My blogging motivation

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

I’m seeing through my blog-feed that one topic over the last few days has been motivation for blogging. For me, blogging is something I want to do, even if I don’t have the time to do it as regularly as I once did. Blogging itself is time-consuming, though not that time-consuming, for me at least. I may spend 30 minutes on a post, but then my posts aren’t that long generally. I have done much longer ones in the past, or more involved ones where I’d researched actual data or my post history. These days I post when I can and at the length I can, but the itch to write is still there.

In terms of what specifically motivations me though: what keeps me going after ten years, I’d narrow it down to three main points:

Blogging is a conversation

For me, blogging is about being part of a wider conversation. Unlike social media (e.g. Twitter), it is the chance to say something with a bit more depth about a topic. To open a richer conversation than just memes and hot-takes (though blogs do contain examples of both). Each post that I write builds on existing posts of mine, on posts of others or both – the conversations can be many layered with references going back days, months or even years. Social media may have reduced the number of people blogging, but I still see blogs as having a distinct raison d’être.

Blogging is a great aide-mémoire

Blogging over a long period is such a great reminder, and memory-aid, for what I used to play and when. It also is the partial justification for all the screenshots that I take, the many, many screenshots. Looking through old posts when I’m writing a new one is a great trip down memory lane to boot. I’ll stop using French terms now.

Blogging is about community

There is an active blogging community surrounding my chosen topic, MMORPGs. It has certainly changed over the years, and has quieter and busier period, but there’s usually something good to read. More often than I can make time for at present, I come across a post I’m itching to comment on or respond to when I get the chance (there’s that conversation again). Motivation certainly shouldn’t be the primary factor if you can find your community!

Posted in MMORPG | 2 Comments

Gaming performance issues

I’ve not had much in the way of game performance problems for a while, but trying to play Bless Unleashed was painful earlier when I tried to sneak in a few quests. The early zone my cleric is in was busy with players, and there was a lot of chatter relating to some dragon fight and lag. So it might not be entirely the fault of my 10+ year old gaming laptop being a bit long in the tooth.

The last two sessions were fine lag-wise, but as I was playing earlier I was seeing noticeable “ability lag”: I’d press a button and the results would be delayed by a half-second or so. In an action-combat game that’s quite the problem as positioning generally matters more. Towards the end I noticed my character’s health dropping with no discernable reason, no enemies were nearby but his health bar started ticking downwards, so I ran for a rest area and logged off lest he die to the “lag monster”.

Time to heal up

Out of game, looking at the Steam community page I just spotted notice of server maintenance later on, looks like the servers’ are in need of some TLC. I’ll leave it for today, but am looking forward to doing some more questing another time. There are some old Tera-like elements to BU that I like so far. The ability chains seem fun to play with and the idea of having camp fire’s to sit and recover around is also a nice rpg concept.

So far server issues are to be expected with a newly (re)launched game. The rewards compensating for downtime are certainly welcome, I’m very happy with my Tropical Ostritch mount!

Posted in MMORPG | 3 Comments

Thanks for the fun #Gloomhaven

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

I’ve written before about playing the (not massively) multi-player turn-based rpg Gloomhaven in recent weeks. As we close out Developer Appreciation Week today, I thought I’d add a bonus post on this theme for Flaming Fowl Studios: the makers of the PC adaptation of the original board game (Steam link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/780290/Gloomhaven/).

The game has many positive attributes, and is fully playable in coop despite being in early access. At present, the “campaign mode” isn’t implemented, yet there are character quest arcs for each playable character, plus many quests that unlock locations (‘travel’) or unique items (‘relics’).

The classes are the game’s biggest strength, I would argue. They are beautifully animated, with lashings of characterisation and really interesting playstyle variations. Make sure you avoid the tactical gameplay temptation of staying zoomed out all the time – you want to be zoomed in on the characters to see the details of their movements and actions!

Hopefully, even when we have played out the map unlocking and class leveling aspects, the arrival of the campaign mode will bring new content to enjoy. I look forward to what comes from these talented developers in the future!

