Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hey MMORPGs, let me not be racist

This is a little bit of a rant some might not understand, because it is difficult to rant in a second language. So be patient, I had to use LOTS of words to try and make myself understandable. Anyway...

I started playing RPGs with “dice and books” games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and the White Wolf series of vampires, werewolves and mages. Today I don’t have a group to play with anymore, so all I got are my MMORPGs, where I don’t really RP. But still, I like to have some freedom to imagine my character’s background stories, and try to make up reasons why I am doing certain quests instead of just being a crafter or a rock star in town. With that said, I’d like to share how tired I am with the limitations I’ve been finding regarding factions in games and the races being locked.

While I understand races being limited to certain factions are very normal and accepted in MMORPGs, it is something that is wearing out for me. It feels artificial and kills a lot of the RPG potential. I call it artificial because my characters had simply no choice in the matter, and won’t have any in the future either. They are what they are and are not allowed to change, or have different opinions, and I am tired of that. 

Part of this feeling comes from the fact that I love stories where the characters are allowed to change sides when survival, interests and beliefs lead to it. I guess a good example of this would be pirate stories where, while you know a certain character tends to be good, you never know if that one will be the key of a conspiracy to steal the cargo.

Also, I think there is enough racism and hate in our real world to just keep copying it inside our games. I’d like to help a character with a different belief then mine to reach a common goal we might have. I won’t be so willing if said character believes my village needs to be burned to the ground, and just then PvP makes some sense. But I’d like said character to be able to change its beliefs if events start going in a way they don’t appreciate or believe anymore.

I am not a Roleplayer in MMOs, but I do imagine a little story for my characters, and a natural hate of characters of another faction or race never feel quite right, or fit at all. Being eternally unable to understand them is another oddity. 

In Rift, you are either a faith driven character who must restore the world with the help of the gods or a believer in the power of technology to restore that same matter with the world, because you believe the gods have abandoned you. And then the faith based folks blame your technology in the matters of the world. Of course this is a very limited and simplified explanation, but my point is: we should be able to have different races on different sides, and more importantly, beliefs and faith should be more malleable and tend to change, instead of being so radically tied to races. Just look at us, humans, and how we all have different beliefs that sometimes change during life. Tying a race to a belief seems very artificial to me, and I don’t see the point of it for an MMORPG other then to make lore and pvp easier.

Same can be found in WoW, where only NPC characters have the freedom of mind to be neutral. This irritates me, because now you can see an orc giving you quests since said orc is from a neutral faction. Well, why can’t I be neutral also? I don’t hate tauren, I’d even like to visit Thunderbluff and learn their side of the druidic teachings. With the rumors of Pandaria, I hope that maybe a neutral option is coming, if even for a starting character. It is what I imagined would happen to goblins, given their mercenary background, that you’d start neutral and pick a side later on. So maybe if Pandarens come, that option will exist?

Classes being limited to factions make more sense, though, since they do grow in a certain culture and need it to improve training and so on. Also, classes determine powers that are tied to beliefs that would only match into certain factions, such as the Sith belonging to the Empire and not the Republic. But a dark elf can become a rogue and move to the outside world, and a gnome can be twisted to evil, as we’ve seen in NPC stories across games and books.

So far the best example that meets what I find more close to RPG options within MMORPGs is what is found in Everquest 2. Races do start aligned to certain good, neutral or evil cities, but you can change (with a lot of work), and you can group with different alignments, and join guilds, and learn each others languages. The only thing that will change once you betray your current alignment and citizen cities are the class you belong if it brings conflict, such as a shadowknight requiring to be evil and a paladin to be good, and the NPC relationships, since some cities are exclusive for either good or evil characters.

Again, I do understand that factions are part of the worlds in these MMOs, but my problem is in the fact of how you can’t get to pick one. You can have the illusion that you do, but with the races locked to certain sides, you don’t actually have an option. Explanations to that could be that the very visual aspects of different races make it so that people wouldn’t tolerate a less usual race within cities, and so on. Like a human inside an orc capital. But my point is that players should be able to be tolerant if they wish to, and even work together if they want. It is an option that I want, at least. NPCs can still hate me and throw tomatoes at me if I go into an “opposite” town, that’s fine, that’s the game world and the lore, but I am tired of being forced into either hate or love as the player character.

