Blaugust Reborn – A Retrospective

I’m sure if you had approached me at the beginning of July and told me I should start a blog, I probably would have looked at you like you were crazy. I mean, I wasn’t a writer, I wasn’t a journalist, and it sounded like an awful lot of work. Why do that when I can do other things I know I enjoy like playing some game or another?

Yet, here we are. The blog exists. WordPress feels the need to constantly remind me that I’ve posted something every day since July 24th. I get it, people posting means they’re making money and nobody likes to break a streak right? So, uh, we did it, I guess.

It’s a weird post to be writing in a way, as it’s become such a part of day to day routine that it now feels natural. I suspect that is, ultimately, its purpose. In a vacuum, I never would have tried it, and even if I had, probably not continued either. The event has a few additional perks like having a built in audience. Enough so that I know there are people who make an effort to read these posts.

Funnily enough, I did it for me though. That’s not really a good thing or a bad thing, we all do what we do for our own reasons. Mine was to prove to myself that I could do it. I felt that it was an experience that could only improve my life and so wanted to prove to myself that I could.

Psychochild expressed a sentiment recently that sums up how I used to feel about a lot of things. I grew up thinking of things in terms of gifts and talents. Some people were good at drawing, some people weren’t, and you had to learn to play the hand you’re dealt.

This is still true, to a point. Some people do seem to possess an innate ability for certain tasks. The catch was an art student I met at DigiPen. Their art department had a certain amount of work that was expected of you before you even started. He showed me some of it, from when he started up till then. I also learned that he hadn’t been one of those people who had been drawing all their lives. He set out to learn a skill, and did.

Some years later I decided if he could do it, I could do it too. I went to my local library and checked out Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I went looking for that book specifically because it sounded like what I was looking for, something that assumes it’s a learnable skill and attempts to convey some of the basic skills in question. And I did it. I learned a very basic ability to draw an object I can see accurately enough that you can identify the object in question. I was happy with this result and stopped. I proved that I could.

This project started in much the same manner. I have, however, discovered a key difference. I actually kinda want to keep doing this. I’ve been asking myself why; what makes this different?

I have a lot of different answers in my head, many of which I haven’t sorted through entirely. Things that I feel I have personally gained from the process, the fact that some of you actually like my content, something that still amazes me. It’s a lot of little things, right? The WarFrame guide that helped me refine my skills. These weird rambling posts that get generated when I’m sitting around thinking about stuff, they’re sort of therapeutic in a way. My something new, um, I guess column is the right word? It provides me with a reason to try something different every week. It’s mostly been MMOs this month, but that can only last so long. Then I’ll be forced to branch out even further.

I think about how all these things came to pass and sum total at the end of the month is Blaugust. How did Blaugust happen? Belghast. He’s the instigator. Let’s hear it for him yeah?

This is not to demean anybody else either. All the mentors, participants, and the people just hanging out made this event.

So great work everyone. Thank you for your time, your knowledge, and this opportunity. I will remember it fondly, regardless of where the future takes us.

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Sevenish reasons I wouldn’t play classic EQ now

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Man this post goes on forever, have some kittens.

After my nostalgia post a few days ago I’ve spent some time thinking about just how many things we have now that we take for granted.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I played EQ. A lot of it. I’m both proud and embarrassed by the fact that I burned the original UI into an old CRT monitor, I played it so much.

There’s so much in a modern MMO UI though. So much information at your fingertips, either always visible or at the push of a button. Things we now expect without a thought for what came before.

The first thing that comes to mind is the overall strength of a mob in relation to you. That’s typically either displayed at all time or easily visible once it’s targeted. EQ had a “consider” command that would give you an extremely approximate indication of your chances. It was color coded and the text, which you had to read, would indicate how aggressive it was towards you. I feel like the original scale from least to most dangerous was green, blue, black, yellow, red. Green was irrelevant, blue was generally weaker, black was about the same, yellow was stronger than you, a risky move, and red, well. The text for red was “What would you like your tombstone to say?”  Now we play games where we make this same sort of judgement on the fly by comparing our level and it’s level. We also usually use the name color to indicate if it’s aggressive or not. It’s such a small change, one I haven’t really spent much time thinking about until now.

