Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chit-Chatting Away

Gen Chat is an interesting beast.

Some games, Gen Chat is overwhelmed with gold farmers hawking their wares.  Other games, its dead silent.  And on still others, it can be a cesspool.

WoW's Gen Chat is decidedly schizophrenic.  In the capital cities, Gen Chat is active and reasonably well behaved.*  Outside of Stormwind and Orgrimmar (and Northern Barrens), Gen Chat is notable for its silence.  Occasionally you'll see the guild recruitment posts, especially in the starting zones, but for the most part Gen Chat out in the world is merely a marker to let you know when you left one zone for another.  Given that so few people actually use Gen Chat, its hard to tell if Gen Chat actually transcends the cross-server zones.**

In this post LFG/LFR World of Warcraft, Gen Chat's utility has declined.  Yes, there's Trade Chat and the LFG channel, but once the queues came along a lot of in-game chat activity vanished.

By comparison, Gen Chat in Aion is very busy, but unfortunately most of it is filled with gold farmers.  I suspect there are conversations in Gen Chat that are worth following in Aion, but they are drowned out by the flood of gold farmer spam.  I never thought I'd say this, but in the worst days of WoW gold farmer spam (in Wrath), we never even came close to what I've seen on an average night in Aion.  As much as some people gripe about the miscellaneous topics in Gen Chat, I'd much rather have that than gold farmer spam.

I think the only world where SWTOR's Gen Chat isn't that busy is on Quesh.***  Between the LFG requests and miscellaneous talk, Gen Chat in The Old Republic resembles a pub on a busy night.  I'm not sure how much of this is due to people who migrated from SW:Galaxies, but it doesn't surprise me that a game built on leveling would have an active chat environment in the various game zones.

LOTRO doesn't have a true chat channel marked General, but it does have Regional and Advice channels, which are what a F2P player will mostly see.  Like everything else about LOTRO, the chat channels are mellower than most.  Yes, there are arguments that flare up, but LOTRO chat channels reflect the player base.

Some F2P games tend to isolate players away from the "subscribers" Gen Chat, so I can't say how much different the subs have it.  Age of Conan is a prime example of the 'isolate the freebies' environment, and I can understand why.  By keeping the F2P players in a separate chat channel, that eliminates a lot of the fly by night gold farmer spam in the regular chat channels.  Throughout much of 2012, the F2P channel in AoC was very much dead.  There were people playing the game --just going to Tortage would show people that-- but they weren't saying anything.  In recent months, Funcom has done some server consolidation, and the formerly dead F2P Gen Chat is now active.  Topics in AoC tend to remain tied to the game, since that is the only outlet available to F2P players, but also because AoC's servers tend to have a more global contingent than most other MMOs.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but I've seen far more "pardon my English, it isn't my first language" in AoC's Gen Chat than in any other MMO I've played.


Why are some Gen Chats more active than others?  I've thought about this a bit over the past few months, and I don't believe there's a single item you can point to that explains the differences.  That said, here are a few of the ideas that I believe contribute to the success and/or failure of Gen Chat:

