Category Archives: Art

For National Poetry Day: To Steam

To Steam

“When in disgrace with gaming and press hypes,
I all alone peruse thy endless list of tags
And trouble aging friends with early access gripes
And look upon my log and curse my slack,
Wishing me back to days of simpler choice,
Of fewer desires and more fulfilling quests,
Desiring this game’s art and that game’s poise,
With what I most enjoy presented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
I ponder rows of boxes, broken dreams
Acquired dearly (with no hopes arising
For fixes or for more connected means).
– Such sweet, convenient comforts well recalled
I loathe to change my state for days of old!”

(Based on Sonnet #29.)

FFXIV “High Adventure III” and Fairytales [#Blaugust 7]

Am kinda loving #blaugust this far and at some point I will have to blog about that. If you’re currently in need for more topics, check out the prompts on Anook and the blaugust AMA thread!

It’s handy to have a screenshot series going during events such as blaugust and while these don’t tend to spark discussion, I hope someone is enjoying them. The whole idea behind High Adventure is that I pick my favorite FFXIV screenshots from Heavensward and then tweak them to look like they came out of a picture book or children’s tale. I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I grew up with a lot of stories – fairytales, folklore, mythology, you name it. They were and are an important part of who I am and some defining choices I’ve made along the way.

If you live in my hood of central Europe, the Grimm’s Tales are every child’s standard source and early inspiration as far as the classics go. There are the cautionary adventures of Wilhelm Busch’s Max&Moritz and of course Hans Christian Andersen’s work – melancholic father of the Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling or the Snow Queen. When you read the original texts of his more popular tales, you realize how they are way more heart-breaking than their mainstream adaptions and there’s rarely a happy ending. Already as a young child, I was profoundly moved by the difficult emotions therein.

At some point I dove into a collection of greek myths and from age 12, latin and everything about Roman society (who have basically adopted Greek mythology) became part of my school curriculum. I went from Hercules to Thor and Siegfried with some Sindbad in the mix. Mythology is pretty gruesome stuff actually but nothing ever scared me more than this guy, so as far as I was concerned the eagle eating Prometheus’ liver, every day, was okay.

Considering this path and my big audiobook collection of illustrated international children’s tales by grandpa, it made perfect sense that I ended up reading D&D-based fantasy novels and Tolkien as a teenager. I remember my enchantment by Larry Elmore’s cover on the first edition of Dragon’s of Autumn Twilight, which I am keeping on my shelf to this day. I own illustrated versions of most of my favorite books and stories, if such a thing is available and I completely freak out if one of them is missing. There’s a story about a certain nervous breakdown that shall remain untold.

I will continue this topic next time around to talk about some of my favorite book illustrators, new and old. My third screenshot from FFXIV was taken in Aziz’la and this time I went for a more ink&spatter feel –


Riding the skies.

Happy Friday everyone and keep that blaugust spirit up!

The big NBI Poetry Slam round-up: It’s Magic!

The month of May has come and gone, fraught with MMO news, more and less happy launches and controversial interviews depending on where you focused your attention. Some players are coming to terms with the status quo of The Elder Scrolls Online while others have spent that time exploring the beginnings of ArchAge or getting hyped for Wildstar, newest kid on the block. Others yet have come to the conclusion that they probably won’t be ordering Warlords of Draenor after all.

This busy month of May was also dedicated to the third Newbie Blogger Initiative of the MMO blogosphere and many bloggers, new and old, have rallied to Doone’s call once more, running events or contributing in other excellent ways.

It so happens that MMO blogging is here to stay; 47 newbie bloggers have signed up this year so take a moment to compare your blogroll against this list here!

The big NBI Poetry Slam round-up

The second MMO poetry slam came with a topic dear to our hearts: magic. The magic of a perfect moment, the magical lands we travel in MMOs, the power of magic that runs through a caster’s veins. As colorful and diverse as the theme, as varied and inspiring were the responses from the blogosphere. A stunning total of 16 bloggers rose to the challenge, sharing their beautiful prose, classy rhymes or not-so-serious limericks. Without further ado, let me share this year’s MMO poets in no particular order:

I want to thank each and all contributors for their amazing work and courage to test the creative waters of MMO blogging, as well as everyone who has supported this merry little event in other ways. You are what makes our little niche community this lively and engaging place full of interaction and exchange for me. I apologize in advance if I have missed anyone’s poetry entry – please let me know per mail or via comments so I can still add you to the list!

