I’ll tell you when I get there #SWTOR

I see lots of discussion online about the latest Star Wars the Old Republic expansion. The buzz around its launch was enough to tempt me to come back to the game for some story-mission fun on my Jedi Shadow main. I almost resubbed last week but realised I wouldn’t have time to play much for days so delayed until the new cinematic trailer arrived, that was enough to get me to click on the old sub button. Star Wars is a mood for me, it’s a deeply ingrained cultural memory from my childhood (of seeing Empire as the first thing in the cinema) plus a lot of happy hours of play with figures, and much later, computer games.

It’s not without its controversies I had already read based on testing coverage; last night I saw one major aspect of that for myself – the UI changes are “in your face” as the character sheet panes now look more akin to an action RPG (I would say). In my usual style I leapt straight into the mission for Onslaught, the previous expansion that I haven’t touched, and realised in media res that my character seemed to be struggling against silver mobs and that two of them at once was a deadly encounter. I reached out on Twitter, but had the embarrassing realisation afterwards that I wasn’t using my best healer-bot companion (the one with the highest influence rank (i.e. combat effectiveness). Switching to my favoured companion from the Knight expansions (Koth) helped me progress as he had double the rank of the other and his healing was enough to prevent each fight being a struggle to the death.

Theron’s healing wasn’t enough

Even so, I was barely managed to kill the gold mob at the end of the ‘palace’ story arc, and afterwards felt I needed a break from the knife-edge stress of combat so I logged off. As a player of Everquest 2 I have gotten used to mob levels and quest levels not always matching my character’s or each other. Signature quests often have a level nearer the expansion level cap from the get-go. In most MMORPGs that’s a sign of something being out of the ordinary, or a sign your character has gotten ahead of him/herself. In this case in the starter instanced content of Onslaught, where the mission level and my character’s level were both 70, all of the mobs were 75 (the new starter level for Legacy of the Sith I imagine?). As Shintar commented on my Twitter, the scaling may be bugged on the mission.

Definitely a level 70 mission

So if I can get past what might be a scaling bug, I intend to play through Onslaught and then play through the new expansion’s content as a duo of content patches. Given other time-pressures, I can’t say it’s going to happen that quickly, I’m not one to rush content in any case. But I’m looking forward to playing a lot more Star Wars in a game I’ve invested a lot of time in over the years. As to what the new expansion is like, I’ll tell you when I get there!

Posted in MMORPG, SWTOR | 2 Comments

A double anniversary

This blog turns eleven today, the blog’s anniversary is something that I’ve usually missed every year since I stopped posting every day, the anniversary message within WordPress coming a day or two late for me to necessarily mark the event.

There’s another reason why I might be otherwise occupied on the twelth of February every year as it marks the anniversary of my husband and I getting together. Today’s is a particular noteworthy date as it marks our twenty-fifth year together as a couple!

Storm Crow Manor in Toronto

Our life together has come with many wonderful memories and some particular overarching themes: namely travel and gaming. We were both gamers of different but overlapping stripes as children, so we had a lot of common interests when we first met at university. A fondness for fantasy and science fiction, both owners of Atari ST personal computers and similiar interests in books and TV shows.

Star Wars is a beloved franchise

During the lifetime of this blog we have played a serious amount of hours worth of online gaming together: notably in World of Warcraft, Star Wars the Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. Over the years we’ve also branched out into coop gaming with friends including games such as Shadowrun Chronicles and, most recently, Gloomhaven.

We’ve also travelled extensively together; indeed, that has been one of life’s joys over these 25 years- having someone special to discover a wider world with.

Mangalore, India (note the ‘g’ not ‘d’)

We’ve travelled to many places and, despite the pandemic I hope we get to visit many more in the next 25 years! Gaming is sure to play its part as well in this journey of life together. We’ve just started playing Bless Unleashed together so more MMO memories to come…

Posted in Guild Wars, MMORPG, SWTOR, World of Warcraft | 4 Comments

Gloomhaven and rng

The PC version of Gloomhaven has one particular aspect that has us laughing or howling at the screen on a regular basis. The randomisation (often referred to as rng) element that underpins the ‘modifier deck‘ mechanic can feel rather punishing at times. I am only referring to the PC game in this post, I’ve never played the boardgame for comparison.

A character’s draws from the modifer deck for each attack against each target. The character gains “rolling” modifiers as you unlock certain perks which apply an affect but also draw another modifier card. Sometimes these can stack multiple times as illustrated above to have quite a positive, or comical effect.