  • Some of Gen Chat's activity is due to game design.  A game like TOR, which has a lot of Heroic group quests in each planet, encourages activity by forcing players who want to run them to ask the old fashioned way.  A game that has a strong RP player base, such as LOTRO and the WoW RP servers, will have more activity as well.  Those players tend to be interested in the social aspects of the game, and will speak up more often.
  • Some games encourage self-isolation, and for a social person that can be grating at times.  While it can be fun to group up in LOTRO, a lot of content can be taken care of solo.  The same with TOR and WoW.  Blizzard used to have a lot of group quests in the Old World, but the Cata revision streamlined zone quests and eliminated most group quests.  LFR takes care of the need to see end game content as part of a guild, and LFG is famous for silent dungeon runs.  With TOR, you can solo quest all the way to max level and complete your class story without grouping once.  And without a burning in-game need to join a guild, the outlet some people have is to talk in Gen Chat.
  • The need to join a guild also factors into Gen Chat activity.  Sure, guilds are optional in every MMO, but being guildless makes playing some games much harder.  However, other games (like TOR) make it very easy to play the game guildless, and those games have more active Gen Chat than others.  It may not be a direct correlation, since there are quite a few WoW players who create a guild just to avoid being pestered by guild invites, but the games that have huge guilds and emphasize guild oriented activity are also the ones that have the least amount of Gen Chat activity.
  • Finally, in some games the argument could be made that Gen Chat has been rendered obsolete.  Look at WoW, for example.  You have so many methods of communication --both in and out of the game itself-- that Gen Chat is more a method of last resort.  Additionally, the game design in Mists has been pushing people into doing dailies --lots of dailies-- prior to any raiding, and there isn't a centralized chat that enables players out and about in various regions on a server to communicate together.  The mentality becomes "get the dailies done and then get on to other things," which isn't very conducive to chatting away either.  The old "standing around and fishing at the Dal fountain" design just isn't there anymore.  True, this isn't the only time that Blizz has put a lot of dailies as a gatekeeper for raiding --Quel'Danas and Firelands come to mind-- but those patches came later in each expac, not at the beginning.  Starting an expac with dailies as a gatekeeper is quite different, and sets the tone for the entire expac.

Some of the funniest as well as the most vile things I've read in an MMO came out of Gen Chat.  I once got into a discussion about the original Robert E. Howard short stories in an AoC session, and there was the "what events would a Star Wars Olympics have?" discussion during last Summer's Games.  I've learned a bit about theorycrafting in a WoW Gen Chat session, and I found out that some people who play LOTRO know far more Quenya than I do (which ain't hard to do, really).  The Gen Chat is the watering hole for an MMO, and when a Gen Chat turns toxic that's an indicator of larger problems in the game.

Here's to hoping your Gen Chat experiences are fun and interesting.

*Compared to Trade Chat, that is.

**It apparently does, but you'd never guess it.

***Okay, maybe Ilum too, but it's been a while since I've been there.

****The need to avoid being harassed also speaks to the importance of guilds in a game.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where the Lowbies Are

Since my Rogue has made it to the L40s, I've taken to skulking around in the Old World while in stealth mode.  I still am working on leveling skinning, but the main reason why I'm constantly in stealth mode is because I pop out of BGs into areas that are frequented by the Horde.  I'd spent way too much time on PvP servers (and getting ganked in pre-Cata Tarren Mill) to not take precautions when entering enemy held territory.

I've also discovered where all the lowbie toons are:  Eversong Forest.

I kid you not.

When I crossed the Elrendar into Eversong, I was stunned by the sheer number of toons running about.  Yes, I'm aware of the cross server zones, but this was the first time I'd seen a cross server zone not called Elwynn Forest work as intended.*  Players were everywhere.  I even found a pair of toons working away by the eastern coastline, which tends to be overlooked as a questing area.

In the age of Panda, Blood Elves are still popular.  Go figure.

There were a few other trends I noticed:  a significant number of toons were Hunters and Mages, with Warlocks a distant third.  More interesting was that about half of the toons had titles already attached to them, indicating that a lot of these toons were alts.  And perhaps the most interesting item of all was that the ratio of female to male Blood Elves was on the order of 7:1.  I'd read somewhere that there were actually more female than male Sindorei played on the servers, but I don't recall the discrepancy being so wide.

One big surprise was that there weren't any Sindorei Monks around.  I know they exist, because I see them in Battlegrounds all the time, but there weren't any in Eversong.  I checked both Eversong and the Ghostlands, but nary a Monk could be found.

The few paladins I saw, however, were busy working away in the Ghostlands, fighting the Scourge.


Being a Rogue means that you occasionally scare the hell out of opposing players, even when you don't intend to.

