Friday, May 31, 2019

A Little Bit of Music for a Friday

If your first exposure to an MMO soundtrack was WoW's Blood Elf starting zone, you likely remember the cello piece The Sindorei:

That piece of music set a theme of melancholy against a backdrop of beautiful Eversong Woods, highlighting the aftermath of the events of Warcraft III.

Well, the cello is back in the intro music to the new ESO expac, Elsweyr, but used in a very different manner:

The Jeremy Soule theme is given a grim reading by the cello, which launches the rest of the piece with minor chords and a discordant sound more reminiscent of Knut Avenstroup Haugen's Age of Conan's soundtrack than anything we've typically heard from Elder Scrolls Online. It gives a feeling of foreboding, forcing you to look over your shoulder, rather than being a heroic upbeat piece like Summerset's Main Theme was.

Given that the dragons' return to Nirn is a major plot point in the expac, the worry and grim overtones are perfect for being concerned whether a dragon is going to drop on your head when you least expect it.

I'm looking to the release of the full soundtrack just to hear what else is in store for us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Culturally Speaking

ESO's Elsweyr expac finally dropped, and I celebrated by hanging around Vvardenfell and doing some crafting and questing.

What, you thought I'd do something else for a change?

No way, man. I'm not getting in the middle of the mad rush over to Elsweyr. And apparently I'm not the only one, given the crowd over in Vivec City. As Shintar put it, ESO does a good job of spreading people out, but I also think that it's now baked into the game's DNA.

The reason why I'm bringing up the "baked in" part is because I had a conversation with the oldest mini-Red today. She's home for (part of*) the Summer from her university, and she's spent the past two weeks catching up with friends and getting in some MMO playing.

This evening, while I was working on dinner, she and I were talking about MMO culture. She said that in LOTRO today, the main discussion in World Chat centered around a new player who had recently left WoW and decided to try out LOTRO instead. The new player simply could not stop praising LOTRO's in-game culture, talking about how nice everybody is, when back in WoW the culture was so toxic. Given that LOTRO has their own culture issues with a few notable malcontents --on the Gladden server at least-- I was kind of surprised by the story. "Had WoW gotten that bad?" I wondered.

I'd also been reading in chat on ESO about an influx of WoW refugees finding that ESO is a more pleasant gaming social experience than the present atmosphere in WoW, and I knew of posts on Reddit (of all places) mentioning that SWTOR is a more pleasant gaming experience than WoW.

This kind of begs the question whether the WoW experience is now more toxic than it was when I left.


The only way to really find out what WoW is truly like is to resub and then login to an old toon. However, I wasn't planning on doing that until right before (or right after) WoW Classic comes out, so it'll be only then that I'll find out exactly what Trade Chat has devolved into.

That being said, I realize that it has been about 5 years since I last subscribed to WoW, so my remembrance of WoW's Trade Chat has faded somewhat. Since then, Blizzard's fortunes have waxed and waned, and WoW itself has bled both subscribers and devs. You know things have changed when Elitist Jerks has faded into nothingness as people from EJ have been hired on by Blizzard itself.**

My great fear is that WoW now has a toxic culture baked into the game in as much the same way that League and some other MOBAs now are more well known for a toxic culture than being incredibly popular worldwide. It's also entirely possible that the type of person who is attracted to WoW's dictum that "the game begins at endgame" is more likely to engage in toxic behavior than those who don't subscribe to that belief. Other MMOs, such as LOTRO or ESO or SWTOR, have more of an "enjoy the journey" attitude toward their MMO design, and aren't defined by toxic culture.

But this is all a "who came first -- the chicken or the egg" sort of speculation, because people could have left for other MMOs because of the toxic culture in WoW, or WoW became toxic as people left.


I don't believe that a game's culture is set in stone. Blizzard can change WoW's culture, but it requires Blizzard to invest in more aggressive policing of Trade Chat, Zone Chat, and other areas where poor behavior has been allowed to fester.

Reputation, however, is much harder to change than the culture itself. Once a game acquires a bad reputation, combating that will take a lot of effort above and beyond the effort needed to fix the cultural issues. And it takes the one thing that WoW likely doesn't have in abundance any more: time. Blizzard is on the hot seat to "turn things around", and a corporate quick fix won't correct a poor reputation because quick fixes are designed to make things look good on the quarterly balance sheet, not address any underlying long term problems.