Another big one is navigation. We didn’t have in-game maps either. Nor did we have a mini-map or even a compass. Yeah, there was a skill called “Sense direction” that would tell you which way you were facing but you had to be constantly clicking that thing forever before it became reliable enough to use. Of course I eventually learned that the clouds in the skybox always moved the same direction, which made the skill mostly irrelevant. We did have some maps online though. There were people who spent their time using the “loc” command to make line drawing maps of each zone, eventually complete with roads and points of interest. Now most games have all this information available in-game. No more binders full of maps somebody spent hours making.

Hotbars though. Man, there were so many weird things about the EQ hotbar/spell/skill system. I think the original “hotbar” in the traditional sense had six slots. There was a separate fixed ui for spell slots along the left side of the screen. You had to drag an drop the “spell crystals” from your spellbook into these slots manually. I feel like it had a timer attached to it too, but that was so long ago, my memory is fuzzy. Another wild thing was that in vanilla you would only regen mana when you were “meditating” yet another skill. This only took place when you had the spellbook open, covering your entire field of view. It also sat you down when you opened it. Mob AI tended to prioritize these vulnerable targets and hits on a sitting person were automatic crits. It was eventually changed so that merely sitting would engage the meditate skill so you could at least see when Fippy Darkpaw was about to cut your finger off.

Another wild aspect of this is that when you died, it cleared your memorized spells. This meant that when you died you had to set that spell bar back up. One spell at a time, with a timer. Imagine having to set your hotbar back up every time you died in a modern MMO.

Speaking of death, corpse runs now are such a huge improvement. EQ just spawned you naked, no gear, cleared hotbar. You had to run back to your corpse and loot your stuff off of it. This was especially inconvenient if you died in a fairly dangerous location because you had to blow past aggressive mobs and hope you can reach safety before they kill you. Again. Permanent xp loss from repeated deaths was brutal. There were better ways, but there would be times where you didn’t even know where exactly you died. It was common to see someone shouting out the question “has anyone seen my corpse?”

Speaking of experience loss, I haven’t heard the concept of “hell levels” mentioned in several years. For some reason, when they established the formula that determines the amount of xp to level up, they decided that certain levels should be obscenely high. I’m looking at an approximated table and it looks like these levels required as much experience to get through as the level before and after combined. That is to say, it took more experience to get through level 30 than it did 31, 32, 33, 34, or 36. 35 isn’t listed because it’s another hell level. It was pretty much every 5 starting at 30 and going through 45. It also applied to some of the higher levels after the cap was raised, but was slightly less severe. I don’t know the math behind xp loss on death but it was generally accepted that death penalties were more severe for these levels as well. This spreadsheet says you would need to solo 95 even con mobs to get through level 30.

Doesn’t sound like much though. Even to me I’m kinda like “That’s it? Seems like it took a lot longer than that.” Then I remember just how much downtime you would have soloing even cons. Assuming you were in a position to do so, full health, no adds, etc, you’d be sitting on the ground waiting for health/mana to regenerate for 5-10 minutes between each one. A full group could maintain a much faster pace, but would around 472 even con kills and that’s assuming everyone in the group is roughly the same level. There’s a lot of weird math here that involves comparing xp totals instead of actual levels. It was possible to have the exact same xp total and be different levels due to race/class modifiers.

So to mirror my previous sentiment, I will always love the fun times, experiences, and people. I would totally not enjoy EQ as a game unless I had a full 6-man group of friends and we all played together on Project99. I actually don’t have that many friends and family that I think would enjoy the experience. I can think of four, myself included. That would be a challenge, but may be possible with a well planned party, I don’t know. I’ll file it for later and maybe someday I’ll be bothered. In the meantime I have plenty of other great MMOs to choose from now, with great QoL improvements.