For some reason, I really like the Ghostlands.  The eerie feel to the place, coupled with the fight of the Blood Elves against the twin fronts of the Scourge and the Amani Trolls, gives a new Blood Elf player a laserlike focus on the threats at hand.  The fact that the Forsaken have shown up to assist Tranquilien in holding the line on the Scourge, even before the Sindorei officially join the Horde, adds to the conflict.**  There's also the enjoyable interplay at the entrance to Zul'Aman, put in place in Cataclysm, between Ranger General Halduron Brightwing, Silver Covenant Ranger General Vereesa Windrunner, Chieftain Vol'jin, and a messenger from Silvermoon.  Finally, I really do like the elite abominations, Luzran and Knucklerot.***

I was sneaking around in the general direction of the Dead Scar when I saw a pair of L18 Blood Elves --a Blood Knight and Mage-- run up to take on Luzran.  Remembering how rough it used to be to kill him at level, I loitered around.  I'm not one to gank lowbies, but I figured if it looked like Luzran was going to win I could give them an assist.****

The Paladin charged Luzran, and the fight was on.

Luzran kept up a steady stream of attacks, gradually sapping the Pally's strength.  His healing simply couldn't keep up with Luzran's damage.  I made a quick mental calculation and began to maneuver into position.  If that Pally didn't have Lay on Hands available he was sunk, and that Mage was going down soon after.

Just as I reached Luzran's backside I saw the telltale flash of light.  The Pally had finally used Lay on Hands.

I pulled back to wait.

The abomination wasn't going down so easily, and he very nearly killed the Paladin again before he finally dropped.

Using emote, I said "Well done.  Not bad for a pair of Hordies."

The two Blood Elves froze, and one said something (in Orcish) out loud.

After a few seconds, I realized they thought they were going to be ganked.


"Don't mind me," I emoted.  "I'm heading to the Plaguelands."

The pair began to move around again, and I slunk away.  The Scourge surrounding Stratholme needed some thinning out.

*Why don't I count Elwynn?  One word:  Goldshire.  It attracts toons for, shall we say, other reasons.

**If you play Alliance, go take a Horde toon into Tranquillien and watch the interplay between Dame Auriferous and High Executioner Mavren.  Let's just say that Mavren is a lecher, and the Lady is not amused.

***You used to have to get a group of 3-4 L17s to take out one of them, but with the changes to the game since Wrath you can take them out with two.  A word of advice:  if you're out questing in the Ghostlands, watch your back.  Those two have an annoying habit of sneaking up on you when you're not paying attention.

****Besides, I like the sound that an abomination makes when you hit it hard.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Attack of the Ninja Looters

My oldest met reality last week.

Oh, it's not that she lives in fantasy-land; believe me, I get an earful about school/friends/the-uncaring-world when she comes home every day.  What I mean is that she finally met some of those people in MMOs.

I'd been cleaning around the house when I heard a scream of anguish from her.  "I'll get you for this!" she yelled.

"What did your brother or sister do this time?" I called down the stairs.

"Not them!  This.... this.... GUY!"

Uh-oh.  I came downstairs.  "What happened?"

She was moving her Elven Hunter all over a clearing, following some near max-level toon around.  "I was killing this dude for a quest, and this IDIOT came and took the treasure out of the chest I was supposed to open!"

"Ah."  I sat down and looked over her shoulder.

"I want to attack him so bad....  But I CAN'T!!"

"Well, you could challenge him to a duel --at least I think you can in LOTRO-- but you're L32 and he's L73.  It wouldn't be a contest."

"But I am just so mad right now!  I have to wait and do the whole thing again!!!"

I sighed.  "Yeah, I know.  You just met the ninja looter.  They're one of the asshats you'll meet in MMOs."

The mini-boss respawned, and the ninja looter attacked the mini-boss before my daughter could.  I swear I saw steam coming out of her ears.

"Look," I said.  "LOTRO is one of the best MMOs out there for learning the game because of the community.  But that doesn't mean that you won't find asshats out there in LOTRO, either.  You've been playing LOTRO for over a year now, and you've only run into a few.  I finally ran into my first really bad one in The Old Republic the other day.  It happens."

"Yeah, but it's so not fair!"

"I agree completely.  But there's nothing you can do about it right now, because he didn't do anything that you could sic the game admins on him."

She opened her mouth to retort, but I cut her off with a wave of my hand.  "This is why I won't let you play WoW.  You have to learn how to handle these sort of people before you play WoW, because there are a lot more of them on WoW than on some of these smaller games."

"But you play WoW!"

