Author Archives: Syl

Loot Box Regulations are coming

It’s been a long time coming but random loot box mechanics in video games are finally put under the chopping block of state regulation. Considering that lottery systems in online games have only really been popularized in the western market since Farmville, it’s taken the public eye seven years to become aware of this ongoing and ever increasing phenomenon. PC Gamer recently published an interesting rundown of the history of loot boxes, detailing how we got to the place we are in.

loot box regulations

I guess it’s that one time gamers can thank EA for the stupidity that was the Starwars Battlefront 2 controversy in 2017. Shortly after EA published their plans for the game, public outcry reached the upper levels of legislators in various countries such as Belgium which started to seriously investigate the gambling aspects of loot boxes in video games. And now official Hawaii state legislation has moved forward to issue several bills that will put severe limitations on publishers –

One pair of bills, House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024, would prohibit the sale of any game featuring a system wherein players can purchase a randomized reward using real money to anyone younger than 21 years old.

The other two bills, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025, would require video game publishers to prominently label games containing such randomized purchase systems, as well as disclose the probability rates of receiving each loot box reward.

It can be expected that Hawaii is setting the milestone many more western countries are about to follow. It will be interesting to see how different publishers deal with the newly imposed regulations and what it will mean for titles like Blizzard’s Overwatch, which has been successfully using loopholes wherever possible to circumvent stricter gambling regulations in for example China.

As someone who detests Overwatch’s random and skewed loot box system and has always drawn her arguably generous line at in-game lottery items, I welcome this change. There’s no reason why casinos should undergo different scrutiny than random loot boxes, which possibly also employ shady algorithms to screw players over.

It will be very interesting to see how and if players, who tend to buy into loot boxes, get deterred once probability rates are disclosed. I am also suspecting a new generation of random loot mechanics will soon replace the current ilk – but for a time, we may find ourselves in more agreeable waters.

Happy rhymes with Puppy

The end of last year was crazy. December just flew by – so much work, so many birthdays and other holidays, so many things to celebrate. But most importantly, December was wonderful because Christmas came early for myself and Burns: we finally welcomed our Berger Blanc Suisse puppy! Monty is already the love of our life and we can just watch him grow week by week. He is the sweetest silly and affectionate pup one could ever have.

Welcome Monty – we’re glad you are with us!

And a belated happy new year to all of you that still lurk around the old corners of the MMO blogosphere! May 2018 bring you many happy moments and puppy hugs.

Cuphead is fantastic and quite possibly for you too

Over the past two days I’ve spent approximately 8 hours in the highly anticipated and much discussed Cuphead. Having arrived at the not-so-pearly gates of the final stage last night, I can safely say two things: Cuphead is every bit the GOTY material I expected it would be. And also, most of the press reviews on this game are hyperbolic garbage. I wasn’t gonna mock that one journalist who so famously failed at Cuphead’s tutorial and I won’t – but wow is this game being failed by current mainstream gaming media.

Cuphead is fantastic

It’s getting serious for me in Cuphead

Due to the public hype before launch, I fully expected Cuphead to be an unforgiving, bust-my-balls shooter platformer that may well leave me sobbing already at the first boss. It’s been called everything from bullet hell to elitist niche game, so I envisioned something in terms of Dark Souls that I was still gonna get because music and graphics, but ultimately would have to put aside in frustration.

Turns out this is far from true. Cuphead is actually a game with an excellent learning curve, tight well-balanced mechanics and a ton of fun, creative and very beatable encounters. It is harsh but fair and built in a way that makes it more accessible than one would think. Every boss fight or stage is generally split into 3-5 parts you will need to learn counter individually. After that, it’s just rinse and repeat, reload quickly after every death and keep your nerves steady most of all. Thanks to the somewhat randomized order of events every time, the game keeps you on your toes and victories are immensely satisfying. SO SO GOOD!

Cuphead is fantastic

TAKE THIS suckers!

