Dragon Age (shall be reviewed)

EDIT: I just received an e-mail saying they’re sending my copy after all. Coincidence? (A couple bloggers made similar posts about this yesterday.)

As my husband sometimes says, “The universe is far more interested in embarrassing me than inconveniencing me.” Not that this was particularly inconvenient, but you catch my drift. I’m happy about the outcome, too. Like I said in my last version of this post, I’ve heard good things about the game.

So, post withdrawn. 🙂


Advertisements

Labor vs. Labor of Love

/RL

Last December, I did something crazy — I quit my job.  It felt strange to do something so bold in this economic climate and even stranger to tell people about it.  Not only was I ditching a steady paycheck, I was leaving the career path that I’d been on for more than ten years, which included getting a PhD and doing several years of postdoctoral work.

I can’t say that my colleagues were impressed with my decision, except maybe a few that knew how unhappy I’d been.  My misery had begun in graduate school, but I finished the degree and continued with the work anyway.  This is partly because I did love it once and hoped I might find that feeling again.  The rest was pride and stubbornness.  Oh, and fear.  Lots of fear.  I was afraid to venture out because what I really wanted to do instead seemed so impractical, I could hardly admit it to myself, much less anyone else.  I wanted to be a writer.

When I finally reached my breaking point and planned to quit, I decided to seize the opportunity and see if I could make a living as a writer.  To quell the fear (and make the decision seem more legitimate), I took the most practical approach I could think of.  I secured a job as a contractor for an editing company that caters to folks in my old line of work.  In between jobs with them, I arranged to work through freelancing bid sites to supplement my income.

In the 10 months after joining the editing company, they only sent me work three times.  The first time, the topic was far removed enough from my field that I couldn’t do it — I let them pass it along to someone else.  The second time, it was to write a grant (not my cup of tea), again on something completely unrelated to my specific expertise.  (The selling point of the company is that your documents will be edited by experts, not some random schmo filling in their knowledge gaps with Google.)  By the time they sent me the third item, which was relatively close to my expertise, it was too late.  Science is something you need to mentally keep up with and my brain had gotten too rusty.  Besides, I didn’t want to think about that stuff any more.  So, I turned down the work and terminated my contract with them.

I did pick up work through the bid sites, however.  I had plenty to keep me busy during weekdays, mainly through one particular client.  After my first few assignments, they brought me on as a full member of their project team to write web content and promotional materials for their company.  They loved my work, too.  I basked in the positive feedback and wrote whatever they asked me to.  As my other clients trickled off, I didn’t replace them.

As for the content itself … meh.  And the message?  Er… yeah.  Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan of what they were selling.  It was ghostwriting, however, so I assured myself that my reputation was safe.  I did like the people personally, we were just coming from different places.  In writing on their behalf, I did what I could to keep them honest (from my point of view).  Truth be told, most of it was just fine and I was left to my own devices enough of the time that I could write what I felt was right.

The summer marched on.  I was pretty happy.  I enjoyed not dreading Mondays for once in my life.  And then I got a little wake-up call from a surprising place: Jonathan Coulton‘s  How I WoW appearance.  He was asked whether it was a conscious choice to steer his songs toward the geek culture.  He said no, he just wrote what he wrote and didn’t steer his creativity toward any particular mold.  If he wrote what others wanted him to, it would just be like any other job.

And I thought, Damn, he’s right.  I think I did it wrong.

But I kept going.  I was getting paid, right?  Paychecks good.

Fast forward a few months.  My pay had marginally increased, but the client was asking a lot more work from me.  I had enough to do that I could keep myself busy full time, but given the low pay, I worked part time.  Since they were satisfied with my progress each week, I didn’t ask for more or rock the boat.

Then, a few weeks ago, they rocked the boat.  They’d asked me to write some sketchy things in the past, but I usually just let them fall to the bottom of the priority pile. This time, there was a concrete deadline, so I had to do it. Given the particulars of the assignment, I had enough editorial control to express what I really thought about the topic, so I did just that.  I was pretty sure they were going to disregard my work, so my rebellion might not not pay off, but it was worth a try.

About a week later, they gave me an assignment that was even worse.  This one I could not do.  I joked early on in my freelancing career that I’d probably start with high standards that would spiral downward when I found myself in need of money.  It seems it was the opposite.  I hadn’t had a decent paycheck in a year, but for personal, ethical, and philosophical reasons, there was no way I could write what they wanted.  In fact, I realized I didn’t want to write for them at all any more.  It was a tough phone call to make, but I did it.  I was honest, too, and told them exactly why I was leaving the team.  They called a few times after and asked me to reconsider, but I held my ground.  I’m done with them.

Even though I’m now starting from scratch after almost a year in this job, I think it’s been a good year and a great experience.  It certainly crystallized some things for me; I have a much better sense of what I want to be as a writer and what I’m willing to write for others.

I’m going to fully embrace this fresh start, too.  This time, I’ll choose what I write.  Maybe I’ll get hired for regular writing somewhere (web or print), maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll manage to sell a story, an essay, a novel… who knows?  I won’t know until I really buckle down and give this work an honest try.  Besides, if I’m not going to make much money writing, I may as well do it writing about things I care about.

So, the time has come.  Enough with this working-to-live crap.  Life is too short for that.