With that, I almost want to wish everyone a sunny, lyrical start of June and beginning of summer! There’s just one more thing I need to do.

Last but hopefully not least: My Poetry Slam entry

The reason why I chose the topic of magic for this year’s NBI was partly a selfish one: for a while now I have stared at my favorite MMO screenshots on my desktop wallpaper and mused on how to approach them best in verse. I always play casters or healers in MMOs which is a big part of their fascination for me. There is beauty in magic, power and mystery and so it’s no wonder maybe that some of the best screenshots I ever took (and I have taken so many) display magic in progress. And thus, in the spirit of rather late than never, I share my own humble NBI poem with you.

The Magic that I work

The magic that I work
it knows no name;
it is a gift of light,
a child of flame.

The magic that I call
is mine by right;
it is a beacon
in the depths of night.

The magic that I wield
is born of rage;
it is a token
of a fading age.

The magic that I weave
it guards my own;
it is a servant
to my will alone.

Wildstar Panoramania

As a passionate screenshots taker in MMOs, I love the first few weeks when that folder is swelling on my hard drive because there are so many things to see and love. Back in August 2012 I did a series of GW2 panorama pictures and now that Wildstar is finally out of its beta-overlay phase, I had another shot at some of my favorite vistas in the game so far. I used to eye Wildstar’s cartoony graphics with worry but having seen the game live now, I am a sucker for the whimsical aesthetic and detail of the Nexus which outdo other cartoony titles by far.

All panorama pictures were created by myself and photoshop (I insist on not spoiling these by slapping on a fat mmogypsy banner or something). You can click individual images for a full-HD version. Enjoy! (as always all screenshots are best enjoyed while listening to Louis Armstrong!)

Sylvan Glade


Whitevale (my favorite zone!)



Farside (new!)

MMO Dragons through the Ages – Fantastic Creatures, Formidable Foes


D&D cover by L. Elmore

Dragons. Formidable beasts of fantasy and wonder. The stuff of nightmare in many a heroic story of folklore, mythology and children’s tales. Most beloved foe of the high fantasy genre be it in movies, books or video games. Where would our MMOs be without dragons? Who doesn’t love dragons?

From an early age I was fascinated with draco, also known as dragon, drake, sometimes wyvern or lindworm. I was a child of fairy tales and the big bad wolf aside, which mostly just scared me, dragons were the most fascinating and exotic creatures that would inspire my wild dreams like none other. I remember a particular story in my vast audio&textbook collection about a green dragon and a knight; the pictures of the ferocious beast gave me such nightmares that my mother glued a blank opaque paper over the pages so I could follow the story without seeing the dragon. Bless our early beginnings.

Remember with your heart. Go back, go back and go back. The skies of this world were always meant to have dragons. When they are not here, humans miss them. Some never think of them, of course. But some children, from the time they are small, they look up at the blue summer sky and watch for something that never comes. Because they know. Something that was supposed to be there faded and vanished. Something that we must bring back, you and I. (Robin Hobb, Golden Fool)

White Dragon Sleet(Elm)

Dragons of Winter Night by L. Elmore

Later I discovered the dragons of D&D and in particular, the Dragonlance; that’s when I irrevocably fell for this genre, absorbed in pages full of colorful illustrations by Elmore, Parkinson, Caldwell and Easley. My first artbook was a Larry Elmore limited edition which me and my best friend ordered on that novelty called the internet. I remember sending Larry a short thank-you email for the exclusive sketch he had done in each of our books, adding this well-wish: “may there always be dragons soaring across your sky”. I imagine he can see them whenever he closes his eyes or how could he possibly illustrate them in such stunning detail?

