Monday, March 31, 2014

A Blast from the Past

For those of you who --like me-- remember the Pink Pigtail Inn fondly, you were saddened when the old PPI domain name had disappeared.

However, Shintar of Going Commando and Priest With a Cause has just discovered that the Blogspot domain for PPI still exists.

For those who want a trip down memory lane, you can find PPI at http://pinkpigtailinn.blogspot.com/.

I still miss Larisa, tho.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Well, that explains a lot...

If Thrall is playing the center position,
who is the point guard?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just What is Epic Enough, Anyway?

I've been listening to the Battle Bards podcast* while driving the kids to and from school, and we're up to Episode 21 now, which is about MMO music that moves you. Syp described it as "Oscar Bait", and Steff offered up "It gives you the Feels".

My oldest, sitting in the passenger seat next to me, commented that she calls that music "epic music", the stuff that she listens to while she does her homework (courtesy of YouTube playlists).

I'm not going to dispute those descriptions, although I believe I'd refer to what Steff was looking for was music that stirs deep emotions in the soul.

But what I found interesting was a comment by Syp about how the pieces in the SWTOR soundtrack --Alderaan: The Throne was Steff's example of the sort of music she was aiming for-- are overly long and can be tedious at times.


If you've played the game, the piece's first minute is heard when Alderaan loads (and periodically when travelling), but you might not have heard the rest without consciously seeking the soundtrack out.

But you know what that piece reminds me of? Ottorino Respighi's The Pines of Rome. Oh, not in a "it sounds like" moment, but in how the piece uses the music to paint a picture. If you're not familiar with Pines of Rome, you probably have heard the Fantasia 2000 version of it:


Yeah, I know. It's the "flying whales" piece.

But the point is, both pieces paint a picture. Pines of Rome creates a musical poem of the pines found in certain areas of Rome, such as the Pines of the Appian Way, and Alderaan: the Throne does the same thing for the planet of Alderaan, its apparent refinement and beauty, but underneath its struggles with civil war.

SWTOR's soundtrack is a bit unique among MMO soundtracks in that individual pieces for classes and planets are often in the 5-6 minute range, far longer than traditional MMO pieces. You can find individual MMO pieces that match the SWTOR ones, such as The Sindorei and Forged in Blood from WoW (BC and Wrath, respectively), but they are the exception rather than the rule. And still, the only pieces that play out in their 5+ minute entirety while adventuring in the game world --that I'm aware of, anyway-- are The Sindorei and Totems of the Grizzlemaw (Wrath again). Even SWTOR will chop up bits and pieces of their soundtrack for use in game, figuring that the KISS principle is the best one.**

I suppose that it only makes sense that when you're playing a game as visually stimulating and interactive as an MMO, creating overly complex themes would be lost on the average game player. Hell, I play WoW with the soundtrack off, mainly because you get tired of hearing the same 30 second piece when in a battleground.*** But the design intent of an in-game MMO soundtrack can be completely different than that found in the MP3/iTunes/CD version of the same.

While in-game, a soundtrack supplements the visual and interactive aspects of the MMO, but once the game exits, a soundtrack would have to stand on its own. Some games, such as Guild Wars 2, have a bunch of short pieces that have great sound and beauty, and they excel at meshing with the game itself. Alone, however, they feel too short. There's an epic feel present, but nothing sustained beyond a minute or two for all but a few pieces. But SWTOR took a different tactic, and took 5-6 minute tone poems and cherry-picked themes from each one to use in-game. This may not sit well with some, but others would welcome it.

For example, when I was playing pieces off of YouTube for this post, my wife looked up from her perusal of the internet and asked what that piece I was playing was.

"'Alderaan: The Throne', from the Star Wars: The Old Republic Soundtrack," I replied. The piece was well into its third minute.

"I like it," she said.

I made a mental note of that, because the other piece that I've played of MMO soundtracks lately that she stopped me and actually asked about it was Forged in Blood. The piano sweeps of Forged in Blood give that piece a distinct modern feel, and that attracted her attention.

***

Does this mean that I prefer one MMO soundtrack methodology over another? Not really, but it does mean that composers and game houses are tinkering, trying things out, and stretching what it means to be an MMO soundtrack. There are parts of the SWTOR soundtrack that I hear and think that the composer was aiming for the wider classical audience, rather than just the MMO gamer crowd. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because I as a gamer (and movie soundtrack buff) am increasingly tired of hearing from certain crowds how second rate the video game/movie compositions are.

But that's a topic for another post.




*See the sidebar for the link. If you like MMO music, give them a try. You know the principals involved: Syl from MMO Gypsy, Syp from Biobreak and Massively, and Steff from MMO Gamer Chick.

**KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Come on, you really thought I was talking about these guys?

***That doesn't mean I play WoW without music, because there's often something running in the background. I personally will stream the Live365 channel Tears of Glory when playing WoW for the variety. Plus, I'm amused when I'm in Alterac Valley and suddenly the WoW cities' themes comes on.


EtA: Sorry, Shin.  I can blame that it was almost midnight when I wrote that. Corrected.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hope you Don't Mind Waiting....

...but the WoW Facebook feed mentioned --as part of the "pre-order and get an instant L90" campaign-- that Warlords of Draenor launches this Fall.

Not Spring.

Not Summer.

Fall.

I suspected as much, given that a new Arena season just started, but this confirms it.

Commence hand wringing in three... two... one...

Monday, March 3, 2014

How the Mighty Have Fallen

For some reason I had the urge to check my old L13 Tauren Hunter, which I'd created somewhere around mid-Wrath era, so I had to switch servers to Stormscale-US.

