Naming, Roses and Earthsea

It doesn’t look like I’ll ever get around to writing up all of the notes I took on Star Wars: The Old Republic, even though it’s way late for a review anyway. I’ve cancelled my subscription and even though it doesn’t expire until August, I doubt I’ll bother logging in because my character died.

So he’s not technically dead, as in deleted or lost, but I lost both my character’s name and legacy name in the recent server merges (because let’s be honest, that’s what they are). Now, I’m sure at least half if not more of you are thinking so what, and that’s probably because you agree with Shakespeare. I don’t, at least not for proper names. I’ve always thought Ursula Le Guin and Pat Rothfuss had it right. Names matter. I realize a large number of people couldn’t care less, log into just about any MMO and spend half an hour in a major social area if you don’t believe me. But I get highly invested in a characters name in both stories and games.

Honestly, I really shouldn’t have bothered with the character transfer from Sanctum to Ebon Hawk. I should have stayed on the dwindling server and finished my class quests (which I’d left sitting for a month or two) and not worried about it. I assumed though that I would eventually want to join up with friends a be a bit more social eventually, so I might as well get it over with. Had I known that BioWare was condensing six PvE-RP servers into one I would’ve realized the chances of keeping the name Kae or legacy Bluestar were infinitesimal. Hindsight, blah blah.

The end result though is that after doing the super quick transfer, I logged in and had to change my character’s name. After seventeen attempts I found a variation on Kae that wasn’t taken, although by that point I didn’t really care. When I tried to set my legacy name back and got the message that it was taken, I decided I was done. Melodramatic? Probably, but it was a completely honest reaction and has stuck with me days later.

It’s ironic that the very process which will hopefully revitalize the game, has completely killed my interest in it. Even more so since BioWare seemed to have some really interesting stuff planned for the next release.

So rather than returning to my Jedi Guardian, Kaevn Blank, I’ve headed back to Star Trek Online for my science fiction fix. Cryptic get’s a lot of heat, sometimes deserved and sometimes not, over their business practices, but I really like the way they’ve done their server architecture. Like with CCP’s EVE, there’s only one server/world/shard for STO. Even better names only have to be unique for my account handle and account handles can hidden in chat (I don’t think they ever display on-screen).

Looking Forward to 2012

Family

Before I get into what games I’m looking forward to, I wanted to mention some personal and blog related things. My wife and I are expecting our second little Kae to show up sometime in June. I’m sure that’s going to kill any time I have to play MMOs for a few months. I really dislike logging into an MMO, when I don’t know if I’m going to get pulled away at a second’s notice. When my son was born, I focused mostly on single player games, since I could pause it and go do father things without worrying about ruining anyone else’s game.

Not playing MMOs will either mean that this blog goes silent for a few months, or you’ll see tons of posts as I’ll have lots of time to read, think, and write.

Writing

Last year, I tried an experiment with posting consistently on week days. I wasn’t perfect about it, but I did well enough to consider it a success. I stopped doing that mid-summer though once it started to take the fun out of writing. I don’t regret doing it though as I developed some good habits and even got to the point where I started to feel antsy if I hadn’t written anything by the end of the day. Kind of like those healthy people who talk about missing the gym. I guess anyway, I’ve never felt that.

Anyway, this year I’m trying a new experiment. I write a lot from my phone and from work, basically anytime that I get an urge to put pixels on a screen. Most of the time though, those posts go into the draft folder and never emerge. I always intend to edit and publish them that night, yet rarely ever do. So this year, I’m going to try skipping the editing stage as much as possible. After all, if there are any really stupid grammar or spelling mistakes, I’m going to be much more motivated to fix them if the article is public, and this way I’ll not have any regrets about not getting an opinion or idea out in a timely fashion.

So now you know, if the blog stays empty it’s just because I have no ideas and not because I’m a lazy self-editor. Finally, let’s talk about some games.

PC/Xbox

This is the first year in a while, that I’m not really looking forward to much. Mass Effect 3 is basically my whole list for the year.

I believe this is a good thing though, because my backlog of unfinished, never played, and never installed games is getting embarrassingly massive. I still haven’t gone back to Skyrim and finished my first play through. I have the last DLC for Mass Effect 2 to finish. I’ve barely touched Minecraft since the 1.0 release in November. Then there’s my Steam library, let’s just not even start on that.

So while there’s not much new I’m looking forward to, I’m still excited for single-player and offline gaming this year.

MMOs

Rift

While I do still have an active subscription, I’m not planning on renewing it in April. As I mentioned in my 2001 review, I had a ton of fun with the game, but between feeling so behind with all of the content updates and most of my friends playing other MMOs, I have no interest in going back.