Onward! 😀

Wowclsp: Combat Log Separation Made Easy

When I was mainly DPSing, I was great about remembering to upload our raid stats each week. I’d parse them immediately after the raid (sometimes while still in ventrilo) to see how I did.  As a healer, I often wait a day or two.  Since I look at the numbers less closely, too, I sometimes forget to click through every process in the World of Logs uploader client, so the old combatlog doesn’t get deleted.  When I record the new combat log for the next raid, it doesn’t overwrite anything — it appends the new numbers to the old file.  This means that .txt file gets very large and unwieldly.

Up until now, I’ve been manually separating, deleting, and re-saving parts of the combatlog when this happens.   I do all this text shuffling in Notepad, which you’d think would be a quick process, but it’s really not.  That program doesn’t handle files of a few  hundred megabytes very easily.  Selecting, cutting, and deleting text is a bit of an ordeal and sometimes it gives me errors.  Other times, I have to walk away from my computer for a minute to let it do its thing, because it pretty much locks everything up. (This makes me want to deal with the stats even less, causing me to put it off.)

Nibuca posted yesterday about the addon CLSaver, which automatically turns on combat log recording each time you enter dungeon when you’re part of a raid group.  Very nice, since I often miss the data from the first pull (or first wipe, hehe) when I forget to turn it on.  She also posted a link to some advice from The Stoppable Force about how to automatically archive (and split) the combat log file.  I was intrigued;  this is exactly what I need.  I skimmed over his instructions and … well, it looks helpful if you’re confident with running scripts, but it looked a bit daunting to me.  Then, a comment from AeroWow solved everything for me:   Wow Combatlog Splitter.

I tried this application this morning on a bloated combatlog file that had 4-5 raids in it and it magically split and labeled them in a matter of seconds. I then uploaded each of them to World of Logs and my work was done.  Wooow.   I think I might be in love.

So, for all you stats collectors, CLSaver + Wowclsp is a magical combination.  Try it!

Bloggish Things

This blog’s second birthday passed a few weeks ago, so I decided a makeover was due.  (Probably long overdue!)

I’ve already performed the sad task of removing inactive blogs from my blogroll.  So many of the folks I followed during my more active blogging days have moved on, in some cases totally shutting down their blogs.  I’ve kept them in my feed reader in hopes they might one day re-emerge, perhaps with Cataclysm.

You’ll also notice the ever-expanding list of non-WoW blogs that I follow.  I believe my blog could evolve into a more general gaming or MMO blog eventually, though I’m so deeply entrenched in WoW at the moment that I’m sure it will still dominate the content as I start writing more regularly.  I have had a lot of fun checking out other games and writing up reviews of them, however.  (A few more of these are in the oven!)  I’m hoping to do a lot more of that sort of thing, just to mix things up.

I’ve found tons of new blogs recently and I’m slowly adding them to my link list.  If you think I’m missing some “must read” blogs, please do share links in the comments.  I’m hoping to become a more active part of the community again and I realize I have loads of catching up to do.  I finally caved and joined the masses on Twitter, as well.

Next, I’ll be fiddling with the layout and redoing all the tags and categories, so things might be a mess for a while.  It will be a lot of work, but it’ll be fun going through the old posts.  Ah, such a noob.

Anyway, hopefully this means I’m really back!  Hello!

Ikariam (Yes, Really)

In the last couple months, I’ve branched out a bit and started playing other games.  I’ve tried several other MMO’s and a few single player games that I’ll write about soon.  WoW still takes up most of my gaming time, but the game that is currently a close second place?  Ikariam.  Yes, really.

I first heard about Ikariam about a year ago.  I remember sitting there at my desk at work, daydreaming and listening to podcast, and something prompted me to check out this game.  (I can’t remember if it was a blog or a podcast, to be honest.) I glanced at the game site only briefly and it didn’t even interest me enough to make an account at the time. It just didn’t look appealing.  Things going against it included that it was a browser game, it was free-to-play (but with premium options available for cash), and that it looked like a Civ-type game.  Couldn’t possibly be as compelling as Civ, I thought.

When I joined up at MMO Voices, Beau chose Ikariam as one of the first site games.  With some reluctance, I made an account to play along with the other folks at the site.

Nuts and Bolts

My Mighty Empire

My Mighty Empire

You start with a single colony on an island and some wood to construct your first building, either an academy to begin research or barracks to house your budding military.  Of course I chose to build the academy.  Back in my Civ days, I was always going after the space ship rather than the military victory.  After hiring a few researchers, I went to the island view to hire some workers in the lumber mill and crystal mine.  (This mine allowed me to collect glass, one of the four harvestable resources.)

Rather than being turn based like Civ (which it couldn’t be, since it’s an MMO), activities like building, research, and travel are all time-based.  It reminded me of EVE in that regard — set up your training and then go do something else for a while.  As with EVE, the early skills and lower level buildings don’t take long.  Unfortunately, there are no building queues available unless you pay for a premium account.  Research used to be queued (sort of), but they changed it in a recent patch so that you accumulate research points and then buy the discovery of your choice when you have enough.

Travel time, as far as I can tell, never changes (unless there is a miracle, which I’ll talk about later) .  This is where some of the challenge comes in if you want to play near your friends.  You begin in a random spot on the world map.  While you can certainly build your second colony anywhere and eventually make it your capital, it takes a while to gather the resources to accomplish this.  I’m sure plenty of folks do this, too.  My husband and one of our friends have both relocated their civilizations completely to some islands on the fringes of the map so that they can build their resources together.