Poor Bobby Kotick. The two things that are required to fix problems in WoW --time and money-- are things that he doesn't want to use. He'd much rather cut costs and demand people do more with less than actually fix the long term problems.

*She'll be spending a few weeks back at her university during the Summer as a camp counselor/chaperone for a Summer Music Program, and then spending another week away at a double reed camp. Then she'll move in early because of Band Camp, which is a boon to us because we'll be taking her brother up to his first semester at a university during the time she'd ordinarily need to go back.

**Courtesy of Reddit, here's the thread Why did Elitist Jerks die out? There's also the additional nail in the coffin as EJ was bought out by Ten Ton Hammer and the latter tried to monetize the site. I could have told them that EJ was --more than anything else-- a labor of love, and trying to make people pay for that will inevitably backfire.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Farmer Red Out Farming

It's been a long time since I farmed mats.

How long? Well, I used to support the ICC-10 runs that our Horde guild had by farming mats in Icecrown Glacier as a relaxing activity in between 5-man runs.*

Sure, I farmed ore and cloth a bit in Cataclysm and Mists, but without the need to support a guild's raids my farming activities were reduced to a (very) small sidelight of my in-game WoW activity. I was happy to level my crafting up to max and that was pretty much it.**

The past several weeks, however, I've been hanging around Vivec City in ESO, leveling the various crafts that I have by completing dailies. I've done some questing --and I had completed the ESO Morrowind expac already on my first toon, so I know what's coming-- but when I venture out in the wild I've been keeping out an eye more for mats instead of actually working on the various storylines. Truth be told, Vivec City is pretty much ideal to use as a base for farming and crafting, because all of the crafting stations are close to the delivery crates, there's a bank located in the center of the crafting area, and all three are close to a wayshrine so you can hop over to a specific locale and go mat farming.

Many of the mercantile oriented guilds have already figured this out, because the distance between the wayshrine and the crafting area is filled with various guild merchants.


If you're like me and used to the more traditional MMO expacs where everybody abandons the previous expac's hub(s), seeing Vivec City as both relevant and active is quite a sight. When Cataclysm dropped, I parked Neve at Dalaran and conducted a robust business opening ports for players. After a month, however, Dalaran had turned into a ghost town in the same way that Shattrath was largely abandoned when Wrath dropped.

The reasons for this happening can be boiled down to two simple design decisions: the zone resources and hub vendors were limited to their affiliated expac's mats and rewards, and the ability to transport to different locales is by "realistic" transportation. For example, if you want to mine Fel Iron, you go to Hellfire Peninsula. If you want Copper, you go to an intro or low level zone in WoW's Old World. That doesn't change, so if you want to mine the latest mats you have to go to the latest zones. If you want the latest vendor gear, you go to the current expac's hub(s).

And transportation to and from those hubs can take a lot of time too. At least WoW has flying mounts for waypoints, because with LOTRO you're frequently stuck with riding hubs, and in SWTOR the speeders from the travel hubs tend to follow the roads and/or buildings.

ESO utilized a different set of design decisions.

The first major design decision was to utilize phasing to change the "leveling" materials to coincide with your toon's Crafting level. If the highest level blacksmith mat you can utilize is Orichalum, you find Orichalum nodes throughout the ESO game world. If it's Ebony, you find Ebony. And this remains the same no matter where you're located, whether it's Coldharbour, Vvardenfell, Stonelands, or Kenarthi's Roost. This makes gathering mats a lot easier to handle, and frees a player from having to restrict themselves to the latest expac's zones.

The leads right into the second design decision, which answers the question "if I can go anywhere to find my leveling mats, how do I easily get to where I want to go?" In this case, ESO adopted the GW2 method of wayshrines for easy point to point transfer. You pay for transfer to a wayshrine out in the wild, but there's no cooldown, either. And wayshrine to wayshrine transportation is free.

Finally, as part of the the rewards for completing a crafting daily, you have a shot at getting a map directing you to a rich deposit of mats in a specific zone. The map isn't so detailed as to take out all sense of adventure, but it does give you a pretty decent sense of where the rich deposit is. Once again, not completely handheld, just making it easy enough to quickly handle your farming activity.


