Monday, April 30, 2007

Epic Story Quests = The Best Thing Since Hobbit Feet

I spent some good amount of time playing around in LotRO this weekend. Huzzah for no class work and no real life obligations!

I spent a good portion of Saturday roaming around the Ettenmoors as Lugzag, my Uruk Warleader, in preparation for the Vault's upcoming "Creeps and Keeps Event" (more on that to come this week). But on Sunday I took some time out to dig into the Epic Quest line in LotRO.

If there's any one feature that truly stands out to me from the throng of MMOs available, it's LotRO's Epic Story Quests. From your very 1st moments in Middle-Earth you are set onto an epic quest line that will presumably take you all the way to the level cap and beyond with expansions both free and paid.

I am simply stunned by the amount of care that has gone into these things and just how entertaining they've been. If someone was to ask me, "Should I buy LotRO?" I would tell them yes, and if for no other reason than the Epic Quest line. For once in an MMORPG, I don't feel like I'm just doing mindless tasks. Nor do I feel disconnected from the urgency of the fight against evil.

I never cared about the story in WoW past the Westfall Defias quests. I never cared about what my Hero or Villain was up against in CoX. In SWG, I cared more about my crap not breaking than I did about the Empire. In short, no other game has made me feel as connected to the world as LotRO does.

Anyway, I don't want to spoil the story or what happens for you. But suffice to say, if you haven't given LotRO a try yet because of all the talk about it doing nothing innovative. Take my word for it... if you're a fan of games with substance, LotRO's not to be scoffed at.

The Epic Quest line alone would make one hell of a game. The rest of the stuff, crafting, Monster Play, Deeds, loot... it's all just ancillary to what keeps me logging in day after day: A REAL CONNECTION TO MY CHARACTER AND THE WORLD.

I hope, in true industry fashion, more companies see the value of what Turbine's done and try to replicate it with their own games.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In Not So Shocking News...

Warhammer Online has been delayed into 2008. Yeah... never saw that one coming. Ahem.

I suppose that gives me plenty of time to play LotRO, PotBS, G&H, and Conan... assuming none of the latter are delayed as well, that is.

I really wish these companies would just not give out a projected release until they're good and ready. It's quite frustrating to see so many pushbacks. The fans would be better served if they just held off on any public projections until they were certain.

Okay, I'm done complaining. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog-rambles.

Killing Things Is Fun, But Give Me More

Thanks to a link via Virgin Worlds, I stumbled across MMOCritic's post on Non-Combat systems in MMOs. Thanks for the Blogroll link by the way. I need to register at wordpress so I can comment on MMOCritic and Potshot and others that aren't tied to Blogger or hosted privately, but that's another story... where was I?

Oh yeah, non-combat systems in MMOs. Here's a particular part of what MMOCritic had to say that I really dug:
Dynamics Part II: Player vs. Player (non-combat) [Guild Thief Systems]

Players should have a chance to join a few different rogue guilds in a city, at least two different ones and possibly up to five different ones for the bigger cities. There would even be some of these rouge guilds in cities that do not allow Rogues as a playable class for that race too. One thing I find all too disturbing is the lack of ‘choices’ or ‘options’ a player has inside the game world, seems like most games since EverQuest II have looked to provide less and less options and choices for characters outside of character customization, which only extends to the creation process.

Players are given some sabotage and other adventuring sphere quests and some diplomactic quests to prove themselves to the guild. Once they are found worthy and accepted to the guild, the real roguish activities begin. This could be done by building faction with the guild, conducting a series of quests, or paying some gold, it could involve all and even more options.
I really like the idea of a non-combat PvP system being put into more games. Boon's ideas remind me a lot of those parts in the Baldur's Gate games where you would find rival guilds and religious sects in the cities competing for your help and depending on who you aided, the rewards and story would branch off in different directions. I find myself asking, why can't we have similar systems in our MMOs?

In LotRO, I'm finding that there's plenty to do to divert my attention from purely questing, but still the great majority of it results in hunting or killing. Even the crafting system requires the player to go out into the wild, fend off boars, bears, and goblins, just to get the materials needed for his crafting profession.

What I'd like to see more of, as we come into a brand new age of MMOs, is content that is not linked at all to killing. Vanguard, love it or hate it, had a great premise with their diplomacy system, even it ended up half-baked like the rest of the game. Give me the option, if I so desire, to spend an entire evening playing cards to raise a gambling skill, running errands within a city to raise my charity skill, and so on. Like Boon said, there's plenty more to a world than just killing and gaining levels. I eagerly await the company who can bring this to the table.

It's not that killing and questing aren't fun, but there's so much more to be added to a virtual world that companies are missing. The question is, can adding all this stuff remain viable when priority for content is questing and killing? In other words, can you dabble in so many areas without letting the core of your game suffer? I hope so, and I'd love to see it done.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Evening in the Old Forest

Holy freakin' crap what a creepy and awesome place.

I'm talking about the Old Forest, which is nestled in the hills west of Bree proper. Last night after getting home and settling in, I booted up LotRO and dove in to finally take Begud past that dreaded level cap of 15.

