Getting back in the saddle

The blog is finally fully updated which took a couple of hours, not least because of SSL certification madness and trying to remember everything that goes into it. The internet has become a very complex place in the past years and self-hosting is its own mini-game. I am glad this site is finally considered ‘secure’ by today’s browser standards. Everything is easier with a little help from your friends.

A new year means different things for different people. I am not big on new year’s resolutions but after 2020, I have been anxious to fix not just the blog but myself. After the last six months especially, I feel like a wreck physically. All the homeoffice work has caught up with me in ways I clearly underestimated. I have all sorts of back issues and developed a mean BDS (thoracic spine syndrome) that can feel like a heart attack when it’s having a field day. Then over the Christmas holidays, the sciatic nerve on my lower back almost immobilized me for several days. I’ve always had bad posture problems but everything has gone bonkers with Covid restrictions. Being indoors a lot more clearly also doesn’t help my overall immune system. Also, I am getting 40 this year and fuck that aging thing.

New desk setup is great!

It’s my own fault really, there’s not much else to it. I have a great desk setup and working space at home but I neglected to account for the overall impact of homeofficing. It wasn’t so bad between March 2020 and July because I was gardening a lot during that time and also getting away to the lakeside during summer. But fall and winter have aged me inordinately and now I’m struggling to establish some sort of routine back to well-being. I’ve never been sporty but now I feel like I am 70 years old (although I have no idea how 70 year olds feel).

Anyway. I recently came across the YT channel by German fitness coach Gabi Fastner and she may be the first who doesn’t annoy me after 5 minutes with some overly enthusiastic antics and pep-talk. She’s got a huge library of great beginner exercises that are easy to do and fun. There’s trainings for all kinds of purposes including fascia-based stretching units which have already helped me quite a bit. Right now the goal is to do a 30min course per day and see how I feel in a few weeks time. There’s really no excuse not to do it as I am working from home full time and can easily do it over lunch break.

The New Year begins with baby steps. Every day where I’m not weighed down by aching nerves in my back, is a good one. I shall report back on this in a few weeks time to review the progress I am making (hopefully)!

2021

Time flies. It’s been three years now that I haven’t mustered the energy or courage to return to this blog. I’d like to think that real life has kept me rather busy, which is true, but the star of MMO gaming has also waned for me these past years as it has for many. The blogroll needs updating as several long standing bloggers have disappeared in the meantime. As I went through the list this morning, my eyes fell on Psychochild’s blog with sadness; I realize his blog is offline now but I do not have the heart to remove the link. I miss his voice in the community, he was one of my oldest blogging buddies.

All the more I rejoice in the fact that quite a few have kept true to their usual busy schedule – Syp, Belghast, Telwyn, Shintar and Wilhelm to name a few. For those who follow the Battle Bards, there have been no breaks or hiatuses since we started in April 2013. That is something I am proud of and Syp has never failed to remind me that my blog awaits. I am glad that my little corner of the internet still stands and that I’ve never made grand gestures of departure.

2020 wasn’t my favorite year for obvious reasons but it’s brought back some introspection and the mind for doing creative things. I even started painting again and of course my absence (some 15 years) from the medium shows. They say creative skill is like a muscle and so I will hang in there and make it a more regular exercise. The same goes for writing of which I am doing a lot more again and it feels good.

So, here’s to a year of more writing, blogging, painting and drawing as well as spending more time outdoors again and hopefully being freed of pandemic scares. Happy New Year to all of you who are still lurking out there in the shadows!

Happy Monty in the snow

WoW Classic: Are you yearning for the good old, bad days?

As revealed during this year’s Blizzcon, WoW Classic is coming summer 2019 and will be part of the regular WoW subscription, with no additional costs to subscribers. An exclusive Blizzcon demo of the game has been released in which players get to either quest in the Barrens or Westfall as a level 15 character, for a limited amount of time. Having followed discussions on the demo and supposed leaked screenshots on youtube and twitter, it really appears Blizzard are going for that mostly unaltered vanilla experience. All the while we must ask ourselves if we are truly ready to return to 2004.

WoW Classic: Are you yearning for the good old, bad days?

Kotaku published a very amusing first impressions post on Classic WoW, aptly titled “The WoW Classic Demo Is The Hell We Asked For“. Already the first paragraph had me laughing and cringing because so much about vanilla WoW is tortured nostalgia to the veteran player, an emotional struggle between yearning for our early days and knowing better. Really, I know I know better – but I also know that there is an undeniable, irrational pull towards Classic WoW. Lord, save me from myself!

I once wrote a rather detailed account on the struggle that was vanilla WoW raiding. I wrote it for myself more than anyone, lest I forget how brutal and time-consuming it truly was. We tend to forget these things, we forget how there wasn’t a guild bank or a keyring or dual specs. The list is endless.

