Thursday, April 26, 2012

Redbeard Boards the Twisted Nether Blogcast

Yes, you read that right.

I will be a guest on this Saturday's episode of the Twisted Nether Blogcast at 8 PM PST (11 PM EST).  Stop on by and enjoy the show!

(Hopefully, Hydra and Fimlys will make me sound better than I really am.)

To listen to the live stream, go to and join in the chat room.  See you there!

EtA:  For people overseas, the time is 3 AM Sunday GMT.  London is 4 AM Sunday,
while Melbourne is 1 PM Sunday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Few Other Random TOR Thoughts

When I started playing TOR last Thursday night, I didn't finish my first quest before I started getting a massive headache.

"Oh crap," I thought.  "You've got to be kidding me."

I've mentioned before in some other posts that I get headaches and disorientation when I play first person shooters.  I've had this problem dating back to the original Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, when the old conflict between what my eyes are seeing versus what my inner ear is telling my brain first reared its ugly head.  For a long time I assumed that MMOs would cause me trouble as well, but once I started playing WoW I discovered that the only location that I had problems was in Shadowfang Keep, with it's tight twists and turns causing the camera to constantly zoom in and out.  Rift, LOTRO, and AoC didn't cause me any trouble at all, so I didn't expect anything different from TOR.

I couldn't see anything obvious in what the game was doing that would cause me issues, so I decided to simply call it a night and go and sleep it off.  The next morning, however, I didn't have any trouble with the game at all. I chalked it up to sinuses and kept playing without incident.

Still, if first person shooters give you problems, go slow on TOR before you're comfortable enough with pressing onward.


Another thing happened in those first five minutes in addition to the headache:  I was invited to join a group.

I'm used to the occasional random grouping request from other MMOs, but usually you get your feet wet before you group up with someone.  With TOR, however, the group requests came very frequently throughout my free period.  I really haven't played enough to get a good feel for the game community, but at first glance TOR seems to foster a community that works together, which is a bit different than that found in WoW or LOTRO.  AoC does encourage grouping because the quest lines have a sizable number of multi-group quests, but TOR appears to have this driven organically as opposed to being imposed artificially.

Now, the higher you level, that scenario might change, but this is based on the first 11-12 levels or so.


Like most MMOs, TOR has multi-player quests.*

What I found interesting was where those multi-player quests --called Heroic Quests-- lay in the spectrum on MMOs.

In one end you have the group quests in Age of Conan, which are impossible to solo at level.  In fact, the L20-ish group quests for AoC are only solo-able once you get into the upper L40s.  Yes, that's a 15-20 level difference, and believe me the difference is real.

Somewhere in the middle you'll find the leftover WoW group quests and the LOTRO group quests, where the group quest difficulty can vary from quest to quest.  Some of Icecrown's quests you can solo with raid gear at level, but others are too difficult to achieve otherwise.  As a rule of thumb, a L10 difference (at low level) or an L5 difference (at Wrath level and beyond) is sufficient for soloing.

TOR, on the other hand, had 2-player group quests in Ord Mandell that were doable only a level or two higher than the intended level, and if you take along a companion there's no trouble at all.  My suspicion is that this will scale in difficulty the higher up in level you go, but I didn't get far enough into the story to find out.

Nevertheless, to an experienced MMO player the 2-man group quests in TOR are doable at level with a companion.  Just make sure your companion stays upright, and don't merely try to out-DPS the enemy.


The toon creation options are much greater than that in WoW or LOTRO, but most of the toons I saw had a similar body build.

So what did I do?  Create Redbeard, of course.

I didn't go whole hog and make my Smuggler obese, but he is definitely on the chunky side.  He's also tall (like the Ghost of Redbeard from the Scooby-Doo episode, not me), and he's got that full red hair and a beard.  If I tried to do that in WoW, the best I could come up with would be a Dwarf; not exactly what I had in mind, you know.

Still, my Smuggler really did stand out from the crowd.