I will always love Qeynos, even if it is just Sony EQ spelled backwards.

Warframe – Mask of the Revenant, Eventually

mask of the revenant

So there’s a new update out with a new quest and a new warframe. It went straight to the top of my to-do list. Went to Cetus, a sort of open air market on Earth, only to learn that my standing with a faction called The Quills isn’t high enough.

quills standing

I had never even started, so I had, and have, a lot of grinding to get done. This is mostly because I wasn’t actively playing when the Plains of Eidolon were released. Even once I came back I’ve only tinkered with it, not actually done any of the legwork.

The thing is, the quills faction is increased by turning in “Intact Sentient Cores.” It took some digging to figure out how to get these. Basically small flying attack drones spawn on the plain at night. If you shoot them in operator mode you can actually destroy them and they drop a core. I honestly had no idea before now. I just ran from them because I didn’t seem to be able to destroy them.

Now, the problem is these bad boys are exchanged for 100 standing each. As you can see I’m about 115 short just to max out standing for this rank. I haven’t even looked to see what I need for the actual rank up once I’m there.

They seem to be the most dense near the giant sentient terralyst thing, so we got in the habit of popping out during the night cycle and following it around. An entire night typically yields 80-90 cores.  It seems we can get additional and/or higher end cores from damaging the giant war machine thing, but it took the two of us all night and every scrap of ammo we can and could get just to burn one of them down.

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On the upside, we spent the day cycle running a ton of missions. So many missions in fact that we managed to get all the blueprints we’ll need to craft the frame itself when the time comes.

I honestly don’t know at what point we’ll have time to finish up the reputation grind, much less the quest itself. It’ll probably be this weekend before I have the time to really sink into it again. The night cycle alone is 50 minutes long and the day cycle between is 100 minutes, meaning that from the time I log in it can take up to two and a half hours to get one good run in.

I’ve been taking advantage of that to grind the main faction in the city using bounties, but between MHW and Battletech I just can’t spare that kind of time if I’m going to sleep and get writing done as well. In fact, I spent a good bit of time Sunday getting my materials together for the main faction, I just have to get my standing back up to max and I’ll be able to increase it again.

They added some new weapons and such with the plains that I need to start working on acquiring. I could really use the mastery points.

“Still working on it, continue to defend.” – Lotus

Lost Notes and a Minimum Word Count

I’ve seen some of my fellow blaugustans have the remainder of their posts/drafts set of for the rest of the event, and that’s great! I on the other hand am just barely ahead of the line. I actually like it here, it means that my posts still feel somewhat fresh or relevant when they go up. I feel really weird when they go live and I can no longer remember what, exactly, I even wrote in it.

What I’m actually asking myself right now is what kind of balance I’m looking for in my content. I’ve tried to stay away from too many gaming posts in a row because then I feel like that’s all I’m writing and I generally enjoy these more rambly, thinking in words sort of posts.

I’m also at a bit of a loss because I have temporarily misplaced my backpack, which has my master list of topics to write about. This has left me freestyling a little bit. With any luck I’ll find it in the next day or so and be back on track.

The good news is, we have a new quest/frame in Warframe. I’m not in a position to do it yet, but I’ll be able to write about working up to it this week.

I’m also debating breaking schedule on something new posts. I intended to cover Battletech this Sunday, but I also wanted to try a couple more MMOs. I’m just having a minor time problem. I’ve been putting a couple hours a day into Warframe then rolling into MHW which is sitting at around 80-90 hours played at this point. Somewhere in here I still have to find some time to write, look through other bloggers’ posts, and put enough hours into “something new” to get a decent post about it.

On the bright side, it’s helping keep me busy, something I’m not accustomed to but welcome. It’s also keeping me engaged with a community, if somewhat less talkative on discord than I was before.

