[Gaming] Why LotRO Hits the Spot

Before I get into the actual story, I should provide full disclosure of bias here. I’m on the official LotRO stream team and am privileged to be friends with a couple of the devs at Standing Stone Games. That being said…

I’ve been a Lord of the Rings fan since I was in single digits *mumblemumble* years ago. I was ‘forced’ to read The Hobbit when I was in school, and the teacher of course mentioned LotR, saying it was a bit more mature reading (not as happy/playful as The Hobbit). I remember the school library having two versions of the trilogy on hand: a large hardcover edition featuring nifty fold-out maps and the paperbacks featuring the amazing realistic art by the sadly late Darrell K. Sweet. Fun fact: Darrell K. Sweet’s art was also on the cover of the edition of Elfstones of Shannara where I originally derived my nom de plume of Druidsfire. I also went back years later and found used copies of that original paperback edition of LotR but never found reasonably-priced versions of the hardcover edition.

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[Gaming] The Magnificent LotRO Community

On July 1st, 2017, I embarked on a journey. I had arranged to stream for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, intending on playing through Lord of the Rings Online‘s 10-year anniversary scavenger hunt from beginning to end. The event featured ten weeks of 3 quests each, but you could do them back to back after the 10th week launched. The trio of quests per week were named Tales (centered around a single character’s story), Travels (go to places and collect Remembrances or go on pub crawls in various zones), and Trifles (often instanced content). For the sake of brevity and sanity, I chose to complete the ten Tales quests back to back. For the charity fundraising, I set a modest goal of $500, but honestly, I felt nervous and decided I’d be happy if we even got half of that. As I said during the actual stream, repeating a lesson taught to me by a dear friend, when it comes to charity work, any donation is helpful and needed.

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[Gaming] LotRO 10-Year Retrospective [170+ Images]

Hi there, my name is Jean Prior, and I occasionally go by Druidsfire on the forums and social media, or Phoenix or Kyriana in-game if you’re on one of the North American servers. As Lord of the Rings Online has surpassed its 10th anniversary, I felt like I should write some kind of retrospective on my experiences with the game over the past decade. This interest was magnified when I discovered to my own surprise that I have an uninterrupted screenshot archive from the past decade despite hard drive crashes and new PCs. While I have written about the game as a member of gaming press, I am also one of the players granted permission to stream on the game’s official Twitch channel. This may sound familiar to those who watched my anniversary stream on the official, as I used the following document as my script, but the stream occasionally went off into the tide pools.  I wrote this not only for the players who remember what the game was like back in the day, but also newer players who may never have seen some of these things before.

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[Gaming] LotRO 10-Year Retrospective

As Lord of the Rings Online approached its 10th anniversary, I went and wrote a rather lengthy retrospective after digging up my screenshot archive and finding an uninterrupted stream of pictures from the entire past decade.  Sort of like a Buzzfeed article for an actual writer, I would like to share the 15k-word article and the 170+ screenies.  However, given that some folks have a data cap or are reading on mobile, I chose to post this teaser article before linking you the actual full article with the embedded screenshots.

Click here if you’re entirely sure your connection and data usage can handle this.

[Gaming] Balance of Power

In World of Warcraft: Legion, players can unlock special cosmetic skins of their artifact weapons by completing certain tasks. The way the system works is on a progression basis. Each artifact currently has 5 rows of appearances going left to right with four slots per row (except Guardian Druid). You can’t unlock any slot in the row if you don’t unlock the first one. The rows are roughly analogous to:

  • Row 1: Legion/class story
  • Row 2: Unlocking your artifact’s traits
  • Row 3: Group content
  • Row 4: PVP
  • Row 5: Various content whilst wearing a hidden skin

Each row’s slots generally show a clear progression left to right either in terms of difficulty or time needed to invest to unlock an option. Each unlock is on a per-character (not spec) basis with the exception of the Glory of the Legion Hero option in row 3, fourth slot. That unlocks account-wide due to the nature of the achievement.

The cosmetic skins are obviously just that. There are no power or gameplay advantages to unlocking any of them, and players aren’t required to use them. Hell, some class’s players who don’t like their unlocked artifact skins can mog to other weapons entirely. For example, I have cheerfully mogged my troll shaman’s Doomhammer into the Tankard o’ Terror just because I can.

So, all of this is optional. No one is forced to do any of this content. It’s just a side thing to encourage players to consider doing content outside of their usual stuff if they want a cosmetic they like. For example, I’m not a PVPer, but my utterly favorite Holy Priest artifact skin is the one that requires 1000 Honorable Kills in PVP while using the hidden skin. Acquiring a hidden skin varies from class to class, and in this case, I have to get a drop from Hyrja and be exalted with the Valarjar. Not too rough, and again, it’s my choice if I want to jump into PVP afterwards and grind out the skin I want.