To cope with the travel time issues, the MMO Voices folks initially set up trade routes together to help each other get started.  We plotted our locations on a map and posted it to the website.  Occasionally I’d get a note that said, “400 sulfur is on the way.  Please keep 200 and send 200 on to so-and-so at such-and-such location.”  Really fun, actually.  It made me wish there were a way to set up more permanent routes in the game like that.  Setting up a trade alliance with someone only means that when they add things for sale in their trading post, you can see it even if you’re far away from them.  Beyond that, trading is limited to nearby islands (the trade radius defined by how much you’ve leveled your trading post).

Gathering Resources…

Aside from building materials, the basic resources are marble, wine, glass, and sulfur.  Just for my own play purposes, I would prefer them in that order. Marble is used in higher level building upgrades and city walls.  Wine is made available in local taverns to keep your population happy and growing.  Glass goes toward upgrading academies and temples (recently added), military upgrades, and the training of spies.  Sulfur is used for the training of military units (a process that can be queued, thankfully).

The underdeveloped island that holds my capital.

The underdeveloped island that holds my capital.

The amount of a particular resource that you can harvest depends on how many you hire to work in the mine, vineyard, or mill on your island.  The number or workers you can hire is limited by your population, but also by the level of the node itself.  Here’s where the “MM” in MMO begins to creep in — the resource node is leveled through the contributions of all the other people with colonies on your island.  In the beginning, you’ll be scraping to have enough resources to get your basic buildings going.  Once you have a modest surplus, it’s good to start contributing to these shared nodes.  Not only will these contributions improve the island’s output and benefit you in the long run, it will make you look like a good citizen.  Some island residents make a particular point of attacking and pillaging leechers who don’t contribute, so it’s wise to help out.

Beyond gathering things yourself, you can trade with others that you know (as I mentioned above) or with people nearby through your trading post. The radius of available trades increases with every two upgrades of your trading post.  I didn’t see any traders at all until I was able to trade at least three islands away, though you may have better luck if you land in a more populated area.

…and Getting Pillaged

I, like many of my MMO Voices compatriots, got pillaged within the first week of playing.  Someone marched their army into my town, killed the two slingers I had in my barracks, and cleaned out the majority of what I had in my warehouse.  A percentage of your stuff is protected in your warehouse (again, this is building level dependent), but everything else is game for anyone that decides to rob you.  My husband’s first colony got pillaged repeatedly when he first started playing, so he started changing his production schedule to make sure he never got too big of a surplus when he thought his neighbor might be active.  (He then moved to another island.)  Not a very friendly welcome to the game.

My much better developed wine island.

My much better developed wine island.

I didn’t get pillaged more than once or twice early on, but it was enough to make me build some extra warehouses until I got a few defensive units and city walls built.  I have managed to fend off some medium-sized attacks, but once or twice, the enemy has come in with more than 1000 troops to my 20-30. Some alliances in the game seem to have rules about attacking people way below your level, but others don’t care.   The mottos on the guild pages of the latter are usually to the tune of “if you’re not armed, you will be farmed.” This is the nature of MMO’s anywhere, I suppose.  There will be griefing.

Unfortunately, this caused of few folks in MMO Voices to lose interest right away.  To my surprise, I didn’t quit when I got pillaged.  I once got pillaged very badly, too, in fact.  I lost about 10,000 building material, 5,000 marble, and 1,000 sulfur.  I was so furious.  But, the fact was that I had been sloppy.  I had forwarded all this material to a new colony that I was founding. (I needed it to upgrade the governor’s residence to kill the corruption there.)  An enterprising individual had occupied a nearby town and I imagine he giggled with glee when he discovered all the unprotected goodies in my warehouse, waiting for the rest of the boats to arrive.  I was furious, but I knew I’d done something really stupid, too, and assumed the stuff would be safe long enough for me to get the stupid building built.  That’s part of the game.

I’ve never pillaged anyone, but I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of being occupied.  When your town is occupied by enemy forces, they can’t pillage you, but they can use your town as a base to pillage everyone else on the island.  For hosting the army, you get 10% of everything they pillage. I happened to get occupied on the best of the islands I have colonies on and I got a TON of stuff out of it.  So in the end, it all balances out, I suppose.

They recently added some features to make the game friendlier to new players, in this regard.  Now, new players cannot be attacked or pillaged right out of the starting gate.  Until their town hall is level 4 or they’ve built a second colony, they are immune to any attacks my other players.  (If they attack someone else, all bets are off, of course.)  This is a nice change, I think — they’ll keep many more players this way.

Cultivating a Civilization

A closer look at my capital.

A closer look at my capital.

Your first colony will take a while to get going.  Building materials will always feel like they are in short supply unless you have a friend to help you get started.  (By the way, if you decide to start playing, I’d be glad to send you a welcome package.  I’m on the US Iota server — send me an e-mail with your coordinates and I’ll put my fleet in motion!)  But once you create your second colony, things really start cooking.  You’ll find yourself with occasional surpluses to send to friends or sell at your trading post.  There will always be little things to tweak and things to build.  Small goals will be met, new goals will be made.

Checking in on the game can become a habit very easily, especially if you work at a computer all day.  Here’s the part where I have to admit that all those things that turned me off in the beginning are the things that now keep me playing.  The game is browser based, so I can keep it going while I’m doing other stuff on the internet.  It’s free-to-play, so I can do as much or as little as I feel like from day to day without feeling like I have a big commitment to it or need to get my money’s worth. In fact, if I take a day or two away from the game, I return to find that I have a huge surplus of resources to play with.  Fun!