Another odd quirk I picked up around the middle of the month is I’ve been deliberately trying to get at least 500 words per post. There’s no real reason why, and no reason why I arbitrarily chose 500. I was just working on something that was close, decided to go ahead and try to cross the line, then kept doing it. I actually consider anything crossing the 1,000 mark to be “long” so it’s a weird sort of minimum to have.

Part of it is that historically I always disliked writing to a word count minimum. Why should I write three paragraphs when I can answer this in only a couple of sentences? I tended to get straight to the point and didn’t feel the need to expand upon what was clearly an efficient answer.

It’s also super awkward trying to address the current word count in writing. I’m watching it go up, and I could mention what it currently is, but if I used the number before I write it, it’ll be wrong after I write it. If I use the number after I write the sentence, it doesn’t reflect the count at the time I had the thought? It just feels awkward to address directly.

It suddenly occurs to me that once blaugust is over I won’t actually have it around to provide topics and jumping off points. This is… concerning.

Either way, stay safe out there folks.

Tactical Turn Based Strategy RPGs

Man, buying Battletech was a mistake. I haven’t gone to bed before midnight since I started playing it.

I’ve had a fondness for this sort of tactical turn-based strategy rpg for quite some time. Man that’s a mouthful, I gotta find a better name for this genre. The first one I ever remember playing was Shining Force II on the Genesis. I don’t remember much about it any more, except that I’m pretty sure I never finished it. It had a feature that I typically considered “hardcore” but in hindsight is more of a defining element of the genre.

The feature is permadeath. Any unit that falls on the battlefield is lost. While there are variations and differing conditions from game to game, this exists in SF2, Final Fantasy Tactics, XCOM 1 & 2, and of course Battletech.

Now, quite some time after I played Shining Force I discovered Final Fantasy Tactics on the playstation. I liked Final Fantasy, and it looked kinda like that Shining Force game I used to play, so I tried it. To this day I still consider it a great title that did a lot of things right. This was quite a jump in time too. I just wasn’t aware of titles like Tactics Ogre on the SNES, or any others for that matter. FFT was the first thing I had seen that resembled Shining Force. I liked FFT so much that I’ve owned several physical copies of PS1 and even the version on android.

After playing FFT to death they did eventually release handheld sequels as well. I’ve played the first one a little bit, though I didn’t own it, so I haven’t played it extensively.  It didn’t quite grab me the way the original did.

Then years passed and I wished they would make more games like Final Fantasy Tactics. I was painfully unaware of any other titles. It wasn’t a really popular genre and if you didn’t know a series existed you weren’t likely to hear about it. I did eventually encounter Front Mission 3 and played it as well. It was similar but it had mechs with interchangeable parts. It was a little less hardcore but I liked it. I didn’t see many more games in this style for quite some time after that.

Then XCOM happened. I don’t remember, at this point, how I came to own it. I believe it was on console. It added a new element I hadn’t seen before, base management. Building a base, managing energy, funding, salvaged resources, personnel, technological research. It was a form of strategy that went well beyond the immediate battle in front of you and made it a much deeper experience overall. I did eventually beat XCOM, then my brother, I believe, gave me a copy with the expansion that I also played at length. The nice thing about XCOM was it’s various options to tweak the difficulty. I consider “Ironman” mode a default On option now. It’s basically just an autosave function. Reloading a save after a battle goes south felt kindof cheat/exploit-like to me. Ironman removes the temptation.

One of the things I love, and hate, about XCOM is how absolutely brutal the game is. Especially early in the game when a couple of shots from basic sectoid can easily take out a single unit.

Naturally when XCOM 2 came out I was all over that. It is an inherently different game and I haven’t spent enough time with it to finish it. I remember when they announced Battletech as well. It might have escaped my attention had it not been compared at length to the more visible XCOM.

I told my coworker, who also likes XCOM, that it’s like XCOM if  it had been made by the IRS. I swear I’m doing everything for this mercenary company except the taxes and I’m waiting for them to ask. I like it so far, I’ll probably have a post this Sunday about it.