You see, during all my time in beta (and alpha) I religiously played the early levels only. For one, I didn't want to get too far into the game, leaving me nothing to look forward to at launch. And secondly, I'm not a power-gamer so 15 was pretty much the highest I would get before a whipe came because of my altism.

Anyway, because of my lowbie-love during the beta I never really explored all that much of Middle-Earth. I saw Rivendell during the Vault's beta event (hosted by yours truly), but that was about the extent of my sight-seeing.

So last night, because it felt just right, I journeyed all across Bree-lands, doing quests and just plain exploring the beautiful world Turbine had created. Eventually, after many dead boars and bears (I swear they breed like rabbits) I made my way to Adso's Camp, which is situated just north of the Old Forest.

I received a few quests there, mainly things to help out the supplying of the camp (collect hides, boar shanks, etc), but Adso himself, hobbit that he is, sent me into the Old Forest to look for some fresh spring. Presumably this was the spring of fame from the books, that of Goldberry, Tom Bombadil's maiden.

Night was falling, mist was pouring in across the land, but damn it... I had a job to do. It's just a forest anyway. What could happen?

My trek into the canopy of trees started normally enough. There were some stray and hungry beasties that picked a fight with the wrong dwarf, but nothing really out of the ordinary. No signs of water though. From my memory I knew the Withywindle river/creek was somewhere near by so I made my way deeper into the woods.

A large hill, Bald Hill as a matter of fact, eventually sprouted up ahead of me and I decided to climb it to get a better look at my surroundings. Yeah... it didn't help. The view was nice, but the foliage was so thick I couldn't see squat past the bottom of the hill.

I'm not sure if it was the night, the fog, or just my lack of a sense of direction, but I then realized I couldn't remember which way I had come in. Forget it, I thought. I'll find the way out later, I needed to find this spring for Adso. I'm not one to let my quests get the better of me, so I pressed on.

Off I went in one of the many directions from the Bald Hill, only to find some new evil there waiting for me. My power, my energy, my strenght were draining from me in the presence of some dark thing in that forest... Old Man Willow! Holy freakin' crap, it was Old Man Willow. The same bastardly tree that had nearly put an early end to Frodo's journey.

Doggedly I ran as far away from that vile growth as I could. I slogged my way through some brambles and into, by accident, the mirky waters of the Withywindle. It's not the spring Adso was looking for, but I knew it would lead me to safety... to Tom Bombadil's cabin.

And so it was that I came to that safe haven in the darkening woods of the Old Forest. The man/demi-god/jovial poet greeted me with a smile and kind words, as well as the many other travellers that sought refuge within his home's walls. But Goldberry was nowhere to be found. Why didn't I pay more attention to this part in the books!?

I left Tom's cabin in search of this spring. But I did not find it. Rather, I stumbled one too many times into lumbering, angry trees that felt I was a threat and uprooted themselves to chase me around the forest. Eventually, the night was ending, and I realized that I had another pressing quest from Adso's camp that required the vale of evening.

Slowly, awkwardly, and confused I made my way out of the Old Forest, defeated but determined to return and find the spring Adso seeks. I settled instead that evening to deliver a package to Bill Ferny under cover of night (the prick) and collect my small copper reward for doing so. I explained to Adso that not all had gone as planned in the Old Forest, but that I would not give up yet.

But my night was over. Far away in the distance I heard the beckoning call of my wife... and that's an adventure all its own. The orcs in Trestlebridge and the mysterious spring of the Old Forest would have to wait. The missus needed me.

(On a side note, if anyone knows where to find that damnable spring for Adso, please let me know.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gods and Heroes: Looking GOOD!

I finally stumbled across a post at MMOG Nation that is an interview with the folks at Perpetual Entertainment.

I'm most intrigued, the more I learn about this game, by the minion system they're trying to make happen. Here's a snippet from the interview:
The Minion and Squad Combat System has always been one of the core differentiators for Gods & Heroes, and also something that I’m personally extremely excited about. The minute that you play G&H with one or two minions—who each bring their own specialties and feats into play—you realize you are simply playing a different game than you are in other single-character MMOs. This is still a multiplayer game, and we’re in no way trying to replace real players with NPCs, but players get this unprecedented layer of character customization through the Minion and Squad Combat System. Our primary goal is to let players shape their minions and squads in a way that fits their own unique play style, as opposed to the minions shaping how a person would play. G&H is a squad-based MMO adventure game, and we think that it is a very strong innovative gameplay design compared to the styles that are out there.
It sounds to me like a sort of blend between a traditional PvE MMO game, and Pokemon. Gotta catch em all. :)

I can't wait to see how it pans out. They can send me my beta invite any day now.

Official Launch of LotRO, and Champion it will be...

Today's the day. When the servers come back up (if they're not already at the time of my typing this), Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar will be officially launched. The level cap from Open Beta of 15 will be lifted, and the masses will be allowed to progress once more.

What a glorious day.

I've also (I think) finally decided on a main to take through the game and into the latter stages of LotRO. Sure they're overplayed. Sure they're just killing machines. But I'll be damned if I don't have fun with my Champion, as I reaffirmed to myself last night when I logged in with him for the 1st time in a couple weeks.

So Begud Firestone of the Lonely Mountain, I shall be.

