Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More Puzzle Quest

Sorry to say this but no MMO lovin' for me the last few days. I have been squeezing in Puzzle Quest though. My druid is in the low 30s now, and I'm having a blast with the game. I recommend it. Last night Avril caught me snoring away on the couch with the DS in my hands. Oops. My only excuse is I've been exhausted lately.

Puzzle Quest Rune List
See here. Check out this web tool to help with forging items in Puzzle Quest. Select a base, modifier, or power rune from the list, and it shows you details about all possible item combinations. The location of the rune is also listed. The site has a few other things such as spell casting calculator, spell list, and item list.

Puzzle Quest Map
See here. Large (as in huge) map for the Puzzle Quest game. I'm assuming the map is the same for all platforms but YMMV. This map shows everything, including all cities, quest paths, incomes, rune locations, and creature spawn points.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Random Junk Oct 28

Yes. It's another odds and ends post.

First, my apologies to Bildo for trying to hijack his post about upgrading his computer's power supply. I read his post about upgrading his vid card and PSU. That got me thinking about my desire to my upgrade box too. I asked a few of the programmers at my work where they'd go to buy a new vid card, and they said to check out Newegg.com. So, I'll post the same question here... anyone have any experience with the web retailer or can recommend another?

Second, the family carved pumpkins for Halloween. Avril carved the fancy tree and ghosts. Mine is the pumpkin king inspired one at the end. The rest are the kids. As you may have guessed pumpkin carving is one of our traditions. See below.

Third, for your viewing pleasure... the Azerothian Super Villains. They have four episodes out on YouTube (episode 3 below). Looks like it was first posted about six months ago, so this is old news. But new to me, and I like sharing with you.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday Night Queue

Now this is something new and unexpected. I logged into Lord of the Rings Online and was greeted with a login queue. The first one I've seen in this game. My guess is all the peoples checking out the new housing. Makes sense now that I think about it. New patch with piles of upper level content. Of course players will want to explore it.

I rolled an elf loremaster and played the first few levels. I'll post my impressions of the class after I've unlocked more core abilities and experienced its gameplay.

Friday afternoon the managers gathered the teams together and told us we were working again this weekend. Damn. Project FUBAR refuses to die. I wish it would. It's seriously cutting into my MMO time. I've been playing more Puzzle Quest on the Nintendo DS lately because I find it easier to jump in and play for a brief session. When I play LotRO, I want to play for longer blocks of time. That doesn't work well when I'm nodding off early. I apologize for whining... but it's my blog, so nyah.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A few posts back I complained about hitting a little wall in Lord of the Rings Online. I don't feel a burning desire to play as much as possible like I had with another MMO that won't be named for fear I'll hear its siren song again. I had a blast playing when my hobbit hunter was lower level, but I'm stuck in a funk now that I'm in the mid-20s. I read about this kind of thing happening, but I hoped it wouldn't hit me until I was in my 40s. What to do?

Time to roll an alt and give my main a short break. I played a minstrel up to level 7 and that was fun. So either I will go back to playing that character or roll a new loremaster. That is assuming this patch ever finishes downloading. The Book 11 update was released today. See here. While the patch notes list some interesting things such as player housing, I don't see anything that will benefit me now. Hohum.

P.S. My work schedule is leveling out, which means more time for play and more time for blogging. Woot.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Forging Items in Puzzle Quest

Puzzle Quest employs a simple but fun and flexible method for crafting items. What a refreshing change of pace compared to crafting in MMOs. That's comparing apples and oranges, but it's still a welcome change.

To craft an item, you select three runes from your pool of available runes. The runes are divided into three categories. The first determines the base item and one of its effects. For example, last night I used Rune of Daggers, which gives me a weapon dealing bonus damage. The second rune is a modifier rune that, um, modifies the other two runes. I chose Rune of Dwarves, which gives +2 to the base rune and +50% to the next rune. The third rune adds a special effect to the item such as bonus mana at the start of battle or a chance to do some effect during battle. I selected a rune giving me bonus red mana at the start of battle because fire is my lowest mastery and slower to build up.

The system involves collecting various runes by searching for and defeating monsters across the world map. The more powerful runes are guarded by more powerful monsters, so you must be higher level to acquire them. I found that the rune keepers in the area I'm currently questing are challenging but not too high of a level. I'm level a level 21 druid, but expect this to hold true as I advance through the game. Almost every location on the map has a rune, so you end up with a big pool of varied runes. Another bonus to collecting runes is more experience points and money.