Doubling up condition modifiers like muddle above seems to be a favourite of the game’s rng system, which does nothing as it’s not possible to be doubly muddled (or anything else). Yes, that is just how random mechanics can be, but it ‘feels’ like the game is playing with us sometimes not the other way around.

Those moments are, of course, balanced by moments of joy – a screen full of orange modifiers (i.e. positive) is a thing of beauty. Since we play on voice comms they are shared moments and there is much discussion around how our “luck” is that session.

The dreaded “x0” (times zero) is the worst of the lot, and often seems to cap an otherwise positive rolling streak. So you might get one, or multiple, plus modifier(s) and then have it all negated by a x0 at the end. As characters level the idea is to buy perks that skew the modifer deck towards more beneficial modifiers: each character class has their own set of trade-in perks that remove some negative modifiers and swap in some positive ones instead. Still, even as our characters grow into their later levels, there are still moments where rather too many purple numbers come up…

I suppose the difference between Gloomhaven and MMORPGs is that once something negative happens in the calculations in a MMO, such as you miss an attack or the opponent blocks (the maths of which is mostly hidden in such games) then that is it and combat moves on. In Gloomhaven the rolling effects are drawn until they stop rolling. So even if the attack is already negated it will keep drawing until the chain ends – it is more memorable, perhaps, by the very visible nature of the mechanics.

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Games I should make time for…

December and January have been very busy times for me for the last four years. As well as IT, I am also responsible for reporting at the company I’ve been working for that long and the annual report is due in February so I spend far too much time in the preceeding months badgering colleagues for narrative and statistics updates to get that document together. There’s also that small thing called the ‘Holidays’ (a k a Christmas & New Year). This year I’ve also been actively searching for Masters courses to apply to and in the process of interviewing and then starting a new job as well.

There are plenty of MMOs being talked about on my Feedly that I would like to play actively, but at present I’m too busy or tired to play online gaming. I do make time for a little Fallen Order on PS4, Gloomhaven (coop) and spaced out sessions of three different virtual ttrpg campaigns: so I wouldn’t say I’m that gaming starved at present. Nevertheless, as I read over on Contains Moderate Peril about the latest patch beta for Lord of the Rings Online I rather fancy dipping back into Middle Earth again. I’ve played that game a *lot* over the years. It is the third most frequently featured game on this blog. I have never had a utility installed that could track all my MMO game time but I imagine LotRO would be close to the third most played overall.

Likewise, I recently have had a bit of a Star Wars binge on TV. We’re watching the Book of Boba Fett plus some Clone Wars (always late to the party…), we rewatched Episode IX over the Holidays and are actively playing Fallen Order. So the thought has been there for some time that I really should find time to play Star Wars the Old Republic again. I have a few class stories I’ve still not completed (namely most of Smuggler, plus the large part of Sith Warrior and Sith Sorceror) from the games launch content. Also, I’ve never played the last expansion and there’s a new one coming next month! SWTOR is the second most blogged about MMO on this blog, and that also correlates well with just how much I have played that game both solo and with friends.

Finally, in the background is the half-desire to jump back into World of Warcraft. There’s content from the last patch that I missed as I had already unsubbed when that came out. Blizzard controversies aside, it’s the only MMO that unites all of my gaming friends and family in one place. Not that there’s any big pressure to go back but I’m sure I will at some point. My Mum has continued to play throughout, having WoW as a hobby during the periods of isolation due to the pandemic was no doubt a help – I occasionally feel that pang of guilt for not being able to run dungeons with her, though paying a subscription to play only once every week or two isn’t easy to justify when I have so little free time for MMOs. It’ll be no surprise that WoW is the most blogged about MMO on this site, a good 40% ahead of the posts of any other game. A new expansion is much more likely to drag me back to Azeroth, however. Especially if it ends up being more upbeat or exploration focused (Dragon Isles?)…

Posted in LotRO, MMORPG, SWTOR, World of Warcraft | 1 Comment

Adding replay value

Do MMORPG designers miss a trick when it comes to replay value? Computer RPG gaming (of the single-player kind), such as Jedi: Fallen Order, usually have some ways to encourage a replay: there are varied ways of building your character over time to offer novelty a second time around, may be some story choices with branching endings to encourage a replay to see “what else could have happened”, or even harder modes to make a replay of the same content more challenging for an experienced player.