It was then, during the server switching, that I noticed it.

Ysera-US had fallen so far in population that it now had the dreaded "New Players" tag on it.

I didn't know that an old server such as Ysera could get the New Players tag, but there it was.

I perused Area 52-US where Q and Neve reside, and it was still going strong. Actually, it was even stronger than before because I noted it was full, something that only rarely happened during Wrath and not at all during Cataclysm. But now that I think about it, that 10:1 Horde bias on A-52 probably explains its activity. If you're tired of fighting unintentional PvP such as in the Timeless Isle, it's easier to simply move to a server where your faction is the majority.

Perhaps this is the true fallout of the decline of WoW's population: the biggest servers get huge and the not quite as big suffer.

***

I guess it's not too early to consider what class I'll be playing in the next WoW expac. The past few expacs I've played classes that were natural enemies (Warlock and Rogue), the newbie special (Paladin), and the glass cannon (Mage). I'll also freely confess that a small part of the reason why I decided on a Rogue this expac was due to Rogues carving people up left and right in PvP, not guessing that Blizzard was going to nerf Rogues heavily in response for Mists.

Therefore, this next expac I'm going to choose a class that will do the following:

  • Not a class I've previously played to max level (or close enough to max level)
  • Hold its own in PvP/BGs
  • Not be a candidate for major nerfing
  • Not require a complete overhaul of my UI
  • Be fun to play
I put the most important one last, but that's pretty much a no-brainer. Since Arms Warriors, BM Hunters, and Disco Priests are the current awesomesauce of BGs, I can cross those classes off of my list. I'm also crossing off a return to my Warlock because I not only suspect they'll be in for a mild nerfing but that by the time I reached L74 there were simply too many buttons to keep track of without dedicating a lot of time. I may not want the old Ret Paladin method of whack-a-mole in deciding what button to push, but there comes a point where you reach information paralysis due to too many options.

As it is, I've been looking into a Druid or Shaman for the next expac, but I'm more than a bit concerned about the UI portion of those classes. I could swing any of my previous classes with one or two UI tweaks (of course, back in Wrath era the Pally Power add-on was absolutely essential to track Blessings), but knowing both classes will require a larger investment in time for the UI doesn't exactly give me the warm fuzzies.

Time to do some research, I suppose.

***

In spite of my best attempts, when faced with choices in a video game I tend to choose the "good" option. Like how my son explained his decision to abandon his Imperial Agent in SWTOR, I have a hard time doing morally bad things.

So I have an even harder time explaining why I'm playing my Bounty Hunter more balanced between light and dark side than any other toon.

I think some of it was due to the class story on Nar Shadda, where I showed mercy to someone and it turned out that they squealed on me after all.* That surprised me a bit, and probably influenced my decisions from that point onward to not give someone a chance to shoot you in the back later. Were it not for that, I'm almost certain I would have played out the decisions in the immediate post-Nar Shadda questline differently.

And yes, I'm not comfortable making those decisions.

I definitely went dark at the end of Makeb expac (Imperial side), but that was more due to the accumulated dislike of the main antagonist, and his gloating about how we were going to lose in the end anyway. That, however, didn't change the overall outlook of my Sith Sorcerer. She'd survived through the Machiavellian nature of Sith politics and had gone primarily Light Side to do it, so this one turn to the Dark Side after a long period of trending Light wasn't going to have a great impact. But my Bounty Hunter's personality is still forming, and the Nar Shadda incident had a greater influence than I'd like.

Those people who are able to explore the dark side of a game, such as SWTOR or Baldur's Gate, have caught both my appreciation and my curiosity.

To understand where I'm coming from, I'll reach into my gamer past with one of the classic Machiavellian board games, Diplomacy. For those who don't know it, Diplomacy is a game about the great European powers in World War I, but it was really about psychological manipulation. Each player took the role of one of the major powers (Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire), and would each turn move armies and/or fleets into different territories. Movements were submitted secretly and then read out in order and placed on the board. The movements were simple enough, and you couldn't lose an army or navy unless your unit had to retreat and had nowhere to retreat to. The complexity in the game centered around the period before the moves, which is when the players would talk among themselves as to what to do. (Think of the television show Survivor, and you've got the idea.)

I used to play Diplomacy a lot in college. Initially my friends and I would play in face-to-face games that would last hours**, but then when we gained access to the VAX system on campus and it's e-mail, we migrated online. As you can probably guess, a few players were more conniving and bloodthirsty than others, and other players were just very good at manipulating others. What I discovered was that with few exceptions the people who were the best at playing Diplomacy were the people you didn't want to hang around with outside of Diplomacy. Very often, those people who were great at Diplomacy were like that in real life; they couldn't establish boundaries inside and outside the game.

This brings me back to playing a Dark Side/Evil character. For those people who can separate the game playing from real life and can play a Dark Side character, I think it's great. I'm glad you can. But I can't do it, and I wonder about some of the people who do play those Dark Side characters, and whether they're just letting their personal beliefs manifest in game form.

No, I don't mean everybody, and I certainly don't believe there's a ton of really scary people playing some of these MMOs, but there are people who I run into online who set off the "Danger, Will Robinson!" alert in my head. And when some of those people open up their mouths in Gen Chat, well... Let's just say I'm glad they don't live next door to me.





*I'm aware that the story probably adjusted to whether I showed mercy or not by inserting that extra line about "So and so was right after all", but it still doesn't diminish the impact when I heard it.

**Much pizza was consumed during those games, typically the cheapest we could find.