Lockbox Expectations

While the rest of the world is probably posting about the Destiny 2 open beta today, I’m going to post about lockboxes, because I wrote this yesterday. I think it was Roger that said we bloggers could get a lot of good topics out of MassivelyOP’s Daily Grinds, so here’s another one:

What Do You Actually Expect To Get Out Of MMORPG Lockboxes? This particular Grind was inspired by Bhagpuss boldly claiming to like lockboxes (in a way).

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never purchased a lockbox in any game in my entire life, so I may not be the best person to ask.

But some games give out lockboxes as game rewards anyway. The most notable example that I can think of is WildStar’s Boom Boxes which they gave out like candy during open beta, but I think you could only open one a day after launch. I still have 63 Boom Boxes left to open. They sometimes have fun stuff in them but most of the time I was disappointed after opening them. They may not technically qualify as “lockboxes” though since I don’t think you can buy them anymore.

In GW2, I have a stack of Black Lion boxes and keys, but I gave up opening them years ago. I just drop them in the bank or ignore them entirely. I have no idea what might be in them, but I have a reflexively negative view of all boxes and bags in GW2 and I try to avoid them as long as possible. They explode into useless loot that fills up inventory slots and forces me to work to get rid of them. Bhagpuss’s description of spending a half hour clearing out inventory before and after any kind of event is very familiar to me, and one of the many things I could cite that drives me away from the game.

As for what I would expect to get from a lockbox: If such things existed in, for example, FFXIV, I would expect a (good) chance at receiving a reward similar to what I might receive as a drop from a dungeon or raid boss. I would also expect to see the odds of getting that reward before I bought the lockbox.

By the way, I think that it’s implied when we talk about “lockboxes” that we are referring to lockboxes bought with real money, directly or indirectly. I certainly don’t mind opening them if they are acquired through in-game means (subject to the above inventory management woes).

But I don’t buy lockboxes (or keys) and have no plans to ever buy one.

Comfort MMORPGs

Here’s another post based on a MassivelyOP’s Daily Grind:

What’s Your Comfort MMO?

I find this to be a somewhat odd question, because I generally like to have a constantly-changing game experience, as opposed to an experience that is always the same. I am the kind of person who likes to learn and try new things all the time (within the boundaries of crippling anxieties, of course). This is why I try out most new MMORPGs if I can.

Still, there are a number of long-running MMORPGs that I keep coming back to after long absences, around once a year. One of them is WoW. I usually drop back in and subscribe for a month, then leave again. It takes me about that long to run into the edges of the game–that point where I find myself mindlessly repeating the same mechanics over and over and over again.

I used to return to Rift a lot but I’ve soured on it lately. I just feel like I’ve done everything that matters and now the only way to advance is to join a guild and I just don’t want to make that kind of commitment. Rift still has a somewhat complex set of abilities you need to use to be effective, which makes it increasingly harder to return. I think they over-extended themselves a bit after Storm Legion.

LotRO is one that I’ve started returning to more frequently. Particularly in the past year, of course, when there was some concern that the game might disappear. I liked that they simplified the classes, because it made the game a lot easier to return to. Previous to that, it was a massive chore to get back into the game each time.

SWTOR is another that I return to often. It’s a very easy game to get back into because combat is easy. I find myself mesmorized from watching the cool lightsaber animations and listening to the cool lightsaber sounds more than anything else. I don’t play it as much though because they make it really difficult to enjoy playing for free, and I don’t want to subscribe to more than one game at a time.

Other runners up might be GW2 or TERA. Possibly even Mortal Online. I’ve always wished I had more time and/or ambition to play Mortal Online actually.

I can’t list ESO or WildStar or some others because I haven’t yet been able to return to them repeatedly.

I don’t go back to any of those MMORPGs for “comfort” though. I go back when I haven’t played them in a sufficiently long enough time that the game feels “fresh” again.

I should also mention FFXIV, because in terms of what I would call a “comfort” game it would probably be whatever I happen to be playing at the moment, which is FFXIV. Though I am drifting away from it as I wait for the next content patch. I’m at a point where most of what I do in the game is wait in a queue, and I don’t have much patience for that.