As an MMORPG player with limited amounts of time these days, I am mostly over the grim satisfaction mindset. The virtue of suffering that was a badge of pride in oldschool games, holds no fascination for me. Look, I have done it all, had it all, what could I possibly gain from WoW Classic?

WoW Classic: Are you yearning for the good old, bad days?

Old Westfall with buddies.

But then I also remember why I cannot stomach WoW today and suddenly the notion of an Azeroth without achievements, dps meter min-maxmania and flying mounts sounds very appealing! I would probably hate the graphics but Blizzard are letting players opt-in the new character models, at least (which I think is a wise choice). I can see myself walking down that road from Northshire Abbey once again. I can see myself stop at the Lion’s Pride Inn, wondering if I should go kill Hogger next or murder murlocs at Eastvale Logging Camp while looking for that dead soldier. I’d like to see Stormwind as it once was, a smaller city without harbor. I’d like to hitch a ride on the Deeprun Tram because it’s still faster than flying to Ironforge.

And then, arriving at Ironforge I would undoubtedly make for the auction house which is where it would hit me full force: there is no guild I belong to, no guild spot where we used to hang out, no familiar guild tag hovering under my character’s name. My friends are all gone and there is no Syl, the holy priest, without them.

So I’m thinking if I was to return to Classic WoW, I would probably have to roll a vastly different character with a different name, indeed maybe this would be the time to roll horde. In any case, that’s a big “if”!

Monty is very skeptical of all this WoW business!

Another one bites the dust…but LOTRO has a time machine

Yesterday is history….or is it? It appears we are standing at a fork in the road where the MMO industry is concerned right now. Studios are shut down or sold or both, like Carbine recently and now Trion. At the same time, we got established longtimers like WoW and LOTRO suggesting the future of MMORPGs may really lie in the past. Battle for Azeroth isn’t doing so great but there’s still that Classic WoW to look forward to (maybe). And LOTRO is…well, edging ever closer to the inevitable Mount Doom. Every now and then I amuse myself by imagining LOTRO suddenly getting 10 million subscribers, with the devs frantically trying to prolong the books’ journey even more. There’s room for much hilarity there and dwarven drinking contests. But now it appears there’s another way that has me legit excited: LOTRO Legendary servers were just announced!

“Join us this fall on a Legendary World and make a fresh start with a brand new character; see Tolkien’s bustling realm anew, whether for your first or fiftieth time. Initially, the Legendary World will begin at the very start of the game and run through Angmar, then open new regions and levels over time. Relive the legend: where everyone is here and the story is now.” (lotro.com)

I’ve never gotten over the fact that I wasn’t there for LOTRO’s launch. I was there for FFXI, WoW, Rift, GW2, Wildstar, FFXIV and many others but LOTRO came at a time when I had no time for more games. It is also notoriously not beginner-friendly at all with an overwhelming amount of content and systems to get to grips with as a latecomer.

LOTRO Legendary servers

So the prospect of rerolling on a fresh lvl0-50 server is very enticing. Or it was, until I started writing about it here. Now I remember that I only just arrived at Lothlorien on my Loremaster after years of on-and-off play. I have literally only gotten past Moria (eugh) and reliving the 40-50 grind fills me with cold dread. I wonder if these legendary servers are actually for people like me or not much rather for everyone else who always kept up with content?

This is what blogging does for you – sorting your feelings and thoughts out, killing off bouts of euphoria like a pesky fly. ALAS. I’ll smoke some old Toby and mull over these legendary shenanigans some more!

(P.S. Almost forgot that Monty pic!!!)

best doge

So long, cupcake! It was fun while it lasted

The recent announcement of NCsoft pulling the plug on Wildstar has sent the MMORPG sphere reeling ever since the news broke last Thursday. Veterans of the game have come out of hibernation to voice their disappointment and generally, the tune on social media has been one of regret if not surprise. As so many have stated, it’s particularly sad to see Wildstar go considering all of Carbine’s efforts to save the game over the past two years. From subscription to free to play to ingame tokens, shops and meta-currencies, Carbine kept optimizing their economics to ease new players into their MMO.

But those of us who followed the game and have played it for a reasonable amount of time, know that Wildstar never had the player base so many think it deserved and that was hardly a payment model issue. The numbers just never came until NCsoft dropped the title from quarterly reports in 2017 altogether. The recent player petition to save Wildstar from sunset has only reached 2500 signatures thus far. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t see what a petition could do in Wildstar’s case.

wildstar shutdown

„Wildstar did so many things right, but it lacked players“ is the general consensus and it’s one that does not satisfy. When Gordon Ramsay visits broke restauranteurs in his TV show, they all tell him that their restaurant’s issue is „not enough guests“. He rightfully pulls a face.