I didn't get the try the female creation tools, but I've seen articles by Spinks on them already, so they sound a bit like what you find in Age of Conan.  Not perfect, but better than WoW or LOTRO.

So, if in case you were wondering, I did try something different than the most common models out there.

*Yes, WoW still has some group quests around, mainly confined to the BC and Wrath zones.  In Icecrown, for example, you can't complete the Loremaster achievement there by soloing as an L80 with quest greens/blues; there are too many group quests standing in your way.  When I finished that achievement on Quintalan back in Wrath, he needed T9 gear and the Quel'Delar quest chain to solo some of those group quests.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting Killed by Pirates Separatists is Good

I'm not the greatest beta tester in the world.

Oh, I know all about creating and implementing test plans --I worked in software QA for five years-- and I've a nose for finding bugs, so that's not a problem.  It's the lack of time I can devote to a (non-work) project that prevents me from assisting in a beta.

So while everybody else was checking out the MoP and Diablo III betas (although D3 isn't really a beta, since it's a bit late in the cycle for it to be called that), I took advantage of what time I had and tried out The Old Republic instead.

This past weekend was one of the TOR 'free weekends' for people who haven't tried the game out yet.  In anticipation of me wanting to at least get my toe in the water, I'd downloaded the game a couple of weeks ago, so it was a small matter of getting up and running with TOR.*

For me, there were two really big concerns about the game, and none of them had anything to do with gameplay.  The most important of the two was that I barely met the minimum requirements to play the game on my family PC.  The graphics card was better, but the motherboard/CPU/RAM was right at the minimum.  I'd 'played' games before in that situation, and most games at the minimum requirements were barely better than worthless; I'd much rather DL a movie trailer on a dialup line than play a game with the bare minimum requirements.  The second, and it was kind of unique to my situation, was that if my kids found out I was testing out the game over the weekend, I'd be deluged by requests for them to play too.  It's one thing for them to pay LOTRO for free using my account, since I turned off guild/kinship and group/fellowship invites, but everything I'd heard about TOR pointed toward grouping up as more of a requirement than some other MMOs.  Besides, given the 'romance' aspect of TOR, I knew that I'd have to police their activity, and I didn't really feel like dealing with that.

When I made the decision to try TOR out this past weekend, I did so knowing I'd play the game only when the kids were asleep, and that it was entirely possible that the game was unplayable for my machine.  I'd have preferred a better set of circumstances, but you have to roll with what you're dealt.


I logged in, started up TOR, and....  had to adjust the graphics settings.

I tweaked several settings down to low, and managed to get a relatively smooth movement experience.  The graphics itself seemed to be okay, but I knew I wasn't getting even an average experience.  Hell, when 4.0.1 dropped on WoW I had to turn off a lot of the 'gee-whiz' water settings, because otherwise my PC would be spending all of its time rendering water while I'm over on, say, Darkshore.**

In WoW, when I used to hang around Dal in Wrath my PC's framerate would drop to the teens on a regular basis.  Org/Stormwind during Cata is better, but the low 20s still ain't that great.  When I made it to the first space station in TOR, I expected things to get busier.  They did, and I could tell my framerate dropped by comparison.  However, there were fewer toons wandering around than were ever in Dal --more NPCs, but fewer real toons-- but what I saw didn't give me a lot of hope that if I hit a very active zone that my PC could cope.


For the record, I created a Smuggler.  

Yes, I like Han Solo.

Plus, I didn't feel morally obligated to play it to the straight and narrow that a Jedi toon would have driven me, so my toon could act far more like The Man With No Name than Roy Rogers. 


As for the kids, they had no idea I was playing the game at all.  They noticed TOR on the start menu, and I told them that I'd downloaded the game so that if they had a free weekend I could check it out, but I kept mum on the free weekend being THIS weekend.

