Tag Archives: GW2

If I could change the world [of MMOs]…

I’ve been too busy to spend much time gaming lately, but to be honest, I haven’t really wanted to play all that much either. Many nights I spend my precious gaming time searching the net for new MMOs instead.

Why? Because I’m bored. Timezones and restricted gaming time make it impossible to do typical MMO endgame stuff – such as raids – and I’ve never enjoyed pvp, so now I’m leveling up another character on GW2 [Guild Wars 2] and feeling nostalgic about FFXI [Final Fantasy 11 online].

There were very good, and compelling reasons for leaving FFXI, but player housing was not one of them. In fact I probably kept on playing the game for far longer simply because player housing gave me an alternate reason to keep playing.

You see in FFXI, player housing was a bit like having a real life house of your own. You could furnish it with all sorts of things from antique tea sets to various styles of furniture. Think of it as having a very sophisticated and elaborate doll’s house in which you could move around.

And no, FFXI player housing didn’t look anything like this… but wouldn’t it be fun if it did?

Beyond the fun of redecorating though, player housing had other functions as well. Most of the items in our houses aided crafting in some way, and I always loved crafting so I could spend hours just messing around ‘at home’.

I have always loved ‘gardening’ as well, and in FFXI you could grow crystals in garden pots. I don’t want to go into what crystals were used for – just accept that they were valuable in-game commodities. Caring for my ‘garden’ took yet more time, time I was happy to spend.  And of course, finding the materials to feed my crafting and gardening took many more hours.

-sigh- I really miss that aspect of gaming. Not only did it give me something to do beyond upgrading my weapons and armour, it also made the game feel more life-like. After all, isn’t that pretty much what we all do in real life? We work to make life comfortable, and that includes buying clothes and shoes, cars or motorbikes, the latest gadgets, furniture, apartments or houses, vacations, entertainment etc.

In modern MMOs however, we can only really spend our in-game money on three related things – more powerful weapons, better armour, and mounts [personal transportation]. Sadly, GW2 doesn’t even have mounts so the incentive to keep playing is reduced by 1/3.

Now I know an awful lot of players will disagree with me on the question of incentives – most are young and are only really interested in the battling aspect of MMOs. But as those players get older, they too will begin to face the same life constraints that I do, and when that happens they will either stop playing altogether, or they will demand ‘more’ from their games.

In my not so humble opinion, MMO developers who want longevity for their products would do well to bring player housing back into the equation – as a standard part of the game dynamic. The MMOs that retain player housing also seem to retain their playerbase. Just saying.

Another thing I’d do, if I were a developer, is rethink the whole question of armour. At the moment, most Western MMOs combine the look of armour with its function. So for example, the Warrior class wears plate armour while Mages wear cloth, and you cannot mix and match to customize your appearance. This has the net result of making characters look alike, apart from a few small differences.

By contrast, A Perfect World International and Aion both split form from function. This allows for a great deal more individuality in appearance.

I would go one step further. I would make all armour neutral, and stats [functions such as defence] would become slot items.  This is not so very different to what we have now. It would merely formalize  upgrades into standard components. The difference would be that appearance would be completely separate to function.

In my ideal MMO, a Warrior could wear flowing robes, and a Mage could wear plate. 🙂

Well, the clock is ticking and this little detour into daydreams must end.  À bientôt mes amis!


GW2 – doing it solo

GW2 character Vokhtah I try not to do too many posts on the gaming side of my life, but I feel my time in GW2 [Guild Wars 2] is drawing to an end, so I’m going to talk about how the game has measured up for a solo player.

The gorgeous looking young man in the photo is my main character on GW2. I called him Vokhtah in some kind of psychological sleight of hand. Perhaps I thought the name would remind me that I had ‘work’ to do. Or perhaps I just wanted to assuage my guilt.

Whatever the motivation, I have managed to restrict my gaming addiction to a couple of hours a night. Unfortunately, the combination of superhuman self-discipline, and the tyranny of timezones, has meant that I’ve had to do most of my gaming solo.