Something New – Bless Online

All aboard! Honestly I had written Bless off due to the negative comments. I shouldn’t have done that. Not because Bless is some awesome hidden gem, but because I don’t really believe in writing something off without experiencing it myself.

I saw some posts over on The MMOist(1, 2) and Inventory Full(1, 2) and thought it looked better than I’d heard, so I decided to take a look and see. Judge it for myself, properly.

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I wasn’t immediately thrilled right out of the gate. I was locked into a specific faction because everyone apparently likes the other one? Then I wanted to make a Paladin, but it wasn’t available to my chosen race, the Leonid. I didn’t feel like being a human or an elf, so I made one of the cute little animal people.

The tutorial was blessedly short, though instructions for some tasks, like equipping a second stance, were not very clear. It said something like “add X to the stances hotbar” but it’s a submenu accessed by clicking on an “equip” button not a drag and drop sort of situation.

Once I got past that I was on a blimp/airship thing which I quite liked. I think I have a soft spot for airships. I assumed it was just an opening cutscene that would result in us landing in town right? Nope, we get attacked. I think in my head I was expecting attack planes piloted by orcs or something.

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Nope, it was beetles. It kind of makes sense I guess, but I was kinda like “really? beetles?” Between that and me not really having been pleased with my character choices I just logged once we were done with the beetles. I just wasn’t feeling it.

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When I came back I decided to try something different. I figured I liked my Charr Warrior from GW2, so I’d try the same thing here. Went with Leonid Berserker. So far, I have found this to be more to my liking.

The quest line is sort of odd and tribal in the beginning. Some human poachers attacked me and I killed them in return. This made me go through wolf-man puberty early and I had to do a coming of age ritual only for the humans to end up stealing the soul of the forest or something? It’s okay, not super enthralled but it provides some direction to the experience.

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Yeah, this tunic disguise is totally fooling those humans into thinking I belong here!

Now, I can see why many people aren’t super thrilled with this game. Optimization is an issue. I’m constantly tweaking settings trying to get it to run smoothly. I suspect it may be more a resource loading issue, as it seems to develop a stutter randomly and for no apparent reason.

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Translation seems to come up a lot as well. I honestly haven’t run into to many issues. It’s way better than some of the other games I’ve tried, and usually shows up as odd choices like “check attendance” above. Another I can think of is since the login bonus is sent to you via mail, the remove attachment button simply says “gift.”

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I haven’t really got a good handle on the combat yet. It has a combo system that so far seems to be things like 1->R->R->R, where the number is a hotbar slot and R, T, or Y right behind it to select the… tree… and again for the final hit. The tiers in this tree from top to bottom are:

Stance – You can have two equipped? Switch with ~ key

Hotbar Skill – 1, 2, and I presume 3

Subskill? – R, T, and Y from left to right. One press for top, second press for bottom.

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I did enjoy the little taming minigame. I quickly found myself using all my scrolls to tame every random critter I came across, including this wolf mount. That… doesn’t look like it’s good for the wolf. He’s gonna have some back problems.

offbrand chocobo
Off-brand Chocobo?

I really only have a few hours in this, and I feel like half of that is load time. I’m sure it’s not quite that bad, but some of the loading feels like it’s excessive.

If I catch it on sale again I might grab a copy for some friends, but other than that I don’t know that I’ll be playing much more of this one. I feel like my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Nostalgia

I remember the first time I saw the word nostalgia. I was playing Link’s Awakening. There’s a point where you’re being followed by a ghost and had to take him to his home before you could proceed. Once there he used the word to describe his house.

I thought of it because it’s something that seems popular these days. A lot of independent project that have adopted or been given the mantle of “spiritual successor.” Some of these have been wildly successful, like Stardew Valley. Some have been less well received, like Yooka Laylee or  Mighty No. 9.