I knew that if they found out there'd be a "OMG!!!! STAR WARS!!!!!" frenzy, and they'd be hanging on me like piranhas until I relented and let them play.  But compared to WoW (or LOTRO, which they do play), I expected there to be a bit more morally ambiguous choices in TOR.  In WoW, you head to a quest hub and almost every quest is a "rah rah--go good guy--save us!" variety; not all, but most.  LOTRO has the same thing.  Age of Conan is a bit greyer, but the quests are still of the "go out and labor like Hercules" group.  TOR, however, makes you choose the result of the outcome, and rewards you with Dark/Light Side points --or affection points for a companion-- for doing so.  The NPCs are grey --even the ones found in the Intro Zones-- and they have motives where you'd never expect WoW NPCs to go.  If you ever had any opinions whether the Republic is the 'Good Guy' side, the Ord Mandell Intro Zone will disabuse you of that idea.  How else do you describe NPCs who actually are trying to smuggle drugs to keep the populace "stupid enough to stay with the Republic"?  Or NPCs who are really Sith spies?  Or who set up a "competiton" so they can thin the refugee population of excess mouths to feed?  Or NPCs who grab and torture those who they claim are Separatist spies to make them divulge their secrets?

No, TOR delves into greyer area than you see WoW plumb, and it is definitely not for kids who aren't mature enough to handle the questions.

(An aside:  perhaps the Sha is Blizz's answer to Light/Dark Side points.  Given the current state of WoW, however, I'm not sure how that will work out.  From a story perspective, it's kind of hard to simply flip that switch on in Pandaria and ignore it in the rest of Azeroth.)

As for the romance, I didn't exactly progress along anything resembling that in my online time to say how that will shake out, but I'd say that if your kid can't handle real romance very well, I doubt they'd handle an in-game one any better.  Then again, maybe the "not everyone is who they seem" isn't a bad lesson to learn, either.***


None of this is news to someone who has played TOR the past few months.

("In other stories, Deathwing has returned to Azeroth!  Film at eleven!")

And if you haven't noticed, some WoW (or ex-WoW) bloggers have left for TOR, grown dissatisfied, and left.  All of this, naturally, has fueled the WoW vs. TOR flame war simmering out there.

That said, I think there needs to be some perspective here.  Should we expect a new MMO to have as much to do as one that has been around and expanded upon for seven years?  Or, perhaps, TOR's focus isn't on luring existing WoW gamers, but bringing in new gamers into MMOs?

What's the startup cost for someone brand new to WoW these days?  Let's say someone comes in, plays the free L1-20 on WoW, and decides to subscribe.  For that person to get up to speed on Cata, they have to plunk down $20 for Vanilla + BC, $30 for Wrath, and $40 for Cata = $90 (not counting discounts via, say, Amazon).  With MoP, that price will go up by another $50 or so to $140 (again, before discounts).  That's a hefty cost for one game, especially if you want to play a Goblin or Worgen.

For TOR, by comparison, the cost is $60 (before discounts).  Sure, you get less, but you've paid less too.  You're not getting a game that has been either in development or in production for almost a decade, but something new.  The polish and variety of gaming experience will always favor the older title, because it has been around longer.

As for the quests, the feel is somewhere between WoW's BC and Wrath questlines.  TOR has one main quest chain running through a zone, with a lot of side quests along the way.  For everyone whom I've seen who complains about the linearity of quests in TOR, I have to ask whether they've actually done the quests in post Cata Old World.  I coined the 'quests-on-rails' term for Cata, not TOR; if there was ever proof that there's too much of a good thing, it's that.  The news that WoW is returning more to a pre-Cata model for MoP is a good thing, in my opinion.

WoW will always win out on the "things to do at max level" argument, because WoW has been tinkered with for so long.  The only way TOR would hope to match that reality would be to hire an army of developers and have them slave away as quickly as they can, and no software company in their right mind will do that for a title that hasn't even proven itself.