Posted in MMORPG | Comments Off on Thanks for the fun #Gloomhaven

Lost progress

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

I found a recent experience in Final Fantasy 14 very frustrating: it centred on a mechanic that is not unknown in the MMORPG genre – the total loss of progress if you fail a test. In this case it was an attempt (or three) to run the Palace of the Dead (PotD) “Deep Dungeon”. This randomised, almost endless, dungeon system has a lot in common with Torghast in World of Warcraft. In PotD, however, you play a duplicate version of your character that starts at character level 1 again and levels up through the many floors of the dungeon. Most importantly experience for your character’s current job when they enter the instance is only granted once every ten floors completed. If you wipe on any floor in the ten level band before reaching this ‘save point’ you get *nothing*.

We were playing floors 11-20, we’d only tried the system once before many months ago and had forgotten a lot. To be fair it’s actually quite enjoyable gameplay overall, in the same way that I liked the Torghast play experience *in moderation*. The rewards for the system outside of it are purely cosmetic, we were playing it as an alternative source of experience since we were bored with the Central Coerthas FATEs and leve missions (our current jobs are in the low 40s). What followed was an intensely frustrating two hours of wiping on mechanics we didn’t understand, and at the end, not one single experience point gained.

Both the progress on the duplicate job levels in the dungeon and our real job outside were lost if we wiped. So, after the first couple of rather early wipes (palace slimes can do one), we started getting up into the late teen floors. We’d noticed our in-PotD job level reset back down where we started if we failed to get to floor 20: the system is doubly punishing on progression loss. On our final try we got to floor 20, the final boss fight and wiped despite a heroic effort on our tank+healer duo – the boss was on about 10% health remaining to make matters worse. It was just so frustrating to lose all progress again, and to not have any second try on this new fight. It reminded me of 1980s platformer gameplay design, which is not a good thing IMHO. At the end to have sunk two whole hours of my limited free time into this pointless activity actually made me quite mad, and I rarely get upset by gaming. I guess this is a thing with rogue-like gameplay – not a sub-genre of RPGs that I’ve ever been that interested in.

A score does not replace experience gain

Personally, I think this is wrong-headed game design in 2021. Some progress should be kept. Either award real-game job experience every floor completed, but take away the within Palace of the Dead job progression on a wipe (my preference); or, stick to the experience every 10 levels mechanic but at least keep any level gains within the place (so that re-plays on that save are a bit easier). It’s just so unrewarding, I can’t see why we’d ever want to go back in there.

The same complaint, to a lesser degree, could be said about Torghast (or how it was when I last played it). That system lacked decent rewards, and if you wiped too often you’d fail the whole run – which was always so gauling if it happened on the final boss floor. The lack of rewards useable outside of the tower, other than some currency, was also a major problem of the system overall. Likewise with Palace, the system is just to self-contained for me to want to play it.

Thankfully, I read a helpful blog post by Belghast not long after this debacle and we are now happily embarking on beast tribe quests to level instead. FFXIV is getting a lot of praise on the blogosphere at the moment for its systems design and content, but it’s not all perfect. Rage-quit averted.

Posted in MMORPG | 1 Comment

Thanks for the content

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

Bhagpuss chimes in on this week’s Blaugust topic of “Developer Appreciation Week” in a recent post. He writes about his appreciation for Guild Wars 2 and there prodigious server support. This year I’m a little stumped at what I could be writing for this particular topic, I’ve been somewhat “floaty” and disconnected from MMOs for some months – playing sporadically and a number of games.

If I think briefly of what is most likely to keep me engaged in a given MMO, content delivery is probably the most important. I want new story content to play, which is bit of a long-standing problem within the genre as no developer can really keep up enough content pacing to keep even a casual player like me fully engaged and entertained month on month. But some companies do better than others. Much has been made of the slow release schedule for the post expansion patches for World of Warcraft in Shadowlands, the very long delay for 9.1 was enough for me to take a break from the game, and I haven’t returned as yet.