I hate to rant without suggestions, so this is what I’d like to see in these games:

WoW: Alliance and Horde are strongly tied into war and pvp, but I’d like to see an option where you could actually tackle down dungeons with horde players. We see NPCs working together on such places, and I think it would be rich to see players doing the same, where world villains become more important then the eternal Horde and Alliance battle. Would also possibly help queue times. Also, within neutral cities and “Sanctuaries” you could be allowed to even do dailies together, since the spirit of most of such places is that there is a common problem much greater and we shouldn’t waste time killing each other, at least in there. While I understand this is made just so people don’t troll each other while browsing a bank, I don’t see why not take a step further.

Rift: I’d like to see race freedom, where you could change factions inside the game, converting to faith or revoking it. It happened once at some point within the game’s story, so I think it would be fair to let it happen to the player characters.

SWTOR: While I agree that a Sith would never help a Jedi, I think a bounty hunter would not be as tied between good and evil, but more focused on rewards. I think that RPG wise, SWTOR could use a neutral faction, instead of grouping together with the Sith and Jedi and making it just two very clear sides. I am not in the beta, or deep into the lore, but I believe that this game could at some point fit a “betrayal” system much like in EQ2, since actions could lead someone to the opposite side of the force.

I am talking about MMORPGs here, and I understand some games draw the clear line because they are more about the massive gaming, and not much about the RPG aspects, and thus making clear enemy sides is just an easy way to set up PVP. Personally, if a game wants to call itself an “RPG”, I think the characters should have more options regarding in which side they wish to battle and live within the game’s world. While the game worlds already out there probably won't change this faction and race hate tied up together, I hope future made ones will.

What about you guys? Do you enjoy the faction limitations to races and lore designed for it? Do you think it should be about clearly drawn sides or do you wish to see more grey zones for the player characters? 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New The Sims 3 Houses at the Exchange

Uploaded Nectar Maker's Retreat, and added an album for Red Bricks Home and Gourmet's Summer Home.

You can find all links, both to the albums and The Exchange HERE.

In the next couple days I'll be adding a starter house, a warehouse themed home, a big farm house and a very warm colored mansion by the sea.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Revisiting City of Heroes before the Freedom storm

With the new sale on game keys before the conversion to Free to Play, I decided to purchase one and finally activate my game account, and use the free 1 month that comes with it to test things before possible character locks and power limitations happen.

It was good to see the character I’ve created 2 years ago again. I played all days of the trial back then, and she even has these cute crafted little wings. Most of the time I played with my husband, and it was always good to have the game very friendly to group up, with missions scaling to meet our levels. Games that don’t do that can become a boring thing to play as duo, like in some areas of WoW: you simply don’t have time to cast a spell if your buddy is a melee fury. So a big thumbs up for that feature in City of Heroes.

Since I never went past level 12, it is hard to tell what has changed. The character creator has an option that is new to me: you can pick the colors for some of the power sets. That is awesome for me, a person a bit obsessed with colors, and I’ll have to see if I can alter my current character’s power set colors somewhere. 

The thing I love the most about City of Heroes is how I don’t need to worry about gear. Yes, I hate gear, it interrupts my game, it makes me having to pick between numbers, and stats, and things that are not my favorite feature in MMOs. Instead, you pick between Enhancements that will boost certain aspects of your powers. As an example, I can place a training enhancement to improve the damage of a fireball, or add speed to its cooldown.

Crafting is based on recipes that you’ll find while saving/ruining the world, and they’ll use salvaged material. My character’s little bat wings were made that way, with some financial help and Auction House search, I was able to sell some parts I didn’t need, while being able to put together mine.