…the Dragon is the Patron Saint of all storytellers and artists and his likeness has adorned canvases and stone and has been forged in every precious metal. (Guillermo del Toro)

The Dragonlance Chronicles also opened a new, more modern perspective on dragons for me: dragons that are more than mere alien beasts and forces of nature. Dragons that have a face, that are scheming and cunning creatures of magic (sometimes shapeshifters like Silvara whose name I’ve adopted). Dragons that can choose different allegiances – good or neutral as much as evil. I love when dragons get to be real characters in stories and not just the ultimate yet dumb antagonist for the glorious dragon slayer. When a dragon ends up being little more than a T-Rex, that’s what I like to call narrative mistreatment, a lost opportunity. As far as morphology goes, it is interesting to note that historically there’s a distinction between European and Asian dragon tradition, with European dragon imagery being the predominant representation still in our western culture (with legs, wings or the ability to breathe fire) as opposed to the more snake-like Asian dragon (also naga).

MMO Dragons through the Ages

With the amount of dragon imagery and tradition out there, it’s no surprise that fantasy MMORPGs too capitalize frequently on our fascination with the winged, fire-breathing reptiles. I’ll come forth and say that I never ever tire of dragon encounters in MMOs; give me Blackwing Lair, Onyxia and the Dragon Aspects any day of the week! My favorite boss encounter of all time will probably always be Lord Victor Nefarius aka Nefarian which in my humble opinion, was a way more fascinating figure than Deathwing.

WoW is a game that loves to flaunt its dragons and “dragonkin” as foes but also mounts or pets. GW2 features the most breathtaking dragons for me as far as sheer size and dramatic entries go, so while ANet failed to make Zhaitan and Co. a particularly interesting bunch, the Shatterer or Claw of Jormag encounters will always hold a special place in my heart. Who would not feel awe and terror facing this? –


Descent of the Shatterer (

Musing on dragon history and my favorite encounters in MMOs, lead me to a full-scale investigation of MMORPG dragons of the past, present and future. As far as popular mainstream titles go, there’s not a single game that didn’t feature draconic foes at some point or other – or is there? Anyway, let’s look at my quick and selective chronology of MMO dragons (you can find the full-size wallpaper of the image here):


While we’ve come such a long way graphically since the dragons of UO and Everquest, today’s MMO dragons have the same effect on players and still follow the same narrow design template. AION probably holds the trophy for the most beautiful and lavish dragon design. If I had to try and tackle the beast, put into words what still makes dragons so appealing to lovers of the genre, I’d call it a mixture – the fear of the unknown and supernatural as much as a fascination with the majesty, power and wisdom of a sentient being that shares traits with familiar animals. More than any other fantastic creature, dragons embody the virtues of a magical world beyond our wardrobe and maybe our longing thereof. Or as this article concludes beautifully, quoting a Tolkien essay:

Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded… The dragon had the trade-mark of Faerie written plain upon him. In whatever world he had his being it was an Other-world. Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie. I desired dragons with a profound desire… the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. [JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories]

That is the gift of dragon-sight; the purpose of the dragon quest. Dragons embody the beauty and the peril of an “other world” that is “richer and more beautiful” and full of strange and marvelous things.

I look forward to meeting more MMO dragons in the future. I’m not sure about Wildstar but it’s probably safe to say we’ll see more of them in Everquest Next, Elder Scrolls Online and certainly WoW. What are your favorite dragons in MMOs? And is there anyone who’s tired of all the dragons? I can’t imagine my virtual worlds without them.

Tunes of Magic VII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2013

With Xmas almost here, I have one more promise to fulfill which is celebrating a year of beautiful soundtracks. 2013 has brought me many a new tune to delight in and of course as Battle Bard, it is my sacred duty to share rather than keep them all to myself.

While we are all listing across the blogosphere, I officially dedicate this post to happy #listmas – a fun blogger initiative started by Murf vs. Internet bringing all the blogosphere lists together over the holidays. There is still time to join for that!

Videogame Soundtracks of the Year

I will add that not all of these games were released in 2013 and at least one of them is actually still in the future(!) Some have had their soundtracks released later or then they have come to me late. My year of videogame music is therefore truly my year although there are mostly 2013 releases among them.

1. Dust – An Elysian Tail (2013)
My GOTYs tend to be games that also come with a brilliant soundtrack. Dust AET is such a title and there are no VGM aficionados who haven’t shed a tear over the beautiful music created by Hyperduck Soundworks this year. My favorite tracks are Falana and Cirromon Caverns.