Finally, because it is a Civ-type game, there’s a great sense of progress as you watch a dumpy little town in the sticks turn into the cultural center of your empire.  The fact that it’s time-based and not turn-based is what allows you to get other things done during the day, too.  When I take writing breaks, I might check in, send out some ships, set a few buildings to upgrade, and then determine that there’s not much more for me to do for the next two hours.  I can then write or work for two hours, come back, and check in.  It’s also a great game to play in between other games.  There is as much or as little to do as you wish to do.

Finding Community

After our short-lived (and miniscule) MMO Voices alliance dissolved, I decided to look for a larger, more established alliance to join.  An alliance’s size is limited by the number of diplomacy points available, which is based on the robustness of the leader’s civilization (as I understand it, anyway), so it seemed like this would put less pressure on one of the bloggers, in case they wanted to wander to a different game.  It would also give us a chance to see how established alliances run themselves.

After a bit of shopping around, I happened across an alliance called Art of Defence (AoD) , an alliance based on trading, mutual defense, and expansion.  They do allow pillaging, but military play is not their primary focus.  It sounded perfect.  I applied and was accepted, and now I watch the day to day ramblings and tradings of an Ikariam alliance.  Folks are helpful to one another, trading vast quantities of materials in 1:1 trades.  Once you are able to build museums, you can arrange cultural treaties with people, too, displaying your cultural artifacts in one another’s museums to raise happiness (an alternative to wine).  I’ve also seen some come to the defense of one another.  Another particularly appealing thing about this alliance is their impressive list of peace treaties.  Aside from the person that ran off with all the goods for my governor’s residence (who could resist such a mother lode?), I haven’t been bothered by anyone since I joined them.

The Addition of Miracles

In this recent patch, they added “miracles” to the game, which can do things like boost your population or make your ships go a little faster for a brief time depending on which god has a statue on your island.  The statue itself is also a node on the island where you can contribute resources (anything but building materials and the resource available on the same island).  The quality of the miracle increases based on the statue’s level. You need to have a certain amount of your population converted (through temples and the hiring of priests) in order for the miracle to become available.

It’s been interesting to see the community’s response to this addition.  Certainly some miracles are going to be more desirable than others depending on what aspects of the game you enjoy.  I wouldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse of the community at large, but some in our alliance have dismissed them as useless.  One of them will allow your ships to load faster for 30 minutes every 20 hours, for example.  One of our members said, “Only every 20 hours?  What’s the point of that?”  Well, the point is to make it so that it’s not so incredibly overpowered that everyone will evacuate their current location for the islands that have the best miracles available.  I imagine folks will be selecting locations for new colonies with the miracles in mind (since they do act upon your entire population), but it seems they’ve tried to make things beneficial without being too gamebreaking.  I’ll be curious to see what people will think about them once they actually try using the miracles.

A Few Rules

I mentioned before that my husband started playing, as well.  This has been fun, because it means we’ve been able to talk about the game, daydream about colonization plans, and sympathize with each other’s resource losses.  As it turns out, we cannot actually play together, however, since we both play from home.  Playing two accounts on the same IP from the same server will get you banned.  This rule is no doubt in play to make sure that one person with too much time on their hands doesn’t make a ton of accounts and take over the world in one fell swoop.

It turns out that if you officially let them know that you are two different people at the same IP and you agree never to have fleet contact with one another, then it is fine.  You just need to submit a ticket.  “No fleet contact” means we can’t jointly attack an enemy, but most unfortunately, it means we can’t trade resources directly.  It’s been okay because we’ve managed to lure in a few friends on different IP’s (living in different states, actually) to play with us and they were able to help him get started.  It kind of sucks that we can’t trade and help one another out, but I think it would suck more if other folks were allowed to multi-account.  I imagine that could make it unplayable for the rest of us.  Anyway, it’s something to be aware of if you game with someone you live with.

More Addictive than you Might Think

Games like this are a terribly slippery slope if you have to be a productive person at your computer during the day.  I’m sure if I weren’t playing this, however, I’d be doing something equally distracting.  Ikariam effectively takes the place of daytime Facebook checking, social e-mailing, and all the other little things most folks do during their work breaks.  Instead of reading about who needs what for their next Mafia hit, I peek in to find out, “Do I need to send out another wine shipment?  Did that person in my alliance accept my cultural asset treaty?  Are there enemy forces on their way to pillage my towns?”  I currently have four towns to look after, which means there’s usually something to do if I have a few minutes to check the game.  Although it will be expensive as hell to build a fifth, I’m already scoping out locations.

So, I am completely addicted to this game.  In total, I didn’t even play Chronicles of Spellborn this much and I really loved that.  (Runes of Magic has been deleted from the hard drive to make room for other stuff.)  In fact, one thing that has held up my writing a review of Ikariam is the fact that I play it so much during the day, during times that would otherwise have gone to blogging.  (All those people on Facebook haven’t heard from me in eons either.  Heh…)

Definitely check this one out.  Again, find me on the US Iota server.  (Be sure you’re at ikariam.com and not .org, too.)  E-mail me to let me know where to send the welcome wagon. Join ussss… 🙂

The Cost of Being a Goon

A while back I heard about a video of a Wintergrasp battle in WoW that had been won within 62 seconds thanks to a clever bunch of folks that piled around the relic door and used grenades and bombs from the engineering profession to blast it down.  I looked up the video and found that it was the notorious Goon Squad that had pulled it off.  A friend in my guild mentioned that the Goons had also once kited Jaina all the way to Orgrimmar, through the city, and into Thrall’s chambers where they had a showdown.  What a fun idea!  I decided to check out their website to see what else they’d been up to.