I was sitting around thinking about some of the things I feel really nostalgic about, like EverQuest, and questioned how useful of a feeling it really is. See, I can go play and play EQ any time I want to, at least for the time being. All the characters are there, I updated my account information at some point in order to tinker with it.

There’s a problem, though, and it’s a big one. A lot of those fond memories are from vanilla. The exploration, the novel experiences. Memories of time spent in one of the low level dungeons, Blackburrow, killing gnolls. Sure, it’s fun to revisit some of those memories but by the time I quit these zones were empty of people. They were devoid of human life; empty shells of the days I remember. It’s not just about the absence of people though.

I remember the experience of these places. Exploring the tunnels, getting killed by mobs I didn’t know where there, or falling through hidden pits. I will never be able to have those experiences as though they were new. The nostalgia googles are powerful though.

I remember the trains fondly now. Massive groups of sometimes high level mobs chasing people to the edge of the zone as they escape death. Absolute death to the lower level players that frequented the upper levels. I’ve since learned though that it was enjoyable at the time because it was all we knew. I’ve had some similar experiences in recent memory, Eureka from FF14, and hated it. It was slow, boring, repetitive. Yeah it was interesting for an hour or so, till I realized exactly how much time it was going to take. Camping a particular spawn area, killing the same critters over and over again, hoping people don’t come in and take the spawns out from under you by being faster/better, dropping trains of hostile mobs on your already struggling group. It’s so easy to forget those things.

I’ve always loved crafting in MMOs, but I despised the EQ crafting because I never could afford it. We didn’t have gathering, everything was purchased from a vendor and placed on the grid in a special crafting station just so. Accidentally add an extra piece, oh well, it’s gone now, most likely along with everything else. Turning in quest items? Better hope somebody didn’t turn in a partial set or random items, who knows if it’ll work properly or not. Might lose all of it, might get half of it back, it was unpredictable.

It’s so easy to remember all the positive times I had, the friends, the dungeons, and forget all the weird quirks and rough edges. At some point it even starts to sound like a good idea again. What happens when you try to copy that “old school” style with a new game though? Is it easy to tell which parts were the good bits and which ones weren’t? I personally don’t think so, what I enjoyed is not the same as what everyone else enjoyed. It seems inherently impossible to capture just the good things and not the bad things because those are different things for different people.

I’m also not who I was then. I’m more open to certain types of PvP now than I was then. I still enjoy the solo experience in small doses but don’t invest large amounts of time into games when I’m playing solo. It’s just not as fun an experience as going through that content with friends. In a way I enjoy the experience of us doing those things together more than the thing we’re doing. It’s a social aspect of play that’s honestly kinda new and foreign to me. Is it, though?

I remember some of the character names and random details of people I played with. My first character was a paladin named Kenidil. A name I still use to this day. I remember in the early days playing with a guy named Lohacla, another paladin. He had attempted to spell alcohol backwards to get his name. I came close to founding a guild with someone called Roma. He did, in fact, go on to found “Mercenaries for Hire” without me. I had gone to my grandmother’s house for the summer and her computer just couldn’t. There was a german lady, whose name escapes me. She struggled with english grammar a lot early on, but improved significantly as time went on.

I don’t know these people, not really. I will probably never talk to them again, and even if I did we would be none the wiser. Alas, I don’t really meet people through games like that any more. All the people I play with these days live with 30 miles of my home. Even when I lived the pug life in FF14, those were one and done chance encounters. I never got to know those people. Heck we barely communicated anything outside of necessity. I personally think that’s a side effect of how games play these days, at least to a point. Back then when a lot of people were in combat you just turned on auto-attack and monitored the situation. There wasn’t a whole lot more to it than that. Now we’re actively moving around to dodge telegraphs and mashing 6-8 different buttons to maintain an ability rotation. Not an activity conducive to communication.

Honestly I don’t know where I’m going with this any more, so I’m going to call it here. Feel free to comment on it. I do enjoy hearing about other people’s perspective on these kinds of things.