Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Leaving WOW, Part 1

Fifteen months in the Horde with a 67 orc hunter, a 51 undead priest, a 30 tauren warrior, a 21 troll mage, and a 12 blood elf warlock. I ran solo mostly but played 5-man instances often. I raided UBRS, ZG, MC and AQ20. I stomped Alliance in Warsong and Arathi Basin. I was a UI customization junkie. I loved WOW. She was my first MMORPG and the best game I've played.

But along the way I lost sight of what I really enjoyed about WOW. Lost sight of what made WOW a good match for me. Perhaps WOW evolved in a direction that I didn't. I left WOW in March 2007, about five months ago. I'm going to write a few blog posts on my reasons for leaving WOW. Why? I'm tempted to go back to WOW. Strongly tempted. I remember the good times too easily, but I need to remember what pushed me over the edge too... what made me cancel my account.

I left WOW for these reasons, which I'll explore in more detail in upcoming posts. I'd felt one or two of these frustrations from time to time, but it was a combination of all five a few months after TBC hit that finally did it for me.

Details to follow...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oregon Trail

The first half of my vacation was spent rafting the Deschutes River in Oregon. Twelve guys celebrated a friend's upcoming marriage by floating, drinking, and camping. Good times. Still recovering. I could handle shots of Jager off the bottle ten years ago, but now I'm just hurting for days.

Saturday's stretch of water was easy, so I had time to stretch out and admire the scenery. Seeing rugged landscapes got me thinking about pioneers and the Oregon Trail. Growing up in Oregon means learning a great deal about this piece of history. As an adult, I couldn't begin to imagine the hardships involved with loading up your family on a wagon and traveling across the plains and mountains and deserts. But as a middle-schooler in the mid-80s, Oregon Trail meant playing that old school edutainment game (named, of course, Oregon Trail) on the library's Apple II computers.

I'd forgotten about how much I loved that game until I was daydreaming on the Deschutes, hung over and sun baked. The game may have taught me some history, but talk about fun. You created a family, got supplies, and then traveled across America to Oregon. I remember you had many decisions to make along the way and the consequences were serious. I don't know how many family members I lost along the way. Oregon Trail also had a shooter mini-game when you hunted for deer. A bug in the game could be exploited to give you near unlimited food or money. I can't remember the specifics of the loophole.

I want to play that game again, just to see if it lives up to my fond memories. I doubt it would. Things seemed so much bigger, better, and cooler through kid eyes. Oh well.

Tomorrow I leave to go camping with my son and his scout troop for the rest of the week. I may get a little game time in tonight. I read a review of Dungeon Runners and it looks intriguing.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Goodbye Camelot

I'm ending my free-trial with Dark Age of Camelot early. I actually feel bad for doing it. I should have waited until after my rafting and camping trips to start playing.

If only we had met four or five years ago, DAOC would have been my first MMO love. I played Moirex the Druid for a few more levels last night. I found the druid class fun and an interesting pet/healer hybrid. The quests and NPCs were okay but nothing special. I mentioned in previous posts about the out-dated graphics. I have to give DAOC a C grade (five years ago it would have been an A in my book).

I could see paying $15 a month to play DAOC if I'd been playing for years and had multiple max level characters and was plugged in to the tight community. But with better quality competitors out there, I'm taking my MMO money and time elsewhere.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Balancing Life and Games

I've read Kill Ten Rat's blog off and on for awhile, and a recent post really struck a chord with me. He discussed openly about neglecting health and work to play games.

I'm not a brave blogger like him, so let's just leave it at this: I've had some rough patches in my life where the balance tipped towards gaming. No, nothing bad... I fed the kids, went to work, took out the garbage, etc. But I shouldn't feel guilt and regret for playing games.

Looking back I realize my "dark days of gaming" happened when I went against my gamer rules. My what? I have a few rules that help me balance games with family, work, friends, all that non-game stuff those normal people tell me is important. Not so much rules as four loose guidelines that kind of evolved over time. I share them with you now:

Take a Break Every Few Days
I may play every other night. Or maybe I play two nights in a row, and then take a day off from gaming. The result is I enjoy my game time more (and earn some rest XP bonus...heh). But more importantly, I spend time with my family or friends or just myself doing something non-game related. I keep my head in reality.