If I had to make comparisons, Cuphead is a mixture of old platformers like Yoshi’s Island and Mario (especially Super Mario on Gameboy or Mario 3) as well as Metal Slug and Parodius, all among my favorite titles of all time. If you ever beat older games like that or heck, if you’ve been a raider in WoW who knows all about learning strategies for bosses, Cuphead’s challenges will delight rather than frustrate you once you accept dying as a necessary part of the learning process.

Despite how it’s been represented in the press, Cuphead DOES in fact have two levels of difficulty: simple and regular. That goes for all the boss fights which it largely consists of, not it’s “run & gun” levels which everyone has to beat on regular. While it’s true that you won’t be able to access the finale without collecting all souls on regular, this means you can play through the game on simple mode and enjoy the majority of its brilliant content. Cuphead also features a very effective upgrade system adding important tactical choices to your gameplay. Encounters that seemed difficult at first become trivial once you switch weapons or special abilities (pro tip: if you struggle, hug that Smoke Bomb and Chaser combo!).

Cuphead is fantastic

Cuphead secrets: The clowns sang for me once I found their missing buddy

Now that I’ve picked up all the coins and upgrades in the game, it’s time to work on more regular modes before I can enter the final stage. It made sense to me to first play through all the simple modes and I’ve methodically started to pick up the regulars since. It gets a lot easier once you have all weapons and extra hearts to beat the more difficult encounters. So I can only recommend this game to anyone who looked at it and thought “this looks like a lot fun” – Cuphead is a remarkably well-made game with outstanding visuals and music that’s also way more accessible than it’s made out to be. There is no easy/god mode as of now (which I got nothing against, more options are cool!) but there’s local co-op too in case you missed it. Here goes my usual motto: give it a go and see for yourself!

Gaming Wishlist Updates

Great news: I’m still here! I haven’t kept up with blogging the past few months due to some unexpected turn of events at the new job and workload too heavy to allow for musing in the evenings. It’s never a good sign when real life manages to swallow so much of me that I can’t write; but I have managed to play more games again lately which is slowly restoring my sanity. So, hello – I’ve missed you!

What I’ve been playing

After a longer break from Overwatch, me and the better half are back in the saddle and have been enjoying and despising ourselves in equal amounts during competitive play. Overwatch is one of those games where there’s just no middle ground: you want to hug and kiss your team mates or see them burn in a fire for all eternity. Okay, maybe not quite that but matches can be incredibly intense and Blizzard are still utterly failing the community in terms of the streak rating and loot box systems in place. If the heroes weren’t so darn fun to play and the gameplay wasn’t as smooth as it is, I would probably move on to another title but none can currently compete with Overwatch in the fun team shooter segment.


After some debate, I also recently picked up “I am Setsuna” on steam and have enjoyed playing a very classic JRPG again. It’s true that “I am Setsuna” (which should really just be called “Setsuna”) is heavily influenced by the style and gameplay of FF6 and Chrono Trigger, having shamelessly cloned the battle system of the latter. Still, Setsuna is a very different beast, with a morose tone following a linear story to a rather predictable, depressing ending. The game never lightens up the mood and just as the entirety of the world remains firmly covered in snow, its soundtrack features an uncompromising list of wistful piano tunes. Despite all that, I have enjoyed my time there so far – it’s a beautiful game with beautiful art, excellent gameplay and nostalgic moments.


Updating the Wishlist

While I haven’t been able to play much this summer, I have tended to my steam wish list ever so often. I am quite excited about some of the games, so here’s a short list of titles I added more recently:

  • Cuphead: a fantastic looking 2D platform shooter inspired by 1930ies cartoons, this game promises to be soul-crushingly difficult yet exciting to play in coop. I am worried the bosses may indeed be too frustrating for myself +1 but I fully intend to pick it up, anyway!
  • Ooblets: the complete opposite to Cuphead, I get a sweet zen vibe looking at Ooblets footage and any game inspired by Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon is cool in my book.
  • Wonder Boy TDT: Wonder Boy is back yet again! Love the visuals, love the IP and really looking forward to play a good old action adventure again sometime.
  • Rime: this game has been out for a while and is lauded as a spiritual successor to ICO or The Last Guardian. I am more than skeptical about this tall order but curious enough to wanna give Rime a go sometime.
  • Ni No Kuni 2: the sequel to the stunning Wrath of the White Witch is gracing PC in January 2018. I was sad the first title remained console exclusive, so its second installment is high up on my radar.
  • Epic Tavern: this game looks like a bit of fun and has been composed for by fabulous MMORPG composer Neil Acree. Taverns were always among my favorite things in RPGs and MMOs so this “epic tavern management RPG” sounds right in my alley.
  • Destiny 2: I’ve played the Destiny 2 open beta last weekend and have been enjoying myself quite a bit. By all accounts, the sequel to Destiny seems to have learned from the missteps of the first title, so I’m willing to give it a shot this time around for its exquisite aesthetics and gameplay alone.

I always like to have a few games to look forward to play during the long winter weekends and Xmas break. In terms of MMOs, I recently updated Wildstar and GW2 for what its worth. There’s also the FFXIV expansion I’d really like to play when I get the time! I used to be a Red Mage in FFXI and was thrilled to hear they finally added the class. Which games are you looking forward to play this fall and early winter season?

100 Episodes!

The Battle Bards podcast is turning 100 episodes old today. What began in March 2013 is still a bi-weekly show of MMO music celebration with Steff, Syp and myself co-hosting and bickering about soundtrack picks. It’s been a lot of fun over the past 4 years and our 100th episode is all about looking back and discussing some of our favorite Battle Bards moments.

Many thanks to all our listeners out there who’ve made this such a enjoyable ride over the years! Everyone sharing and keeping in touch over twitter – I really appreciate it. :) The podcast is a labor of love and we do it as much for the other MMO music fans out there as we do it for ourselves.

Onward to another 100 episodes! I R ready.

Dear Developers, Inventory Management isn’t fun!

Inventory Management isn't fun!One of the biggest, if not the biggest gripe I am having with LOTRO ever since my return, is inventory management. Not only am I squinting at small icons and tooltips in lieu of proper UI scale, the bags in LOTRO are one big mess and the amount of vendor trash is horrifying. There’s the option to assign individual slots to each bag nowadays and auto-order everything but that doesn’t change that you are constantly clearing out stuff and making room while painstakingly selling unwanted knickknacks at an equally terrible vendor window.

I spend enormous amounts of time clearing my bags in LOTRO despite having bought several of the cash shop inventory expansions. Bank and wardrobe space are equally unsatisfying unless you are ready to spend a lot of extra cash. As a VIP subscriber, I find this state of affairs rather unacceptable.

This particular gripe is one we may forgive in older MMOs but they’re absolutely GNARF in newer titles! So imagine my surprise when I learned that both Project Gorgon and upcoming Ashes of Creation have their own ideas about making players micro manage inventory space. For Project Gorgon it’s the general issue of limited bagspace vs. realism (05:30 onward) and for AoC it will be restricted inventory space (02:30 onward) paired with what sounds like pretty cumbersome inventory “escort travel” in order to move goods from one place to the next, BDO style.


After 15 years of MMOing, I do not know a single MMO player who enjoys spending time sorting and moving around inventory; limited storage, tedious micro-management of too many (useless) items and having to move around inventory that’s bound to location, are decidedly unfun activities after a short time. This is not the kind of mini-game I want to spend my precious time on while playing games!

I get that for some titles, there’s the concern of realism playing into such concepts so okay, let’s keep it real: “yay, I get to spend another 30 minutes moving my goods from A to B for the tenth time” – said no MMO player ever! There’s realism to further gameplay satisfaction and there’s completely obsolete and dated MMO mechanics, such as armor decay, vendor trash, local auction houses and yes, inventory micro-management!

Let me have my generous and globally accessible bag and bank space already and spare me the plethora of vendor trash junk when I could just be looting coin or crafting resources, preferably ending up in their designated crafting storage. It’s tragic when we can’t see our special drops and purples anymore in a sea of broken sword hilts, pinewood ash heaps and rabbit hides. This stuff needs to go, folks – free our bag space!