The Champion's just too much fun for me to care about the downsides of the class being overplayed and being a one trick pony. If I ever need a break from him, Forhelm my Captain will be waiting in the wings, no doubt.

My goal tonight is to be logged in by around 6pm, and to turn in all the quests I've been saving for a few weeks, get some rings and necklaces made (Begud likes shiny things), and proceed further into the Bree-Lands quests now that the cap has been raised. First, of course, I'll need to get the Ered Luin stuff I've been holding onto done and that takes priority. I'm sure Bree and the Barrow Downs will be full enough tonight without needing another shaggy dwarf there muddling things up.

If you're playing LotRO, what are your plans now that the launch is finally here?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Picking a Main

Time is getting short for me. Soon the level cap will be raised above 15 in LotRO, and I'll need to figure out just which character I want to take on as my main. I'm not loaded with free time these days, so I don't really want to stretch out my gameplay across multiple characters right now. I want to find the one I like the most, and just run with it until I'm at the level cap of 50 and wanting a 2nd character.

Then the question is, between Captain and Champion which do I choose?

So let's lay it out on the table, my opinions and elementary knowledge of the two classes, and see where we end up at the end. Maybe you guys will be able to help impart some knowledge for me as well.

--The Captain (El Capitan)--

I've only taken Forhelm, my Captain, to level 12 so far. But what little time I've spent with him I've enjoyed, especially since gaining Wart, my Herald of War "pet".

The Captain has a plethora of useful attacks even at level 12, plus debuffs that can be put on the enemy or buffs for my fellows. Things like incresed attack speed for me and my group, or a damage over time on a certain enemy. These "Mark" skills also enable Wart to use special attacks on the marked enemy, which is also a boon of the class. Instead of just being an extra meatshield for me, Wart then actually serves a purpose. One of his skills is actually a heal for me in case I'm ever in need of a small boost to leg out a tough fight.

Plus, and probably most importantly for group play, the captain has the ability to heal after an enemy is downed, keeping the momentum up and keeping the fight going. It's not a superlative heal, but it's adequate to help pacing, and I've heard they get more healing abilities at later levels as well.

The downsides for Forhelm are minimal but they matter to me. There are 2 things that worry me about the Captain in the long run.

1.) He's a Human. I know it seems odd that this would be a downside for me, but I've never been one to play a Human race in an MMO before. I like the escape of reality fantasy games offer, and as such I almost always pick something other than human as a race if there's a choice. For instance I usually pick Khajit in the Elder Scrolls games. I played dwarves almost exclusively in WoW, and in EQ2.

2.) He's a Hybrid. Captains are the jack of all trades in LotRO and master of none. The do moderate DPS, moderate healing, and moderate buffing. They don't excel at any one thing. This has always spelled doom and frustration for lots of classes like this in other MMOs, and I worry that the same fate will befall the Captain here in LotRO.

Overall, I do enjoy the Captain. He's a lot of fun and very self-sufficient for solo-ing. Now, what about that Champion?

--The Champion (Death with a Beard)--

Begud, my Dwarven Champion is level 15 and has been there since a few weeks back. I've not spent much time with him since then, as I'm not one to farm and nor am I looking too Monster Play for now until the war starts heating up in the Ettenmoors a bit more. That said, I still love the Champion for a good few reasons.

Number one is the fact that they have a defined role, and it's a simple one. They're the kings of killing. There is not one class that does death better than the Champion. They're wrecking balls with whatever weapons they choose to don.

The fervour mechanic is a cool feature, essentially opening up stronger skills the more fervour I have (not unlike a Fury Warrior in WoW). They also have a minor self heal that's on a 30 second recharge which requires 4 "pips" (there's a max of 5 that can be built up) of fervour to be used, but has saved my dwarven arse on more than one occasion.

In essence, I like the Champion because they have a defined role... kill stuff. And they're damned good at it. Sure, they're played a lot, but not everyone's going to be good at the class. I've met more than a fair share of Champs who just pressed whatever button and caused more bad than good in a situation. Just because they're meant to kill things, doesn't mean they're necessarily easy to play, or rather easy to play well.

The downsides of the Champion are thus...

1.) Everyone and their mother plays one. There's no doubt about it. It's good to be the king of killing, and it's a fun interactive class to play. But with so many, will Begud really be able to stand out in a crowd?

2.) Will being just a hired sword/axe/club get old? Will I long for more utility later in the game? I don't know, honestly. I'm not sure how dependent the elder-game of LotRO is on having perfect groups to do things with, so I'm not sure it will matter as much as it has in games past.

Plainly, I think I like the Champion better. I've always been prone to be the damage dealing melee type class in these games, and it's really no different here. But I worry that there will simply be too many Champions around for me to feel needed for groups later on. Though anyone who's run with 2 or more champions in a group before can tell you that you never can have enough damage. :)

So I don't know. I'm thinking Begud will win out my heart at this point. He's 15. He's ready to go come Tuesday, and I think he fits my personal tastes more than Forhelm, even though I rather enjoy them both.

It's a tough decision, this. Sure there are more important topics going on in the world right now, but help me out people. What's your take on my selfish situation?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tag, I'm It!