I was immediately met with a warning that I was not a paying member, but that if I clicked “ok” I could see the payment options for the guild.  Uh, payment options?   I clicked ok and was met with a summary of what it requires to be a Goon.

If you want the privilege of running with the Goons in WoW, it will cost you an additional monthly fee payable through Paypal, credit card, or direct bank account transfer.  They have four different membership plans, each allowing you access to different levels of raiding and guild activities.  The above Jaina/Thrall event, for example, was a “Platinum Only” event.  All those people involved pay an extra $50 a month on top of their regular WoW subscription fee to participate in this kind of thing, or just $40 if the economy-inspired price break had already occurred.

Beyond the membership fees, they invite people to buy gear, too.  If you’re low on DKP but really want to bid on a raid drop, no problem — you can buy more DKP for a dollar a point.  Seems they may allow some non-members to raid with them, in which case the person must pay $5-25 (depending on gear item level) for drops, payable before the raid.  They add “We do not accept gold as a USD substitute.”  How is this not against the Terms of Use, which says “you may not sell in-game items or currency for “real” money, or exchange those items or currency for value outside of the Game”?

For all this, the Goons must bring in an impressive amount of money, too.  They say these fees go toward paying full time guild employees, including the GM, raid leaders, and a sys admin to keep the forums and vent servers going.  They boast 1800 accounts, so even if these were all just $10/month accounts with no frills, that’s $18,000 per month that they pull in.  That’s the minimum.  You saw how many $40-50 accounts were running around in those videos, so it has to be quite a bit more. I’m sure some folks also buy DKP and gear, so I can’t help but wonder what they rake in.  And do they report it and pay taxes on it?

There are guilds of similar (or larger) size out there that seem to function perfectly fine with a GM, officers, and raid leaders, none of whom get paid by the membership.  I don’t know how many accounts Alea Iacta Est has, but with almost 5000 toons associated with the guild, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a comparable number of accounts to the Goons.  I suppose some would argue that the in-game experience the Goons offer is rare, however. It is an exclusive club and membership can potentially change the game completely for you.  But is it worth an extra $40 per month on top of your WoW subscription?

If it were a one-time fee to help defray the cost of the website and vent servers, I could see doing that.  Even a small yearly donation would not be unreasonable.  But, supporting the GM and officers so that they can basically live off of running the guild?  Sorry, I don’t think so.  The payment of real money for gear is absolutely ridiculous, too.  Pushing the boundaries is sort of their thing though, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Still, I’m surprised they get away with it.

==

Edit: Evidently this is just another one of the Goons’ clever games and I fell for it.  They’re pretty good, aren’t they?

<–pwned

Chronicles of Spellborn

I’d heard Beau rave about The Chronicles of Spellborn, but wasn’t really interested in trying it until I watched his video tour.  The animation of the character didn’t thrill me, but the atmosphere was so intriguing, I decided I’d give it a go.  I have to say, it impressed me.  It’s well worth checking out.  In fact, I’ve played more of Spellborn during the last week than WoW.  (I know!  I’m surprised, too!)

Character Creation

The flexibility in character creation is quite fun. You start by picking the archetype for your character:  warrior, spellcaster, or rogue.  After a bit of leveling, you’ll be able to specialize to become one of three more distinct subclasses available.  I chose a caster, for example, who has the potential to become a rune mage (powerful damage dealer), a void seer (with healing capabilities), or an ancestral mage (caster with a pet).

There are two races, humans and daevi, which are mysterious hooved humanoids.  You can choose from a couple different body types to come up with some very different-looking characters.  The really fun part, however, is customizing your character’s clothing and armor.  All of this is purely aesthetic apparently — if you don’t like the shoulder armor models, you don’t have to give your character shoulder armor.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter. There are matching sets of clothing and gear, or you can mix and match all you like.   Coloring of the items can be chosen individually or for the entire set.  Here are some views of a character I made, showing some of the options for clothes and gear styling.  Click each for a larger view!

spell-1 spell-2 spell-4 spell-5

Some of the armor pieces have sockets where you can add sigils to boost your abilities.  If your current items don’t have slots, you may find new items later during your adventures.  It seems anything can be reforged to match the rest of your gear’s color, if you like, too.  (I imagine this will be one of the paid options when the shop opens next year.)

Movement

Learning to move around effectively took some practice.  My characters still stagger around somewhat drunkenly at times because the super-quick about-face mouse turns that I do in WoW don’t quite work here.  It’s pretty funny to watch people arrive at the docks just after the tutorial, too.  Good to know I’m not the only one that didn’t get the hang of it immediately.

Combat

Combat is quite interactive.  I’d heard that you had to aim your weapon, which made me nervous given my history with FPS’s.  (I stink at them.)  This is much more forgiving than I imagined, though you still have to pay attention to what you’re doing.  You have a rotating action bar that offers you different sets of skills that you can rearrange to your liking. This screenshot is a little dark, but you’ll get the jist of it:

spell-14

Here, it’s between casts.  When the cylinder completes its rotation to the spells on row 2, it will remain there until you cast one of the spells on it.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to actually cast.  I aim using the mouse and then click the number of the spell twice, the first time to select it, the second time to cast it.  There may be better ways (they suggest the mousewheel to select the spells), but using the numbers on my keyboard worked pretty well for me.  Also, while there’s no mana/rage/energy bar for you to consider, there are a few different bars below your HP bar that will impact how effective your attacks are.