Getting Lost In MMOs

A recent MassivelyOP Daily Grind asked the question: “Do you like being lost in MMOs?”

My answer is generally no, I never want to my progress to be impeded by not knowing where to go. But it depends on the situation and/or the game. Here are two recent examples:

When I think about my experience playing through the remainder of the GW2 Heart of Thorns story, I was lost a lot in the Maguuma Jungle, and it was aggravating. The flat 2D map helped little because the world was extremely 3D and while the map might show you standing on top of your destination, in reality it might be way above you or below you with no discernable path to reach it.

On the other hand, I also spent a great deal of time lost in LotRO’s Mines of Moria, but I don’t remember feeling any frustration over it. The problem was identical: The map was flat and 2D, while the environment was 3D with ramps and stairs leading up and down all over the place, and you could never really tell whether your destination was above your head or below your feet. Yet I don’t remember ever grumbling about it in LotRO.

In these two cases one difference might have been the combat difficulty. In GW2, it was such an effort to reach anywhere on the map that if I didn’t get to the right place on the first try, I thought, “Ugh, now I have to fight my way someplace else! What a pain!”

Whereas with LotRO, the combat was ridiculously easy, so it was more of a sightseeing stroll to walk around the environment if I got lost. Also in Moria there were plenty of interesting things to look at while I tried to work out the right path. The color palette varied dramatically from place to place: There were blue areas, brown areas, gray areas, red fiery areas. Whereas most of Heart of Thorns looks roughly the same (like a big jungle).

(Updated with link and I actually read what I wrote to fix the mistakes.)

Ranking My Play Personalities

Thinking Play had a very interesting post recently about Play Personalities, something I had never heard of before. I recommend reading it. It’s a bit like a Meyers-Briggs test for how you spend your leisure time, or the Bartle Test. Here’s my self-assessment of how I fit the different play personalities:

The Joker. Nope. Well, maybe a little. Sometimes I do like to poke fun at things that other people find deadly serious, much to my own detriment on Twitter. Although I am not a “class clown” by any stretch of the imagination.

The Kinesthete. When I was younger, sure, but not now that walking across a room has a relatively high chance of causing injuries.

The Explorer. I can strongly relate to this one, in that I am constantly seeking out new things to learn and study. I don’t ever physically go to new places though. In theory that would be fun but *cough* massive anxiety *cough*.

The Competitor. I don’t seek out competitions anymore, but when I do get involved in a competition, I always try to win and crush the hopes and dreams of all opposition. In a nice way.

The Director. Nope, nope, nope, and more nope.

The Collector. Not really. In the past I flirted with collecting guitars, and I think it would be fun to collect real live swords, but I’m too dern miserly in my old age now. (Although some guitars can be good investments… hmmmm.)

The Artist/Creator. Of course the one with a slash in it and the most awkward to write in a sentence is the one I probably most identify with. When I look back over my life and try to generalize all of the things I’ve had fun doing, I would say that the one thread that connects them all is creating things that weren’t there before. Software development, writing, music, blogging, videos, drawing. It is one of the great ironies of my life that it’s hard to earn a living doing most of these enjoyable things.

The Storyteller. I can also relate to this one. Not only in the form of writing stories, but you can also see this aspect of me most recently in my 58-part YouTube playthrough of Stormblood–Why not watch it today! You might be the first one!–which was very much “play” for me. You can see it in a lot of my blog posts, too, since I usually try to make at least some attempt to entertain, and I try to make my posts a sort of narrative from the top to the bottom. Except for this one of course, which is just a straight infodump.

If I were to rank these play personalities, I would probably do it like this:

  1. The Artist/Creator
  2. The Explorer
  3. The Storyteller
  4. The Competitor
  5. The Joker
  6. The Collector
  7. The Kinesthete
  8. The Director

* Note that the “featured image” for this post has nothing to do with anything. It is a picture of the latest dungeon gear set I got from FFXIV, right before I scheduled this post.