My buddy, fellow blogger, and fellow staffer over at the LotRO Vault, Trinity Divine tagged me today with a sort of Blogging Chain Letter. Ordinarily, I'd blow these sorts of things off... but Trin's a friend, so I'll indulge her. :)

The topic of this chain blog? The 5 Reasons I Blog.

1.) I love to write. This is the biggest one. Whether it's stuff like you'll often see on this blog, or fiction, or poetry, or game articles, or whatever... I love to write. That's the chief reason I bit the bullet and started this blog.

2.) I love discourse. My favorite part about all blogs, is that they're very much like open forums that you don't have to weed through so much crap on. There are literally dozens of blogs I check almost daily, to see what topics are raging, and I'll add my 2 cents if need be. If there's a particularly good topic I see making its rounds around the blogs I read, I'll add my own post here on it. It's a great way to discuss topics that matter to me, and find people who also care about them.

3.) I need something to do at work. Aside from work itself, that is. Blogging is one of the few things I can do on the net at work that's not blocked for no reason other than to keep us glued to our quotas. Soon, I'm sure blogger and all sites related to it will be blocked, but until then, this is my break from work.

4.) I can always find something to say. I'm never short on words to prattle on. Often, they may be of little value to anyone but myself, but I do this a lot because I like to. I love that there are people who will read what I have to say, and it makes me keep doing it, but even if no one ever visited this site, I'd still do it. It's good for my soul.

5.) Maybe it'll open other avenues. Blogging's getting big, people. It's self-publishing, and often taken with a grain of salt, but I've seen people get job offers through their blogs, and you never know when something you post on one of these things will get you the recognition you're looking for. This is the last reason I do this, because the chances are so slim, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope that one day some magic genie would come here and systematically offer me a job.

So there you have it... 5 reasons William "JoBildo" Murphy blogs. Now, as is customary with these chain thinguses, I'm going to tag 5 other bloggers and hope they're up to the task.

1.) Adele Caelia
2.) Tipa of West Karana
3.) PotShot
4.) Darren Love of Common Sense Gamer
5.) Zubon of Kill Ten Rats

Hope one of you at least sees this and obliges me.

Oh, and for those of you looking for something more LotRO or otherwise gaming related today, that should come still. I got some Captain action in last night and would like to chat about it as well.

Cheers, mates.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Holy Crap! Gamers Evolve Just Like Monkeys!

What’s happening to our games? No, I’m not talking about just MMORPGs, or even just PC games for that matter, but all games. The days of TMNT’s head-pummeling, patience-wearing underwater levels are all but done for. Back then, a Ninja Turtle game was one of the most hard core available, and it certainly wasn’t alone. Even Nintendo’s ever-living mascot, Mario, got his start with the unfailing ability to make us wring our own necks with controller-wires. To this day, I’ve not actually completed the original Super Mario Bros. through its entirety and without using warps. I remember long nights spent leveling up my hero in Breath of Fire on the SNES just to have it taken from me when I couldn’t get to the next save area before dying. Today, we old-school gamers are so worried about the raging war between the “hardcores” and the “casuals” that we don’t realize just how blurred and non-existent the battle lines are becoming.

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that offered the same kind of mind-numbing, thumb-blistering, difficulty seen in the lakes of the original Ninja Gaiden… except perhaps in the new Ninja Gaiden which purposefully harkens back to its grandpa with the intention of infuriating those who aim to beat it. Heck, you’d be hard-pressed most of the time to find any game that dares to kill the player’s character and make them actually feel bad about it. Most games don’t feature “Game Over” screens anymore, and those that do offer “RETRY” as an escape route. But is this really a bad thing?

Sure, when I was a kid I had little else to do after school than play videogames and waste hours restarting levels, or grinding slimes to level up my Dragon Warrior. But today, well sadly I don’t have that luxury. I want my games to know that I desperately want to sit at home in my pajamas all afternoon, eating Frosted Shredded Wheat and drinking Kool-Aid, but that I simply can’t. Luckily, for gamers like me, the developers now making games these days grew up around the same games I did, but now face the same problems I do. They know that games can’t punish the player the way A Bard’s Tale once did, or the way Wasteland did. They can’t mercilessly punish us the way Gunstar Heroes did, or break our thumbs the way Shinobi once did. But then, are games getting easier? Are we as gamers just getting better?

I think it’s quite a bit of both, actually. On one hand, I can play Metroid Prime 2 and see that designers know how to make a title difficult, but in a way that teaches you how to handle the challenges as the game progresses. Every enemy has its weak point; it’s only up to the player to exercise it. On the other hand, I can play a game like the new Zelda on Wii and not die once, rarely get stuck on a puzzle, and never feel truly threatened.

At 1st I thought that perhaps this new Zelda was intentionally easier, maybe to help entice the new market Nintendo is aiming for, but then I realized it’s very much like any other Zelda game, and that is the reason it seemed easier to me. That’s the reason any game with similar mechanics to a predecessor will seem easier than the 1st. It becomes familiar. A new puzzle in a new Zelda may be new, but it’s still a Zelda game, it’s still likely going to be about pushing or pulling blocks, and you’re still going to have to use one of your nifty items in some cool way or another.