I worried a little about being a squishy caster in a game I’d never played, but I’ve been impressed with my survivability.  I can take on several waves of multiple mobs thanks to some self-healing abilities.  I need the survivability, too.  In some of the wooded areas, it’s easy to become surrounded very quickly and respawn timers seem to be short, as well.  I’ve seen some people complain about it in the public chat (“that’s not fair — in wow I just get attacked by one thing at a time”), but it’s made for some really close, exciting fights.

Questing

The questing is fairly standard, though I’m finding it quite engaging.  I’m reading all the quest text (shocking!) and following along with the stories.  Sometimes, you are presented with more than one option of how to respond to the NPC’s, as well.  I plan to go through and answer a few of their queries differently on my next run through, just to see if it changes the outcomes.  Even if it doesn’t, I like that it allows my character a little more personality.  Makes it feel more like an RPG.

The NPC’s have personality, as well.  There was something very bland about all the questing in Runes of Magic.  Even when they were clearly trying to be funny, they weren’t.  There was a strange disconnect there, maybe a language/translation thing.  Spellborn has made me smile several times and even laugh out loud.  I wouldn’t say the wit rises to the level of some of the stuff in WoW, but I think that sort of stuff would be inconsistent with the mood.  Spellborn isn’t a dark game, but it has a darker tone than WoW, for sure.

Quality of Light

I really love the look of this game.  Much of it has to do with the quality of light.  This is my character looking out at the landscape with a campfire to her right side.  (Click to see the full view of the landscape.)

spell-6th

This is an empty vendor’s stall on the docks.  I love the way the inside is lit by the lamp.

spell-7th

I keep happening upon scenes like this, where everything is so beautifully lit that I have to stop and take a screenshot (which is cumbersome — I didn’t notice an automatic feature for this in-game).  You know there’s a little dude up in the watchtower there.

spell-10

It’s a great-looking game.  I’ll resist the temptation to post more screenshots so that when you discover things and see the cities for the first time, you’ll enjoy that same moment of “wooow” that I did.  Ok, just one more:

spell-8th

Sound and Immersion

Another thing that has really impressed me is the ambient sound.  When I’m running around in the wooded areas, the hum of the insects is amazing. I usually have the window next to my desk open this time of year and at first I thought it was noise from outside.  I’ve been thinking about dimming the lights and playing while wearing headphones some night, though the game barely needs it.

The insect (and bird) sounds also remind me of my days of backpacking.  These are wonderful memories of “epic” journeys on foot that I took in real life, so I’m sure this plays into the sense of adventure that I feel in this world. My awareness is heightened, too, because I know there could be danger lurking in the trees.

Discovery

As I’ve begun to play these other MMO’s, my inner explorer has re-emerged.  I love wandering into new areas and finding out they’re too dangerous for me.  I creep up to the edges of the world and give myself vertigo by peering into the abyss.  I encounter holes in the ground with ladders leading down and wonder… what’s down there?  There’s only one way to find out…

spell-13

I’m sure it helps that I’m making it a point not to look up quest help, read about things ahead of time, or study what classes and spell rotations are optimal.  Even beyond that, there’s something about this world that invites me to explore it.  I’m loving the process of discovering this game.

Overall

A fangirl is born.

Like I said, I’m playing this more than I’m playing WoW.  The time that would have formerly gone to fishing, doing dailies, and leveling up alts has now been shifted to running around in the darkened woods, admiring the landscapes, and exploring the winding cities I’ve discovered so far.  The game is currently free to play while it’s in redevelopment. I believe it’s going to remain free after its re-release next year, but it sounds like cash shops and stuff like that will likely be added.  My only hope is that the game itself will not change too much.  I think it’s marvelous as it is.

Runes of Magic

I’ve been feeling a bit of wanderlust in my gaming recently.  The rush of gathering badges in heroics in WoW has passed since I’ve picked up my 8.5 chest and helm for both of my priest’s gear sets.  Her only other major upgrades come from raids, so there’s not much “work” for me to do.  I do have some alts tootling about, though they’re mostly out of rested xp.  And, if I’m being honest, I think I’ve just spent too much time in game recently.  Little things about my guildmates (who I adore!) have been getting under my skin.  I think it’s just time for a breather.  During my time in WoW, I have messed with a few other games, though never too seriously.  That’s the plan for now, too.  I’m going to try some new games and not worry so much about researching the character classes or working to setting up shop (socially or otherwise) and just have fun exploring.

My wanderings are also inspired in part by Van Hemlock‘s Operation Cheap Seats (spending time in free trials and free-to-play games) and the good folks over at MMO Voices.  When I joined the site there, Runes of Magic was the current “Game of the Site” (that several folks are going to be trying at ones), so I decided to start with that one.  (Looks like they’ve moved on to a different game now though.)

So, Runes of Magic.  I’d heard a bit about this game from various blogs and podcasts, mostly mentioning that it was disturbingly similar to WoW. The better reviews said that questing was much the same, the interface was nearly identical, and that it was a pretty good free-to-play option for those that didn’t want to shell out the subscription fee for WoW.  (Runes of Magic instead has RMT options for in-game items and bonuses of various kinds, though it’s optional.)  The less positive reviews condemned the game for being too much like WoW or a poor imitation of it. WoW is the only MMO that I’ve played at any great length, so I knew I’d be making comparisons, as well.  I promised myself I’d keep an open mind and not condemn it for its similarities to my main game.

