Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Guess Blizzard Wasn't Channeling Sir Mix-a-lot After All

Today's graphical correction has been brought to you by Overwatch.

Seems that Tracer, the Brit with the cockney accent who can teleport around the battlefield, has a very, um, un-Tracerlike victory pose:

From The Mary Sue.
Maybe Tracer would pose like that --in private-- but this pretty much goes against everything we have, both in-game and out-of-game, about Tracer so far.

Some fans voiced their concerns about Tracer's pose, and the Blizzard devs agreed and removed the pose from the game.

Amazingly enough, the commentary has remained (relatively) civil on the Blizzard Beta sites, although I can imagine that it won't last.

EtA: Well, that escalated quickly.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Paging Neil deGrasse Tyson...

...white courtesy phone, please.

Sorry, but I just had to add this.

Okay, not really, but typically during an MMO's nighttime I don't often look up. I'm more used to the focusing on the baddies on the ground, and besides, the sky at night in MMOs changes depending on what zone you're in.*

Some MMOs don't even bother changing the sky based on the time of day --I'm looking at you, SWTOR-- because the background scenery is only important enough for the imagery it presents to you as part of the story.

Lord of the Rings Online, on the other hand, is a bit different.

For starters, some baddies only come out at night, such as trolls, and any quest that involves getting rid of the trolls that roam the countryside in, say, the Trollshaws** close to Rivendell, means that you have to wait until the sun goes down before you can go troll hunting.

This is where LOTRO's sped up game time comes in handy, so you don't have to wait for the night time on whatever time the server is set for to actually go troll hunting. If you play only from 2 - 4 PM at your local time in a game that keeps a true 24 hour game clock (WoW, for instance), you'd never actually see the night sky unless you played on a server on another continent. LOTRO's in-game clock is so fast that an in-game "day" is slightly over 3 hours of real time.

Well, this is nice and all, but on one of those times when I was travelling through Evendim (swimming across Lake Nenuial because, you know, a F2P player doesn't have access to things such as boats that make such travel easier), I happened to look up at the night sky above me.

Ithil (aka "The Moon") is off screen above and slightly to the left.
I'm by no means an amateur astronomer, as what qualifies as a telescope in our house is an old Stevens 3" reflector that I received as a Christmas present back circa 1981***, but I know enough about the night sky that I picked out this immediately:

Apparently my toon has good eyes, as I can only see about 7 or so in real life.

The Pleiades. Right next to the tower at Tyl Ruinen.

Now, when Tolkien wrote the stories about Middle-earth, he grounded the tales by referencing real world items and putting his own spin on them. The Moon became "Ithil" in Sindarin (one of the Elvish languages), "elephant" became "oliphaunt", etc. The Pleiades became Remmirath (in Sindarin), or the Netted Stars.

I realize that MMO skies aren't going to be astronomically perfect --the developers have way too many other items to worry about to be concerned about getting the night sky in Northwest Middle-earth in the Autumn completely accurate****, but I still found it surprising that the devs took the time to get The Pleiades right.

I might have to go back and see if I can find Orion in the sky.

*Think of how cloudy with an eerie glow Icecrown Glacier is in Northrend, and you get the idea.

**I know, I know. Silly name. But Tolkien wrote it that way and put it on his maps.

***I still occasionally drool over a Celestron, Meade, or Orion telescope catalog, wishing I had the money and time to do some stargazing on a regular basis. I even considered trying to build my own telescope, but I realized after crunching some numbers that I'd be better off simply buying my own telescope than trying to make my own. And I think my wife would be very upset if I took years to finish another one of my "projects" around the house.

****Tolkien does reference Remmirath and Menelvagor (Orion) in Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

EtA: I just had to add the Airplane scene after the fact.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Doom that Came to Nexus

It's only natural that I, having come lately to Wildstar, am the last person on the planet to find out about its impending doom.

I'd just run smack into the attunement wall which requires you to run instances to progress further in the story, so I was wondering what to do about Wildstar when Syl posted this that referenced layoffs at Carbine.

Off on an article chase I went. Which lead me to this article from Polygon.