This same logic, at least for my twisted thinking, can be applied then to all the games we’re seeing these days. There may very well be cases of “easy” games on the market, especially compared to the torture-cartridges of yesteryear, but a large part of why games are getting “easier” has more to do with our ability as humans to apply learned features to new things than anything else. Take LotRO, for example, to bring this little rant finally into a more relevant topic to my readers.

LotRO is, for the lack of a better word, derivative. Because of the controls, the user-interface, the design of classes and the mobs, there’s a sentiment among the vocal players that the game can feel too easy. I don’t think this is a fault of the developers so much as it is a strength of the players. Those of us who have been around the MMO scene for some time, come into LotRO with a knowledge of its inner workings, even without having ever played it. It’s not that Turbine’s game is any easier than WoW, or EQ2, or whatever, but rather that we tend to know what it’s going to throw at us before it has the chance to.

Most games that fall into “genres” suffer this fate. We know what to do in platformers, and it becomes up to the controls to make it worthy of our play. We know how to string combos and special movies in fighters, and it ends up being the difficulty of these that make or break the game. We know what types of plays work well in one football game, and so we try to mold our game around that in another one. We, even as geeky gamers, adapt and overcome.

Games may be becoming easier, as developers and publishers strive to reach out to non-gamer crowds, but rest assured that we “the hardcore” will always have some new crazy adventure to seek out, and put to the test of our keenly developed gamer senses. It makes the kid in me wonder just when something will come along that’s completely different, something we’ve never seen any element of before… and it makes me fear for my free time when it does. Because I’ll just have to beat the thing.

No Article on IGN Today, but...

The article I mentioned would be going up today on the LotRO Vault won't be hitting there today, because frankly... it has very little to do with LotRO and reads much more like a blog post. So, instead, once I've gone over it it'll be posted here for your reading pleasure.

I'll have it up sooner rather than later, I hope. So keep an eye out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh Captain, My Captain

I think I've found a cure to my blues in LotRO, and the name of the drug is "Captain". I leveled Forhelm, my Man Captain (the race of Man is the only one with the option of being a Captain, which kind of sucks...) to about 9 last night, and I must say that even without having access to my nifty slave squire yet, I'm rather enjoying playing as him.

There are a lot of things about the Captain that remind me of WoW's Paladin but without the, you know... boredom. For one, he has many different kinds of buffs, which oddly enough can often only be used after defeated an enemy or scoring a critical strike, including the 1st heal available to the class, which is only usable after you or the group have slain a mob. It's a great skill for keeping the momentum of a good fellowship going, that's for sure, so long as I don't waste all my Power during the fights on by using my other attacks as well. I'm not quite sure the Captain can serve as a main healer in tougher situations yet, as I don't have any other heals available to me at level 9, but I've heard they can do pretty well, even if they're no Minstrel.

Another cool aspect of the Captain I've sort of fallen in love with is the ability they have to pull mobs right from level one. Sure the way they do it is cheesey (they "shout" at the mob, causing damage and drawing their aggression), and it sounds god awful, but damned if it doesn't work and make you feel badass.

And lastly, they're really pretty decent combatants too. They can hit hard with their 2 handed weapons (when you can find a decent one), and they have enough skills that solo-ing isn't a chore like it always felt with my Paladin in WoW. Now, admittedly, like in WoW things could change as you near the upper levels, but so far I'm really enjoying the Captain. Almost to the point where I'm considering making him my main because at least the world needs a Captain... which can't be said for Champions I'm afraid.

On a last note, be sure to stop by the Vault tonight or tomorrow (most likely the latter) to read my new editorial. It'll be on the topic of difficulty in videogames and whether they're getting easier, or we're just getting "better" than when we were kids. The idea was brought on by Super Paper Mario and just how much of a breeze it's been thus far. I remember throwing controllers at my screen during the NES days, and pounding my keyboard in fits of rage during Ultima VII and Bard's Tale on my PC... but now I rarely feel challenged with a game. Those that do challenge me, make me so frustrated I often opt not to play them... what gives? This is what I try to come up with an answer for in the article. Hope you'll all read it and comment on it when it goes up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Children of Hurin is OUT!

And it's on its way to my house!

The Children of Hurin, you see, is a brand new novel from the mind of JRR Tolkien made possible by the will of his son, Christopher. It follows the lives of the heroes of Beleriand back when Sauron was not the chief evil in Middle-Earth, and I for one can't wait to read the thing. It's apparently much more a novel than the history-book-like Silmarillion, so I eagerly await its arrival on my doorstep.

Other than that, nothing much to report. I played LotRO for about an hour last night only to find out I'm bored because I really only want to play my Champion and he's roadblocked at 15 until next Tuesday. I like some of the other classes, but not nearly as much as the balls out Champion. I thought I'd like the hunter as well, but the delay of his attacks (they behave much like a caster's spells) turned me off from him. I've never been a fan of casters, and that's what the hunter is, but with bows and arrows instead of fireballs.

I've been playing the Guardian, under the guise of Tundrin. He's now level 9, but though he's ganing some cool reactive skills (things that become usable only after blocking or dodging or parrying), he's not as exciting to me as the Champion either. I think, and it scares me, that the only class I truly like in LotRO is the Champion. Though I hope I'm wrong, and I'm just enjoying him more right now because he's my absolute favorite, like WoW's Rogue was at one point for me.