After the Kids are in Bed
I love playing cards and board games with my son or daughter. We even play a little Wii together. We bond, they learn, we talk about stuff. But I wait to play my games until the kids are tucked into bed for the night. No, bedtime is not 6:30. My family is my number one priority, so this guideline ensures I don't loose sight of that. Okay, so maybe you don't have kids. Set a time limit on how much you play in a day or week instead (and stick to it).

After the Chores are Done
I do my work around the house, and then reward myself with game time. I'm not saying the house is spotless. Oh no. Most nights I play, I just do 30-45 minutes of work around the house.

Less in the Summery Months
When the weather is nice, the days are long, and the nights are short, I want to be doing something other than gaming in front of a computer or TV. I stop playing time-draining games like Warcraft and play short console games or play MMO tourist twice a week.

Games are fun but in the end they're just games.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Second Life Widower

Now I know how Football Widows feel. Let's put that into a more appropriate geek-centric context...

Now I know how Warcraft Widows feel. My wife, Avril, started playing Second Life three weeks ago. She's been shopping and dressing and surfing and whatever else people do in SL.

She informed me that if I want to play PC games more than once or twice a week, I'd better go buy a new computer. Wh-what? Under normal circumstances I'd be thrilled. I just got the greenlight to buy a new PC...bwahahahaha.

Unfortunately, however, damn't, all my extra cash for the rest of the year is going towards the house. Stupid me. Why did I pick this summer to replace the garage door and paint the house? Maybe Santa will leave me something special under the tree.

Avril played Sims and Sims 2 in years gone by, but this is her first MMO. We now have something new to talk about, which is a good thing believe it or not. At least now she understands how easy it is to get wrapped up in a game.

We can talk about server lag and griefers and omg-i-better-get-to-bed-because-i-have-to-be-at-work-in-five-hours kinds of nights. We can also talk about customizing our avatars and chatting with friends and exploring massive worlds.

My son and I bought a Wii in June, so I’ll burn through a few console titles this summer thanks to our Gamefly account. At least that will take some of the sting out of being a Second Life Widower.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

DAOC Journal 07-15-07

Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC) is an older MMORPG with a medieval fantasy theme. The game is set in a fictional Arthurian Britain. You select one of three realms (British, Viking, or Celtic) and a starting type of character. I picked Hibernia (the Celtic realm) and chose Nature as my path.

It took me an hour to get my bearings in the game and start moving my character through the story (and levels). The controls are standard MMO fair, so it was more learning how DAOC does inventory and skills.

At level 5 I picked Druid as my character class. I have access to healing and buffing spells. I have a minor heal and a big heal and a pile of buffs (strength, armor, shield, attack speed...etc.) No heals over time though. No alternate forms like cats or bears, but I do get a pet and some rooting and poisoning spells. I like playing pet classes and healers, so this should be a good fit for me.

The graphics are bad when you compare them to latest batch of MMOs, but that's not a fair comparison. Or is it? Mythic wants me to pay $15 a month to play, but so does Blizzard and Turbine and NCSoft. DAOC graphics are poor when you judge them against WOW, LOTRO, or COV/COH. I feel bad for knocking DAOC on graphics, but I must.

One of WOW’s strengths was its UI customization. I was a real add-on junkie. My UI was so tweaked that there was no remnant of the original UI left. Any other game I play has some big shoes to fill. So far I've found I can reposition all the different pieces of my UI in DAOC and change their transparency. I moved more things towards the bottom of the screen and put them at about 50% alpha. I'll have to check the online help and forums for more info on UI tweaking. DAOC doesn't loose any points on UI, I've seen worse (Neverwinter Nights, I'm looking at you).

DAOC lets me have multiple quests going at once (typical kill, collect, deliver). I usually have a few going at once, which feels right to me. I hate games that force me to do one quest at a time in a very linear mode. At the other extreme is having too many quests. Do I really need to have 20 quests? Um, no.

