Friday, April 20, 2018

What is this place, Goldshire?

I was playing SWTOR the other day on a new Trooper* and landed in Nar Shadda to catch the beginning of a long conversation in Gen Chat. It started talking about who is the best companion, then (naturally) morphed into which companion is the "most shaggable". Someone brought up Corso, and how his inability to see that women don't need anybody to be a white knight** kept them from wanting to follow the Corso romance to completion.

At that time I was entering the cantina just off the Promenade and discovered several toons RPing at the bar, so I kind of lost track of the Gen Chat conversation while I watched the spoken word RP going on for a few minutes.***

Once I left for the Nitko Sector, however, I discovered the Gen Chat had taken yet another turn, into group therapy.

One player was asking for advice about asking out a coworker, and several other players were providing advice. The advice ranged from being positive to being direct to providing pick up lines. A female toon was providing tips about flirting****, and then others were chiming in on what works and what doesn't.

In the 8+ years I've been playing MMOs, I've seen some conversations that go into potentially sensitive territory, but this was the first one in a while where I started to wonder just how explicit people were going to go.

And then they went there, talking about how if you flirt well enough, you can have sex on a first date.

I'm not exactly a noob in either MMOs or life, but I was starting to get uncomfortable at seeing this in Gen Chat.

It was then that the flirting commenced.

A female and male toon in the conversation started flirting in Gen Chat about "playing the flute." You know, how good she was at it, how he liked people who could play it well, and she said she was so good she didn't need encouraging. And so on, and so forth.

Yes, in Gen Chat.

"Get a room," I thought as I worked my way to my meeting with The Mountain.

***

The last time I saw flirting or other activity like this in public in an MMO***** it was when somebody asked Azshandra to go topless in the Isle of Conquest so he could fool around. If the two players were merely saying it in regular chat or whispering it --not posting in Gen Chat-- I don't think I'd have cared. But come on, Gen Chat is planet wide.

Even Romeo knew to not be quite so obvious in public.
From sutori.com.
I'm not even thinking about kids, here, because SWTOR definitely has some PG/PG-13 moments, but just that it was so public and so freaking obvious that my eyes were rolling so hard that they practically rolled into the back of my head.

My guess is that the two people were so caught up in the moment that they simply didn't notice or care where they were.

That brings up the obvious question: why doesn't this happen more often?

I honestly don't have an answer for that one. Of course, in SWTOR you've got built-in romances with your companions that helps to alleviate the "let's get online and have some virtual sex" angle, but other MMOs tend to have this sort of thing happen in seclusion rather than in a very public setting.

Soul once told me a story of when he was on his Rogue back in BC days, creeping along in Ashenvale, and he came across two players hidden in a corner who were obviously engaging in some virtual shenanigans. He was relaying the blow by blow (as it were) to his guildies when one of the participants managed to see him while hidden in the shadows. Discovered, he bailed out.

So, based on that story and my own experiences, I know that this sort of things still goes on in MMOs. And maybe I'm just not online enough to see this happen in public more often, but maybe I am also getting old in that I'm simply not comfortable with this idea.

You tell 'em, Murtaugh. From Lethal Weapon.




*Yeah, another new toon. Yeah, I'm a bit of an altoholic.

**That's one way of putting it. I believe the words "fucking stupid" or a baseline equivalent were also used in the chat session.

***It was actually very well done, which is why it caught my eye.

****I'm quite aware of the "assume every player on the internet is male" rule, but for the sake of simplicity I'm sticking with the gender they were presenting.

*****I think I asked myself the question "Is Goldshire still as... well... active as it used to be?" and checked that out before I unsubbed from WoW in 2014, but at the time it looked like Goldshire was not the legendary place it once was.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Conan Exiles gets a Release Date

After a long time coming, the Funcom game Conan Exiles officially releases on May 8th.



I'm kind of torn here, because I still play Age of Conan and I see the promise a game like this holds. Still, Age of Conan also taught me how the tantalizing vision of Tortage was not what the rest of AoC became, a WoW clone that fell short of the story and execution found on that intro zone. There was also the major problem of AoC perpetually having lag when hitting buttons, even on NA dedicated servers. When a game is dependent upon combining attacks into finishing moves as AoC was, perpetual lag was damning.

I feel that this is Funcom's last chance at creating a Conan game, and if it doesn't succeed they'll lose the license. Even if it does succeed, AoC will likely not survive.

But still, best of luck to Conan Exiles. I'll wait a bit on the fence before jumping in to let the bugs and the crowd thin out a bit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Somebody Out Maneuvered Vanilla

While the MMO community has been watching for further developments in the WoW Vanilla initiative, Trion has actually gone ahead and implemented their own version of "Vanilla RIFT".