Recalling the launch days

Wildstar will go down as the smoothest MMORPG launch ever witnessed in my personal memory. From day one, the servers were stable, quests and grouping worked easily and the leveling process was solid. Players got a tutorial to teach them the basics and the bottomless well that is its famed player housing already unlocked at level 14. It launched with a standard monthly subscription model like WoW’s, it brought the polish, it brought a unique setting and game world, a roster of cool races like the Chua, two factions and decent character creation. There was group content, solo adventures, endgame raiding and the overarching storyline of Drusera and the Strain – really, there is nothing on the standard MMO buffet that Carbine didnt check off the list, while also surpassing rivals in the housing, cosmetics and soundtrack section.

Yet none of that helps to understand why this MMO didnt become a greater success. What I can do however is go back and scan every Wildstar post I wrote on this blog because like other early adopters, I stopped playing Wildstar after the server merges. So here are just a few excerpts I picked from different 2014 posts to give you a general idea:

“After seeing Carbine’s excessive 12-step attunement to raid entry in Wildstar which makes a 100 jailbreaks look decent, I am trying very hard to stay cool and understand what they were thinking and cui bono? […]it’s hard to stay positive when reading through the same old vitriolic forum discussions of “casual versus hardcore” that 12-step attunement infographic has sparked in Wildstar’s early community.” [source]

“There is no hiding in Wildstar’s raids – addons are seriously recommended, cooldowns must be juggled and adjusting your tragically limited actionbar for every encounter is a given. Execution demands a high level of focus because the fights are so mobile.[…]Considering how 40mans must feel in comparison, which are no less unforgivable, it becomes apparent why raiders have been crying out for Carbine to critically consider their endgame.[…]With subscription numbers dwindling and complaints both from the casual and hardcore (see the rest of the Q&A), Carbine cannot afford not to act. New content dumps may appease some non-raiding players but the fact remains that Wildstar endgame is tuned to a difficulty level that not enough people enjoy longterm.”

“Alas, for me the merges can’t come soon enough. Lightspire’s Dominion side has quickly turned into a graveyard, with probably 60% of its active members hosted by my guild and only one single other, competing guild in terms of raiding. The AH is dreadful, with entire subsections entirely empty or then, most likely offering an item or two by guildies (keeps the money in the family!). The costs for much coveted items such as runes amount to a subscription’s worth of platinum, just to get a basic gear set kitted out.” [source]

I gave Wildstar a very serious shot in 2014. I committed to a regular raid guild in order to do 5mans and try the raid content because there was no way in hell to get even that attunement done by yourself pugging. Pugging generally was never a real option – not because there weren’t enough players on day one, but because the dungeons were too frustrating to pug without voice comm levels of coordination and raid-like prep. If dungeons were hard even on “silver” mode, raids were….something else. There were maybe 3 raid guilds total on my server which doesnt make for happy competition. The long and tough attunement seriously affected recruitment efforts.

I consider myself a very experienced raider; I have cleared all of WoW’s classic content with my own guilds when it came out, all the way up to Sartharion 3D and Arthas 25. But when I took a group of my most seasoned WoW buddies to Wildstar’s standard 5man dungeons, lobotomy sounded appealing after hours of unforgiving twitchy telegraph combat. If this is how we felt, you bet others felt worse. And sadly, this never really changed.

How it ends

I don’t want to sound cynical when a game of such quality and promise gets shelved – I think Carbine are one of the greater studios out there and they did some unique things with Wildstar that I wish more people had experienced. Wildstar was often unjustly compared to WoW when it really did its own thing. However, no MMO shuts down because it “didn’t have enough players”.

I have probably spent between 300-400$ on Wildstar counting subs and later buying some ingame currency. But that is hardly the point. MMORPGs that don’t create enough traction within the first 3 months enter a dangerous vicious cycle: core players leave because of low population issues (raiding, economy, queues etc.) and new players won’t join when they hear about “dead servers”. If developers cannot or don’t act before the cycle starts, they are usually doomed.

In the end it’s many things that make MMOs successful, some less tangible than others. As players we are left to speculation and our personal experiences. Wildstar’s idea of group content difficulty remains its most baffling and confused feature to me to this day and it’s why I stopped playing it.

The game looked like fluffy bunnies, destined to appeal to a wide range of average raiders and casual “for the fun” players – yet catered to a hardcore crowd I’m not sure even exists in this segment of mainstream AAA-MMOs. Designing progression and core content for the few rather than the many may work for niche MMOs but otherwise, it is an unaffordable concept, well proven by WoW, FFXIV or GW2. It’s not the vocal minority that pays the bills.