Three whole months ago now…

The very reliable cadence of expansions and content patches in Everquest 2 has kept me coming back to Norrath with regularity, and I think that’s the highest level of commitment I can realistically give to a given game – I’ll never again have “the one true MMO”. Lord of the Rings Online has also kept me coming back somewhat regularly though the most recent patches are locked behind the Mordor difficulty spike, which for quite a while was beyond me. In that sense a regular dosses of new content aren’t enough, the new zones or quests also have to be accessible, in part at least, to returning players. So I’m thankful to Daybreak / Darkpaw Games for developing content that is always easy to get into.

Bring on the pandas!

I wonder what will happen with the newer crop of MMOs that I see being discussed this Blaugust? Will Bless Unleashed keep up the player numbers and receive a steady (enough) stream of patches? As a watcher of the genre, it is certainly nice to have some new (actual MMORPG) games generating buzz again, and I’ll at least dabble in one or two. Beyond that I need to see some level of commitment to the longer term if I’m to divert more of my time from my long-established virtual homes.

Posted in Bless Unleashed, MMORPG | 2 Comments

Physical vs cloud

August means the Blaugust 2021 blogging event is ongoing, see the linked post for more info!

Syp has a post up about physical media versus cloud streamed content. It is something I have been discussing with my husband of late since we have been contemplating a move. Moving house is a major hassle at the best of times, but one aspect particularly relevant to a pack-rat, life-long gamer is the sheer volume of CDs, DVDs and books that we own.

We both have extensive collections of book series for a start. Is it sacrilege to sell off old novels that I will likely never read again in physical form. For years now I’ve mostly read novels on my Kindle Paperwhite, I find it more convenient to read books in a form with backlit pages and adjustable font sizes.

I very rarely buy books in paper form nowadays, though my husband still prefers to collect some series in print. It’s a similar story with computer games, it’s just easier to download a launcher and the latest version; rather than to take, say, my old LOTRO install DVDs off the shelf and then try and patch the game up to the current state. In many cases such discs are worthless since the patcher will fail to find the current server address or the patch number is so widely out of date that the systems are no longer compatible. Many of the PC CDs that we have, and some DVDs too are even more useless…

With the mountain of tabletop roleplay supplements that I have bought over the last 30+ years, things are a lot less clearcut. Roleplaying games do not have an in-built obsolesence caused by technological advances. I could take the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons manuals off the shelf and run a game tomorrow and it would work just as well as it did in the late 1980s. Am I likely to ever do that though? Not really. I have collected a lot of different systems and editions over the years. Rulebooks do age and become less useful if one keeps up with changes in systems and tastes. But, the lore and setting books that come with those rules can be useful even in the here-and-now. I still use the 3rd edition Eberron setting books that I bought over ten years ago when researching my current 5th edition modules.

I could ‘replace’ a lot of the more useful older content with digital editions actually, DriveThruRPG does a great line in PDFs of older D&D books, and other popular roleplay-systems. Sadly, some of the very rare or niche stuff isn’t on there, take my almost complete collection of Alternity (1.0) books, for example. I can even purchase integrated modules for some more mainstream rules or content within the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop as a means to replace printed books. That’s not so easy to flick through when researching or looking for inspiration: nothing quite beats flicking through a hardback manual when I need to kickstart the creative mood.

So, just how far to take this, if at all? Downsizing our physical collections would be a *really* good idea if/when we move. But, putting hundreds of books on Ebay and throwing away whole bags of discs is going to take time then there’s the emotional effort of letting go of such treasured items…

Posted in MMORPG | 4 Comments

MMO intros and Bless

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

Despite the pressures of fitting work, writing and social gaming into the day, I did manage earlier this week to have a brief first look at Bless Unleashed on PC. The summer has suddenly got busy with MMOs, even if I don’t have the time to indulge as much as I’d like. Husband and I have finally gotten around to activating our free 2 weeks in Final Fantasy 14, though so far we’ve barely played any. A few more levels towards 50 is about all we’ll manage, you never know we may even get our characters into Heavensward in time for the launch of Endbringer…

My interest in Bless was kindled by news from my niece that it was better than expected, she’s enjoying it rather a lot. I missed the game’s original launch entirely, but did follow the game on blogs and sites. Bhagpuss has a first impression post on it that I’ll need to go read later, his earlier coverage of the game’s open beta also added to my general interest in trying this MMO.