Which is ironic, to say the least, because I think that in the end Wildstar got more right than not.

I know that when I initially checked out Wildstar I wasn't so sure about the sexy female designs/armor as well as the heavy dose of Texas in the attitude of the game, but I eventually came around.* The story sputtered at first, but eventually got going around L20 or so. It's unfortunate, however, that a significant part of the storyline doesn't end when attunement begins.

I don't mind raiding being behind an attunement wall, because that's part of Vanilla and BC that I wish was still around to an extent. But there's a caveat there: having a decent portion of the storyline behind that attunement wall leaves a lot of players hanging. SWTOR fixed that problem by two methods: a class storyline that ended in a solo mode, and an overarching storyline (in the expacs and KotFE) that had a solo mode, even for the group content. WoW fixed the problem by leaving as much of the story as possible outside of the raid content itself.**

While I do realize that Carbine's focus was old school hardcore raiding, I do think that the story and game would have been a big hit as a standalone game. Or as an MMO that embraced a newer design for endgame, aka not falling into the MMO trap of "the game begins at endgame".

There will always be one nagging thing at the back of my head regarding Wildstar: why didn't the Dominion simply use all of its available resources across many worlds to simply crush the Exiles? It's a bit different when you're trying to play whack-a-mole across a galaxy, but on one planet? It should have been clobbering time.

*Or got used to ignoring it. Your choice.

**It also create LFR, which has been either a boon or a bust depending on who you talk to.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lok'tar, friend! Have you come to serve the Horde?

If you remember this post and were wondering where the hell the Horde was, here you go.

I was in the vicinity of UC last evening and I was behind this car:

Yes, that symbol on the left was unmistakeable:

I decided not to embarrass the youngest mini-Red by shouting and waving. Still, Thrall would be proud.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What's over the next hill? Bears, that's what.

I've been spending the past week re-acclimating myself to the old school MMO design of LOTRO.*

The concept of item wear during normal use --which typically only happens when you're killed in an MMO-- is still part of LOTRO. I'd made it to roughly about L24 or L25 before my Champion died the first time**, but I had to periodically stop and visit a vendor to repair my worn items.

The old style quest hub concept, which I detailed a few posts ago, was very much in evidence in the Lone Lands and the North Downs. You'd think you were finished with a quest hub, but once you turned everything in another set of 6-10 quests would suddenly pop into being.

I can't say I mind the old quest system so much, but it sure would have been nice if Tolkien had dreamed up a bit more variety in the enemies department. I'm getting tired of killing orcs, bears, wargs, boars, birds, and spiders wherever I go.***

This is the reason why bears are now on the
Middle-earth endangered species list.

The thing that still surprises me, after all this time, is how faithful LOTRO is to the source material. Even the items that they made up for the MMO, such as the refuge of Esteldin, fit in so well that unless you're a Tolkien geek you'd never notice they were made up.

True story: I was goofing around in the North Downs, if you want to call goofing around slaughtering trolls en masse, when someone asked in World Chat just how much of LOTRO is made up****. The asker thought that Archet, Combe, and Staddle were made up (they weren't) and that Esteldin wasn't made up (it was). When someone mentioned that The Forsaken Inn, for example, was referenced in the novels but never fleshed out, the asker exclaimed that he thought that was another made up location.


Naturally, in MMO space you can't afford to have distances as far apart as they really were in Tolkien's Middle-earth.

For example, the distance from The Forsaken Inn to Weathertop was a couple of days of foot travel on a good road, and the distance from Buckleberry to Bree was much a good day's travel by pony, too.

Compressing Middle-earth does have one huge positive, however: that people can remain engaged with the MMO without extraordinary effort.

I know there are people out there who like to explore, and they would love the vastness of Middle-earth as Tolkien envisioned*****, but to be completely honest a real trip from Bree to, say, Weathertop would be 95% boredom coupled with 5% adventure. (Or sheer terror. Your choice.) Eriador in particular is so empty in stretches that it is simply impractical to expect it to hold a player's attention without gobs and gobs of additional "kill ten rats" type of quests. And really, there are far too many of those quests in LOTRO as it is, as that was the quest design structure of the time.