Called RIFT Prime, it was implemented a month or more ago and is for subscribers only. The idea behind it is to provide more of an original RIFT experience, but with some newer amenities (portions of the cash shop) still around. RIFT Prime is starting out without expansions, and will slowly add them over time to simulate the progression of the original MMO.

From my perspective, this is a grand idea for these two MMOs. RIFT and WoW are two games that would be well served treading down this path as they have a player base who pines for the original environment, although in WoW's case I could make an argument that they could have servers that stop at AQ40, the end of BC, and the end of Wrath, and people would be fine with that. In LOTRO's case it might be worthwhile to see something like this happen, but I'm not so sure that it is in as dire need of a reboot like the Vanilla WoW project would be, and an original SWTOR would be actually counterproductive given that SWTOR really found its legs about 1-2 years into its run.

The ironic thing is that Funcom is doing something similar with Age of Conan in that they've created a brand new server for people to play on, but it's only temporary and mainly done for rewards.

But still, kudos to Trion for making a bold move.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Enough to Give You Flashbacks

I spent this past week sick. As in, "I should have been in bed but work wouldn't let me" sort of sick.*

While that didn't exactly help me with keeping up with the blog (as well as playing games), I did have time to finish up a book on the video game industry. For people who read Kotaku, the name Jason Schreier should sound familiar, and his book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a look behind the development of several video games. While none of the games featured were MMOs, several of the games were those developed by game companies that do develop MMOs, such as Bioware and Blizzard.

And if I thought that his article on the disaster behind Mass Effect: Andromeda gave me flashbacks, this entire book was akin to reliving a five year stretch of my life.
This pic popped up when I searched Google for
"generic software developer working photo".
In my experience, these people can't be
actually coding at that time because they're
all smiling. (From thebalance.com.)

Video game developers are a breed apart of most other software developers. While I used to hear stories of the earlier days of Microsoft when upper level managers would roam the hallways, complaining that too many people had gotten married or had families for Microsoft to keep their edge, video game developers pretty much lived for writing code 24x7. A coworker of mine was once on the dev staff for Betrayal at Krondor, and the stories he told of the insane hours worked made for good lunch discussion.**

And the stories that Jason told in his novel really hit home for me, such as:

  • The doomed Star Wars 1313, the game that was going to restore LucasArts to its former glory but was destroyed by micromanagement from the top (George Lucas) and the sale of LucasFilm to Disney. This reminded me of my company's attempt to capitalize on the rush to get everything on the web by creating a "web based midrange CAD program"***; which was great in theory but was about 10+ years away in terms of bandwidth and raw computing power. All his initiative did was suck up resources when they were much better spent getting the last major release of our CAD software bug free (it wasn't, and the product when shipped was a disaster). There was even a last ditch effort by a sympathetic EA executive to try and save the LucasArts team and 1313 by arranging a 1313 presentation to another of their studios, but that ended in defeat when the head of the studio was only interested in acquiring the talent and not the product. And that reminded me of when my company was finally acquired, and I could only watch from afar as friends I'd known for years were let go in the massive bloodletting at was once a proud development and engineering house.
  • The redemption of Dragon Age: Inquisition, after the poorly received and hastily thrown together release of Dragon Age 2 (which was originally intended by Bioware to be called Dragon Age: Exodus, but EA forced them to say "2"). The original sequel to Dragon Age: Origins was meant to be Inquisition, but because SWTOR was slipping in the release schedule the corporate parent EA wanted to release another Bioware game instead, and so the dev team had to rush in and create what became DA2. The failures behind DA2 really weighed on every aspect of the work on Inquisition, as Bioware wanted to prove that they were more than just a Mass Effect studio with some other games of lesser quality. As a side effect of both DA2 and ME3, Bioware also had to handle corporate pushback as to whether they should really do the ME3 extended ending. Bioware wanted to get it right, but corporate looked at it as essentially feeding the trolls.
  • The lonely development process of Stardew Valley, where Eric Barone labored for years to get what he felt was a "good enough" product for release, to the point of nearly working himself to death. Even when he released Stardew Valley, he had no idea whether the public would think his labor of love to be any good. That crippling self-doubt plagues a lot of creative types; I see it from software developers to musicians to actors to painters, and yes, I've seen it in the perfectionism of the mini-Reds when they practice their instruments.
  • The eventual trainwreck behind Destiny, and the real reason behind why Peter Dinklage sounded like he mailed it in during the voice acting. (Not Quite A Spoiler Alert: it wasn't his fault.) As well as Activision/Blizzard's corporate handled the Diablo 3 fiasco (another chapter), it didn't handle Destiny's problems quite so well.
  • The soul crushing doubts that drove the Witcher III development, and whether the game would be good enough to meet the standards of Western RPG developers/fans, not to mention whether there would actually be enough content in the game to not have long stretches of simply "not doing anything".
I could go on and on, but the entire book is filled with stories about many games we video game players know, and yet don't truly know because we've not peeled back the curtain to what lies behind the game.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels provided me with a bit of catharsis. I used to work in the software industry, so I know what it was like to be in their shoes. At the same time, I realize that is the sort of work that is by far a young person's game, because I'm more interested in trying to keep my work hours down to reasonable levels. I have become the "married guy with kids" that so upset Microsoft's old management, and as a consequence I want to step back from the intensity (and insanity) behind software development and enjoy more of the fruits of their labor.