As Vokhtah [the character] is a Ranger, I had no trouble leveling him to 80. The low level, open events were a great help, and gave me the illusion of being part of a team. I say illusion, because these open events are mostly zergs.

For non-players, a zerg is a free-for-all that involves no strategy and precious little teamwork. Basically an event begins, players show up, and everyone just spams their most destructive spells or weapon skills as if they were playing solo.

Nonetheless, there is scope for teamwork, even  in such open events, and there were times when I did nothing but heal players who could do more damage than me. Those were probably the events I enjoyed the most as they involved some thought. At higher levels though, such zergs aren’t terribly effective, and the ability to join in without even having to join a group means communication between players is minimal.

Once players reach the higher levels, and have to move on to Orr everything changes, and not for the better.

The three zones of Orr – The Straits of Devastation, Malchor’s Leap and Cursed Shore – are an order of magnitude harder than anything that has come before. The density of mobs [enemies] is much higher and they all seem to have debilitating crowd control skills that can leave you helpless. Apart from the normal mobs, there are also far more veterans, champions and areas in which the player is assaulted by briars, lightning, supernatural elements etc which you cannot fight.

These deadly map elements can be countered, up to a point, by using the appropriate signets, but signets have cooldowns [a period during which they are unusable because they are ‘refilling’] while the map elements do not. Add normal mobs to the mix and you may find yourself spending a lot of money on equipment repairs, and a lot of time running back from the nearest available waypoint.

The lack of available waypoints is another sore point. In Orr, almost all of the waypoints are contested, and hence unavailable. Group events are meant to release these waypoints, but these group events are either not happening during the times I can play, or they are not happening at all. So dying can be a terrible time sink.

If you are just farming, the extra dangerous areas can usually be avoided. However if you have an obstinate desire to complete the map, you will become very frustrated very quickly because skill challenges are often located right in the middle of these hotspots.

I am one of those obstinate people who need to complete the map, and it was not until very recently that I learned something not mentioned on any forum I have been on – namely that the game developers have provided ‘back-doors‘ into many, if not all of these hotspots.

Some of these back-doors involve following a well hidden path to the skill challenge. Others involve waiting until the Champion guarding the skill challenge moves far enough away. A nifty one I discovered last night involved reviving a friendly npc and having it distract the Champion while you run around the back and grab the skill challenge.

I might have thought I was just being particularly clever had the skill challenge not worked almost instantly. [Communing with a skill challenge usually takes a couple of seconds]. Clearly my strategy was exactly what the developers had intended with this particular back-door.

I’ve managed to reach some of the more impossible map elements by attaching myself to the odd group, but thanks to my time-zone, such groups are incredibly rare. Most of the time I’m on my own and shouting for groups achieves nothing because no-one else is on.

Why not join a guild, you ask? Hah. I’m in two guilds and there’s never anyone playing during the short window in which I can play. Or they’re afk. Or they’re not interested in playing in Orr.

To be honest I don’t enjoy playing in Orr either. I have spent weeks completing other parts of the world map, but now Orr is pretty much all that’s left. Plus I really do want to complete my personal story arc, so here I am. In Orr. Playing solo and dying a lot. Upgrading my equipment to Rares and Exotics has helped, but wasn’t gear supposed to be less important than skill? In Orr, being a reasonably skilled solo player is less important than have the best gear possible.

To be fair, the developers always intended Orr to be the more traditional, massively multiplayer part of the game. That means groups going out with a plan, clearly defined roles and the intention of playing together. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of that happening. And of course, even if there were, I’d still be playing solo because I only allow myself 2 hours of play a night.

Before I wrap this up I’d like to say a word about crafting in GW2. I love crafting, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed making things in GW2, but I can’t say crafting is particularly useful and I have had to buy 99.9% of my gear.

As in most games, you have to level your character so it can survive long enough to gather the higher crafting materials. Even if you do nothing but gather and craft, it’s next to impossible to make worthwhile gear for yourself. One way around this is to gather materials for one of your other characters so they can stay safe in a low level zone and just craft. Unfortunately this is not much fun because it requires grinding the same zone over and over again until your crafter can move up to a higher level. Now that my ranger has reached 80 I am spending a lot of time just gathering, but it is a grind.