I want to check out the Realm vs. Realm gameplay, but doubt I'll get to it since I'm on a 14-day free trial and I'll be out of town about half that. Maybe I'll stick around for one month.

My first impressions of DAOC were favorable. I'm a little more pumped for Mythic's next MMO, Warhammer, after seeing what they've done with DAOC.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The MMO Tourist

World of Warcraft was my first MMO and what a way to start. WOW is a fantastic game. Sure, it has room for improvement and there are parts that rub me wrong, but Blizzard released one hell of an adventure. I played Horde for 15 months before burnout got to me. Ultimately I think I was trying to be a raider when I just don't have what it takes (that key thing being Time).

But Warcraft and why I left and why I will one day return is another post for another day. Today I want to talk about being an MMO tourist. You can't swing a tauren by the tail these days without hitting a free trial to an MMO. My preference is to be a light gamer in the summer months and go heavy in the cold, dark winter months. So all these free trials is just neato bandito.

For two weeks I was a blackheart demon in City of Villains. I killed. I maimed. I stole. I absorbed the life force of my foes without remorse. Okay, back to reality. CoV was fun and the gameplay was simple. The avatar customization was mind blowing, especially coming from Warcraft. I thought Blizzard dropped the ball there. Why didn't I pony up for a membership? I like the fantasy genre better and the gameplay was a little too simple for my tastes. The repetitive dungeon tilesets and empty streets were a drag. I give it a B+.

Next up was EVE Online. The spaceships were interesting and the gameplay was innovative. I played that for all of four hours before I realized that tedious asteroid mining and lackluster space combat was not my thing. I give it a C-.

I'm in flight to Dark Age of Camelot. The free trial is downloading now. The graphics look dated, but that's expected in a game that came out six years ago. Hmmm...I wonder if I'll make it through the whole 14-day free trial before taking off.

What other MMO's are offering free trials? EQ2 and Lineage II have caught my eye.

I wish Lord of the Rings Online still had a free trial. I missed it when they had it. Unless plans change, LOTRO will be my winter game this year, but will it have what it takes to keep me in Middlearth? Will Warhammer be released next year like promised? Or will Warcraft pull me back in?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Marvel Ultimate Alliance Done

Last night I finished Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the Wii. My team of superheroes gave Doom a severe spanking. If I had to grade the game, it would get a solid B+ from me. The wide selection of heroes was great. The usual suspects from the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Avengers were on duty in addition to lone characters such as Spiderman, Deadpool, and Blade.

I dabbled in a variety of Marvel comic books when I was a kid, so the massive amount of content in this game was a blast (allies, villains, and locations). If you like Marvel comics, get this game. If you like action RPGs, get this game.

I let the game manage gear and skill points for me, so I could jump into the plot and kicking villain ass without the learning curve. Hindsight: should have done it myself instead.

The controls were easy to learn on the Wii. I played X-Men Legends on the GameCube, and I think the Wii's controllers are a big upgrade for the series.

The shortness of the game and the linear plot are my biggest complaints. I completed the adventure in 15 hours, and that was with taking my time and admiring the setting. Replay value is low because of the rigidly linear plot. You have one quest at a time and the paths through the zones are straightforward. Sure, you get side quests, but they're typically things can't help but do as you move along the main quest line. For example, recovering a book or a sword that is conveniently placed near the sub-boss.

Cheat codes are for wusses. Except when they improve game play and make it more fun without neutering the challenge. For example, temporarily turning off aging in the Sims 2 while you get the family going. I wish I would have checked out the cheat codes for Marvel Ultimate Alliance at the beginning of the game instead of at the end of the game. I highly recommend getting
the cheat code for unlocking all the hero costumes (check out GameFAQs). Then you can dress up your heroes in their best duds without blowing your credits on upgrades.

Oh, my team? Captain America, Storm, Thor, and Colossus with Iceman on the bench to sub in when one of my mains took a dive. My son liked Moon Knight and Deadpool, so he'd pick one of them when we played co-op mode.

Time to ship the game back to Gamefly. I wonder what game I'll get next...