"Yes, and I'm a lot older.  The asshattery in WoW is minor compared to other parts of the internet, and you have to learn how to handle this maturely first.  It's just like my opinion on Facebook; you have to learn how to let things roll off of you, to filter them out, and not let them get to you.  And believe me, there are plenty of people my age or older who have trouble with that."

She turned back to the screen, crossed her arms, and fumed.

"I didn't say you had to like it; I said you had to learn to deal with it."

"I am," she replied.  "I'm imagining my hunter skewering him on the end of a flight of arrows."

I glanced up at the timer we use to limit the kids' computer activity.  "Tell you what," I said as I reset the timer, "I'm not going to count the time you had to wait here to finish up your quest.  This was something beyond your control, so it shouldn't count against you."

"Okay....."  Her shoulders relaxed a little.  "Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome."  I got up and retrieved my bottle of cleanser.  "Besides, someone will eventually decide to teach him a lesson with their guildies.  It happens on WoW all the time, especially on the PvP servers."

"I just wish your Rogue were on LOTRO."

"Me too, kid.  Me too."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I'm Sorry, You Confused me with Somebody Else

It's been one of those weeks.

No, not in a bad way, but in a "who did you think I was, anyway?" sort of way.

Like the Warrior who berated me in Arathi Basin for not pursuing a retreating Horde player and instead returning to the flag.  "Shoulda killed him," he said.  "Don't be such a pussy."

"My job is to protect the flag, not get HKs," I replied.

"She's right, you shithead," a Druid added.*  "You win by getting and protecting the flags."

The Warrior just wouldn't give up.  "But what Rogue turns away from an easy kill?  She's a wuss."

"I want to win," I replied.  "If it means fewer HKs, I'll do it."

"Chicken shit."


Or, like the group finder in The Old Republic, which had my Jedi Shadow automatically checked as Tank and Damage, and I only found out about it after I'd ported into Cademimu.  "Gang, I'm going to drop," I said.  "I thought I was queued as Damage, not as Tank."

"You sure?" the Commando marked as healer asked.  "I can keep you going."

"Not here.  I'm at the low end for this Flashpoint, and I'm not specced for tanking."

I'm sure the Commando could have given it a good try, but come on.  I've been in Cademimu as a low end DPS before, and even then I had trouble staying upright against bosses.


Or the people in Eye of the Storm who, when they asked what to do in this battleground, I replied "You get and hold towers, then worry about the mid.  Three towers will beat holding and getting the flag most of the time."

So what happened?  9-10 of our team went to the mid, 3 went to a far side tower, and there was one person on each of our regular towers.  While our side fought over the mid, the Horde swept in and took three towers.  As players died and respawned, we were slowly pushed back and away from the remaining tower.

So much for asking my opinion.


Or yesterday, when I was back on Taris with my Jedi Shadow, I got mistaken for a tank.  I was taking a break from the Alderaan push toward the end of Chapter 1, and I figured it'd be nice to smash a few rakghouls and clean out some old quests in my queue since those raks couldn't really hurt me.

So, when the call went out for a group to take on the World Boss, I waited until I was sure there was going to be a group pulled together and I whispered if they needed DPS.  I got an immediate invite, and I drove on over to the spot where Subject Alpha awaited us.  As I arrived, discussion centered on who would tank the giant rakghoul.

"I can do it," a Shadow replied.

"Tal," the Ops Leader asked of me, "can you be off tank?"

I was about to say no, but then I remembered I was an L30 in the land of L18-20.  "I'm DPS spec, but I can tank in a pinch since I've got more health than everyone else."


To be fair, there was an L47 Sage in the group, but I only discovered that afterward.**  Everybody else was L20-L23 and had half of my health.  I felt reasonably confident that if it came to me tanking, my lack of tank expertise would be offset by the Shadow's taunting ability and my extra health.  Sure, I didn't have any of the Shadow's tank spec goodies, but I figured I could hold my own.



Once everyone arrived at the site, about five minutes later, the tank pulled and we began.  The main tank held aggro well enough that I hardly took any damage, and whenever the Ops Leader asked the World Boss to be turned around I taunted Subject Alpha to my side.  My lack of aggro holding extras meant that the main tank got the World Boss back, but given the amount of healing heading our way we were in good shape.  There was some nut who kept taking huge amounts of damage, but the healers in the group kept him upright.