Before GW2 was launched, the developers touted it as the mmo without grind. They also touted it as the casual-friendly mmo. I’d have to say they’ve achieved about 80% of the no-grind promise, and about 70% of the casual-friendly one. They have also created a top quality product that is subscription free.

No matter how you look at it, those results are pretty impressive. But. We were lead to expect more, and I am a bit… disappointed.

I have never had the time, or the inclination to play dungeons, so as a solo player I would have been satisfied with completing the world map, and my personal story arc, with the same level of enjoyment I had in the lower levels. Orr killed that. Now I have to think long and hard whether there is enough left in the game to tempt me into leveling up another character.

“We shall see,” said the blind man.






Lemon oil, solar power, burning off, budgets and saving money.

The one thing all the items in my title have in common is… money. Or to be more exact, my growing awareness that my old age is going to be rather grim unless I become a lot more careful with money. Thanks to an inheritance from my late father, I’ve had two stress free years in which to write, but now, as I approach my 60th birthday, I have to start getting serious about money again.

The first thing I decided was that I was going to use my inheritance to pay off my mortgage because I didn’t want that huge monthly expenditure hanging over my head for the rest of my life. I can do it, but getting rid of the mortgage will reduce my rainy day nest egg to something microscopic. Not so good. Hence the need to budget.

Now, if you’re like me, you probably just pay your bills and shove them into a draw somewhere without ever really keeping track of how much you’re spending every month. Yes, I know that some of you are very organized and keep track of your bills but… the rest of us need something a little easier. If you use internet banking to pay your bills then there is an easier way. Every internet banking application has a ‘Payment history’ function and a ‘Payee list’. They’re not there just for show! You can use the two functions to get a quick idea of your previous year’s expenditures. Basically, I just went through my payee list, looking up all my regular payments. I typed them into a spreadsheet and in a very short space of time I had a pretty good idea of my average monthly spend.

The good thing about having this kind of information in black and white is that you can no longer fool yourself about those ‘little’ indulgences. For me those little indulgences included monthly subscriptions to two mmo’s, neither of which I’m currently playing. [I’m now playing GW2 which is free-to-play]. It hurt to cancel those subscriptions, but in doing so I saved myself close to $500 per year.

I won’t bore you with details of all the areas where I’ve cut back, but I’d like to mention two other ways of saving money – lemon oil and effective use of solar power. No, the two don’t go together! Lemon oil is a great way of cutting multiple, commercial, cleaning products off your shopping list and out of your life. My tips on solar are for those who have solar panels and want to make the most of them.

I’ll start with lemon oil. You can buy a bottle of lemon oil for the price of two commercial cleaners but it will last through the life of about five commercial cleaners, plus you’ll have the satisfaction of having a house that smells wonderful and isn’t suffocating you with potentially dangerous chemicals.

To use the lemon oil for cleaning, just get a clean, empty spray bottle and pour about 1/2 an inch of lemon oil into the bottom. Add a few drops of biodegradable dishwashing detergent and some water. The amount of water you add depends on the type of cleaning you need to do. I’m a very messy cook so my cooktop is always covered in dried on food splashes. To clean the cooktop, I use a fairly concentrated solution made with only a few tablespoons of water. For benchtops and other less greasy areas you can dilute the lemon oil with a cup or more of water.

Until today, I’d only used my homemade lemon oil cleaner on benchtops, but on a whim I sprayed my grubby cooktop with lemon oil just to see what would happen. I left it to soak for about 5 minutes and then went back, expecting to have to do some serious scrubbing. Imagine my delight when the gunge came off with a simple swipe of the sponge! It was like watching one of those commercials where Wonder Product wipes away dirt and grime as if by magic. Well, it is magic, the magic of tv, because I’ve tried a couple of those Wonder Products and they never work as advertised. My lemon oil did though. 😀 The gunge truly did come off like a dream!