Why Solo MMORPGs

Another one rescued from my Drafts folder, from February 2016…

I’m in the camp of people who primarily play MMORPGs solo, so I guess I can speak a little on this topic.

I wouldn’t say that I “demand” solo content from MMORPGs, though.* And it’s not that I’m against group content. I just prefer games where I can log in and do interesting things without having to form or join a group all the time. Because if I had to do that, I probably wouldn’t log in very often unless I had the time to idle a lot.

I don’t understand why this is a controversial topic–why it has to be one or the other. I think it’s well within an MMORPG’s capabilities to handle both styles. (It’s got to be easier than catering to PvE and PvP crowds at the same time, at least.) I can’t think of a single MMORPG I’ve played since my first one (UO) where I couldn’t do soloing or grouping depending on my mood.

The reasons that I prefer to play solo essentially boil down to two things, which I imagine are the two most common reasons anyone would give: Introvertedness and limited time.

Introvertedness

I don’t like to lean on introversion as an excuse, but the reality is that, even on a good day, it’s a lot of work for me to cultivate and maintain social relationships. Particularly right now, when I have a fairly intense amount of socializing I have to deal with at work, the idea of extending that into online games is pretty abhorrent.

You never know what kind of person you’re going to meet in an MMORPG, of course, but nine times out of ten, from the perspective of an introvert, other people are going to be an energy drain. They don’t have to be a jerk to do that, either. Sometimes the friendliest people in the world are just as draining. I hate to admit it but sometimes I find friendly people more draining to deal with because I feel like if I don’t mimic their friendliness they will receive a social cue from me that their behavior is inappropriate, which is both wrong and makes me feel tremendously guilty. So to avoid that I have to work extra hard to interact with them in a way that meets my needs but also doesn’t hurt their feelings. It’s far easier to just avoid people altogether. :)

Maybe we need some way to indicate our mood in the games we play. In real life, we can tell from expressions and body language and social cues whether it’s “okay” to approach someone to talk. But in a game, that doesn’t exist.

Time

The other big reason is time. When I log into a game, I want to start playing immediately. I don’t want to log in and wait an indeterminate amount of time while a group forms. Even with dungeon finder tools, I find it very aggravating to log in, queue for something, and then sit there staring at the screen waiting for the queue to pop. That’s one of the things I love about FFXIV–you can actually accomplish something meaningful (leveling an alternate class or crafting) while waiting for a queue. You can’t do that in most MMORPGs–you just have to stand there doing nothing.

Then there is how long the activity takes once you start it. If a game task starts to take too long, I start to feel trapped and claustrophobic and “stuck” at my computer playing what will increasingly feel like a stupid game. The upper limit of my focused concentration on one task is usually around 30 minutes, especially on a work day. (To me, a “task” is anything with a start and an end, like a dungeon, or a match, or a quest, or something like that.) After that I want to walk away for a while, or do some other computer task, or do some other game activities, or play a different game, or basically anything.

Long dungeon runs with PUGs are the absolute worst. I still vividly remember a two-hour dungeon run in Neverwinter and a two-hour dungeon run in WildStar. Both were successful by sheer force of willpower in overcoming failure after failure after failure. I should have felt great about those accomplishments but mostly I felt like I had gotten out of a two-hour tax seminar.

But solo activities in MMORPGs are usually short, finite tasks. Go to a spot, kill ten rats, hand in a quest. Boom, you’re done. Even if the task does take too long, you can always walk away and leave your character AFK for a while.

The minute you step into a group activity, you’ve lost control over your time. You have to stay there until the group finishes, and group tasks in MMORPGs are almost always time-consuming. God knows why, but they usually design group content so that it does take a long time.

Incidentally, I sometimes have more difficulty playing “sandbox”-style games solo because of the time factor, particularly if they have a harsh death penalty. It’s endlessly aggravating for me to be forced to make a “corpse run” because you have to get your stuff back before it disappears or someone else takes it. (Currently I’m experiencing this tremendous annoyance in ARK.)