LOTRO 10 Year Anniversary: Community

Roger has a special post up remembering his past 8 years in LOTRO for the game’s currently ongoing 10th anniversary event. I joined LOTRO late in 2013 but I recognize the special nostalgia and fond memories of the early player from my own time with WoW where I was a regular from the US beta up until the beginning of Cataclysm. That is a very long time to be invested in an MMO world. Looking back even as an ex-player of WoW today, there is so much to be thankful for but nothing more important than the people: the social encounters, the friendships and the guilds.


Without community, MMOs are just a very large online world. A beautiful world for sure and one that’s worth exploring but hardly worth sticking around for years and years. More so even that virtual property, I believe the thing that glues us to MMOs are other people – the only truly unscripted thing that shall remain unpredictable forever.

Early MMO camaraderie, as described by Roger, is a special thing that tends to wane as MMOs become more streamlined and well explored. Internet databases have done their share of replacing some of the social interaction and seem to grow ever faster for every new game that gets released. I remember a time in WoW when everyone knew everyone on a server and world chat would buzz with support. That was long ago in WoW and long ago in LOTRO.


Stranger things will happen at 2am in the Prancing Pony…don’t ask

As a recent LOTRO return however, I can say that at least for Laurelin, “the EU RP server”, server channels are still fairly active and friendly. Zone chat is dead for some reason and maybe it was never a thing, but you do generally get advice in world chat. Places like the Prancing Pony are well frequented and always good for a stop to listen to a bard play or take part in shady night time activities. There is also an inexplicable amount of generous and supportive players in general who will whisper you after a noobish question or come meet you to y’know…trade you gear upgrades for no reason or let you copy their cosmetics for the wardrobe. Both has happened to me within 3 days of play.

It seems relatively difficult to find groups for old content however which is something I struggle with in Moria. LOTRO’s dungeon finder seems to be a completely ignored feature by a majority of folk, so I was encouraged to use LFF chat for Grand Stair and Hall of Mirrors. It took the better part of Sunday afternoon just to find 5 other people willing to run HoM twice since that is the required amount of runs to complete the quests there. It was a very friendly and fun group however and I ended up getting invited to their cross-fellowship channel.


Despite some grouping difficulties, just having company out there to chat or listen to and knowing you’re not alone, creates much of my enjoyment in MMOs even when I’m running solo (the other important parts being exploration and world building but you knew that already). Now that I’ve re-subscribed to LOTRO and intend to make up for lost time in Middle-Earth, it was an obvious next step to join a casual but active guild once more. I had been part of a bunch called the Grey Guard in 2013 who were kind enough to accept and not kick me after 3 years of absence, but it’s been very quiet after my return and I’ve felt rather lonely and behind even more so than in 2013. Thankfully, a kind offer by Roger to join his long term kinship has arrived at what seems the perfect time! I am back in the saddle and back among people who still enjoy an MMO they’ve been attached to for years – a warm and familiar feeling.

Returning to LOTRO

I have been AWOL from blogging for a while, due to full-time work and lack of gaming interests this past Q1. Real life is in a state of stress right now as I am taking further education starting May while also losing my temporary contract at the current employer end of this month. What better time to start an expensive management course than entering unemployment? It’s not exactly as I had planned it all out but such is the risk one takes with accepting fixed term contracts. As someone who tends to trust the inevitable turns in her life, I like to say it’s all for the best as I didn’t exactly belong in that industry and felt increasingly lonely in my position. Life is a constant approximation effort between where we are and where we’d like to be. But yeah, job hunting is tiring and I hope I can settle somewhere permanent again soon.


Meanwhile some of my gaming spirits have returned with spring. I picked up the amazing Hollow Knight which Eri justly treats as GOTY material – the game play, atmosphere, combat, art and music are just that good! I’ve also had a stab at Night in the Woods and Osiris: New Dawn, the latter being a very promising up-and-coming space survival sim that already looks and plays great for early access. (I got a copy of that one for free, I learned my EA lessons.)