Now to solar. I’ve had solar panels for about a year now, and although they have helped to reduce my electricity bills, those bills are still higher than they could be. I was scratching my head about this when I was hit by the obvious – the amount you get from feeding electricity into the electricity grid is less than what you pay when you draw electricity from the grid. I told you it was obvious. But how to take advantage of that knowledge? Again, the answer is simple. If your washing machine and dishwasher have a scheduling function then set both to run during the day, while the sun is shining on your lovely solar panels. Or try and do as much as you can during the weekends when you’re home.

Another little thing I discovered once my mind was focused on cost savings, was that you do NOT have to allow your dishwasher to use the ‘dry’ function. Quite simply, the dishes are nice and hot when the wash/rinse cycle finishes. They will air dry, inside the dishwasher, without the need to apply extra, expensive heat. It’s like washing dishes by hand in hot water and then letting them air-dry in the draining rack.

The final thing I want to talk about today is burning off. In the past I have ordered a skip just before fire season and filled it to the brim with dead branches as well as broken appliances etc. This year I’ve been getting out there every still day and burning small piles of leaves and branches to prepare for fire season. It’s time consuming and I end up smelling like a smoked ham but I’m happy in the knowledge that a) my property will be less fire prone and b) I can save the cost of a skip.

None of the things I’ve mentioned save you that much, individually, but add them up and you’ll be surprised by how much you can save. 😀

If you have money saving tips, please tell me about them in comments. I’m sure other bloggers would love to read them as well!





Will Guild Wars 2 really push mmo’s to a new level?

I certainly hope so because after almost ten years of playing mmo’s I’m getting… bored.

In the beginning every new mmo was exciting and fresh but now, after approximately eleven mmo’s, I’m finding that they are all starting to feel the same.  I stress the word ‘feel’ because there is a great deal of superficial variety in mmo’s. Some are biased towards pve [player versus environment], some towards pvp [player versus player] and some try to be all things to all people – with varying degrees of success. Some have beautiful graphics and some do not. Some have exciting battling systems and some force players to mash the same buttons over and over again. Some have interesting storylines and some are just a pointless grind…

Enough said. There are differences between mmo’s but when you strip away all the gloss you are left with one basic model – play to become more powerful to get more gear to become even more powerful so you can get uber gear that only a small percentage of players can boast about. That’s it. The best mmo’s do have ancillary benefits – such as meeting interesting people and playing in bursts of high-excitement groups – but at the end of the day all that effort boils down to very little.

This is where Guild Wars 2 may or may not break the mold and set us all free. From the reviews I’ve read GW2 aims to make its players’ efforts and choices count. As I understand it players will have the ability to change their own storyline in a meaningful way by making choices which will then determine the paths that will open to them. In theory this should result in a living storyline rather than one that is imposed from the outside. It should also mean that players will be given a sense of purpose, somewhat like the sense of purpose they get when playing single player console games such as the Final Fantasy series.

That, at least, is the theory but will they be able to pull it off?

The reason I sound so skeptical  is that I know Final Fantasy xiv tried to break out of the established mold – and failed. Part of the reason it failed was that hardware [i.e. servers] lagged behind vision so the promise was never fulfilled. Another reason was that the game was just too raw; FFxiv was beta tested but apparently commercial considerations outweighed player feedback and it was released without addressing many if not all of the known problems. The third reason however was the worst – players wanted to be able to do the things that they were used to doing in other mmo’s, including ffxi.

Now I know that the development of GW2 has been very different, including their timeline for development, however I cannot help wondering whether all the innovations will actually deliver the excitement that players have come to expect. Will they embrace these new ways of playing or will they too demand a return to the familiar?

Personally I think GW2 is on the right track and I am looking forward to playing it but I fear that the game’s ultimate success will depend on how deep the playing public’s appetite for change truly goes. Gamers are no longer defined as 14-something fanboys but there are still an awful lot of them around and their vote still counts. Then again mmo’s have been around long enough now for some of those fanboys to grow up and demand more from their mmo’s. Let’s just hope that there are enough of them to push mmo’s to a new and much needed level of sophistication.

Until then we’ll just have to wait and see.

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