Since I have only fifteen minutes to write before I start work this won’t be an in-depth impression piece of my own, for one I’ve only played the one session so far and my character is just stepped out of the tutorial proper as I logged off. But, I will comment on the intro to the game – there are elements here that remind me of other games.

Tera for instance had the full action beach intro where your character was temporarily level 20. This allowed you to learn and practice some ability combos in each of the staged encounters. It seems Bless has a similar thing with the dream sequence (if it was a dream), where I was told what to press and in what order. I encountered a bug or bit of poor explanation where an orc or similar was crouched surrounded by a red barrier and the game failed to tell me how to interrupt this shield/block pose. So I pressed all the buttons and wandered around until something worked, not a great start only minutes into the game…

Past that sequence I then played through the slightly less funneled starter island area. Linear enough, but with optional objectives and some NPCs that I imagine you could skip straight past in later alt-replays. Some nice world-building and scene setting, although the inevitable “turn all drama dials to 11” happened next. It’s pretty common in MMOs, especially these kinds of imported games to have “the world is ending” style intros. Where exactly can the story go from here? It makes me think rather fondly of the Shire and how beautifully that shows a more gradual build up of tension and threat…

I’ve just finished the grand finale of the island and my character may be in the shared world finally, I logged off inside the room I woke up in, so no idea if other player characters await beyond the door. Regardless of the story presentation, the game looks gorgeous – even on my seven year old laptop. More impressions when I’ve had a proper chance to test the combat and other systems!

Spoiler: this will not remain peaceful for long…
Posted in MMORPG | 1 Comment

Of testing, deadlines and VTTs

Although I’ve never worked as a MMORPG or other games developer, I have some personal experience of creating pen and paper D&D modules. This has only been for self-publishing on the DMs Guild, with me doing the majority of the work (writing, editing, layout and organising testing) as a hobby activity. So far, the only external deadlines I have had to work to came from community events like the RPG Writer Workshop, so they are as elastic as they need to be based on the free time I have to plug into the project.

As previously noted, I feel I did pretty well on the writing front, 5500 is a good amount to get through. Sadly, as is the norm for me, I prioritised writing over communicating – I barely touched the RPG Writer discord channel this time. In the last two weeks I had a sudden non-creative priority to deal with on top of the day job, so writing slowed to a crawl. Yesterday was the first playtesting session of the new module. We managed nearly 4 hours with some breaks, but I had to call it early as there is a lot I still need to flesh-out.

I like to be organised, so a spreadsheet of edits is my tool of choice. I’ve subdivided tasks into two categories to be able to prioritise them based on whether they’re needed for playtesting or not – once I’ve run my group through the module I’ll then have to do a big round of editing and layout work to bring it to a publication-ready state. I currently have 44 edits, additions or corrects to make, 16 that are more urgent. The playtesting revealed a bit of a glaring “bug” from the end of the last module, so that’s at the top of the list of fixes now. A good number of these are the necessary creations or adaptations of the word processed module to the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop (VTT) system that I use to run the game for my group of friends.