The runes have a crafting difficulty associated with them. The more powerful the rune, the more challenging the puzzle to craft the item. A low quality item may require scoring three "hammer and anvil" points while better items require six or more points. You score these "hammer and anvil" points by destroying a new type of icon added to a new forge puzzle game. This type of game has some special rules that I don't fully understand to be honest. I just kept plucking away at the puzzle until I got three of the icons in a row or destroyed them with a red skull combo.

Unfortunately my character has a limited number of equipment slots. I wish he had a few more, so I'd have a reason to forge more items. So my only gripe with the crafting system in Puzzle Quest is I want to do it more often. How many games can you say that about?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sleeping on the Keyboard

I've been so exhausted this past week, knocking myself out to test this rush project at work. I wrote an automated test tool to speed up manual testing. It's a simple thing really... just shortcuts the tedious prep work to set up for each test case. Not to brag too much, but it worked like a charm. We were completing tests five times faster then expected, but with a 30% failure rate. Not good, but not my problem. I just find the defects and log them. Except for this FUBAR project. Friday was a twelve hour day, and we spent half of it proving the test tool was solid and the defects were real. Just venting here.

I tried playing Lord of the Rings Online this week, but I couldn't seem to get a good session going. I logged in a couple nights and I just wandered around the Lone-lands or the North Downs. My eyelids were heavy and within 30 minutes I was heading off to the shower before bed.

Saturday night I played for a few hours, but the shine's worn off the game. Hard to describe. Level 24 isn't as much plain ol' fun as level 14. I'm still enjoying LotRO, but I'm not as excited to play. Let's assume it's more me being exhausted than anything else. I hope...

The 2.3 patch for World of Warcraft is looking damn sexy. Not saying I'm going back any time soon. Just mentioning I think the changes are hot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Alternate Identities

I have a question for you. Who do you tell about your blogging and/or gaming? And when do you tell them?

I recently told my wife Avril about this blog. I'm excited to share this site with her but still nervous about it. Weird. So if I mysteriously stop posting, you'll know my better half dropped the hammer. Just joking. I guess it's one thing to share my thoughts more or less anonymously with random people on the Internet and another thing to share with someone I know in real life.

I could see telling close real life gamer friends and family about my blog... some day. I'm only a few months old, so maybe at the one year anniversary I'll have a big coming out party. Wait. I didn't mean it like that.

Now, when it comes to talking face-to-face, I don't make it a secret that I play video games. I have no issues telling people I like games. But...if I'm talking to non-gamers about it, I won't drone on about raiding in World of Warcraft or finally finishing the mail delivery quests in Lord of the Rings Online or my killer black control deck in Magic: The Gathering. When I'm talking with some of my hardcore gamer co-workers, the floodgates open.

I'd like to think this is normal behavior. Not some sign of deeper psychological issues.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Random Junk Oct 15

We're in crunch time at work. Ten hour days. Plus six hours over the weekend. We should be done by the end of the month. My company has a few projects at different stages in the software development process. One is in the elaboration phase, another in construction, and a third in transition. Then the parent company dropped a hot project on us. Everything is paused; everyone is thrown on to Project FUBAR (my name for it). We've had busy periods before, but nothing like this. What does this mean? Less time gaming because I have to go to bed earlier.

Speaking of gaming, I hit a small wall in Lord of the Rings Online. Pluck is at level 22 now. I completed all quests in the Lone-lands that were doable at my level. I'm too low to tackle the higher level ones. I tried. Red means dead when your a semi-squishy hunter and you pull two mobs by accident. To be honest I was frustrated. Then I remembered I had one quest that took me into The North Downs. Beautiful... more level appropriate quests.

My son and I are working on a Heroscape battlefield. I should post some pictures when we're done. We're taking longer than usual because we keep coming up with new ideas to try out. I set up a table in the garage for a more permanent table top gaming area.

I bought a new computer chair over the weekend. The local office supply store had a sale for 40% off. I like stumbling on to a clearance sale. I am so comfortable. Padded arm rests and everything.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bitter and Vindictive

I am torn. I feel guilty and petty for celebrating the misery and misfortune of others. But I can't help feeling smug and satisfied when certain people get their just deserts.