So while it does kind of irk me that some aspects of the game, such as political contact between The Shire and Ered Luin not exactly following the pattern of Hobbits not named Took or Brandybuck, I'm willing to ignore it in favor of playability. Besides, a lot of the political and racial tensions in Tolkien's works do find their way into LOTRO itself. The end of the Elven low level zones in Ered Luin, for example, is predicated upon the traditional misunderstandings between Elves and Dwarves, and the open refusal of the chief constable in Bree to work with the Rangers ends up hampering his ability to handle the brigand and orc incursions into Bree-land.


But there's one item that is definitely NOT in Tolkien's works that I'm glad that Turbine has taken: Tolkien's viewpoint toward women.

Yes, JRR Tolkien was a product of his times, and yes, he patterned the stories surrounding Middle-earth after the Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythic tales he so loved, but both The Hobbit and LotR are a primarily a sausage fest with the few women in the story reduced to a secondary or tertiary role.

As a guy, I never really noticed the lack of women in the novels. Even comparing it with other stories from the early 1920s up through the 1970s, such as Brooks' The Sword of Shannara, Howard's Conan stories, or Moorcock's Elric and other stories surrounding the Eternal Champion, the women in the novels are primarily there to be a) a love interest, b) a plot device to explain/move the story along, or c) for sexy fun times' type of window dressing.

The Peter Jackson adaptations of both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, however, did make an attempt to address the lack of women in the stories by enhancing Arwen's role (by giving her the additional duties fulfilled by another minor character, Glorfindel), providing more screen time for Eowyn to be badass on the battlefield, and emphasizing Galadriel more. And, yes, creating the role of Tauriel for Thranduil's realm.

Still, LOTRO goes a step further by integrating women into all facets of life in Middle-earth. Women are guards, warriors, craftspeople, farmers, nobles, etc. And more than that, they are also important NPCs in each region.

Who is the hero whose quick actions saved Trestlebridge from attack by orcs? Aggy Digweed.

Who is the hero who stormed the Red Maid's territory in the Lone Lands to stop the nightmares of Hana the Young? Her sister, Elsa the Bold.

But the best part? Some of the enemy NPCs and bosses are women, too.

Not my video, but Andraste's ability to hang out 
in the Barrow Downs alone merits my respect.


Perhaps because of the old school feel of LOTRO, I've got a fondness for the game. I can go back in time and relive the design that was current when I started playing WoW, without having to worry about any story continuity issues that Cataclysm inflicted on Azeroth.

But more than that, I can enjoy the Middle-earth that I used to read****** come to life in an MMO, without it looking too hokey or snarky concerning the events in LOTR. Bree itself fascinates me in a way that I never expected, since it was just a metaphorical bump on the road in the novels, but seeing it truly come to life like this gives you a much greater appreciation of Tolkien's vision.

Besides, they've got a good band that plays on Friday afternoons on the Gladden server.

*The mini-reds have informed me that I've been playing LOTRO waaaay too much. Go figure.

**As is usually the case, I tried taking on more and more enemies at once until it finally caught up with me.

***And the Dead. You'd think I dropped in on The Walking Dead: The MMO from all the wights I've been killing.

****Yes, I know how silly it is to be arguing such a thing in a fictional world. At the same time, staying true to the source material is always important for immersion.

*****The late Karen Wynn Fonstad's work, The Atlas of Middle-earth Revised Edition (Amazon and B&N), is well worth the price for people who love maps and created fictional worlds. While she references Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle-earth series, she doesn't allow it to overwhelm the original material from the primary sources (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales).

******And play in, courtesy of Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP). It was a competitor to D&D back in the 80s and 90s, and I loved the skill based system. Their sourcebooks had a default setting of the mid-Third Age, about 1500 years before the events in LOTR, so there was still a Dunedain kingdom in the North and a Dwarf kingdom in Moria. And those sourcebooks were fantastically written and detailed. Even though I haven't played the game since the early 90s, I still have all of my sourcebooks; they're that good.