But it has also increased the respect I have for the devs who make these games. I already had a lot of respect for their work having lived it, but you'd have to take my old job and crank it up to eleven to get what crunch**** is like for them.

So I'll raise a glass to Jason for a very well written book, and another glass to the devs who put together these games.





*We do have "sick days", but there were too many deadlines that were suddenly foisted on us this past week to take time off.

**He also used to tell us "you don't know how good you have it here, as we'd be sleeping on cots to finish the release."

***The midrange CAD/CAM/CAE market was above the level of Autodesk. Software in that range is what is used by major corporations to design products, such as CATIA or Pro/Engineer or Unigraphics. These are the software packages that auto companies use to design cars and electronics firms use to design televisions.

****Another dev term. We used to simply call it "hell", as in "we've got another hell week ahead if we want to lower the amount of bugs to acceptable levels."

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Job Tailor Made for Stephen Colbert

Yes, really.

I'm not talking about his current job as host of The Late Show, but rather his Tolkien geek status.*


You see, according to a recent Destructoid article, there's a Tolkien Loremaster on staff at Standing Stone Games to make sure they remain true to LOTR and The Hobbit. That Loremaster also consults with some academics on Tolkien as well as investigates Medieval and Dark Age source material to help round out the work on LOTRO. If that doesn't sound like a job perfectly suited for Stephen, I don't know what does.

I knew that Blizz had a resident Loremaster on WoW Lore, but I was unaware of Standing Stone having a resident Tolkien Geek in-house. Okay, they're all likely Tolkien Geeks to some degree, but the knowledge that there's an official Loremaster position was news to me. But this makes all kind of sense, given the amount of work that went into the storyline behind LOTRO. LOTRO was definitely not a "throw it on the wall and maybe it'll stick" philosophy that some MMOs I've played have; the game is so well done that there are parts to LOTRO that you'd swear were part of Tolkien's world that were actually made up for the game.

Like most of the North Downs, for instance.
In LOTR, North Downs consisted of The Greenway
and the ruins of Fornost. And that was it.
From lotro-wiki.com.
So here's to Standing Stone for putting forth real effort to make LOTRO appealing to your resident Tolkien geek.




*I thought I was a Tolkien geek, but Stephen outgeeks me by a long shot. My Tolkien knowledge ends at Unfinished Tales, as I simply could not get into the books of notes and early versions of the Middle-earth stories collectively titled The History of Middle-earth. My brother-in-law, however, has read them all and he also rereads The Hobbit and LOTR annually.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Twenty Years in the Making

I was going to write about something else, but I saw this come across my newsfeed today (courtesy of syfy.com):

Dungeons and Dragons had its Biggest Sales Year Since 1997

It took me a few moments to digest those words.

D&D had a better year in 2017 than when 3e was released in 2000? Better than before Wizards of the Coast bought TSR?

Wow.

That's quite an accomplishment.

I'm sure that the success of Stranger Things hasn't hurt, and the interest in watching people play D&D on Twitch.TV (such as Geek and Sundry's Critical Role) has helped too. But maybe the fact that it's twenty years later means the gamers grew up, had kids, and now their kids are playing too.

From imgflip.com.

For all the new (and returning) players, welcome to the world of RPGs! Pull up a seat and tell us about your character. I'll get you a drink: beer, wine, or the D&D staple Mountain Dew?* Sorry, I don't have any Nutter Butters around the house --one of the mini-Reds has a peanut allergy-- but I'm sure if you bring some snacks that'll do. (Even fruit or veggies.)




*Nowadays, it's Diet Dew for me, thanks. Or coffee.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fiddling Away

The oldest Mini-Red is home for Spring Break this week, and she had one request of me: that I put a mention about the newest LOTRO instrument in the blog.

So, this is for you, kiddo.

Meet the Fiddle:

From lotro-wiki.com.

Yes, they have a fiddle coming out soon as a playable instrument for LOTRO. My oldest is excited, but mainly because she really hopes they come out with an oboe sometime after the fiddle.