It would absolutely suck to find myself only enjoying one class in an MMO. I've always been an alt-a-holic, so it would certainly be a 1st. Has anyone else run into this problem with LotRO or any other MMO?

Maybe I'll play my Captain some more... I heard their "pets" can be a riot. :P

Monday, April 16, 2007

Brett Dennen: New Millenium's Paul Simon

I really don't know how to put this. Every so often, I hear a new musician or band that I know just meshes with my taste. Brett Dennen is one of these. If you haven't heard the song, "Ain't No Reason" go download it from iTunes now, and be sure to check out his webpage here. This guy's got that same amazing talent that Lennon had, or Paul Simon still shows us... that incomparable ability to not only write poignant lyrics, but to own the songs like they were part of his soul. This isn't some guy out to make a quick buck off his fans... this is an artist making music and sharing it with the world.

Okay, /end hippy rant.

Go check this guy out, people.

Bildo's "Lack of Anything Exciting" Weekend

Sick with a bad case of "I-wanna-die-itus" (READ: Sever sinus infection), I didn't do too much this weekend. Squared away my homework on Saturday and trekked out to some friends' house for dinner as we made the plans when I was feeling much better and I'm not one to cancel. Then Sunday I spent laid up on the couch, watching Family Guy and playing Super Paper Mario.

Now, I'm here at work, wishing I was home playing LotRO or something more enticing. Thanks to all those who replied to my writer's plea from Friday whether by posting for by e-mail, and to all those that didn't... screw you too. :P

I'll post some of the 1st true chapter which introduces the story's hero, Shea, later this week, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it as well.

So what did all of you, my readers, the whole 5 of you, take on this weekend? Any goblins, orcses, goombas, or trannies?

Friday, April 13, 2007

My Work in Progress...

I'm a writer. Not a published one, but a writer nonetheless. I've been slowly working on a YA fantasy book for years. I have a completed manuscript, but ever since I finished the initial draft I've not been able to bring myself to objectively look at it and go fix it. It's hard for me to tweak my own work, because I know it needs changes, but like any writer, I'd change all of it in the process, and I don't want to put myself through that torture. So I'm going to post the 2 introductory sequences of the book here for you folks to read.

Please, please, PLEASE leave me a comment on it, and be as open and honest about it as you can. I need feedback. :) I want to get this thing moving again, and that means I need a little help. Hit me people. If you like it, and if it pleases my readers, I'll post more of the book every week for your critique.

The Birth of a People

In the days before time there was a forest, far from the reach of our bumbling feet and loud mouths. At its heart there stood an oak so great, that all other trees seemed like gnomes in the court of a giant. But even the greatest of towers must fall under the weight of time. And one night, with the aid of a tumultuous storm and its fierce lightning, a shock directly from the heavens fell the Great Oak, and its towering mass slammed like a hammer to the forest floor.

Time passed, the rain came to a quiet halt, and a humming began to resonate in the woods. From the broken edges of the trunk and the fallen upper potion, a glow, soft and buzzing with energy lit the night like a candle. Small orbs of light floated up from the recesses of the earth and danced like fireflies in the autumn twilight. One by one they flickered out and in their place a tiny people were born. Their skin was as green as grass at the height of spring. What little clothing they wore was made of moss and leaves sewn with the tiniest strands of thread. Their eyes radiated like lanterns and were almost always green in color. They called themselves Shymen, for indeed they were shy of all the world but the small part that they inhabited.

As if they had known each other long before their birth, they smiled and said hello in a successive line of hugs and laughter. And after each one had greeted the other, they collected what things seemed necessary from the forest floor and in a mass they flocked to the freshly hewn stump.

There they became families, the light of love guiding one to another, until every soul had a mate. They built their homes of weeds and bits of wood; small huts for small creatures. Children were born soon after and life for the little people was truly begun. Within months some found they could control nature as if it was simply an extension of their bodies. From those rich with the power able to make the very trees dance and walk the earth, to those with slight skill able only to raise sprouts and small plant-life from the ground, the gifted were named the Nurturers. Most took on the role of farmers, but those unable to toy with nature devised their own ways of living. Some began to build markets within the Stump, where they offered food in exchange for other things, like jewelry and clothing, and a form of trade was established.

They were peaceful for a great while, many years indeed, and none were truly unhappy. They needed no King, no leader or master of any sort, because unlike men, the Children of the Forest could live their own lives and do so quite peaceably. Simply put, all things that make warriors and murderers of mankind went unknown to the little people. But even harmony can be broken, and even the smallest of worlds can be flipped upside down. The time when the Shymen would need a hero was inevitable.

A Peek Into the Past

The darkness enveloped them. Where normal folk would have feared, the Spider Queen and her visitor felt comforted, at home. There was nothing but the dark and their minds working in conversation as one. On the ground before Elioth, the Spider Queen, sat her long-time friend and often apprentice to her wisdom. Her knowledge, while not infallible, was not the kind to be taken lightly either. And this little creature that came to see her from time to time was at his wit’s end. She must tread lightly with her words. It was plain to see that he was upset.

He was sort of hunched over, his head bowed down, and Elioth could hear his tears as they struck the smooth stone of her lair. He had not yet said a word, but she knew what was amiss. This would be the last time her friend ever came to see her.