I got the game downloaded, installed, and patched (a fairly lengthy process) and then was finally set to log in.  To my surprise, the login screen offered an on-screen keyboard to type in your password.  Woo!  Extra security!  That’s a pretty cool feature for those that put a lot of time and money into the game.  When the WoW hackings were more common, I remember someone mentioning that as a possible solution, but Blizz went with authenticators instead.  (I do have one, too.)  Still, kind of cool to see that feature on a free game.

Character creation!  My favorite!  I flipped through all the faces and hairstyles for both the male and female characters.  The only available race was human, which was sort of a bummer, but there was a decent variety of looks to choose from.  The art style has an Asian influence, for sure, though there was a good range of cartoony-anime to more realistic looks.  Most of the male faces looked really goofy to me (as they do in WoW, as well), but I usually go with female toons anyway.  I made my first character a warrior.  Here she is, getting ready to begin the tutorial:

rom-1

Look familiar?

And there you can see the UI, as well.   I run about 100 addons in WoW to make my UI not look like this, so I was a little frustrated.  I wanted to move the portraits, the action bars, the map, everything.  It was better after I put the video on the proper resolution for my monitor size and scaled the UI to 70% of its natural size.  (Turns out you can move the action bars, too — I figured this out later.)

I completed the tutorial, which essentially teaches you how to move around, jump, interact with NPC’s, and kill stuff.  Afterward, I was given a bag of goodies to help get me started in the game which included some gear, as well as a horse that lasts for 24 hours (live time).

I rode around the Pioneers Colony (sic), the quest hub for the starting area, and picked up quests.  They were all pretty standard.  Kill ten of this, collect ten of that, go talk to so-and-so.  Nothing new there.  There was a nice surprise with crafting, however — seems you can learn as many professions as you like!  You can only train some of them up to max level, but for someone with no aspirations of hitting any sort of level cap, this is the perfect thing.

Then, I ventured out to kill stuff.  Although the names of the attacks were different, the warrior in RoM has the same rage mechanic as in WoW, it seems.  I clobbered stuff and did quests until she hit level 4 or so.  I really don’t enjoy melee all that much (just like in WoW), but I did get a good feel for how all the UI features worked as I dealt with my inventory, turned in the quests, and upgraded my gear.  Turns out the default UI in RoM has incorporated some things that have only very recently been added in WoW or that we still rely on addons for.  For example:

  • Coordinates are available on the mini-map (not that I plan to look up quest locations, but it’s nice for those that want to).
  • Built in gear management options that allow you to examine all items in your inventory slot-by-slot (hover over slot to see them) and the ability to save outfits (recently added by WoW, though I still use an addon).
  • Notes that appear on mob mouseovers that let you know what quest they’re part of (WoW recently added this,).
  • All mobs are tracked on the mini-map, and mousing over them on the mini-map will also give the quest info.

All of this makes it pretty easy;  it’s intuitive if you’ve ever played an MMO.  One feature that surprised me was if you click on the name of an NPC in the quest text, your toon walks (or rides) right to them.  Wooooow.  On the one hand, that makes it all seem a little too easy.  On the other hand, it means not running around in circles for twenty minutes because the Argent squire you’re supposed to talk with is only two feet tall and wearing camouflage that causes him to blend in with the bench he’s standing on.  It’s also a nice thing if you’re feeling lazy.  This feature actually made the game feel a little bit more like FreeRealms, which lights up a little path exactly where you’re supposed to walk to do or turn in a quest.  Sometimes I used this feature, sometimes I didn’t.

You can also train right on the spot after leveling.  A little book appears on your screen and you spend points to upgrade your skills — pretty straightforward.  You can also apparently level up more than one class on a single toon.

After the warrior, I decided to try a priest.  I spent a little more time customizing her than I did my warrior.

Didn't realize I made her this busty until I cropped the shot... heh...

Didn't realize I made her this busty until I cropped the shot just now.

The tutorial is worth redoing with each toon because it gives you a magical bag of stuff (including the 24h horse) and really, it only takes a couple minutes.  I had turned off click-to-move, however, and that’s one of the first things it asks you to do.  Bah.  So, for every tutorial, I had to turn that back on briefly.

The priest was more fun for me than the warrior.  It was kind of nifty to see the different casting animations:

Pew pew!

Pew pew!

The priest had both damage and healing spells, though healing myself seemed to be a bit of a pain since my portrait was all the way at the top of the screen.  As someone spoiled by grid + clique, this wasn’t going to fly.  I leveled her to four or five before deciding to check out the mage class.

I immediately liked the mage.  She felt powerful, had cool casting animations, and had pretty hair! 😉  Here she is checking out the “creative” name of someone else in the starting zone:

I didn't ask if he had any tales to share.

I didn't ask if he had any tales to share.

Not that the NPC names were always better:

My boyfriend.

My boyfriend.

I got the mage to level 6 before I tore myself away to go back to one of the remaining melee classes, the rogue.  Apparently, apprentice rogues don’t wear pants, but I’ll leave it to you to click on that link at your discretion.  Again, melee.  Nothing special, just faster stabbing than the warrior.  She eventually found a tunic that covered her buns and was grateful to do so before crossing paths with the headmaster himself:

o rly?

o rly?