* Back when I wrote this draft, there was an article or a blog post or forum post or something that talked about players demanding solo content, but I don’t know where it is now.

Three Albums

I saw Liore’s post on #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife, and I started to think back on my own impressionable youth and the albums that affected me.

I was raised in a somewhat musical family, but I didn’t become “interested” in music until let’s say my mid-to-late teenage years. Prior to that most pop songs went in one ear and out the other and I never owned any albums. (Okay I did buy a single of M-M-M-My Sharona, a song that was entirely inappropriate for my then-age.) In high school I started to learn to play guitar (again) and really started to buy, collect, and “study” music. Since then I’ve dabbled in writing songs and home recording and all manner of audio things, which now manifests as an occasional YouTube upload. But I think my musical senses really peaked in my late teens and twenties, which is reflected in this list.

For this exercise, I’ve picked albums that didn’t necessarily change my life per se, but albums that sparked my imagination and changed what I thought was possible with music. Albums that were more than merely a collection of catchy tunes, but windows into other worlds, visions of endless time and space, filled with possibilities. (Yucky music metaphors ahead.) I’ve excluded movie soundtracks and classical music.

By the way I think all of the YouTube links below are helping the referenced artists, but if they aren’t somebody yell at me and I’ll remove them. I hate ripping off musicians. If I couldn’t tell I left out the link.

3. Queensryche – Promised Land

The first Queensryche song I ever heard was Silent Lucidity on the radio. I liked it because of the clear Pink Floyd influence. Then I heard Jet City Woman, which is an entirely different kind of song. Then I heard a third song from the same album (I think it was Another Rainy Night). With three songs that I liked from the same album, all three similar but different, I figured there was a good chance I’d like the whole album, so I bought Empire, and not surprisingly, I liked it.

I then bought their previous album, Operation: Mindcrime. It’s very different–a concept album–but I loved it, too. (I didn’t like their earlier stuff as much, though.)

Both of those albums might have been on this list, but soon afterward, Queensryche released Promised Land.

I eagerly bought it. It was different from both Mindcrime and Empire. The band’s sound had evolved yet again, a talent that I really appreciate in musical acts. It’s a glorious mixture of goth, metal, and rock with top-notch production values. Dense reverbs throughout made it feel like you were inside a huge cave of awesome. All of the songs felt deeply meaningful and relevant to my life at the time, too. “Life’s been like dragging feet through sand, and never finding the Promised Land.” Good stuff. Very uplifting. :)

2. Pink Floyd – The Wall

I mean, obviously, right? I first heard songs from The Wall when some friends suggested I needed to expand my musical repertoire and made me a mix tape (a cassette!). I remember it had Van Halen on it, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, but it definitely had Comfortably Numb and possibly Hey You from The Wall.

Being a student of electric guitar at the time, Comfortably Numb obviously became an instant hit with me. And when I listened to the entirety of The Wall from start to finish, it was like listening to something from outer space. (It’s hard to come up with metaphors for music, ya know?) I would just sit there mesmerized. How could humans possibly make music like that?

I was amazed at the pristine production value of that album. The absolute precision of every track in those songs, and how it all sounded so amazing and perfect. There were orchestras and classical guitars and pianos and male choirs and sound effects and even actors. It was the first “rock opera” I ever heard. (“Rock” is kind of a loose definition for The Wall, but back then it was definitely rock.) And it was a compelling story, too. At least to me in my youth.

(I didn’t care for the movie, though … it spoiled my image of the music.)

(I later learned that a lot of The Wall was the work of Roger Waters, and his later albums The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and especially Amused to Death, both masterpieces, would have made this list, except I heard The Wall first.)

1. Queen – A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera was the first album I can remember blowing my mind completely. I only knew of its existence from my older brothers. At some point in my teens, around the time I became interested in music and was bumbling around learning chords on an acoustic guitar, I came across the album on cassette and instantly decided that this was the goal that I should be striving for in all my efforts to learn about music. It seemed like the ultimate expression of thoughts and ideas in the audible spectrum.