2. Don’t Starve (2013)
Another GOTY, Don’t Starve’s soundtrack echoes every bit the quirky, playful and creepy “Nightmare before Christmas”-style of the game. This OST by Vince de Vera and Jason Garner is a lot of fun and despite its generally shorter tracks, not to be missed. My favorites are the Main Title and Work To Be Done.

3. World of Goo (2008)
WoG is a special little game with a spooky and magical soundtrack, that opens the door to childhood memories such as Beetlejuice or King Arthur for me. The best part? The complete OST has been made available for free by composer Kyle Gabler so what are you waiting for? Personal favorites: Rain Rain Windy Windy and Are You Coming Home, Love Mom.

4. The Legend of Zelda – A Link between Worlds (2013)
Possibly my favorite game on the 3DS, ALBW comes with a splendid soundtrack full of familiar Zelda cues. My favorite tracks include Dark Palace Maze, Swamp Palace, Lorule Castle and the good old acid flashback that is the Lost Woods.

5. Animal Crossing New Leaf (2013)
The second best handheld title I played this year, it was lovely to dive back into the world of Animal Crossing with New Leaf. This franchise is loaded with a unique charm and quirkiness, accompanied by a wonderfully diverse soundtrack. Every hour of the day plays a different tune in animal town, so I have too many favorites to count (although I am partial to 7PM, 11PM and the Main Streets) . Check them out for yourself!

6. Phoenix Wright – Dual Destinies (2013)
Ambivalent about some of the characters and dialogue in DD, the game has produced many memorable and high tension tracks such as Announce the Truth, Logic Trinity, Last Promotion, Cross Examination and Court Begins. Fans of the typical Japanese anime flavor will love this.

7. Professor Layton – Miracle Mask (2012)
Although the Azran Legacy has only come out this November, I love the more haunting tracks from its predecessor, Miracle Mask; Puzzles Abound and Illusion are definitely among my top sparkly tunes of the year!

8.  Final Fantasy – A Realm Reborn (2013)
Moving away from indie games and handheld titles, FF:ARR delivered some of the most beautiful music as far as MMO releases go in 2013. While the game wasn’t quite reborn for me personally, I will listen to beautiful tracks such as Ul’dah at Night or Sacred Bonds for a long time to come. Now if only SE added the ARR-OST to their store.

9. Wildstar (2014)
While the Battle Bards have already paid homage to Wildstar and Jeff Kurtenacker this year, we have no doubt much to look forward to as far as its complete OST release is concerned. WS is all about thematic fusion and I especially love the Character Customization or Highland Vista themes.

10. Lime Odyssey (unreleased?)
A lesser known MMO title that cannot quite make it to launch, my thanks go to @Soltanis for providing me with a link to the music of Lime Odyssey by legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross). It’s a sad thing when great soundtracks are tied to unfortunate launches, never making it to a wider audience. Tracks such as Bluecoral Town and many of the beautifully uplifting BGMs deserve to be heard by a wider audience.

11. DOTA 2 (2013)
Not surprisingly, DOTA 2 has some glorious and epic music composed by none less than Jason Hayes, former lead composer for WoW and WCIII, as well as Tim Larkin (Portal). There is much to love here despite shorter length . My favorite tracks would be Laning 1 (and many tracks of a similar name), World Map and many a Main Menu theme.

12. Various Bits & Bobs
Some OSTs don’t warrant purchasing the entire album but leave a mark in our memory nonetheless, thanks to an outstanding title or two. For completeness sake, I’ll mention them here in no particular order, in case you’d like to browse further from there:

13. Lucky number thirteen: Chrono Trigger Symphony
Saving the best for last, my special bonus recommendation for you are both albums of the amazing Chrono Trigger Symphony by Blake Robinson’s Synthetic Orchestra. Die-hard CT fan or not, there is not much that comes close in terms of quality and stellar orchestration in the world of VG OSTs. A third album is in the works – until then, you have Yearnings of the Wind, The Trial , Frog’s Theme and sooooo many more to keep you company. Do not miss this!


With that, I really hope I included my most important picks for 2013 in this post. I’ve a feeling I forgot something but hey, it’s a start right? I included links to official distribution pages in the titles where I know them but you will still need to browse youtube here and there to find out more. Videogame OSTs do still not receive the attention they deserve from some publishers or even developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase the soundtrack and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) onboard as possible. Here’s to another great year of VG music and hopefully much goodness to share in 2014! Happy Holidays all!