Where WoW suffers the most is from a continuity standpoint.  A new MMO such as TOR doesn't have the baggage of a base game + three expansions worth of quests, so continuity isn't going to be a problem.  But to a new gamer, WoW's environment --while vast-- tells a chaotic story.  The timeline jumps around so much that a new gamer will get lost trying to understand the plotline.  Once a new gamer gets the whole idea of what is going on in the Old World, they're whisked back in time to Outland and then Northrend.  And MoP isn't going to do anything to fix the continuity issues, either.

Add to this the design decision by Blizzard to have significant events take place not in-game but in books, and the story gets even more chaotic.

For long time WoW players, this isn't an issue at all.  Really, anyone who began playing in the Wrath days or earlier remembers the original questline progression, and they're on the current timeline without a problem.  But new players didn't have that experience, so they'll be lost.****  By comparision, TOR (or even LOTRO) with their single timeline continuity won't have these problems.


One final item of note:  is it so much to have an MMO where the word 'hero' isn't thrown around so much?

I thought I'd escaped that word once I started playing TOR, but even there it follows your toon around like a bad penny.  In WoW, "Heroes!" is used so often that I've taken to calling it the Azerothian equivalent of "Hey you!"

I could have used more of the "....then my son is dead to me" sort of quest endings than the almost-sappy "Oh, you're a hero!", because if you're going to plumb some morally grey areas, you might as well have morally grey responses.

*Well, sort of.  The 'free weekend' download required me to re-download the game again, but in this case I suspect it inserted a file that gave me a temp license and then just rubber-stamped the rest of my installation.  It was more than I expected, but in the end much less painful than if I'd have tried to DL the thing over the weekend.

**I did the same thing when I tried out Rift, too, so maybe that was why I was kind of non-plussed about the game's graphics.

***Also, unlike Age of Conan, it doesn't seem like there's any nudity in the game, so at least that isn't an issue for kids.

****Or, potentially, they won't care, having bought into the belief that the game only really starts at max level.

EtA:  Corrected a few English errors.  My English teachers would not be amused....
EtA:  Apparently I can't add either.  Geesh....

Thursday, April 19, 2012

As If We Didn't Have Enough Bad Stereotypes... looks like the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik admitted he trained using Modern Warfare 2, and he played WoW at one point upwards of 16 hours a day.

He's a thoroughly despicable (and likely insane) person, slaughtering 77 people last summer in Norway, and to be linked with him, however vaguely, is enough to make me want to go take a shower.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Search of Fun

Last weekend, I was on WoW when a guildie posed a question to some others who'd been AFK for a while:

"So, how was SW?"

There was a slight pause, and the response was "It was fun until it wasn't."

"You know," I chimed in, "I've been hearing that a lot lately."

And I have.  This isn't a TOR issue either, because I know of people who left WoW for TOR and haven't looked back.  And if you read the general chat areas of places like Age of Conan you'll find loads of people who delight in bashing WoW and announcing how more awesome their current MMO is.

But still, in this case let's talk about TOR and WoW.  What was it that TOR was missing?  Or, for those who still play TOR and have not looked back, what is it that TOR has?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lost in the Basin

Sholazar Basin has to be my least favorite zone to level in.

This, in spite of the presence of the Avatar of Freya and the amusement surrounding the "Why is everyone looking at me like I crashed the ship?" banter, and the Frenzyheart vs. Oracles quest line.

I suppose I should be happy about a series of quests that are blatant in that they're the "kill ten rats" variety --that's what you get with Hemet and Co, really-- but all I feel is "please please PLEASE just let me get through this quickly!"  At one point I looked up and checked the number of quests I'd finished in the Basin, saw it was around 15, and blanched.  I had about sixty more quests to go?

I needed a beer.  Badly.

Of all of the zones in Northrend, Sholazar is the one that feels the most 'tacked on'.  The Scourge only start to take center stage once you get through all of Hemet's quests and almost to the end of the Oracle/Frenzyheart quests.  Yes, you could skip around and head straight to Freya, but in the end there's no avoiding the Nesingwary and O/F stuff.