After about 5-10 minutes, Subject Alpha bit the dust, and I didn't even have to worry too much about tanking dynamics.

Now why couldn't the Eye of the Storm run have ended so well?

*My Rogue is a female Night Elf.  I've decided that it's easier to simply let people believe what they want to believe rather than correct them all the time.

**That probably explained why she was assigned to heal the main tank exclusively.

EtA: Cleaned up a few grammatical errors.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love those OP Classes

You don't know how much you'll miss something until it's gone.

Yes, it's cliche --and also the subject of an 80's power ballad by Cinderella-- but it's also quite true.

In this case, the something I missed was internet access.  On this past Saturday, we lost our internet connection, which didn't get restored until a few hours ago.  No, this wasn't due to any natural disaster, but to MAC address problems between our DSL modem and our ISP.

Not counting the occasional vacation, that was probably the longest time I've been without internet access in about 20 years.*

In the Internet era, we've become used to permanent online access, and we reduce ourselves to complaining about First World problems when we don't have it.  But really, is it all that bad?

No, not at all.**

This kind of dovetails right into a favorite complaint of MMO players, right after "I'm bored!" and "[Pick a faction] sucks!":  "[Pick a class] is over/underpowered!"

You can't enter into a battleground or read Gen Chat without someone making an observation that "Monks are SOOOO OP right now" or "Damn, Warriors are BEASTS!"***  I've been as guilty as the rest, since I saw how Locks got revamped compared to their Cataclysm incarnation, but I don't spend my BG time complaining about which class is the "favored class" right now.  Others, however, live for that sort of thing.

There's an entire cottage industry built around maximizing classes and specs for raiding and PvP, so it's not surprising that people complain when they feel that a spec has gotten some unfair love or hate from the Devs.  But really, is it that big of a deal?  Unless your toon is being picked on by the OP ones, is this really that much of a problem that it requires a Dev to get out the nerfbat?  Is absolute class equality the goal?

While a nice idea, I don't think class equality should be an overarching design goal.  You can lose sight of the overall game while trying to make everything equal for everybody.  I realize that a basic tenet of Blizzard's raid design philosophy is "bring the player, not the class", but the reality is that people will bring a specific class for a specific raid boss mechanic.  That can't be avoided.  Likewise, a BG/arena team will look for specific specs/classes, because they bring the best chance at survival.  Tweaking things to promote class balance is tricky, and doesn't necessarily work to encourage more classes to take over specific roles.

I'm reminded of pencil-and-paper RPGs, with the common complaint in D&D 3.x (and it's successor Pathfinder) is that the spell casters are overpowered in high level campaigns.  Well, Wizards of the Coast decided to "fix" that in D&D 4e, to the point of having constant tweaks to different classes via the D&D Insider subscriptions.  I was unaware as to just how much tweaking Wizards had done until I signed up for DDI.  Much to my surprise, Wizards had tweaked classes to the point where they'd even gone and changed the names of some of the basic classes just to make them sound more in tune with newer class names.  Gone was the Cleric, in its place was the Templar.  That, to me, seems to be taking things a wee bit too far.

While MMOs haven't gone down that route just yet, it seems that temptation is there.  After all, look at the wholesale changes to talents that each new WoW expac brings to the table.  To say that the Mists version of WoW's toons bears only superficial resemblance to the Vanilla WoW version is probably an understatement.  The classes act in a similar manner, but almost everything under the hood is different.

But why worry about it too much?  Is that particular Feral Druid that's dancing around you, firing off heals, the source of your annoyance?  Or is it the class?  Odds are good that we'll hear people say it's the class, when it really is the player.

So maybe it's time to be more specific, that it is a player you're complaining about, not the class.

*That includes several days without power due to Hurricane Ike back in 2008.

**I was perfectly fine, thank-you-very-much, but the lack of internet meant that we had to periodically go to a free WiFi location to check to make sure there weren't any school/work e-mails that required addressing.

***That warriors crack covers both WoW and TOR:  the WoW Warrior and the TOR Sith Warrior.