Now I need to check out power sets I haven’t seen yet. So far, it happens that the Villain combinations are more appeasing to me, while I am not much of a “dark side” kind of player. I need to search and see how to go to the other side with the Going Rogue expansion, though that would probably cost me... so maybe it is time for me to try and be a villain! 

Freedom, hopefully a good kind of storm

Once Freedom hits, I’ll play the game as a Premium, since I purchased the $1,99 key, but don’t plan on going VIP. The bigger downside to that, for me, is that I won’t be able to craft anymore, since this feature is locked only for the VIP players. You can see the table comparing the 3 options here.

I am glad the game is converting to F2P though, since I had a difficult time with Champions Online art style. It simply is weird to my eyes, and I am more happy with the older looking City of Heroes models. I expect it will be another good casual option to play.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Sims 3 Exchange: My Houses!

I added a page to the blog where I'll keep links for my houses in the Exchange, and also Picasa albums with extra detailed pictures of each. Whenever I have a new one, I'll post on top.

You can find the link in the right corner of the screen as "My Sims 3 Houses"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Catching up?

This morning during my readings around the internet, I was greeted with this good piece: cosmetic gear options are coming to World of Warcraft.

It sure took them a sweet long time, but I am glad they are catching up with something people had been wanting and begging. The Transmogrifier system will allow people to alter the looks of pieces, while maintaining the same gear type, so that plate will only be altered to look like another piece of plate, an so on. It is a limitation that gives much more options to cloth wearers, unfortunetelly.

Also, there will be a bank for all those old pieces of gear, the Void Storage. That is another very welcome feature, since I am one who saves up the cute pieces for maybe later use.

Both these features will be very welcome, and would make a come back to WoW, whenever it happens, much more fun to me. It always bothered me how WoW simply wouldn’t catch up on this feature, and how they’d practically laugh at it whenever a fan would ask about it. Hopefully they’ll catch up on player housing at home point too? While their favorite excuse is that cities would feel empty with the housing system, all  have to say is that last time I’ve played, there were so many players in the main cities that I’d actually avoid it.

While I’ve already read this news in two different sources, WoW Insider made a little note and question as to how much this would cost. Lots of gold? Real money? If it is real money, I’ll be passing it though, since there are good F2P games that simply give this option for free.

...oh and Deathwing raid is coming too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dahliara’s Adventure Outfit

I generally save the cutest dresses for my hobbit, but I feel quite silly slaying giant spiders on them. So I created an adventure outfit to put on whenever she is tasked with a lot of slaying and exploring. 

Dahliara is wearing:
Head: Traveller’s Hood - Store - Washed (default color)
Shoulders: none.
Back: Day Pack - Outfitter NPCs - Umber
Chest: Long Sleeved Summer Tunic - Summer Festival - Olive
Hands: none.
Legs: none.
Feet: none.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dahliara’s Red Outfit

During Cinco de Mayo there was a lottery themed around the holiday, with red and green fireworks and red and green dyes as rewards. I happend to win it twice, and really wanted to make something in red.

This outfit was featured in Massively’s One Shots, and a reader related it to Carmen Sandiego, which I had never noticed and found it quite funny.

Dahliara is wearing:
Head: Plummed Hat - Low level quest reward or Store - Red
Shoulders: Quilted Shoulder Pads - Many sources - Red
Back: Cloak of the Falling Leaves - Harvest Festival - Red
Chest: Elven Robe - Rivendell Light Armor Vendor - Crimson
Hands: none.
Legs: none.
Feet: none.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lindinel's Skeleton Painted Horse Set

Almost a year ago during the Fall Festival, I was lucky enough to get one of the rare drops from the daily cooldown treasure box inside the Haunted Burrow: the Skeleton Painted Horse. That left me with a problem though: I could never come up with a nice outfit for it. Just now while browsing the Store to see where I could spend my earned Turbine Points I saw the perfect robe and hat to make it finally work out.

See bottom for an extra picture in daylight.