The third row is the problem here. To unlock the entire row, a player has to complete the Balance of Power questline, which resembles the laundry list players from Mists and Warlords remember when acquiring the legendary cloak and ring respectively. Even if you complete the second, third, and/or fourth items in that row, you can’t use them unless you finish BoP on each character you want any of them on. BoP is in effect holding that entire row hostage. In a recent livestream, Game Director Ion Hazzikostas answered a question about making BoP account-wide, and I actually agree with him on the notion that it doesn’t have to be. However, he missed the overall point of why people were asking for it to be made account-wide. BoP isn’t a problem in and of itself, it’s the fact that it’s the unlock for the entire row. If the notion of third row is to celebrate organized group content, BoP in slot one and Unleashed Monstrosities in slot two make no sense.  On Wowhead’s guide to unlocking appearances, UM is the lowest ranked in difficulty of all four slots in the row, listed as Medium.

In terms of time spent, the second slot unlocked by completing the UM world boss achievement is hardly anything. One world boss a week, eight total needed for the achievement, easy.  In fact, I got it accidentally on my main the other day. To call it ‘organized group content’ is misleading at best. Group content, yes. Organized? It’s about as organized as a birthday party of 6-year-olds hopped up on sugar and cake, armed with cans of silly string. It takes hardly any effort at all to accomplish even by my filthy casual standards.

  • Go to the WB location and queue in group finder
  • Wait a few minutes for people to show up, take 5 minutes tops to beat the boss
  • ???
  • Profit

When I’ve done WBs on my main, no one was organizing anything. No discussion of strategy, no planning for where the tanks were going to position the boss, no worries about if we had enough healers, no one cared if the hunter or warlock pets were on aggro. It really is a ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ sort of situation.

The best solution for this problem of front-loading a legendary-style questline is to flip the UM achievement into the slot one/unlock row option and put BoP in as slot two. Flip-flopping the skins to stay with the original achievements is still something to consider, but in terms of basic time to complete and effort to expend, this makes more sense.

Will it happen? I don’t foresee it being so. Hazzikostas was quite firm on a recent livestream when he said that they had no plans to change things beyond perhaps increasing the drop rate of the Corrupted Essences needed during one segment of the BoP quest chain. He added that this questline was for an unlock for a cosmetic so it’s different from alt-catchup mechanics for things like Artifact Knowledge or other things that actually affected a character’s power. Granted, but I stand firm on my point is that it’s an unlock for up to four cosmetics, and it doesn’t match the progression-style methods of the other rows’ unlocks.

The fact that this is for a cosmetic, which means it doesn’t actually matter in the grand scale of things, makes the issue even puzzling. It doesn’t matter in terms of power, so why stick to keeping four unlocks gated behind a legendary-style questline?

Watcher, pls.

 

[Gaming] Winter and Holiday Music in Video Games

Winter is my favorite season of the year. While I might prefer spring and autumn in terms of temperatures, in temperament, it’s all about winter. Despite the poor traffic conditions, people complaining about the cold, and having to put my ride in the garage the few times every winter that it actually snows or ices up enough to warrant it, I find more peace in the winter months than any other time of the year. Ironically, I tend to be more depressed around the winter holidays because I can never spend time with family or friends for various reasons, mostly due to work and all of them living so far away. Still, winter is when my favorite constellation Orion the hunter marches high in the night sky, so all is well.

When it comes to the video games I play, winter-themed zones and holiday events tend to resonate with me in some fashion. Aside from the blue-tinged snow and ice covering the landscape, I find there is an overall tone to much of the music that game composers use for their winter areas. Whether you’re roaming Hoth in Star Wars the Old Republic, flying through Dun Morogh or Dragonblight in World of Warcraft, or trying not to fall into the deadly abyss outside Snowhead Temple in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, there seems to be an aural commonality to the themes used in these areas. Some of my favorites are pieces that play in Belusran Winter Field from the game Aion. To me, there is a kind of serenity to these places and it’s mostly due to the music.

Now I’m not a musician, so my impressions are from someone who merely knows what she likes and only occasionally why that might be. Certainly, you won’t find any music theory coming out of me beyond the basic layman’s appreciation for the art form. Most of the wintry music I notice focuses on a single stately melody featuring piano, harp, or a flute. The melodies tend to be slow and elegant. With the addition of hollow wind sounds in the background, like in the Ice Cavern of Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, it often completes the imagery of a bleak and desolate area.

While not entirely meant to be a winter seasonal theme, the primary zone theme in Frostfire Ridge in WoW‘s Warlords of Draenor xpac hits on this as well. That theme is called ‘Magnificent Desolation’, and its composer Russell Brower once said during a performance at Gamescom that he named the song after Buzz Aldrin’s remarks upon setting foot on the Moon, calling the lunar landscape a magnificent desolation. Frostfire Ridge certainly warrants the homage. Brower also hit that particular nail on the head almost a decade ago with the opening and closing riffs in the theme to Wrath of the Lich King, since of course most of the action is set on the continent of Northrend, a most inhospitable land on Azeroth.