Goodbye Wildstar! I thoroughly enjoyed your humor and whimsy, my wonderful house and Jeff’s soundtrack! To part, here’s my old Wildstar panoramas and of course, obligatory puppy pic!

Games I’ve played (and didn’t hate): King’s Quest

There is a new 2018 resolution on this blog that every new post will include a random Monty picture. I believe this is a fine decision in the public’s interest!

So I announced in my previous post rant that I would be back talking about games I actually enjoyed playing lately. They were moments of brief relief between MMO malaise and Steam anger that impressed me enough to write about it. This is a first such short review with more to come!

King’s Quest 2015

The King’s Quest reboot from 2015 by The Odd Gentlemen is a sight for sore eyes. Oldschool players may recall the old Sierra adventure games, personally I’ve never played them but I am very glad I discovered the reboot. Planned out as a 5-chapter release telling the tales of Graham from his early youth to older years, I have only played the first (and apparently best) chapter thus far which took me about 6 hours total. They were probably the 6 most enjoyable hours I’ve spent in a graphic adventure ever, including several Telltale titles.

King's Quest

King’s Quest

First of all, King’s Quest is absolutely gorgeous with beautifully detailed, handpainted environments, strong warm colors and magical light. The art direction creates the perfect synergy to the whimsical fantasy world the tale is set in – knights, dragons and bridge trolls abound. The voice acting includes such masterful actors as Christopher LLoyd as Graham who is an absolute delight here as he guides the player through the earlier parts of Graham’s life, commenting on funny details and mishaps as you step right into them with a steady dose of punny grandpa humor.

Dialogues are well written, charming, hilarious and do offer a few meaningful choices without being make or break. The order of solving challenges or finding items for puzzles is often random and there’s a no-pressure approach to it all as you can’t critically fail or lose. The first adventure played smoothly on keyboard controls with just a few camera hiccups.

Final verdict: The first chapter of King’s Quest is a graphical and narrative treat that keeps a perfect balance between guided experience and open path exploration. I’ve heard that chapters 2-5 increasingly get worse but even if you do not get a season pass, you can just enjoy the first chapter, which is more of a finished story anyway, for free on Steam zomg! I could not recommend this enough to fans of whimsical fairy tales with great writing, so go get this gem if you haven’t yet!

Everything is Early Access and a broken MMO

Below is a picture of Monty, the greatest doge in the world. He has grown up so fast since we got him in December and he’s the reason I’m getting out a lot more and choose dog cuddles over video games more often than not nowadays –

So yeah, this is a rant with all the usual hyperbolic grumpy trimmings. I am annoyed at gaming and have been for some time. It’s not just that most open world MMORPGs have become convenient and boring and more of the same. Apparently Project Gorgon and Shroud of the Avatar will turn the clock back on some of these things and remind players that shortcuts are the devil (you heard it here, many times before). Or not, it doesn’t matter. Both games look dated and none of them look finished, so it’s another few steps down the ladder of ultimate desperation before I’ll pick up copies.

The situation on Steam is even more ridiculous. As a frequent follower of new Steam releases and discovery queues, I have been appalled at the level of unimaginative half-releases for months. The great, great majority of titles in my queues or on my follow and wish lists are early access. If I disable the EA tag in my search, I end up with even worse than when I keep it. And 40% of what’s actually releasing reads “Here is our open world voxel-based crafting simulation and survival game!” and every iteration thereof, sometimes it’s on Mars or on a desolate island. Hooray.

After months and months of previews Kingdom Come: Deliverance finally launched in February and I haven’t bothered picking it up. The game is plagued by the usual launch maladies and bugs that we’ve come to accept in 2010+ and there’s no way in hell I’m paying full 60$ price for a broken deal. Sea of Thieves has been hyped to no end pre-release for being that super exciting Pirate MMO but just like ARK, Conan Exiles and Destiny 2 (I want my money back!) before it, it turns out to be empty promises, shamefully missing content and broken co-op features. The next big thing? More like landslides on the erosion of trust.

Game releases used to be fun – they used to be full releases of finished games. Now everything is a premature MMO and players are juggling different categories of disappointment from “needed another 3 months” and “holy hell, how is this not still beta?” to “they’ll fix it next month…..or so” and “yeah, should’ve left it”. The PC market is clearly leading on this issue which is why consoles have re-established themselves so well, getting away with exclusive titles all the time. None of this is my idea of gaming in 2018. Also I’m getting sick of hearing about Fortnite and Twitch streamers.

Anyway – I’ll be back talking about the few, short games I’ve actually enjoyed playing lately. They weren’t MMOs!

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!