Lindinel is wearing:
Head: Traveller’s Hood - Store - Black 
Shoulders: none.
Back: none.
Chest: Robe of Leisure - Store - Black
Hands: none.
Legs: none.
Feet: Soft Leather Boots - Outfiters - Washed (this won’t show much in the outfit, can be easy replaced)

Extra picture in case you find the first one too dark!

Lindirien’s White Outfit

I wanted to create a pretty look to use while running around town, and also to take a break from the more action themed outfits. So I placed a dress and a cloak together, and it is easy enough to hide away the cloak whenever I don’t feel like using it.

Lindirien is wearing:
Head: none.
Shoulders: none.
Back: Cloak of the Golden Oak - Skirmish Outfiter - Washed (default color)
Chest: Ceremonial Dress (Bree-Land) - Summer Festival - White, can’t dye.
Hands: none.
Legs: none.
Feet: none.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lindirien's Explorer Outfit

I created this one as an outfit that looks comfortable to go slay some orcs in Moria. I might change for a brighter color once I'm done exploring the dark tunnels and halls. While most of the outfit is simply a tailored set, I really like its combination.

Lindirien is wearing:
Head: Traveller's Hood - Store - Umber
Shoulders: Footman's Shoulder Guards - Tailored - Umber
Back: Fine Elven Quiver - Rivendell Cosmetics Vendor - Umber
Chest: Footman's  Armor - Tailored - Umber
Hands: Footman's Gloves - Tailored - Umber
Legs: Footman's Leggings - Tailored - Umber
Feet: Footman's Boots - Tailored - Umber


I am a big fan of player made outfits, specially for Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2. While I am not as creative as some blogs dedicated to them, I'll be sharing here some of mine that I really like.

To find them all quickly, just click on the Outfits Tag in the Tag Cloud.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"The Raid" Recruitment Video

I got curious enough to check it out myself. The first reviews I've read almost made me not want to put 1 hour of my time into it, but then I decided to watch a piece while having breakfast, and then another while exercising, but had to jump the afterwards words and interviews for I had run out of patience.

Overall, I believe that the documentary would do better if renamed to "our guild" instead of "the raid", since it focus a lot on this one group of people, and it does it pretty good, even if they are not my kind of people to raid with. Its like a recruiting raid video to post in the WoW forums.

It does very poorly to explain to "outsiders" what raiding in a game is, or what MMORPGs are at all. It didn't try to start simple, or to explain what all the game jargon meant. They kept using many words that would make no sense to someone who never played WoW, or other MMOs, such as "quest". The only other place I see "quest" mentioned is on movies and books, and they are generally epic and quite lenghty. That is not the case in MMOs.

Also, it does not try to explain why people have to learn certain things in order to perform well in a raid. What is a tank, a healer, and a DPS? Can I join this afternoon to kill the Lich King from the movie too then? Why the dedication and time spent there?

So many things that could have been covered and didn't get touched. The way people schedule their free time to raid, how different people do it. How people have to adapt to each other's play styles, different accents on ventrilo, different kinds of people, how each member has some social roles, who gets to go, how some groups are picky and others aren't, why some groups finish content faster then others. It all got throwed away to stay focused on this one group, and to lose minutes giving time to the attention leech who likes to cuss.

It all felt horribly disconnected, and it is either a lie or a bad execution to say they wanted to show "outsiders" what it is to raid. It felt much more like they wanted to talk about what this one group feels about raiding and how they feel about their guild buddies.

And that would be fine if it was a raid recruitment video. But I can't seriously call it a documentary on raiding in games, and I don't think they took it seriously either. The kinds of things said makes me wish that at least. I want to believe that certain personal opinions said during the movie were not done considering what was trying to be represented there.

Adding people that were not from the raid group to talk about some raid elements didn't help either, since the focus would always fall back to the specific group and they didn't shine any light in the basic stuff that would make the whole thing more understandable to a complete "outsider" from raid gamming.