While other holidays get their own music, I keep finding myself gravitating to the ones around winter holidays in-game as well. One of my utterly favorite composers, WildStar‘s Jeff Kurtenacker, did winter arrangements of both faction’s capitals’ themes, making them these grand traditional holiday themes with jingle bells in the background, sweeping French horns, churchbell chimes, the whole nine yards. Of course, WildStar‘s winter holiday event is all about consumerism rather than a more sentimental form of holiday, so his department store commercial music with a pulp sci-fi twist was utterly perfect for it. EverQuest II also went with altering their theme music in Frostfell, mixing it in with some traditional RL Christmas tunes like ‘Jingle Bells’.

For the first time, even World of Warcraft got into the new holiday music thing this year. In their two main holiday hubs, Ironforge and Orgrimmar, and also the Greench’s cave where people go to save Metzen the Reindeer (*sniffle*), players who hang around can hear one of several variants of the same tune. It’s a soft melody that invokes the spirit of the season, whether the lead in each variant is a chorus, cello, piano, or woodwind. I find each variant to be rather peaceful and reflective, and in a holiday season where my mother spent much of the week before Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia, somehow it was the thing I needed the most.

Without realizing it, all of these wonderful composers who write music for the snow-covered landscapes in their games, they all get me. I look forward to hearing these pieces of winter and holiday music, and any new ones in future games, with quiet anticipation.

[Gaming] Vol’jin

WoW has a leadership problem. I’m not talking about the executive team at Blizzard Entertainment, but rather how Blizzard writes the leaders of their MMO. The history of the Warcraft universe has never been one of much peace because peace is boring and hello, it’s not called Peacecraft. However, as players who focus on one of the two primary factions to the exclusion of all else, we can see how each faction is treated by Blizzard, how their leaders are written, and we tend to get riled up when we see our faction losing out to the other. Myself, I’m primarily Alliance-leaning, although I play Horde almost as much. I can see both sides of the argument as a proper moderate should.  The rest of this article will contain massive spoilers for the upcoming expansion Legion, including the Broken Shores instances currently live in-game.

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[Gaming] WoW’s Class Buffs as a Social Tool

One of the more passively social aspects of World of Warcraft is class buffs. Before the Legion pre-patch (7.0.3), players could add limited-time buffs to other players, either via single-targeting or self-targeting in a party or raid. These class buffs used to be five or thirty minutes and not raid-wide in Burning Crusade, but were turned into 1-hour buffs until the pre-patch in July. With all the class changes in 7.0.3, this one has caused some consternation. With the default UI, many of us got used to seeing the buff icons in the upper right near the minimap, so it now looks a bit weird when they’re not there, and more than one person has caught themselves hunting for their now-missing buff key to restore the buff.

Blizzard baked much of these effects into various specs with the overhauling of the classes, so most classes and specs don’t have any buffs to offer, other than retribution paladin. While it’s easy to understand the gameplay aspect of things, to be more tactical about what kinds of characters to bring to a raid, we now lose out to some extent. Who hasn’t been out minding their own business whilst questing and then seeing the spell effect of a random priest casting Power Word: Fortitude on you as they ran past in the middle of their own business?

It took little more than a target click and hotkey press, but players buffed others even though it did themselves no real good outside of group content. When I’ve been out and about and hitting random players with Kings or Might or Wisdom (yep, ret pally here), I’d even get an occasional thank you and the other player would reciprocate with their own class’s buff it they had one. In group content, some pugs or guild groups made a game out of who’d get the last buff in before the boss pull.

I’m fairly sure Blizz wasn’t thinking of the social side of things when they redesigned ret pally buffs, for example. Before, any paladin could buff themselves and anyone in their group, and the game didn’t care how many people you hit with Kings. It’s readily evident how the new system, with only ret pallies having access to the buffs, plus with the new mechanic of one person total per buff, makes it a gameplay choice. A paladin has to decide whether to buff themselves OR a tank with Might, themselves OR any DPS class with Kings, or themselves OR a caster with Wisdom. While the selflessness of a paladin is a lore and story fantasy for the class, I can see paladins being selfish about the buffs even in group content unless threatened with a kick. Even with the DPS from a buff is reflected in the paladin’s DPS meter, it’s still a social issue.

Yeah, the social aspect of the class buffs while out in the open world is almost akin to a person who tweets support for victims of a crisis without actually volunteering or donating to help out, but it did instill a small bit of random goodness into the game that is now gone. I don’t expect Blizzard to go back to the way things were, that’s not really their style, but I will miss those open-world encounters that were about doing a good deed, not getting ganked.