A friend at work started playing World of Warcraft a couple months before I left the game in March. I won't go over the whole leaving WOW story again because I've beat that dead horse enough. But one of the reasons I left WOW after almost a year and a half was guild drama and a painful guild split.

My friend at work told me to check out his main character in the Armory. I'd forgotten about that tool. Of course I checked out my old guild too. They had a couple dozen characters in their teens and twenties. Many of the names were old raiders from the Molten Core days. Blew me away to think they'd deleted their old characters and started over new. Good for them.

I also checked out the splinter guild... the traitors that rushed to level 70 after the expansion was released and left to form a new guild to start raiding. They're gone. Dead. I emailed someone from my old guild and he said he heard they had some big, ugly blow out a few weeks ago and a bunch transferred servers and some quit out right.

Does this make me a bad person? I'm happy they got what they deserve. Evil devouring itself or some such like that. But I also don't like being bitter. I had good times with them. If anything I should thank them for helping me decide to leave WOW. Since then I've come to a more balanced approach to video games.

There. I feel better sharing instead of letting it fester inside me. Too bad I didn't have this blog a year ago. Enough of with the feelings already. Time to log in and hunt some orcs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I Am So Addicted

...to this machinima music video from Baron Soosdon. I don't know what it is about it. The music is outside the range of what I typically listen.

Maybe if I had the tools and the time, I could create something like this. Nah. Who am I kidding? Just give me a game to play.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Two-Tailed Wargs and Other LotRO Mutants

Since my first day in Lord of the Rings Online I've grouped on and off with the same burglar. We seem to play on the same days and times. And he's a good guy and a competent player. Maybe not the ideal two classes to duo, but, we do crazy damage.

The other night we were working on Lone-lands quests. One quest had us collecting warg tails when we noticed that every dead warg had two tails. The next quest had us collecting body parts of of lynxes. Same story. Every corpse gave us both the quest items. In other words, we weren't penalized for grouping together to play the game. Compare that to other MMOs (ahem, WoW) were you are penalized for grouping on collection quests.

This got me thinking about features I'd like to see that support grouping. I've seen these in various games, but it would nice to have them all in one place. Pardon the incoherence.
  • Simple quest sharing. A little icon next to the quest that I can hover over and see who in the group has eligible to receive the quest or has already completed it.
  • Option to show your quest log to a group member. I'd love an option to just show my quest log to my group. Instead, I have to take five minutes to describe that one quest with the orcs, you know, east of the ruins south of the inn. No, the one where you collect their ears not their toes. No, not the orcs with swords. The ones with the spears... and so on and so forth.
  • Have everyone confirm before an escort or guard quest begins. Hey, game designers, how about a simple confirmation dialog before starting an escort quest when I'm grouped? For example, the other night I was busy rummaging through my bags and character inventory. My buddy assumed I was ready to start the escort. I didn't even notice they'd started. And why is that every escort quest I've seen in LotRO has the NPC running directly towards the big group of mobs instead 10 yards to the right? Now I have to fight the regular mobs plus all the triggered spawns. I digress.
  • Credit for collecting items. If the quest says to collect something, give all team members credit for it. In fact, if my friend is nearby, let him get the quest item too without having to loot the corpse. Same thing for those quests where you have to interact with X objects such as poisoning water barrels.
  • Tracking group progress on a quest. If you don't give every group member credit for collecting a quest item, then let me see at a glance where they're at so I now if we need to keep killing woozles or not.
  • Quest chains. Okay, for epic quest chains I understand not being able to share quest number 37 out of 51. But, WTF if the quest chain is I talk to person A, talk to person B, and then kill ten rats. I can't share that final quest in the chain because my buddy didn't talk to some NPC in Tanarsis.
  • Travel, summoning. Dungeon Runners had a nice feature where you could easily teleport to a team member's location. I wouldn't want something that extreme, but then again I don't want to spend 45 minutes running to meet up.
  • Level adjustment options. You know, mentoring and sidekicking.
  • Scaling challenges and rewards. Sure, why not.
  • Dynamic spawning. The more people in an area, the more mobs. Simple.
What would you like to see to support grouping?