Just so many things that could have been done, it felt like a big waste of time and money in the end.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beliefs in Art, Talent and MMOs

A lot of the entertainment venues and resources out there coincide in also being a form of art, such as movies, theatre, crafts, music and books. All of those elements are present in MMOs: cut scenes like in movies, theatre at every corner of RP servers’ inns, in game music, lore and the crafting possibilities given to players when customizing characters, appearances and housing.

With that said, MMOs are, to me, a venue in which we can express ourselves through art, and the product itself, without its users, is also a piece worth of calling it art. Just look at the many high quality blogs dedicated to housing, decoration and outfit making inside MMOs.

And that makes me think of “talent”, and I believe many other people will quickly associate it with the word art too. Talent can be what we use to separate quality work from pieces we don’t like as much, or even to describe pieces we don’t understand at all. Or, more often then not, talent is the mystery that divides artists from simple mortals.

As Brenda Hoddinott says on her Understanding Talent article, talent is explained to us by the media as a mysterious and unreachable thing, as we are told that pieces we might not understand are good, no matter our opinion on the matter. Being fed such media impressions leaves a lot of people with the concept that they can’t reach any form of art, since they can’t make a masterpiece without practice, or never get their works to be sold.

Anyone with enough practice and motivation CAN make art. You don’t even need hands (or feet) to paint, or play a musical instrument, or write a book. Your first pieces might come out very different from what you were expecting, but all you need to do is keep practicing, go for instruction or DIY books or classes, get better materials over time, and so on.

What does this all have to do with MMOs? The “AAA” myth. My belief is that, just like art, any game developer is able to create a game that people will enjoy, or not, be it a famous one or a fresh into the market one.

It is just the same. If Blizzard (Metallica) announces a new MMO (CD), a lot of people will buy it without even trying the beta (hearing a sample on the radio). It does make sense if you like the game developer (artist), but don’t they also have a chance to fail to your expectations sometimes? (and Metallica did, I don’t like their newer stuff).

And then a game developer you don’t know the name announces a new MMO. A lot of people will say straight forward that since they don’t know where it is coming from, it is either bad or not worth their precious time. The game might even be free, and people will still not try it out, because it is not an “AAA” tittle. Makes me wonder if there are people out there who will only watch Oscar winner movies.

Reading that kind of comment around the internet made me go after definitions of what an “AAA game” might be, which ranged from something of top quality, a game that sold a great amount of units in the past year, to a definition used to make you buy it, assuming you’ll believe it to be top quality. Also, that it comes from a studio that had enough money and thus, should be able to make something of top quality, even if it fails to.

What it means to me is that “AAA” became a short cut to tell costumers that their product should be bought without much questioning, that it is good because they say it is good, and not because you gave it a chance to be so. It is like telling you that you should love the Twillight movies because they got all of the MTV awards last year.

I read a lot of beliefs around the internet under news posts. The most common ones are related with the belief that “if I never heard of this game, then...” which can be completed with beliefs that the game shouldn’t either exist, or be popular, or be profitable. I’ve never heard of Starbucks before moving to U.S., does that make it disappear, or be unpopular to its users, or probably something that does no profit?

Beliefs are to blame on a lot of people who miss trying different tittles and game developers (and music, and movies and even food). Money is often directly connected with the ability to create something good (or to be happy), but then we’ll end up finding games that are both small, from an unknown developer, and cheap to purchase that we enjoy, if only we give it a chance.

Examples of such games to me are Torchlight, AudioSurf, Family Farm, Wurm, Minecraft. Some of these I own, some I’ve only tried the demo and will get a copy once I have the chance. But all of them came from smaller companies or developers, and were able to deliver not only quality products, but many hours of fun to me.

The point of all this is that I want to ask people to give a chance to the unknown. Like art, games don’t need to come from well known sources to be able to be enjoyable and of good quality.

What about you guys? Any games that are not called “AAA” that you enjoy but haven’t shared about yet? Or which big “AAA” promise disappointed you?

Age of Wonders III

This month I decided to play through the Age of Wonders campaigns again while waiting on Sim City. Progress was going well and I was having ...