrant Brandybanks, my indomitable one-person phalanx, had been at level 26 for some time, doing mundane work around Esteldin.

Hilibrant in red Isengard clothing

Hiltibrant, dressed for the occasion, and trying to look sharp.

Hiltibrant, fooling around in his "work clothes"

He’s a tailor, or, to be more precise, an explorer, but in LOTRO’s system, you choose a “vocation” that then defines three professions that you have to take, and tailor is one of them. That’s just as well, seeing how tailors also produce all sorts of leather armor, and my warden seemed to have missed the day in character school that they talked about plate armor. In any case, the mundane work comprised killing beasts for leather, to produce “expert patterns” with 1-day or 3-day cooldowns that can be traded in for reputation with the Tailor’s Guild. That, in turn, gives you the possibility to buy nice high-quality recipes. There’s obviously some downsides to that, one being the time sink in your way to the really nice recipes, the other being the fact that for this gear, you need one item per craft that only drops from rare nameds. (note to self: crafting in games, another potential issue of my as-of-yet not-only-unfinished-but-also-not-even-started series of “comparison of mechanics in different MMOs”)

In any case, I had logged in and out for some time now, doing circles killing (somewhat high level) wolves and bears and trading in patterns, and finally reached an acquaintance standing with the Tailor’s Guild. So I decided that was enough for now, and I could actually go back to “real” adventuring. Thankfully, as a warden, you get your first teleport spell at level 26, which conveniently makes you end up in Ost Guruth, the main quest hub of the Lone Lands. That being where I had stopped before going on guild errands, I could start right away.

The Lone Lands, just like many of the other zones in the game, is simply gorgeous, especially considering the relatively low hardware requirements to make them look that nice. Looking west from outside Ost Guruth towards Weathertop always gives me a mediterranean impression, with the color of the ground and shrubs, and the trees.

Overall, the questing was uneventful. Foes were slain, items collected, deeds done. Levels flew by thanks to rested XP and the Isengard pre-order pocket item. I’m tempted to use my destiny points for more rested XP in the future if I run out of it, because I don’t have any inclination to try PvMP, which to me sounds like just the same as PvP with some additional fancy models. Me touching PvP with nothing but an 11-foot stick, I don’t see myself using destiny points that way.

Then I ended up with just a handful of quests left in the zone, one of them being part of the epic book 2 quest line. Problem being, I had just hit level 29, and those quests had me deal with signature mobs (harder than your average ones, in EQ2, they’d probably “^” or “^^”) of my level or higher. After two painful attempts to kill gaunt lords with their irritating tendency to summon in additional undead during the fight, I postponed my ventures there. So much for the indomitable one-man phalanx. It’s a bit of a bummer, because I’d rather finish the area before I move on, but I might have to skip them for the time being.

So for now, I guess I’ll do a bit of skirmishing. Not too much though, I’m not overly fond of grinding the same instances over an over again while I’m still leveling. The way I see it, there’s more than enough time to get bored by that kind of gameplay at max level. Me being a lover of hobbits, I generally run the Trouble in Tuckborough skirmish. That way, I also end up with a bit of Mathom Society reputation too, which I’m sorely lacking for a hobbit. Also, I might go back to the North Downs again for a short while, because I need to do my artisan quest to progress my tailoring. Seems that’s something the Tailor’s Guild will teach me, after some more running around killing wolves. What more can a hobbit want?

Off to New Shores

I quit raiding with my WoW guild last week. It was a decision that took its time to come to fruition, but the bottom line is, I wasn’t enjoying it any more. There’s two factors that contributed to this state: Blizzard, and my current guild.

The Guild

They’re good people, and we had a lot of fun, even though I have only been with them for about 8 months now, which for me, is a very short time. But come raid time, the gloves would come off. Increasingly over the last few months, atmosphere in the raid got more and more tense. Failure in any way was frowned upon. There was a strong expectation that the learning had to be done offline via reading and videos. Now, I think offline preparation is a good thing, but at least for me (and I am sure for some others), this only gets me so far. I need to actually do things to find out how to do things. No video in the world gets me to the point that a couple of wipes do.

Our guild was successful. Very successful, in my eyes. When I joined in the late-Lich-King-slump, the guild was one of the better ones on the server, but it had never been anywhere near a high rank. We peaked out this year in May at a ranking of around 850 worldwide, 400 EU. Things went well, maybe I ignored the early signs of me not feeling so happy. But then we hit our first brick walls, the end bosses on Heroic. We did get down Nefarian and Cho’gall in the end, but it felt like the magic had gone. There was a lot of finger-pointing and blaming. It went to the point where I had the impression that there were distinct scapegoats that the blame went to by default unless there was an obvious other choice. Truth to be told, some people did own up to mistakes they did to take blame off those people, but I still felt uneasy about it. Sinestra didn’t fall to us at all, after some close encounters and about 200 wipes.

Progression was an important driving force of this guild, but as of late, it seems to have become the conditio sine qua non. Fun has taken the back seat. It’s en vogue to play the blame game. Healers blame tanks for their (the tanks’) deaths. DPS blames tanks and healers because the guild enforces a Tank>Healer>DPS priority on contested gear. Officers blame everybody that appears to be performing suboptimally. It’s one thing to call out if something goes wrong time after time. But this is just over the top. I realized today I’m not the only one who feels like this. In the four days since I announced my resignation, two more people have decided to quit, for similar reasons to me.