NBI Poetry Slam Round-up

This October’s NBI has come and gone in the blink of an eye, for me anyway, and I’m happy to see that Doone and Roger’s effort has resulted in at least 24 new blogosphere neighbours putting their names on the map. I’m still going through that list on the forum and I wish everyone much joy with blogging in the future and of course a very warm welcome!

It’s been an interesting month of not only new names but great sponsor contributions, veteran advice and of course the talk back challenges which I greatly enjoyed (we should do this more often!). And then there was the Poetry Slam event which I am happy to say, was answered by a fair group of both seasoned poets and explorers alike, pushing forward and creating most delightful pieces of art in the process. I had a ton of fun reading these and would personally like to thank all of you who gave this merry little event a shot – you rock! Without much further ado, let me share this year’s NBI Poetry Slam participants:

Thanks everyone for their support, those contributing or just spreading the word. Apologies if I missed anybody – if your contribution is not among the links above, please let me know via comments! hand01

That was it for this year’s NBI Poetry Slam folks, although that’s not to say the rhyming and contriving should stop there. Long live MMO poetry and a happy Sunday everybody!

Tunes of Magic VI: Jester Tunes


Art by Anry

Those who are following the Battle Bards podcast will have heard me mentioning my love for “jester tunes” several times now – a term I use to describe an intriguing subset of melodic tracks within the more spooky, playful and magical box of videogame music. While it’s almost impossible to verbalize this theme accurately, and listening to a few tracks is clearly the best way to go, I’ll make an attempt anyway at describing jester tunes and why I am so fascinated by them in particular.

Depending on whether one studies the character of the jester from a more historical or fictional viewpoint, portrayals will range from what the Royal Shakespeare Company (see also on Wikipedia) calls the “natural fool” (abuse of physically or mentally disabled men for public sport) to the “licensed” fool who was invited by nobles and kept at royal courts where he was granted free speech by decree. I say “kept” because royal fools were basically property and while they served the function of a political and social critic, sometimes acting as the people’s voice, they lived in constant danger of giving too much offense and being physically abused. To romanticize the status of jesters in either contexts would be wrong and there are those who question whether they ever indeed held positions of much importance.

The fictional, much merrier jester we know best from stories on the other hand, is a creature of many colors: a sharp-tongued trickster, a singer and teller of tales, an acrobat and performer flamboyantly clad in the brightly colored uniform of his trade – the motley. An enigmatic, almost uncanny air surrounds jesters in many a tale, where one can never be quite sure of a character so shrill and free, so unpredictable and hence mysterious. Not surprisingly some developers (see Kefka for an example in videogames), authors and movie directors have expanded on this image and turned the fool (or clown, or joker) into the stuff of nightmares: a many-faced, fearsome and demonized character. Nothing is quite as spooky as a killer with a smiling face and make-up.

I love the duality and ambivalence of jester figures that stop being a real person and much rather become creatures of legend and myth. A daredevil persona with the potential to serve both very selfish or altruistic goals, to speak scandalous truth delivered with an innocent face, unmasking evil or acting as its messenger. Fools personify chaos which is why they remain forever unmeasurable and scary. That said, I like my jesters to remain on the more harmless, non-killer side of things!

Jester tunes convey all that foolish complexity: a playfulness and frivolity combined with spooky undertones, a characteristic use of disharmonious elements adding special flavor and chaos to the music. In short: I’m having a ton of fun with these tracks, I can never quite get enough of them! I hope you enjoy!

Art by Crazywulf


“The Jester enters the stage, in gold and purple motley, swinging a scepter…”

  1. Chrono Trigger – Kingdom Trial
  2. FF6 – Kefka’s Theme (remastered)
  3. FF7 – It’s difficult to stand on both feet, isn’t it?
  4. FFXI Online – Sometime, Somewhere
  5. Guild Wars 2 – Halloween
  6. Fable 2 – Old Town


The quintessential indispensable guide to successful blogging (and cheeseballs)

In case you’re wondering what’s up with my publishing speed of late, I am finally off work! Yes, that evil work from hell and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am back open road, my old friend! Just this Monday I got an SMS from my successor and she is telling me that she intends to resign this week (after a mere two weeks in a company I stayed at for 8 months) and that the other new gal (who replaced everyone else of my team who have also resigned with me) already resigned last Friday. Ahahaha! If only I could shed a tear for my former bosses but sometimes karma hits the right people.