While the ESO method does make farming for mats quick and fairly painless, that doesn't necessarily mean it's superior to the more traditional "grind it out" method. The former works great for the casual farmer --of which I am one-- who doesn't want to spend 1/2 hour a day farming mats to perform dailies. The latter is better for a more realistic world, where mats are found in specific regions. If you've got the time, the latter is better. I, however, don't have that time that I used to, so the former is better for me while I play ESO.

Still, I'm sure that when WoW Classic drops I'll become reacquainted with farming again while trying to build up any sort of gold pile.

*I learned the hard way to land your mount first and then enter into a 5-man. Only the most ridiculous of "GO-GO-GO" players wouldn't wait for that.

**That's the completionist in me talking.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


...We have assumed control...
...We have assumed control...
...We have assumed control...
--Rush, 2112

Everybody got that?

Okay, I now know when I can resub to WoW.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Ignoring the Obvious

In my years of MMO gaming, I don't think I've ever spent more than a couple of weeks in a PTS server.

And if you throw out those MMOs that hadn't even been released yet when I visited the PTS --Rift and Wildstar-- then my result is a big fat zero.

The primary reason for this is because I don't want to spoil the story on an expansion. Unlike some people, who check out PTSs to help out the debugging process, or guilds who want a leg up on upcoming raids or content, I'm perfectly happy remaining ignorant as to future content.*

Well, getting onto the ESO PTS was an exercise in avoidance.


Sure, I kind of expected the PTS to be just like the regular environment, but with the additional zones, but still I was surprised to find my toon in Vvardenfell, where she left off. So, if I wanted to see the new zone, I had to go find my way there.

"If I have to go to Cyrodiil to get there..." I began.

Then I remembered how Summerset and Vvardenfell worked out: you take a boat to get there. Sure enough, there was transportation awaiting me once I reached an embarkation point, and I happily took the easy way there.

I made a point of avoiding the questlines around, which was no small feat given all the interesting scenes and quest givers out there.

And cats.

Lots and lots of cats.

Good thing this is in-game, because otherwise I'd be sneezing my head off about 5 minutes after arriving in Elsweyr.

I kind of split from the city hub and ran out into the wilderness, keeping an eye open for a delve to go check out. I found a couple and jumped right in, believing that I could go check out these delves without giving away too much story.

A great idea, but I got the feeling that I was being given a piece of the story anyway, especially in the first delve I found, where I kept hearing ethereal voices telling me how I was going to die and live here with the denizens of the delve (which was a crypt, naturally). A nice atmospheric touch, but still it left be thinking that had I picked up a quest or two the voice would make more sense.

But hey, if you want to be a murder hobo in ESO, nothing is stopping you.


What surprised me the most was the in-zone conversation. It had nothing to do with the expac at all, but rather more mundane stuff. Like the NHL hockey playoffs. Or which ESO race is the best. (For boinking, someone added, and that conversation took a weirdly R-rated turn real fast. I felt like I was listening to people describing Hentai in public, which made the conversation that much worse.)

At one point, someone rather pointedly asked in chat "What are all of you doing here in the PTS, anyway?"

"Hey, we all got Beta Keys, so we're here," one person replied.

"Yeah, but you could be having this conversation in the main servers."

"No we couldn't, we're here."

I sighed and shook my head, and did my best to ignore the conversation from that point onward.


So, if you're actually looking for a "what does it look like?" from me for Elsweyr, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I can say that I didn't see any obvious bugs, like hands sticking through walls, or toons looking like they're inside out (see Assassin's Creed games for examples). My whole point was to at least see what the zone looks like, and I can say there are a lot of cats. And cat people. And talking cats. And more... well, you get the idea.

Now, if in-game chat can stop talking about which is hotter, Amalexia or Ayrenn (or Emeric vs Jorunn which was the parallel debate), I'd be grateful.

*It makes for a great excuse as to avoiding game forums, aside from avoiding drama. I have teenage kids, I have a job, and those two items alone provide me more than all the drama I want. I don't need any more drama in my life. That's a big part of why I don't want to sign up for Twitter, and have been trying to step back from Facebook: the outrage machine is more than I can stand. That doesn't mean I avoid keeping up with current events, but modern social media seems designed to generate outrage to keep people engaged, and I don't need that. At all.

EtA: As Shintar pointed out, it's not PTO, but PTS. I've corrected that in the post.