Enough of my guild though, I’m not on a crusade against them. It was fun while it lasted. Why don’t I just apply to a different raiding guild? A tank with 9/13 kills and 11/13 experience (I wasn’t there on the night of the Nefarian kill) should be able to find a new home somewhere? And this is where Blizzard ties in.

Blizzard

Many people have complained about the way Blizzard has been setting up their raids since Lich King, and I have to agree. They removed raid tiering and went with “the current raid” which was designed for challenge, and “everything before that” which was nerfed down into oblivion. Their goals were actually very understandable. They want to tell a story, and their game setup is geared to raids as the final challenge. Therefore, raids form an integral part and pinnacle of many of their story lines. But in Vanilla and TBC, most people did not get to see raids, let alone the end bosses. How many guilds went and defeated C’thun, or the Four Horsemen? Or, in TBC, Illidan (even after the 3.0 pre-patch nerfs!) or Kil’Jaeden? It makes sense to funnel as many people as possible through this content they laboriously created. They also still want to cater to the more hardcore crowd. So they came up with the very simple tiering of “as soon as new content arrives, the old content gets nerfed so everybody and their grandmother can see it”. The problem with this approach is that everybody playing the current tier is now effectively racing against time. If you don’t kill the menacing boss on time, you’ll be too late and only find his drooling, retarded cousin when you log on after the next patch. Talk about achievement when, instead of a heroic defeat, you realize that Cha’gill, not-as-famous little nephew of the more well-known Cho’gall, died to a double neck fracture he suffered when storming towards you and slipping on the puddle of drool he had left on the ground.

While this succeeds in making content accessible to more people, it comes with two major drawbacks. The first one is that killing the “dumbed down” version of a boss can feel empty. Knowing that this boss used to be hard, but they made it easier so that you, too, could have a shot at him, makes a kill worth much less. It’s like those worthless runner-up medals they used to hand out at running events for children, so “everybody is a winner”. The second is that, because old content gets cheapened that way, it is left behind fast. When ICC came out, how many people still ran ToC? And ToC was a poor stopgap instance anyway. How about Ulduar? All that work that went into one of the better dungeons Blizzard designed became obsolete the moment ICC released. So in the pursuit to make content more accessible, Blizzard reduced the worthwhile content – an unintended (I sure hope) side effect, seeing how there is never enough original content in an MMO.

There’s also my pet peeve, PvP. I never liked PvP, even outside MMOs. Quite frankly, I suck at them, because I’m missing the speed for this twitch gameplay. I was always towards the bottom of the ranking on FPS shootouts with friends; the only time I somewhat enjoyed PvP was back in Vanilla when we ran 15-people guild Arathi Basins. And before they revamped Alterac Valley in Patch 1.7 – because it felt more like a PvE game back then. WoW has this obsession with a unified rule set for PvP and PvE. Very few abilities work differently against players than against non-players. This leads to an unhealthy obsession with “balance”. If one class dominate another class or classes in PvP, expect to see a change incoming that then also changes how PvE works. One of the easiest way to strive towards balance is to distribute abilities among classes. Interrupts? Everybody should have them. Self-dispells of different types? Same, why not? The obsession with balance has recently (since Lich King) also seeped over into PvE, where “bring the player, not the class” is similar to the “accessible raids” slogan: a good idea on paper, but it comes with annoying side effects. Class identity is more and more on its way towards the dodo. Just recently, in their regular “Ask the Devs” column, I found this gem:

A great recipe for class homogenization is to go down the list of every ability and make sure that every class has their own version of that ability.

Of course, technically this is true. Making sure everybody is the same is the definition of “homogeneous”. The text makes it sound like they consider this a good idea, though. And in my eyes, it most definitely is not. I actually enjoy having classes that are distinct from each other, and I’ve seen how our current classes move away from that more and more. If this actually is Blizzard’s design philosophy these days, I fear for the worst.

The New Shores

So, my decision for now is to not raid any more. I’m not sure I will continue to play much WoW for the time being, either. I might reroll on another server where I have some friends from a previous guild (of European players on a US realm – but that is another story I will tell another day) that folded due to attrition. My plan, however, is to diversify the games I play. At the time of writing, I play EQ2 and LOTRO. I also tried out DDO some time ago and might pick it up again to play together with a friend. Over time, I might come across other games I’ll try out, not necessarily MMOs. The purpose of this blog is twofold:

  1. Document my experiences and journeys in various games. This is reflected in the blog’s title: I expect this to be a rather random walk towards whatever waypoint I choose any given week. One of my role models for these kinds of posts is Wilhelm Arcturus from The Ancient Gaming Noob blog, and to a lesser extent Stargrace from MmoQuests.com.
  2. Occasionally, I will have the feeling that I have something worthwhile to say about more general gaming-related aspects. These posts will take the form of more discourse-oriented texts, like typical posts by Nils in his MMO blog, or to a lesser extent Tobold in his MMORPG blog.

In addition, I might occasionally divert from the topic of games altogether for some more general remarks. So, let’s see how this great experiment in writing will unfold. Most posts will probably be not nearly as long as this one. I’ll be happy if I can publish an article at least once to twice a week, no matter the length. New shores are awaiting, let’s set sail and see where the wind will take us.