Several things struck me all at once. Practically every song on the album is a different style. Radically different. It’s always impressed me. Obviously Freddie Mercury’s singing is amazing, but since I was learning guitar I was drawn more to Brain May’s amazing guitar work. Sometimes it was hard and metallic, sometimes it was quiet and lyrical, sometimes it was acoustic, sometimes it was electric. It was complex and layered and seemed to display every possible sound you could make with a guitar.

Most people know A Night At The Opera as the album with Bohemian Rhapsody on it, but my favorite song is The Prophet’s Song. It’s amazing. When I listen to that song, I see an entire Cecil B. DeMille movie play out in my head. It’s like an entire epic fantasy book series all in one song.

Honorable Mentions

Extreme – III Sides To Every Story. Extreme is similar to Queen and clearly influenced by them, and this album was their finest work in my opinion. But it’s a bit redundant with Queen already on the above list.

The Strange Days Soundtrack. I discounted movie soundtracks from the above list, but this soundtrack is a collection of songs. It opened my eyes to the power of rawer, punkier, more “alternative” music.

Enigma – Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi.  Don’t ask me to pronounce that. :) The genre used to be called “new age” music, but I don’t know if people still call it that. I love many albums in this genre–anything by Tangerine Dream, for example, or Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth–but this Enigma album took new age music to a whole new level for me. It’s such a lush “soundscape,” with cool drum beats and even some singing.

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare. This is a master class of electric guitar work. In a way, it’s like a rock opera of instrumental songs. It makes my jaw drop whenever I listen to it.

This turned out to be a fairly hard post to write, because I’ve always considered the music that people like to be deeply personal. When somebody criticizes the music you like, it often feels like they’re criticizing you personally.

WildStar’s Doom

At the risk of sounding pessamistic, WildStar’s probably going to close soon. I’m not sure whether to jump in and play as much as I can before it closes, or just let it go quietly into the night and remember fondly that one month I played.

Okay, let’s be real, it’s going to be the latter, because I’m playing Black Desert now and Dark Souls III hits Steam on April 11, and that will be that. I suppose it’s possible WildStar could survive another year in maintenance mode, but knowing NCSoft I kind of doubt it.

The sad thing is that I generally liked WildStar. The only real problem I had with it was that it gave me all my skills right up front, then asked me to grind all the way up to level 50 using those same ones. That’s the main reason I don’t play WoW very much, honestly. I really need my character to change somewhat over the course of the leveling process to stay interested.

Granted, other MMORPGs are like that (hello, GW2) but for some reason it felt particularly onerous in WildStar.

Perhaps it was this: I remember also that the questing mobs in WildStar were fairly challenging, and any casual mistakes in dodging or interrupts typically resulted in a pretty quick death. So it was slow, painstaking, and repetitive work. Not the most fun combination.

But boy was it hardcore! I kid, because of course the biggest flaw in WildStar was that whole “it’s all about the hardcore raiding” marketing attitude, which resulted in what, 2 guilds completing that 40-man raid? Or was it even that many? :) Seriously, I’d love to see them release some statistics on exactly how many people entered that raid versus how many people finished that raid, and compare that to the total player population. After the game’s gone, what would it matter? If nothing else, perhaps WildStar could serve as a cautionary tale for future MMORPG developers.

Still, I hate to see the game close down. I’d rather see them rework it, or maybe even re-launch it under a new publisher. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Goodbye EverQuest Next

I don’t have much to add to the EverQuest Next wake that hasn’t already been said, except for this possibly controversial thought:

I’m kind of glad they cancelled it.

Wait, wait, let me explain. We’ve known all along that Landmark was the prototype for EverQuest Next. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was dreading the day that they released Landmark with Norrath assets and called it EQN, because Landmark is not a very good game. There’s no doubt in my mind that EQ1 and EQ2 fans would have hated it.

Imagine how bad it would have been for the MMORPG industry if they had pushed out the next, long-awaited, highly-anticipated EverQuest game and it had been the same dismal failure that Landmark is.