With gaming being back on the table, what I have really lacked for some time now is an MMO to return to, a casual place to hang, do a few quests and smell the roses. FFXIV has been that for me over the past 2 years but I’ve felt increasingly bored with dungeon running and replacing tier after tier of endgame gear. I like to play FFXIV in intervals these days, catching up on story content after longer periods of time. FFXIV is a beautiful world but it does not have the same “come hang” homey appeal that WoW used to have or LOTRO.


Which brings me to LOTRO, my favorite MMO that I’m not playing: looks like I am back! I always had a score to settle with Moria – that terrible, tedious 40ies level grind that comes before it and did my head in last time I played. After realizing Turbine had left me with over 10k of virtual currency for that extra year of subscription I didn’t use in 2015 and also, some friendly pep-talk by the twitter instigation unit, I’ve returned to Middle-Earth and I’m glad, I did!

After spending the Easter weekend questing in Eregion, I’ve finally conquered the Hollin Gate and entered the hallowed halls of Durin. It seemed easier leveling this time around but maybe it was just my renewed enthusiasm for the game. Middle-Earth has always held a special spell over me and despite all the things that are pretty terrible in LOTRO, from inventory management to combat, the world, music and people have always mattered more. I’ve only been back a few days and already had more friendly encounters and met more silly helpful people on Laurelin than I otherwise would in years.


It’s good to be back. I intend to ignore all the things that made LOTRO so daunting in the past – the endless deeds and crafts and rep grinds. I’ve managed to make some sense of the legendary weapon system at least and am leveling my Anathema+Necronomicon on the Lore Master as we speak. My character is still impressively ugly but apparently the Standing Stones folks still have every intention of updating the character models sometime soon. It’s good to see the new devs having plans for LOTRO and that 10 year anniversary event coming up tomorrow! Looks like the perfect time to re-subscribe if you were ever considering it.


A big shout-out to Ravanel who was kind enough to help me craft some great looking gear for my struggling Lore Master! I finally feel like I have a character I like to stick with for longer.

About Life, MMOs and the Good Old, Bad Times

It is one of the never-ending discussions among MMO veterans: the golden days of MMOing. The glory days of our youth when MMOs were green and so were we. When treasure was rare and special and punishment plentiful and quick. Today, we miss the hardship of the unknown, the unexplored mystery, the dependence on other people. Fond memories of our beginnings and the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia keep the past locked firmly in our mind like a place of legend.


…minus the wardrobe, maybe

If only we could recreate the past. And why can’t we – are we the problem? The games? Our missing fellows? I have once concluded on this blog that the fairest answer to this question is probably “a bit of everything” but also, that there are only so many times that we can fully invest in a new MMO and commit to a new world and community. Witty strips such as “A decade of love and hate” by DLC or Arcade Rage’s “Gamer problems: Then and Now” make painfully obvious that MMOs haven’t objectively gotten worse; they’ve changed in some ways but also really stayed the same and they have certainly become more varied and accessible overall. None of this can explain our personal discontent. No, the answer lies elsewhere.

Chasing that which cannot be preserved

How many times over can you build a virtual life from scratch until it feels like a deja-vu and grind and the fatigue kicks in? How many social bonds can you possibly establish and maintain? I say no more than you could do in real life; there may be one big love for you during your life’s journey, or two or three. For most of us, that is the limit of our capabilities and time too only allows for so many iterations. It is the same with circles of friends or careers – the boldest among us will recreate themselves and their world a few times over during the course of their life but time and energy remain limiting factors.

It is our misconception that MMOs should somehow follow a different rule set. That something as profound and time consuming as virtual life, and WoW was that for many (just to name one possible MMO), should be repeatable over and over and never wane in its glory and impact. But how could that be? The best of things and the most meaningful must all eventually bow to finality.


Looking back, I can say that I’ve had three serious and longterm MMO experiences or “relationships” in my life between age 20 and 35. Maybe five titles altogether have really managed to consume me for a time and make me care about people I met. However every time, it got a bit more difficult; every time I’ve felt my energy resources, my ability to care and my patience for things like ingame appointments and wait times, deplete faster.

“I have done this before – I have been here. Yet it is not the same.”