Anyway, I noticed that I have been entirely too unserious with my blogging of late, so today I intend to fix this by giving quintessential blogging advice after receiving an email from Sam, a silent longterm reader who approached me about how to best establish a successful blogging venture. Now, back in the days I would’ve felt horribly unqualified to answer such a question and just have redirected him over to Larisa, who always offered the best of counsel mixed with some genuine, motherly peptalk. Truth be told, I still feel rather awkward to share my “wisdom” on something I still consider trivial at its core (not the art of great writing mind) but then again, I have been a steady blogger for 2.5 years now with 300ish posts published – so why the hell not?

Of course, the internet is full of serious blogging advice by very experienced individuals. These days you can hardly get a word out before being confronted with “becoming a great blogger” and all the fatal “do’s and donts” of publishing – and rightly so! After all, this is the new journalism and we need to imitate that crowd. So, I can definitely see why some people are intimidated to start their own blog, no matter how long they’ve toyed with the idea. For those, let me guide you on your road to guaranteed successfullness.

The lofty art of SRS blogging

Dear Sam and everyone else it concerns,
I hate saying it but while blogging ain’t rocket science, you gotta know your stuff these days. You wanna stand out among one billion gazillion bloggers out there, don’t ya? Well, you better follow this guide meticulously. It really isn’t so hard (or scary) if you follow few easy steps!

Rule #1: Be overbearingly present!
If you intend to start your own blog, you better know that it’s not enough to write good articles regularly. Make sure to also get accounts on facebook, myspace, google plus, twitter, tumblr and youtube right away – the more, the better. NETWORKING NETWORKING NETWORKING! If you wanna up your traffic, your presence gotta be inescapable!

Rule #2: Nomen est omen!
Naming your blog is serious business. Further down the line to fame and success, you might hate yourself for not having given this proper thought and then it’s too late! Think hard on something fresh and catchy that represents you and sticks with people, or don’t open a blog at all. Ever. 
Good example: a geeky/techie wordplay on your name and chosen subject.
Bad example: completely unrelated monkey business.

Rule #3: Limit your subject and be real!
The worst you can do to establish a big readership fast and harvest hits, is to write about too wide a field of topics. You want to be known for something, right? Even if you are a really interesting person with many different interests, try to focus and deliver one thing only. Also, avoid niche topics and meta analysis. Nobody wants to read a meta commentary blog on MMORPG design, for example. Trust me.

Rule #4: Guides guides guides!
The best you can do to keep’em hits rollin’ is writing guides. Might sound dry and boring to you, but nothing gets you street cred and longterm visits like a nice and detailed guide with pictures. Great writing and insightful debates are cool and all but….guides dude, guides!

Rule #5: Use catchy post titles!
You probably know how the google search engine works, so you want to make sure when people are looking for something they always end up on your blog! Intention means nothing but every hit counts! Try and make your post titles as search engine catchy as you possibly can. Add meta tags and work broad terminology into the mix! If you manage to weave “cheeseballs” coherently into any given post title, you basically got it down. Ninja!

Rule #6: Sound smarter than you are!
Make any given topic sound like an academic treatise. The art of spicing up the mundane lies in correct placement of a few superfluous but trendy or intellectual sounding catchwords the average reader probably won’t understand. Popular words include: “dichotomy, paradigm (shift), per se, oeuvre, juxtaposition” etc. Jep, any of those will do. Or better even, use them all!

Rule #7: Don’t swear!
You may never ever swear or sink to vulgarity in an article. Even if it’s really witty and in context, or alternatively just damn funny and honest, you do not want to alienate anyone by using bad words on your blog. Only unprofessional and shady people swear. In general, avoid being too extreme with your opinions; you don’t want to polarize – to polarize is to lose half of a potential audience. People only like strong opinions as long as they are theirs.

I will stop here because seven is a beautiful number. Also, these are really the most valuable points I can possibly pass on to rookie bloggers – points I live by myself every day. I hope I’ve managed to show that there’s nothing to worry about whatsoever as long as you heed a few simple, widely approved rules. If not, I’m afraid to say your blog’s gonna crash and burn and sink into oblivion.