Fantasy Grounds as a product is both a great help and a big time sink. It automates a good amount of the rules-adjudicating and the number-crunching, which can be a real boon when running a game. Likewise, it gives the visual focal point for the game and especially for combat via the shared maps to show the relative positions of combatants. Running purely narratively, “theatre of the mind” style isn’t something I’ve attempted for a very, very long time now – I want my battle maps! The downside to this is the prep time. I have to load in all the encounters, coding into the system any unique NPCs myself as part of this. I have to create the maps for locations and said encounters using Dungeon Painter Studio or a similar tool, then load them into Fantasy Grounds and set up the grid and the visibility settings (either the mask or the new line-of-sight system in Fantasy Grounds Unity). For some games I’d just grab the nearest-fit map from a Google Image search, but for a published module I need to create everything to avoid any possible copyright issues. Finally, I transcribe notes or story to stand in for player handouts: such as more detailed story elements (e.g. a letter) or clues.

More prep work

So prepping for playtesting the way we still have to run this, via a VTT session and video call, requires a big up-front time investment *beyond* the actual module writing task itself. It has given me a great respect for those indivduals who do this for real as their work or part of it – all of the major publishers create VTT versions of their published adventures and that must involve a lot of extra effort. I have run a few of these polished products via FG, notably parts 1-3 of the Starfinder Dead Suns adventure path. Not only are all the encounter prepared and set out on the relevant location maps, but all of the text from the modules, the art assets and the tokens are included. It’s another level that I’m not ready to stretch to yet, but it could be possible to run an adventure without even opening the module (paper or PDF) with enough prep in FG.

For now I stick to the pragmatic half-way house, especially since this is effectively a “beta” product with sections still barely out of the outline stage. I use FG for the encounters and the visuals to bring the adventure to life and to make it as easy to understand as possible. The next deadline is for a second playtest session next Saturday, if our schedules align, so I’d best get cracking on that list of 44 edits…

Posted in Fantasy Grounds, TTRPG | 2 Comments

Blogging and breaks

Belghast has a post up it being “ok to take a break“, referring to the importance of not neglecting other things (health or otherwise) in the singular pursuit of any blogging goals. It’s very apropos for me at the moment, and has been sadly for quite some time. I’ve been too busy to prioritise blogging for a couple of years now; a combination of work overload, study and other creative projects.

In joining Blaugust this year, I had no pretentions about getting the ‘rainbow diamond’ award for managing 31 posts. Its wasn’t likely to happen from the start, and will not now that I missed yesterday. This week is even busier than the last, I just finished up on the RPG Writer Month and suddenly out of the blue a potentially big opportunity came knocking. I’ll not say more about that for now, but I need to be focused for the rest of the week on non-gaming matters. Expect a bit of radio-silence till the weekend.

The important thing to remember is that blogging, for most of us, is a hobby more than a job. Yes it’d be nice if I could turn blogging into a career, but after ten years I have no real expectations there. It remains as it started, a fun thing I do on the side to share my opinions and experiences.

So enjoy the Blaugust ride, but for me it’ll be not quite full speed ahead…

Posted in MMORPG | Comments Off on Blogging and breaks

“Games we forgot about”

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

I listened to the latest Aggrochat podcast, titled “Games we forgot about”, where this podcast’s crew talk about games that have “dropped off the radar”: a couple resonated with me, notably LOTRO and Warframe. I had a similar discussion on the weekend: I was visiting family and spent a lot of time looking at PS5 games and also some PC titles. One game that came up in conversation was Black Desert Online as my niece is playing it once again – apparently she plays it on PS5, on PC and on mobile as well!

Looking at the list of character classes on offer now, I was really surprised at how many have been added. This game is seriously growing in options, something that is always nice to see – I like new classes to play.

Maybe twice the classes since I last played BDO seriously…

Seeing just the class ability animations for some of these made me tempted to return, especially if I can sync up with her to level duo – I am a lot more motivated to play MMOs if I have someone to play with regularly. A slight issue is that she is playing on PS5 more, and it looks like cross-platform isn’t a thing. I’m only really interested in playing on PC because I have established characters on my PC account and don’t want to abandon progress to start over. As I’ve written before, I just can’t start from scratch without immediately missing older characters.

Nevertheless, I do think I should give Nova or Corsair a try, both classes look really interesting thematically! Are there any MMOs or other games you are thinking of replaying this month?

Posted in BDO, MMORPG | 3 Comments