We cannot recreate our MMO youth any more than we can go back to our teenage years or our twenties. With every decade added to our life, we become more experienced which means we become more critical and picky. The roads become downtrodden and the mysteries familiar. And we have limited resources both internally (energy) as well as externally (time). The games haven’t gotten worse or better, they’ve become different – but we are different, too. And longing for the good old, bad times is merely a product of our bewilderment that life, real and virtual, is constant progress and contradiction: some things change but they also largely stay the same.

That’s why we can love and hate the past all at once, feel relief over progress made but also miss our friends and treasure our memories. (MMO) Life is complex like that.

So have you heard about Ashes of Creation?

One of the greatest things about blogging for a longer period of time is followers coming up to you saying “you’re wrong about that” or “you forgot this”. This is genuinely beneficial and helpful in so many ways even if it ends in heated debates and disagreements sometime. At the best of times, we discover new viewpoints or just new THINGS we never heard of – and new games! So it happened with my last week’s post where I researched upcoming MMOs in 2017-2018 to get excited about. Shortly after, a friendly person on twitter poked me to ask:

Have you heard about Ashes of Creation?

I admit that I hadn’t up to now! I am aware of few titles from the more distant future, like Amazon’s New World, but I missed last December’s news on the big Ashes of Creation reveal and first look video on environments. So it appears there is another big scope classic MMORPG title in the works currently, by former SOE and Daybreak MMORPG developers no less – who knew? After some research, it does not appear that Dave G. is part of the crew however, in case you were wondering!

ashes of creation first look

An Ashes of Creation First Look

Ashes of Creation development started 2016 which means the title is still a long way off and additional crowdfunding via kickstarter is planned to go up at some point. At a first glance, the game aims to follow the classic fantasy MMO formula, doing a little bit of everything with a focus on dynamic world building. This was something promised in EQN and we’ve yet to see a bigger title actually deliver on this front, so color me interested. Another feature that jumps out immediately is Intrepid Studio’s approach to housing which, according to their FAQ, is going to be both open world as well as instanced –

Q: Can I own land?
A: Our land owning system has an integrated personal housing and farming system to allow players to claim land in the open world. This land is the same static size for all players. You may then acquire blueprints for structures to build on that land, such as a home, stables for animal husbandry, crafting stations and more. In addition to open world housing, you will also be able to own homes within a Node itself; these homes will grow as the Node does, from a small cottage to a sprawling mansion! Certain Nodes will also have instanced housing. (source)

While there’s no definite word on the 8 different races and classes as of now, the different info on the housing and node systems make me wonder if there will be full non-combat classes? Many open questions like these are likely to be answered in the coming months and it’s worth checking out MoP’s interview with lead designer Jeffrey Bard as well as MMOGame’s recent interview with founder Steven Sharif for further inside info. From the many provided answers, I definitely prefer the below one from Syp’s interview:

Q: How will this game differentiate itself from everything else that’s out there or that is in the making?

A: Our hook is deeply integrated gameplay. When players first log in, they’re going to see Creation, beaten and broken. Outside of some few outposts of huddled masses, civilization doesn’t exist. It will be up to the players to invest life into the world, and bring villages, towns and cities into being. At the same time, they will need to protect what they’ve built, from the creatures they’ve disturbed in returning civilization to the world, as well as from each other. (source)

ashes of creation first look

It’s the one million question: How is your MMORPG different from those that came before it? Considering how 99% of all MMOs start their player journeys the same way, the above statement is great news! Maybe Ashes of Creation will be the first title to really tell a story from the other end – from a world of destruction and desolation that’s waiting for players to rebuild and heal the land. Too often have we started our journeys in the sheltered lands of Elwynn Forest, Queensdale or The Shire, only to meet our inevitable Mount Doom as endgame progressed. How many times can we stomach traveling from soft greens and golden colors to black, brown and lava red?

To hear a developer say “we’re flipping the coin” is actually pretty exciting! It’s early days but yeah, consider Ashes of Creation added to my list of hopefuls. I guess they need to come up with a new shorthand though, AoC is already taken folks!