Also, for Sam – please check my other answer in your inbox!
Best wishes,

(who is entirely guilty of using ‘per se’ when others aren’t looking. The Big Yin would not approve.)

World of Shameless Magic

Most MMO players would probably agree the best MMOs they ever played during their gaming career had the full “package”; that ominous word all of us understand and nobody can explain (well). MMOs are different from other games not just due to aspects like character identification, development or longterm dedication – they’re also virtual worlds and simulations, which means above all they need a coherent theme and setting, they need a past, present and future which are also realized through narrative. That doesn’t even brush the pandora’s box that is gameplay yet. When Angry Joe claims the most important aspect of any game is gameplay, he is probably right – but for that to even matter MMOs especially need to best so many hurdles first and do so many things right in terms of package, it’s unreal. Frankly, it is a miracle there’s even a handful of MMOs out there right now that people love and keep playing for years!

I think theme is one of those things that gets overlooked or at least underestimated in some MMO debates. When Tobold talks about how innovation is “not enough”, I fully agree with him – just like I agree with Kemwer that it’s no MMO player’s “duty” to support (= pay for) games he doesn’t actually enjoy, just to make a statement pro innovation. That is a ludicrous (and risky) idea; why would I support something that doesn’t even appeal to me personally? Whenever I refer to the refreshing aspects of GW2 for example and all the ways it’s innovative, I am actually talking about innovations I enjoy. Innovations that to me are worth supporting, to drive the genre forward. First and foremost though, I am looking to play good games – innovation is a bonus and (just) a part of that whole MMO package. Or in other words, as commented in Kemwer’s thread (and edited for typos ahem) –

“If there’s a thing we know about suc­cess­ful MMOs then it’s that they need to have the full pack­age; pol­ish and a wide appeal. only THEN can we also start talk­ing about inno­va­tion, the way WoW took a con­cept and improved on it — and the way GW2 does too. but for that to even be appre­ci­ated by a wider audi­ence, they need to do an awful lot of things right first. and they actu­ally need to know which things must NOT be inno­vated on in order not to alien­ate your audi­ence entirely! it’s a very tricky line to thread.”

So…what role does overall theme/setting actually play in package? While Tobold dismissed this aspect rather quickly by making fun of “don’t bother innovating too much or giving us anything other than swords, elves and dragons”, I think that point in particular warrants further thought. Can we really dismiss that TSW serves the more niche horror or “goth” theme in regards to its current playerbase troubles? I say no. At the very least it plays an equal role as other popular concerns, such as the gameplay formula, looks or lack of polish…in fact, I would go further than that.

The unlimited fantasy formula

If we turn back the clock to consider all MMOs that there went ever since Ultima Online, the common denominator of almost every game with wide appeal is fantasy setting. A world of classic sword & sorcery – a world of magic. Yes, I know about City of Heroes, Fallen Earth or Eve Online; I would argue that superheroes are awfully close to mages and paladins though and that to some extent fallout and sci-fi themes still share many aspects of fantastic journeys. That said, Eve is the only MMO of the non-fantasy lot that can claim anything resembling “wide appeal”. On the other side stand MMO giant WoW, Rift, Aion and Guild Wars – and a not inconsiderable amount of players invested in anything between LotRO to DDO to the FFs. There is plenty to choose from in fantasy games!

Why is that though? Are developers just scared to seriously attempt non-fantasy MMOs since y’know, “UO and EQ started it all and let’s not risk it” – or is it the absence of players in games like CoH or Fallen Earth confirming what most of them suspected all along? And if the majority of the MMO playerbase indeed wants fantasy settings – is there any point / need in going for different?