I then briefly played the scout class, which seemed to have both range and melee abilities.  I mostly used my range abilities and kited the mobs around, but felt like a WoW hunter without a pet.  It’s odd, too, how deeply I’ve been conditioned to think that hunter-y types should never ever melee (thanks, BRK), so I actually felt like I was playing badly if the mob caught up to me and I had to stab it.  I recognize that a scout is not a hunter, but still… I decided to skip the knight class and do a little more exploring with the mage instead.

So literary!

So literary!

She finished up most of the quests in the starting area, including the daily gathering quests, which seem to be endlessly repeatable, as far as I could tell.  She then wandered to Logar, the larger town in the center of the map, to see what was going on there.  There were tons of player characters bustling among the NPC’s.  I explored the whole town, picking up quests as I found them.  And look what was at the edge of town:

Hurray!  Outla... Oops, nevermind.

Hurray! Outla... Oops, nevermind.

In town, I found all the usual vendor types, an auctioneer, and a few more crafting trainers to learn from.  I also found someone looking to sell me a house!  Ok, this is moderately exciting because I’ve never played a game with player housing.  This isn’t something I’ve particularly cared much about, but I know that some folks love it, so I was eager to check it out.  I shelled out the gold and went inside my empty house.  Hm, not very exciting.  So, I went back outside and bought a chair.  It seemed like the thing to do.

Spacious.

Spacious.

Oh, and that’s my “housekeeper” to the left.   Heh…I can’t even sit in the chair, so I suppose she’ll have to dust it to keep it clean.

I still haven’t figured out all the house settings and stuff… something about energy?  I have no idea.  But, like I said, I’m just messing around here.  I’ve decided I’m not going to research it, I’m just going to follow my nose.

Overall

Surprisingly fun.  My gameplay in WoW has become so goal-oriented that to just run around in circles and click on things actually felt like a vacation.  While this game may not offer the humor and cleverness of WoW (at least not in the starting area), the gameplay was pretty smooth and not far from the standard WoW old world fare.  I haven’t played with the crafting much, but I liked that I don’t have to lock myself into one or two choices.  I’m intrigued by the dual class thing, too.

I didn’t mind the art style as much as I thought I might.  The world feels very enclosed to me, however.  In the starting area, I felt like I was on a sound stage instead of in a world — I can’t explain why.  Everything looked too still, perhaps?  I’ll pay more attention next time I log in.  There is day and night (on a different schedule than our 24 hour one, it seems), but no weather that I noticed.  I don’t remember seeing any small creatures running about or leaves blowing around.  Details like that can breathe life into a zone.

One of the major hurdles I’ve had with other games (or even Alliance toons) in the past is that if my toon looks silly when they run, I can’t play for long.  If their arms swing in a stupid way or their legs kick too much, forget it.  After all, most of the time, that’s what we’re looking out — the back of our toons as they run.  When I first saw my RoM warrior running toward the town, I thought, “Oh, great.”  I scoffed.  I rolled my eyes.  But, it actually didn’t take me that long to get used to.  This gives me hope that I can enjoy something other than watching my Horde toons running around.

Will I Keep Playing?

I’ll certainly keep looking in on this one from time to time.  I still want to play around with the crafting stuff and give one of their dungeons a try to see how it compares.  I’m curious about about the quality of the community, too, so I might try grouping up with folks after I get to a higher level.  I’m not ready to delete this game quite yet. 🙂

What’s Next?

The next MMO Voices game pick is Ikariam, so I’ll certainly check that out.  I also downloaded The Chronicles of Spellborn after watching Beau’s video here.  Nifty.

(And, if you were ever wondering what Ess stood for, now you know. 🙂 )

*crickets*

Anyone still reading out there?  Heh… I know I’ve been quiet.  I’ve been playing plenty of WoW lately, raiding a couple times a week with my guild, running heroics, doing officer-y things, and have even dusted off some alts, but somehow, none of it has seemed post-worthy.

I’m having a great time, it just seems that my experiences have become rather predictable and not that much fun to write about.  I could tell you that we’ve downed Hodir, Thorim, and have taken our first crack at Mimiron.  I could mention that my husband and I have dusted off our achievement duo in hopes that we’ll get Loremaster done before the old world explodes.  All this might be interesting for me to read about in the future, maybe, as I look back on my time in the game, but it’s really not interesting to me now.  I doubt it’s interesting to any readers either.  It feels like a half-assed update.  A diary entry with no reflection.  “Today at school we had pizza for lunch and played kickball in gym.”  Bleah.

I’m starting to bore myself.  I’m lacking inspiration.  I used to find it by going out into Azeroth and pugging or questing in the noob areas.  Now, I pretty much only hang out with my guildies and in the interest of anonymity, I won’t say many specific things about them here.

I’ve also found myself skipping over a lot of WoW blogs lately in favor of more general MMO oriented blogs.  Whenever I get around to cleaning up my blogroll (mainly removing the listings of bloggers that have quit over the last six months), I have a feeling that the WoW:General ratio is going to be much closer to 1:1.  It may even be more skewed toward the general.  It’s moments like this where I wonder whether I should have chosen a less WoW-oriented title for my blog.  Heh… it’s dated even more because I wasn’t thinking ahead beyond the Burning Crusade expansion.  Oh well, it’s still me, right?

I don’t have any specific plans yet, but I’m hoping to rekindle my interest (and yours?) in the blog with more thoughtful posts that have less to do with my in-game activities and more about my thoughts on the state of WoW and possibly other games that I’ve tried recently.  Either that or you won’t hear from me for another month.  😉