“It happened again?” she asked, knowing full well the answer.

“I’m not sure why,” said the visitor. “I was talking to the bloody thing, just talking to it! But something I said, something I did to connect with it…”

“It fell.”

The little creature nodded, cloaked in shadow and his own sorrow.

“Do your people know yet?”

“I’m sure they heard it. I wasn’t too far from the Stump.” His sobs interrupted him. “I was only trying to ask what it was like living so long, and so tall above the world.”

Elioth could see him, being accustomed to the lack of light as she was, and she saw the look in his eyes. It was one she had never seen in him before. And she did not like it. Something in him had changed, and not for the better. “What will you do now?” she asked.

“What can I do? I can’t abandon my family. I can’t abandon my home.
The Stump is where I belong.”

“But will your people understand your intentions?”

“Doubtful. They already give me looks as I pass them on the streets. They do not approve of what I try to accomplish, even if it is for them as much as me.”

Elioth, for the first time she could remember in her long endless existence, had no advice to give other than the obvious, “You must go home, and deal with whatever punishment your people deem necessary. Your family is more important than your dream of immortality.”

“How can you say that?” her friend stood from the ground, defiant.

“Who do you think you’re talking to?" she shot back immediately. "I have seen all the ages of this world, I have watched my children come and go, the seasons change and return. Year after year, I watch everything around me age, I watch rocks turn to dust, while I linger on. Yet here you are, daring to ask how I can tell you to go home and be with the ones you love? The gift of short life you have, you fritter away worrying about death! It will come for you, no matter what you do, and so heed my advice. If you’ve any sanity left in you at all, go home and see to it that your daughter does not make the same mistakes you have!”

She turned her head from him. She couldn’t bear to see him in such a state. She had never yelled at him this way before. How could he be so blind to his own folly?

“I thought you were my friend.” he said to her.

A solitary tear fell from her many-eyed face. She would say no more.

“Fine,” he said. “If this is how you would say goodbye to an old acquaintance… they will not hold me behind the walls of my own house forever. I will not be imprisoned! Whether it is in life or death, I will have my revenge. They have no idea what they throw away.”

With that, Elioth’s visitor was off, back to the world above, back to the life he was wasting in search of something that would never be found. Neither do you, Elioth thought as she sank back into her lair, down into its recesses, to tend to her eggs. She would keep them warm, watch them hatch, and then watch them fly away on the winds of life. Yet, there she would remain, forever the mother and never again the child. How she wished her story would end, so that she might start over again.

There was one bit of luck she had in her long life, and that was the ability to watch the world around her change and mature. She was certain that in the years to pass, something great and possibly terrible would become of those little green creatures, the Shymen of the Stump. Yes, the winds of change were blowing.

Doug Perry Says Bye-Bye to IGN

In a somewhat shocking development, Doug Perry has quit IGN to head up a brand new, and as of yet unnamed gaming site. I found the news here via Next-Gen. Say what you will about IGN's scoring system, but their sites and their employees are often full of news, informative reviews, and plenty of humor. No doubt, Mr. Perry was part of the recipe that brought that to the network.

All I have to say is... Doug, at this new site... do you hire remote workers? :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Super Paper Mario - A New Reason to Own the Wii

Super Paper Mario was once a Gamecube game, like many other of the "to-come" games on the Wii's release list. We're still waiting on Kirby's new platformer, Donkey Kong's Bongo Flying Game, and perhaps even that Pennant Chase Baseball that disappeared (since First Party companies can still use MLB rights to make a game, just not any other 3rd Parties aside from 2K). But regardless of its heritage, there's a ton to like about Super Paper Mario. Here's my early impressions of the game.

It’s hard to explain… in fact I’m not even sure how to classify SPM. It’s part platformer, part RPG, and part adventure. In my hour and a half last night though there were a few things that stood out to me. I’ll have to wait a bit before giving my final "verdict" but initial impressions are good. Here's 3 main reasons I'm totally digging the plumber's new adventure.

1.) The art style. It’s something you simple don’t see. And veritable proof that great graphics come from art, not polygons.

2.) The flipping from 2-D to 3-D mechanic adds a whole new dimension to a classic style of Mario play. If you’re stuck, you press A, flip the world, and find your way around the obstacle. For instance, at one point I went down a warp tube and found myself confronted by about 6 Whomps moving way too fast to run under safely. Press A and *POOF*, just waltz right on behind them.

3.) The writing. I’m not sure who does the localization for this game, but whoever it does deserves a hearty pat on the back. The dialog is some seriously funny stuff, ranging from old-Nintendo throwbacks to just plain silly banter like a Scottish badguy referring to fighting as "Chunking". IE – "I’m going to CHUNK you!" Freakin’ goldmine of goofy quotes it is.
It’s slow at 1st, as you go through the typical RPG "Introduction" story part, but after about 10 minutes of animated story (made bearable by said funniness), you’re on your way jumping and stomping. There are power ups, like in any Mario game. You have hitpoints and you use Mushrooms to restore hitpoints, not grow big. But there’s a power-up (star maybe?) that makes you HUGE, but not just a big Paper Mario, I’m talking the actual pixilated Mario from the 80s taking up the whole screen, and you just mow through the levels, busting through blocks, enemies, and even tubes. Very cool looking stuff.