Champions Online

I fully expect to keep playing in Millennium City off and on as Cryptic adds new story missions and new power sets. Honestly, I’ve already started eyeing the launcher as they’ve added some cool new costume options recently as well as the Earth and Wind power sets. The cool thing about this game is I have no expectations for the coming year, so I’ll enjoy whatever comes.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I’m playing a ton of TOR right now. I have a Jedi Knight Guardian in the mid 40’s (level cap is 50) and am nearing the end of the story missions. This means I’ll hit the mythical end-game soon. Generally when I do that, I start an alt and lose interest in repeating content after a few days. This is followed by moving on to another game. With TOR, I’m hoping that having some fresh class missions will be enough to keep me interested and get a second character to 50. We’ll see if BioWare manages a first in my gaming history.

Interestingly, I’m already feeling like I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of TOR, so if I do end up cancelling my subscription, I’m not going to feel bad about it. I suppose that because the game really has felt like playing KotOR 3.

Looking at the rest of the year, I hope to still be playing in June but I kind of doubt it given my history at level cap. Obviously once the baby get’s here, all bets are off.

Lord of the Rings Online

After taking most of the year off and then getting in a solid month, LotRO has been on hold since November. First it was Skyrim and then it was TOR keeping me from playing. Eventually, I’ll return to Middle-Earth and resume my hunter Brynulf’s journey into the Gap of Rohan. It may well be the fall, but it seems like I always go back to LotRO eventually, and that makes me happy.

Star Trek Online

After an extremely rough year, I really hope that STO turns things around. The F2P launch is happening (today actually), and the long awaited Featured Episode Series Four is coming as part of the second anniversary of the game.

Past February, I want to see a permanent Executive Producer hired and I really want to see the monthly Engineering Reports and Ask Cryptics restarted. I know there have been a few new hires since the PWE acquisition, but I’d like to see the team continue to grow, and start seeing that investment payoff in more regular updates of new features and new story missions. If we get to December and have seen Featured Episode Series 4, 5, and 6, I’ll be very happy. If not three FE’s (which D’Angelo doesn’t think is likely), then I want to see more single mission story content added.

One thing I do want to clarify though, I’m not at all disappointed or upset with the Star Trek development team at Cryptic. I think they’ve done as much as possible given some pretty difficult situations over the last six months (if not longer).

Looking Back at 2011

Xbox

Last January, I wan’t looking forward to much on the Xbox. In fact, there were just two games: Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Akham City. Unfortunately Mass Effect 3 was delayed, but Akham City more than made up for that. The game had everything I loved about the first Batman game but added improvements, and even though I’ve finished the game, I still pop it into my console occasionally to beat on some thugs.

Outside of Arkham City, my Xbox didn’t get much playtime, which I guess is why it decided to red-ring on me in December. I had hoped by waiting through the first few manufacturing runs and getting an Elite, that I had dogged all of the overheating problems with Microsoft’s console. I was wrong. The repair process was relatively painless: go online and submit a repair request, print out a label, box and ship it out. I just wish it hadn’t cost me $99.

PC

The PC had a few more titles I was excited about: Minecraft, Portal 2, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 – Retribution (could the title be any longer?), and Warhammer 40k: Space Marine. Well okay, Minecraft was a bit of a cheat since it was pretty much already released. Portal 2 was as good as I hoped it would be, and I got to have some extra fun by playing through the co-op version with MMOGamerChickDoW Retribution I’ve barely touched. I really really loved the original Dawn of War games, but the shift in focus from base building to boss battles has soured me a bit on the franchise. Space Marine made up for my disappointment in Retribution though, the game was over the top gory fun. Some people may try to tell you that using a chainsword on an Ork get’s old, but they’re lying to you.

Unlike with Xbox, this last year also had two big surprises for me on the PC platform. First there was the colossal disappointment of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This was a game I was not anticipating in the slightest, but ended up buying because of the wave of good press and excitement from friends. Unfortunately, I only put five hours into it before running headlong into a boss battle geared for the exact opposite type of character that I was playing. I realize I’m in the minority opinion on this game, but I still strongly believe that you don’t build a game around choice and then take it away during the central moments of the game.

The second big surprise happened in exactly the same way, but with opposite results. Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim was another game that I wasn’t anticipating at all. Like DXHR, I hadn’t played any of the earlier games in the series, and even though the screenshots looked good and I thought I might like it, I was wary of letting myself get sucked along with the ground again. In the end, I did end up going ahead and getting it, and I’m so glad I did. Skyrim has been a Minecraft-like experience for me (which is ironic given the legal battle between the companies). Just like I got sucked completely into Minecraft last year and played nothing else for months, my gaming time was wholly subsumed by Skyrim. Today, I’ve put 117 hours into just one single-player game. One hundred and seventeen hours. That is incredible, considering a good single-player game usually lasts me no more than 40 (like Red Dead Redemption or Arkham City). But even more incredible is that after more than a hundred hours, I’m not even halfway through the main story line.

PC was much more exciting this year than I thought it would be. I’m not sure that 2012 will be though, but I’ll save that for later.