There are several reasons why I think the classic fantasy formula works so well and why it IS risky to attempt innovation in this particular corner. MMOs are already a niche to begin with, so any developer would need to consider if breaking down that audience further is actually the sensible thing to do. Especially if you cannot also provide a very polished package. But let’s look at some pro fantasy points:

1. Not just “elves and dragons”
To state that fantasy is basically limitless is well duuhhh…but the fantasy genre is actually huge and almost all MMOs borrow from a much wider palette than just sword&sorcery tradition. Fantasy encompasses everything from fairytales to folklore, mythology, medieval history (Age of Conan is a fantasy MMO that actually keeps a focus on the world of humans), ghost stories, steampunk….you name it. Strictly speaking everything that isn’t a reality simulation could be included, certainly science fiction and horror do too. However, let’s stay on the more romantic and magical side of things for now and consider that scope alone. It’s vast – and unlike creating a “pirate MMO” or “zombie MMO”, it isn’t nearly as thematically restricted. There is diversity enough to actually create an entire world out of it, a world with a past, present and future that players like to explore and dwell in for longer. Which brings me to point 2.

2. Where would you rather build your home?
Whether the game literally allows you to or not, MMOs are about building a second home for yourself / your character – or that’s how it used to be. Despite some doomsaying concerning “casual MMOs” in this context, I believe an awful lot of MMO players are still looking for that immersive experience, that virtual world they consider a home – or at least a cosy and familiar place to return to, to relax and unwind. Developers certainly want to create this appeal in order to keep a longterm playerbase around. So, let’s put this to the test: all MMO players who feel like pitching tent longterm in one of the following sceneries, please raise your hands –

(Click image to enlarge)

…No? I thought so.
Yeah, I’m being intentionally dramatic with these image choices; yet, TSW is certainly no charming, frivolous or particularly relaxing world. In fact there’s a lot of grimdark to be found and just how much of that will you serve yourself with the frequency MMOs are “supposed” to be played? It was really a comment by Bhagpuss that drove this point home for me:

We cancelled both out TSW accounts yesterday[…] In both “reasons for leaving” forms we included the unremittingly bleak, depressing settings and subject matter. There’s nowhere near enough conspiracy and far too much horror. It was sold as “everything is true” but it turned out to be “everything is much worse than you ever imagined”.

I love the quality of the writing and the wonderful detail and art direction and I don’t actively dislike the setting, but all horror all the time is just wearing and not much fun in the long run. Needs a lot more light to go with all that shade.”

Dark and gritty themes work well for single, shorter session gameplay; it’s why zombie shooters are popular or taking in that one hour fright dosage in Amnesia. In fact horror games can be a lot of fun like that. But to dwell in such an atmosphere all the time? No thanks!

3) Kicking magic ass is awesome
Not much to explain here; humanity has been obsessed with and certainly entertained by the idea of inexplicable magical forces, abilities and powers since forever. Marvel superhero or fire spec mage – we love to dream of otherworldly powers (rather than just physics and mundane technology), committing heroic deeds and conquering vicious foes with our sword of awesomeness. Or else what’s the goddamn point??

4) Fantasy Fans, Geeks, Gamers
There is a very fluent line between people calling themselves geeks, fantasy fans and gamers in that demography I personally familiarize with. I would take all such labels with a pinch of salt but it’s no big revelation than many MMO players are also fantasy fans who read fantasy books, collect artbooks or love fantasy movies. My personal experience proves that many (not all) of them do – and if you ever run a forum poll on “which one of you has seen the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy more than once…extended?”, I predict the outcome would be exponentially higher in an MMO forum than let’s say a FPS or errr…tennis forum. Just sayin’. Players impact on genre and genre impacts on players.

…All in all rather strong arguments pro fantasy setting in MMOs. Even if it weren’t any of the above though, there still gotta be some very good other reasons why developers think the fantasy formula so safe. “It’s just lazyness” is insufficient an explanation. There’s an obvious, assumed risk so one must ask about its origins. Why do not more developers bother to go all out and create a polished, full package, non-fantasy MMO? Speculations welcome.

The fantasy in Guild Wars 2

To end on a GW2 note and live up to my current tune, Spinks recently reported how “it’s been awhile since I played a fantasy game that wasn’t afraid to be magical.” This didn’t occur to me at first, so dazzling and colorful, warm and welcoming are the vistas and general atmosphere of Tyria. The world is so soaked in magic that you take it for granted and while it’s not all srs bzns, it doesn’t compromise and relent on that point.

Tyria is the kind of world where I can go to be a magical hero. It’s the kind of world where I want to build myself a home under that old yew tree, next to a murmuring river bend. A place to rest this adventurer’s tired old bones for a good while. A place that never gets old.

Myself  shamelessly magical in GW2