Talent tree choices

As I previously wrote, I’m currently rewriting in part my published adventure to re-run it for a second group. I am really enjoying this re-imagining of the story, and in particular a chance for the group to inject more ideas of their own into the plot. The second playthrough of this shorter module has opened up the potential for fairly extensive rewrites, should I ever find the time to do them. A mostly different set of players (my husband has indulged me by replaying the module) leads to different backstories and motivations for this second party of adventurers. It has triggered ideas of how their stories could better fit an overall narrative, though I’m also rewriting sections I wasn’t completely happy with first time, and varying plots to keep it fresh for my returning player.

For almost all of the MMORPGs that I’ve played such an alternate play-through of a set of quests or campaign isn’t an option. Replaying the very same quests in the same order has been an issue for me all along with computer roleplaying games, and MMORPGs as a related genre. I grow bored easily of repeating the same content, and no games development company can afford the resources to regularly rewrite whole story arcs to provide a fresh perspective to those leveling alternate characters. World of Warcraft did this effectively with Cataclysm and it split the playerbase despite, I would argue, being successful in providing a fresh and more coherent questing experience for the revamped zones.

Star Wars the Old Republic came closest with its heavy emphasis on dialogue and character choices (real or false). It did nail replay value very well for the original levels 1-50 content, but the budget reality after the launch for subequent expansions resulted in dwindling class and faction specific variations to the content afterwards.

One could argue here for user-generated content as a more scalable solution, but then which MMORPG has implemented such a system, and thereafter *not* abandoned it soon afterwards from continued support? There were undoubtedly some great user-dungeons in Neverwinter and other games, but as a big stickler for lore-authenticity and consistency of story-telling it was rare that I found a good module that also felt “appropriate” to the world – the most popular dungeons in Neverwinter or Everquest 2 for that matter were usually built for function (a pit full of trapped monsters) or built to recreate something from a completely different IP (let’s remake EQ1 dungeons in Neverwinter).

As I am writing what amounts to a parallel-universe version of my first D&D module, I’m left revisiting a very old notion. Ever since my early years in World of Warcraft, I have always wished these games could offer more variety while leveling. Something that still today, in 2022, seems out of reach for technical or budgetary reasons…

Posted in D&D, MMORPG, SWTOR, TTRPG, World of Warcraft | Comments Off on Adding replay value

Microsoft taking over (Activision) Blizzard

Well that was quite the headline: “Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone, across every device”. Not something I would have predicted even given all the rolling scandals over at Blizzard. I’ve no real idea what this could mean for World of Warcraft, the only IP of Blizzard’s that matters to me particularly. If the deal goes ahead in 2023, which still is rather a long way away, it could mean the much needed change of leadership gets pushed down onto Blizzard. I suppose it could also mean more money pumped into renewing IPs that have been poorly supported in recent years. Maybe it’ll even mean WoW on XBox or some such cross-over?

Interesting start to the year for sure!

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments

Jedi Fallen Order on PS4

Ever late to the party, I received Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PS4 for Christmas and have been rather rapt by it since coming back home. It is a beautiful game to look at: expansive skyboxes galore and really grand scale design. Very mild spoilers follow for early game areas below.

Opening in a shipyard
Continue reading
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Grim dark stories

I was struck overnight by the thought that I’m very tired of grim-dark story-telling in Science Fiction/Fantasy entertainment. I feel like games, movies and TV have focused rather too heavily on this tone over the last few years. It’s a bit like the trends we’ve witnessed in gaming, and in MMORPGs specifically, if one studio has a successful action MMO then all the new MMOs have to be full-on-action, if another has a full-loot PVP game, all the others seem to follow suit with their new game developments. It seems almost everything is grim-dark at the moment.

Watching episode 2 of series 4 of Discovery got me thinking this as the series has taken a darker tone again. I’ll avoid plot-spoilers but there is a great loss at the start of the series. The second episode focuses a lot on the stresses caused by this and ends with a rather jarring bit of melodramatic dialogue. In the post-episode discussion we all agreed that the last scene sounded un-Star Trek in tone (over the top and very unscientific words from a science officer).

Another recent example was re-watching Star Wars Episode IX for the first time since the cinema over the Christmas break. As I thought the above over in my mind, I then considered the sequel trilogy (or whatever I’m supposed to call Episodes 7-9), and, again, just how unremittingly grim those films are compared to the end of the original trilogy.