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Chair

I have discovered how to attain perfect balance between gaming and every other responsibility and joy in life. It is simple really. Three little steps:
  1. Sell your comfortable gaming chair. Or, alternatively, give it your your wife to use.
  2. Find yourself an old uncomfortable wood chair.
  3. Sit in the chair while you game.
Forget about comfort. Forget about ergonomics. Nothing limits game time like the pain induced by a poorly designed wood chair. I can't go more than an hour without my shoulders, back, and neck stiffening up. At first it wasn't so bad. But, as you know, starting a new MMO means playing more often and playing longer. See illustration below. Impressed by my artistic ability?
All sarcasm aside, the chair I'm using has got to go. This weekend I'm heading to my local office supply store and finding a good chair. Not this leftover from the Spanish Inquisition.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Now What? Now Where?

My intention was to play a variety of classes and races in Lord of the Rings Online. I wanted to try out the classes before committing to one class. I played a champion up to level 3 and a minstrel up to level 7. I'm just having too much fun with my hunter. Eventually I want to play a loremaster and minstrel up through the levels. But for now, me and my hunter are happy.

Pluck, my little hobbit hunter, dinged level 18 this weekend. I'm having troubles finding quests in the Shire and Bree-land that are appropriate for his level. But where to go now? North? East? South? I like to explore and discover things on my own, but travel time at low levels just sucks. Run, Pluck, run.

I didn't see much in game telling me where to go next. One quest had me going northwards and another to the east. Online sources weren't much help either. The official LotRO Lorebook had no info. The Google maps of the regions are kinda sorta neat but I'd like some actual info. I tried another site, Lotro-Wiki.com, and eventually found the answer I was looking for: Lone-lands. Pluck is heading eastward, which is the direction the Fellowship went. Coincidence?

I completed all of the Book 1 epic quest line. I'm enjoying this feature. Ask me again my third or fourth time through the epic quest line and I may be singing a different tune. Othrongroth was difficult (chapter 11). No joke. I tried it at level 16 with another level 16 hunter and a third level 26 hunter. We made it past the first few groups but wiped hard. If only we had another hunter or two. We tried different tricks such as advanced trap tactics and ping-ponging mobs between us. Luckily a minstrel was looking for a group for chapter 10. We helped her, and then she joined us on another try of Othrongroth. What a difference a healer makes. We had a few tight spots, but thanks to insane DPS and a kick ass healer, we finished the chapter. Woot!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Avast Ye Scurvy Dawgs

I've heard Aarrrhhhh and Ahoy and even a Yo Ho Ho today. Seems the big buzz around the blogs is the release date and stress test for Pirates of the Burning Sea. I'll admit the game has me interested.

But where's the news about that other pirate themed MMO? You know, the one based on the 40-year-old ride at Disneyland. I heard they made a movie or something out of it. It has pirates and treasure and naval battles and voodoo and undead seamen.

For whatever reason Pirates of the Caribbean Online doesn't generate much hype. But look, they're in beta numero dos. And you can sign up for it. And tell me about it.

Password Paranoia

The software company I work for has (once again) changed its policy for login passwords. The industry trend is for tougher passwords. In a few years we'll be giving DNA samples before we can login.

Here is my company's policy in a nutshell. I'm forced to change the password after 3 weeks. The password must be nine characters long. The password must contain three of the following four things: lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers, or special characters (such as # * +).

In other words, I have to speak l33t to make a good password. Gone are the days when I could use "snugglebunny" as my password. Do you think "1PwnzUrM0mzL0lz" is an acceptable corporate password?

I've got too many user names and passwords to remember. I'm tempted to just reuse the same ones over and over. But that's just stupid. Then again, writing them down on a notepad in my desk drawer isn't the safest either.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

One Dwarf, One Elf, and One Woman

The other evening the kids helped me create three new characters in Lord of the Rings Online. If you're a parent and a gamer, you understand how there are things you can do when the kids are awake and things you can't do. For example, playing healer on a difficult dungeon run is out. Designing alt characters or crafting items or posting auctions is possible. My son leans towards characters with brightly colored mohawks and odd facial tattoos (uh oh) but my daughter is a good helper. At six she has a knack for designing a good-looking toon.

We created a dwarf champion, an elf loremaster, and a human minstrel. The original plan was to make a dwarf minstrel and a human captain, but I felt the dwarf racial abilities were more suited for champion then minstrel. I played the dwarf champion through the first few levels in the newb zone. I shouldn't rush to make a decision after playing a class for 3 levels, but the champion's game play didn't interest me. The human minstrel, however, has me hook, line, and sinker.