When I made it to Sholazar Basin the first time on Quintalan, I'd already finished up Storm Peaks and most of Icecrown, and I'd paid the (then) 7k gold to get Cold Weather Flying.  However, that did me little good in Sholazar because of the tree cover.  Having returned to it twice now, I've found that it is harder and harder to navigate because you have to fly so low to the ground.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but the more obstacles to fly through and constantly change directions with give me headaches.  In much the same way that first-person shooters give me motion sickness, flying through Sholazar --like Un'Goro or Feralas-- is a chore for me.  Then, when you add the numerous 'kill ten rats' quests of Nesingwary and Co, Sholazar makes my head spin.

I thought about other forest zones that don't give me such problems, such as Ashenvale and Felwood*, and two things do stand out:  the density of the foliage and the gaps in the forest.  Ashenvale and Felwood are temperate forests, and the density of the trees at flying level isn't so bad.  Or rather, you can fly at a decent level above ground and see where you're going.  You also get breaks in the forest where you can get your bearings and not feel so closed in.  With Sholazar (and U'G and Feralas), that feeling of claustrophobia can come on strong, along with the disorientation of a forest that looks alike in every direction.

Maybe with some Dramamine Sholazar Basin wouldn't feel so bad.  At the same time, however, it is pretty much a dead-end, storywise.  I'm not sure if that's what's intended, but the impression I get is that Sholazar is the odd-man out of the Northrend story Blizz wanted to tell.  Sure, there's an Avatar there fighting the encroachment of the Scourge, and you have a connection with Un'Goro, but as far as the focus on progressing the story toward the Endgame, Sholazar stands apart.  It takes you nowhere.  Normally I wouldn't mind, given that it expands the overall feel of the game world, but given that the three expansions after Vanilla got away from the "sandbox" type of game, Sholazar just feels out of step from the rest of the design goals for Azeroth.

*I would include the Ghostlands too, but you can't fly there.  Yet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Few Random Monday-ish Thoughts

It's no secret that I have a stable of Paladins.  Soul plays tanks, Rades (Orcish Army Knife) likes Hunters, and Vidyala (from Manalicious) likes Draenei.

What makes people stick with one race or toon or class over another, while others are confirmed Altoholics?

I can honestly say that I got into playing Paladins because of their similarities to D&D's Clerics.  I play Clerics --first because we needed a healer and then by choice-- and so naturally the first class I'd try out was the Priest, thinking it was a WoW version of a Cleric.

It took about 15 minutes before I discovered how wrong I was, and after some encouragement from Soul, I switched to the Paladin.

As for others, I can't say.  Maybe it's the appeal of bashing someone in the face, controlling the fight, or the lore of a specific race, but some folks latch on to something and don't let it go.

But Altoholics....

I watch my son play LOTRO, and I swear every time I turn around he's creating a new character.  He likes to play Hobbits, but I don't think he could settle on a single character even if his life depended on it.

Oh well.  Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, right?


As I've been working through Alliance-side Loremaster on Tomakan, I've cruised through Grizzly Hills.  In a post-Cata world, this, more than anything else, sticks out like a sore thumb.

"Have you been bloody bitten??!!" the Alliance scout shrieks as we're fleeing to safety.  The fear and loathing of the Worgen in that zone is just as palpable as you'll find in pre-Cata Silverpine Forest and Duskwood, and they are so far out of the reality of Worgen as Alliance that it's laughable.

Can you imagine that Alliance scout asking that of a Worgen toon?

"Um, well....  Now that you mention it, yeah!!  But I got better...."


I encountered a newbie in Zul'Drak this past weekend.  I'd forgotten how fresh everything seemed at that stage of the game, but even then, this newbie was in a race to 85.  I got the impression that he was jumping as quickly as he could from zone to zone, following some manual or add-on, which put a damper on my reverie, but merely finding a newbie these days is an achievement when you're surrounded by jaded veterans at max level.

I think I need to get out and hang around in the starter zones a bit more often these days...