TV series or films can, naturally, be written to be gritty or with horror elements. Here I’m writing more about the injection or twisting of a more optimistic tone into a darker one – I fear in many cases because writers either think that is “cool” or the current Zeitgeist. Given the last two years I would argue until I’m blue in the face that what the majority of us need is a lot more optimistic and escapist entertainment forms – not a dose of grim fantasy on top of the grim reality we live in! Star Trek to me is possibly the most optimistic mass market Sci Fi series, yet the two flagship TV series (Discovery and Picard) come across as rather grim and depressing to me – only the amazing animated series Lower Decks manages to continue a sense of that Next Generation-style optimism that I grew up with.

We intend to rewatch Star Wars 7 & 8 at some point, we only watched 9 out of sequence because of my Dad’s desire to see the one film. But the new trilogy starts off grim dark and only gets worse. I’ll avoid rehashing the entire plot here but the New Republic is nigh on destroyed from the get-go and the “heroes” have almost continuous set-backs. I could do several posts on how I would rather have seen the films re-imagined but the overview of it would be along the lines of:
Episode 7 – the Republic is flourishing, but then a menace is revealed and a single (but non-crushing) defeat of the main Republic fleet occurs near the end
Episode 8 – the Republic forces have to rally to contain the menace and to protect their endangered unity, personal drama for the heroes becomes the focus
Episode 9 – the Republic wins a key battle, but then the personal drama kicks into overdrive with a surprise twist and a shift to a more intense personal conflict (e.g. Jedi vs unmasked Sith) – note at no point is the entire Republic threatened with total annihilation by an impossibly large Sith fleet

In addition to being grimmer and darker with each series or expansion, TV, movies and games also seem to have a massive problem with “threat inflation”. Episode 7 starts with a lore-breaking super-weapon and then has to outdo even this in Episode 9 with a whole fleet of super-weapons. It just breaks any possible suspension of disbelief for me. I much prefer the personal conflicts and minor setbacks, followed by believable resolutions, that series like the Mandalorian and now the Book of Boba Fett are offering.

As for Discovery, I really liked the shift of the last series to the future and the eventual return to a more optimistic and exploration-focused Federation. But, of course, they immediately had to undo that tone in the first episode of series 4. I’m fatigued with “universe-ending” threats as a constant background or motivation – can we not have some breathing-spaces in-between the chaos?

Finally, I’d say that the Legion, Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands expansions for World of Warcraft are suffering from similar issues. This trilogy of expansions keeps on ratcheting up the threat levels and the grim-dark hopeless future for the game’s setting. While World of Warcraft has always had horror and grim warfare as thematic elements, I used to feel the game balanced it better with the overall tone of “being the hero” than it has done of late. Now it’s a familiar defeat, followed by setback, followed by atrocity and maybe a small victory at the end of the expansion; then in the next it’s immediately back on the defeat-train for another few content patches. What I’d say World of Warcraft desperately needs next expansion is an optimistic, exploration-focused setting with as little grimdark as possible!

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments

Happy New Year!

This holiday has been filled with a good amount of gaming, as well as a surplus of good food and quality time with family. I’ve had the opportunity for a good few long walks despite the rather dismal weather which has been a tonic for how busy I was in December with work.

Carcassonne in progress

The unexpected hit among the family has been a new board game my nephew bought for my Mum – Carcassonne. It’s a deceptively simple tile-based game, where the board is built by the players as they draw random tiles. There is just enough strategy and complexity to keep it interesting game after game, without an individual game taking too long to set up. It’s also quick to learn which has been a particular boon. I may have to look into the mobile or PC version of the same game, I’ve read via social media that it’s good fun and it’d be nice to have a version I can play at home since the box will be staying at my parent’s house.

So this is just a quick post to mark the turning of the year before I get busy with family gatherings – Happy New Year for 2022, dear readers, here’s to a happy and healthy year to come!

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Merry Christmas 2021!

Just a short post written while the Turkey is cooking for a few hours. Later I’ll be cooking the rest of the roast Christmas dinner for the seven of us that are eating together at my parents’ house. This year, like last year, I have all my timings worked out in a spreadsheet diagram – I do love a spreadsheet to organise a complex task or subject.

In a few hours the family will be gathered and the festivities will begin in earnest. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever and however, you are able to celebrate it this year!

Tinka, Yamas and friends say Merry Christmas

Posted in MMORPG | 2 Comments