The one problem with my human minstrel is that the character is a female. My daughter wanted me to create a woman character, and what dad can say no to their little girl... so Elisawyn was born. This wouldn't be a problem except for two reasons: 1) this is an MMO and 2) I may join a light RP kinship.

I tried roleplaying a female character in D&D for a few sessions. Difficult and a bit weird. Pretending to be a bard in Middle Earth will be hard enough. My minstrel is only level 6, so rerolling her as a male wouldn't be an issue. On the other hand I've known guys in WOW that played female toons and it wasn't much of an issue. Plus roleplaying online is different than roleplaying while sitting across the table. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tetris Effect

When I close my eyes to go to sleep, I see a grid of colored gems and they line up three or four in a row and combo after combo cascades. I'm not playing Puzzle Quest that much. Really.

Weird how the brain works. I experienced the same thing when Avril and I use to stay up and play Dr. Mario on the N64 together. I could see piles of pills lining up as I drifted off to sleep.

I used to have an old school Gameboy with Tetris when I was in high school. I played the crap out of that game. I can vividly remember the game, but not how the first girl I kissed looked. That sounds odd, but do you know what I mean? I'm rambling.

I just read about the "Tetris effect" on Wikipedia. Here is the article:
The Tetris effect is the ability of any activity to which people devote sufficient time and attention to begin to dominate their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. It is named after the game of Tetris, which requires the player to rotate and move falling blocks of different shapes to create, and thereby eliminate, complete horizontal lines of blocks.

People who play Tetris for a long stretch of time may be subsequently involuntarily prompted to think about ways different shapes in the real world can fit together, such as the boxes on a supermarket shelf or one's home furniture. This was parodied in The Simpsons episode Strong Arms of the Ma. They may also see images of falling tetrominos at the edges of their visual field or when they close their eyes. They may also dream about falling Tetris shapes when drifting off to sleep.

The Tetris effect can occur with other computer games involving prolonged exposure to sequential images, with any prolonged visual task (such as classifying cells on microscope slides, weeding, picking fruit, assembling burgers, or even playing chess) and can also occur in other sensory modalities. For example, in audition there is the tendency for a catchy tune to play out unbidden in one's mind (an earworm). In kinesthesis, a person newly on land after spending long periods at sea may move with an unbidden rocking motion, having become accustomed to the ship making such movements (known as sea legs or mal de debarquement).

Stickgold et al. (2000) have proposed that the Tetris effect is a separate form of memory, likely related to procedural memory. This is from their research in which they showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day, despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.

Maybe I'm not so weird after all.

P.S. Sorry to hear about Ryzom on the chopping block. The game scored high on innovation, but couldn't complete against the big MMOs.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Puzzle Quest and LotRO Crafting

My son scored big points with me this weekend. The mailman dropped off the latest game from GameFly and it was Puzzle Quest for the Nintendo DS. Good boy.

If you haven't heard, Puzzle Quest is an addictive blend of RPG and puzzle genres. Just Google for "puzzle quest review" or "puzzle quest impression" and you'll find plenty of articles and commentary on the game. I'm playing a druid and having fun with his mix of direct damage, healing, and control spells. If a game appeals to ages 12 and 34, you have a good game. The only turn off is misclicking gems with the stylus. Frustrating to get penalized for a misclicked illegal moved only to have my enemy get a sweet four-gem combo.

This weekend after the kids were off to bed, I'd play Puzzle Quest for an hour or so. After that it was Lord of the Rings Online. Pluck is finishing up the last few quests in the Shire. Last night I was in the perfect PUG. Never thought I would put those to words in the same sentence. (Googling "perfect pug" fetches some odd results). I play a hunter, and I was joined with a guardian that knew how to tank and a minstrel that knew how to heal. We knocked out quite a few group quests. That was the best threesome since... well...

I also spent some time advancing Pluck's crafting skills. I took woodsman for him so he can make his own bows. Over the past week I've been collecting wood and hides and dropping them in the bank vault. Do you know how boring it is watching a progress bar repeat several hundred times? Luckily I have Puzzle Quest. So while Pluck processed a mountain of materials, I leveled my druid in Puzzle Quest.

Turbine lifted the crafting system from World of Warcraft, made some small improvements, and dropped it into LotRO. The only difference I see so far are mastery options and apprentice/journeyman/master levels. Nice but nothing to change the boring set it and forget it type of crafting.