MMOs

Rift

Trion had the perfect situation this year. From January to November, they had the only new major MMO title. I think they capitalized in it very well too. They’ve been continually releasing new content and making tuning changes. Honestly if anything, I think Trion’s proved it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. They’ve been updating the game so much, that when I came back after a month away, it felt like I’d been gone for six months or more.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare ended up releasing much later in the year than I expected. This ended up being a good thing both because they had more time to get things right, but also because they managed to get through the hype backlash I was expecting before release (or even beta). There’s not too much more I can say about TOR as far as 2011 goes beyond I got in at launch, had no problems, have seen no queues, and am immensely enjoying the Jedi Knight story line.

Champions Online

Champions has been a fun game to hop into of f and on over the year, especially the few times I’ve gotten to play with Scott. The game had a successful F2P launch and has released some good story content with their first Comic Series and a third Adventure Pack. While I haven’t had that original love of the game rekindle, I’m sure I’ll continue to login anytime I get an urge to play superheroes.

Lord of the Rings Online

Last year, I was feeling pretty down on LotRO. The F2P conversion caused an explosion of gold store buttons in the interface that just got under my skin. My disinterest continued for most of the year, including well into the development cycle for Rise of Isengard. It wasn’t until I saw a developer diary with some video about the making of Orthanc for the game, that I had any interest in returning to Middle-Earth.

Once I got back in the game, I was motivated enough to finish Volume 2 of the Epic Quests, get caught up on Volume 3 in Enedwaith, and charge on towards Isengard. I didn’t make it to level cap before Skyrim started dominating my playtime, but I was really happy with the new work Turbine has done on the game and I’ve finally trained myself to not see the store buttons.

Star Trek Online

And lastly, we come to the MMO that I’ve had both the most and least fun with during 2011.

The game started out very well. We had an anniversary event, an excellent renovation of Earth Spacedock, and then a third Featured Episode Series, Cloaked Intentions. The Series 3 was the best one so far and featured great missions, fun voice work, and the music from Amok Time.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of the year. We did get the Foundry followed by a good revamp of ground combat in Season Four, but we also got Atari selling Cryptic, Dan Stahl leaving the Executive Producer role, Free-to-Pay announced, and no new story missions.

Whether it was Dan leaving, the change in ownership from Atari to Perfect World, or the announced F2P transition, the high level of communication and transparency that I loved in 2010 has vanished. The last Engineering Report was released in August, with no word about if or when it’s coming back. The last Ask Cryptic was in September. Granted, the temporary Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo did write a lot of blogs during the F2P development, but I found them pretty thin on details.

Overall, it’s been a disappointing year for me in STO. I guess I have to have at least one MMO to be down on at the end of every year.

Very interesting, but not surprising.

When I was on my break, I saved a link to the SWTOR forums posted on Twitter by Zelibeli. The post talks about the distribution of player guilds that have been pre-registered and shows that there are more guilds/players on the Empire side than the Republic. That alone is interesting since in most MMOs the “good” guys usually end up with more players, although I think that has more to do with which side tends to have the uglier character models.

Even more interesting was the distribution of players by faction and sever type.

Type Empire Republic Total 
PvE     17327  18262    35589
PvP     31556  15093    46649
RP       4819   8049    12868
Totals  53702  41404    95106

There’s very little difference in strength between the factions for PvE rules, but Empire players dominate PvP and Republic players out number Empire 2-to-1 in RP.

A Curious Lack of Excitement

I pre-ordered the standard edition of SWTOR from Amazon. I wanted the digital version but it’s only available from Origin.com and I’ve already talked about how I feel about that. I’ve also applied to the Multiplaying group’s guild, Delusions of Grandeur. It feels odd to me to be applying to a guild for a game that I can’t even play yet but apparently it gives the guild some kind of benefits so I went ahead and pitched in.

All in all, that is the most attention I’ve given to TOR in months. Now that there’s a release date, of sorts, I feel like I should be excited. I feel like I should be impatiently waiting for the December. But I’m not, I’m much more excited for the upcoming Arkham City. It’s odd because Star Wars was my first scifi love. I was incredibly excited for SWG when it came out. It took me weeks after watching the Phantom Menace to admit to myself that i didn’t like it.

Maybe it’s prequelitis? I gave up on them after watching Attack of the Clones. I’ve never seen Episode 3 and can’t even tell you what the movie title is, or care to Google it. I did watch some of the animated Clone Wars series and enjoyed it but a lot of the magic was lost. Fumoggin midichlorians.

Maybe it’s trust? I was a huge fan of KotOR but never played the sequel after reading about all of the bugs and half finished story, so I should be ecstatic that BioWare is doing a real sequel. Maybe if TOR were a single-player game I would be, but it’s not and I’m not convinced either BioWare or EA are up to the challenge of managing an MMO after seeing how poorly DragonAge’s patching and community were managed.

Maybe I’ve gotten too good at countering the hype?

In the end it doesn’t really matter. I’ve pre-ordered, I’ll be playing at launch, and I have friends that are excited enough for ten of me.