All in all, it’s probably one of the few reasons to have a Wii right now, but I won’t "score" it till later. Early indications are that the reviews are right though. It’s a keeper.

New Features - Huzzah!

I'm toying around with a couple of Blogger's new features. You'll see to the left both a news reel with topics I care about (so you should too), and below that a selection of YouTube videos you can watch right from the comfort of my blog (for now it'll be various music selections from LotRO, as it's just too cool not to highlight). I'll change the videos every week or so, so if you're one of the few people checking this blog and you want to see something, just let me know via a comment on the most recent post.

I'll come back later with some impressions on a recent purchase for my precious Wii. I won't tell you what game it is, but the star of the game wears overalls and a red hat.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

No Bree For Me, I've Got Dourhands to Headbutt

I know I said I'd be heading to Bree last night, in order to continue the Epic Quest line in LotRO, but it just didn't happen. I know, you're terribly heart-broken, but let me explain.

You see, I logged on around 9pm EST, after messing with some stuff on the Vault site, and finally getting our Volume 2 Podcast up and downloaded. Check it out! It's a good one if you like roundtable discussion type dealies.

Anyway, when I logged in, I decided that before I left for Bree I'd better see what else I had to do around Ered Luin. Turns out I had a whole mess of quests that were waiting to be done. In all the excitement of the Epic Quests from the night before, I had completely forgotten about my regular quests.

I still had to get myself some wolf pelts to warm the people of Gondamon, thin out some spiders in the orc infested area of Rath Teraig, as well as plunder the chests of some Dourhand dwarves (evil, short-bearded little blighters) for the good of the Halls. It was this last quest that I started at the end of my play-session that brought me the night's best surprise.

There I was, whacking the ever-loving crap out of the Dourhands near the port of Kheledul, searhing the area for treasure chests to plunder, and in general just having a good ole time, when it happened. I received a new Deed in my Deed Log. The Deed Log is a collection of objectives that the player unlocks throughout his or her journey. The tasks that need accomplishing reach from killing some amount of this enemy, exploring this area and finding these landmarks, or even doing a certain number of quests in a place.

But there are more than those types of Deeds as well. This particular Deed was one under the "Race and Social" tab of my Deed Log. It involves me killing a fair number of Dourhand dwarves (50 to be exact) and my reward for completing the task is a new skill: HEAD BUTT. That's right, in just 20 more kills of the Dourhand clans, I'll be a head-butting bad-arse of a Dwarven Champion.

I had killed plenty of Dourhands before the Deed came into my log, so I'm not sure what triggered it. Perhaps my level? Or perhaps it was that I needed to finish killing "Brigands" for an Ered Luin deed before the Dourhands I killed registered for the racial deed. Either way, I am very glad I didn't skip out to Bree last night and instead stumbled across that little beauty of a Deed.

Tonight I shan't be heading to Bree either. Not until I get my wondrous Head-Butt.

Monday, April 2, 2007

1st Weekend in LotRO Has Come and Gone

Oh my... what a great weekend. It's not often that one gets to start a new MMO, have the 1st party in their new house, and enjoy freakin' awesome March/April weather (in Ohio).

Friday I left work early, around 2:30pm, using some Authorized Absence I had accrued from my boss at the day job. The servers for LotRO were up, my wife understood that I would be a vegetable for the rest of the night, and with due reason: Friday night was LotRO's 1st day of Pre-Order Open Beta.

Unlike other Open Beta's, with LotRO if you pre-order, Open Beta is essentially the same as launch. You get to keep your characters you make, up to level 15, and carry them over into the official retail release on April 24th. So I was a little more than excited.

I spent all this time in Beta, since Alpha back in August, and the one thing I always made sure to do was to not delve into the epic quests because I wanted them fresh for release. I started doing them last night with Begud... and I am amazed at just how fun and interesting, heart-pounding, they really are.

A guy in Ered Luin (the Dwarf and Elf starting Area) was looking for help for the quest "Vow of Vengeance." We did that, and he asked if I wanted to help him with one of the epic quests. I figured why not? It was finally for rizzle in the game, and I might as well take advantage of a completely competent player while I had him. :)

We got 4 more to help on the quest chain: 2 Minstrels (healers), a Guardian (Tank), and another Hunter (single-target DPS). I was a Champion (melee/AE DPS), and my new friend was a hunter.

Talk about steam-rolling. We ploughed through those quests, all the way up until we were sent to a new area for the next part of the Epic Prologue. You see, unlike so many other MMORPGs, there's actually a continual and overaching story in LotRO. There should be, I mean, it's Lord of the Freakin' Rings. I won't spoil the quests and their story for you, but suffice to say, they're exciting and brisquely paced. No 3 hour treks through trash-mobs here (at least, not yet). And so, after last night's quests, I'm off to Bree tonight to seek out Barliman Butterbur at the Prancing Pony and inquire about Strider's whereabouts.

I haven't had that much fun in one of these games since I 1st started playing WoW and did Van Cleef back in 2004. If this same sense of awe rides with me all through the epic quest line, I'm going to be one happy camper.

What about you guys? Did anyone here play LotRO over the weekend? If so, how'd it go?