Archive for May, 2012

Well, it’s been a great run. I’ve been honored and humbled to participate in the Newbie Blogger Initiative, taking in the copious amounts of advice and experience being handed down from bloggers big and small. I’d like to think we all have a lot to learn from each other, whether veteran or newbie – at least, I have learned a lot at y’all’s feet the past several weeks.
Syp has the roundup information handled and summarized, so all I can add is: go forth and blog awesomely!

Bio Break

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Something about the fact that I’ve had this blog for over 2 years qualifies me to give advice about how to start and grow a gaming blog of your very own. I’m not sure what it is, exactly – I guess there’s a rather large graveyard of blogs that have died out and lost the plot long before they reach this point – but I’m happy to oblige with things I’ve observed and had to learn myself over time.

Thing the first: Know yourself

You don’t have to start as I did, with a rambly introductory post laying out my “cred, yo” or anything  so severe as that. But taking a moment to establish, even if it’s only in your own head, where you’re coming from can do wonders in launching a beacon that directs the content of your blog. If ever you lose focus, it can help to remember where you came from: if you discover you’re heading in a different direction, hey – that’s a blog post topic right there!

Thing the second: Find your niche

(Even if that niche is being rambly and disjointed)

Not every blogger can be everything. I will never be able to collect and aggregate news like Spinks, I will never be able to analyze media like Hunter, I will never be able to come up with comedy like Scarybooster,  I will never be able to find and appreciate feats of artistic expression like Nugget. What are you good at? What makes you most prolific? It may take some time before you find that out, before you write something and get a great response and think, “aha! so that’s what I do.” But while you are trying to figure that out, it’s important that you:

Thing the third: Write, always write 

Write down everything. Even if it reads like a ranting forum post, even if you don’t know how you’re going to wrap it up in 3500 words or less, write it down. Oh, don’t publish it – not immediately, anyway – but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been stalled on posting to my blog because I wanted to write on some topic somewhere but couldn’t make it work, and after sitting down and writing out my thoughts I’ve been able to let the topic go and move on to something else, something better, something more suited to my own style. Writing is a great way of getting over writer’s block.

Thing the fourth: Link when linked to

I try to make it a point to link to anyone I know of who’s linked to me. If someone found me interesting enough to read and recommend,  I can find them interesting too, for at least a month. It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all. Besides, I wouldn’t have half the links on my blogroll if I didn’t read things others recommended, following breadcrumb trails as the Ancient Gaming Noob refers to them, from here to there.

Thing the fifth: Find your own comment/reply comfort level

I would love to advise you to  reply to every comment posted on your blog. It’s friendly, it’s engaging, it drives traffic to your site, and it creates friendships in this widespread blogosphere. But I can’t give advice I can’t even adhere to myself. The truth is that not all of us can come up with comment small talk – not easily, anyway – and so my advice is to comment as much as you feel comfortable doing. You’ll get better at it, promise, and even if you still sometimes have moments when your brain seizes up and you go silent, there is always next time.

This has been a public service announcement on the Newbie Blogger Initiative. And here, have some new blogs to om nom nom:

Hipstalotro: Hating Hunters since before it was cool.

Gnomegates: A kinder, gentler Gevlon?

Real Adventures in Fake Worlds: A LOTRO-centric journey

Warcraft Street: Can you tell me how to get…?

The Looney Bin:  An eclectic soup of subjects, and a fascinating layout!

Blog on!

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Being the MMO junkie that I am, I have been following the development of The Secret World with some interest for the past few years, despite the fact that it seemed in many ways to be the polar opposite of the kind of MMO I thought I’d enjoy. I mean, it’s set in the present day when I love medieval fantasy settings, it’s got a horror theme when I avoid the horror genre like the plague, it’s an ARG when I dislike having to look up sources outside a game to progress, it’s gear-based when I’d rather bring my wits to a battle, and it’s got a raiding endgame when I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than partake. Oh, and it’ll have a monthly subscription fee, and I’ve all but sworn those off.

Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the ideas being put out there by Funcom, and I’ll be the first to admit that the first 30 or so levels of Age of Conan (yes, even the first few post-Tortage levels) were some of the best story and most memorable times I’ve had in an MMO. A level-less system appeals to the part of me that hates self-enforced leveling pacts, and Funcom’s eye for scenery, and gorgeously replicating such, can’t really be denied. So while I haven’t pre-ordered, I did get on over to Gamespot and nab a weekend beta key to try this out for myself. And even though I’d seen a ton of footage and read up on many of the game’s systems, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much I liked what I saw when I got to take the reins.

First, the bad, or maybe the “meh.” Character customization is limited. There weren’t very many female faces (or combinations of features) I could choose that made me feel I was looking at a real human, nevermind whether I felt they straddled a believable range of attractiveness. Skin color was inexplicably tied to base face shape. There were no varying ethnic hairstyles to correspond with the diverse (thank you!) ethnic facial features on display. No sliders makes a sad Randomessa. And I couldn’t see a way to alter my body size or shape, even to the degree that Age of Conan allowed it.

Let me choose this old lady face, Funcom!

Character animations are… not very good, in my opinion.  Running is pretty bad; jumping is quite awful. In-combat animations have no “oomph” to them; I never feel like I’m really hitting anything, just swinging my arms through mush. I couldn’t figure out how to emote, though in the case that I didn’t miss something obvious, beta is beta and that’s one thing I’m sure will be added in prior to launch. Quests, whenever they more closely resembled typical MMO quests, suffered from the same problems I have with them elsewhere: waiting in line for spawns, competing for interactable nodes, etc.


Quests, whenever they did not closely resemble typical MMO quests, were a delight. Being able to put a random bit of knowledge to use in cracking a password was amusing. Having to decipher notes and apply recipes and talk to all manner of crazy people really mixed things up for me, and having quest icons let me know right off the bat if what I’d be asked to do involved wholesale slaughter or investigative work of some sort was just the kind of quest hint I appreciate. As with Age of Conan, NPCs are fun to talk to about a wide range of subjects, and they all are injected with quirky personalities that make them memorable after the fact (I still remember the guy in Tortage who hid the pearl in his… hidey place, for example, and I’ll remember Kingsmouth’s Deputy Andy for a long time as well). I greatly enjoyed all the voice acting and the varied accents involved (being neither a New or Old Englander, I have no idea how cringe-worthy they might have been for one from those regions. I did guffaw with recognition at the fortune-teller’s southern Californian nasal drawl, though).

Once I actually got down to fighting, I quickly stopped minding the combat animations so much. This is not to let Funcom off the hook for not making them more impressive, but I did find myself more interested in the effects I could apply and exploit, and combining the skills of two weapons to be more effective. There were plenty of circles of doom to step out of, and big monster wind-up tells, which meant that animations or no, I felt I constantly had to be on the move to get out of hairy situations alive.

Getting out of combat mode is hard!

Scenery-wise, I couldn’t have asked for more, and I did muse aloud that I think The Secret World may have the best-rendered trees I’ve seen in an MMO yet. Having the in-game clock displayed as a cell-phone HUD is ever so fitting, and made me use the in-game clock more readily than I have in other MMOs that provide the same – it probably helps that sunrise and sunset are done so well here, with the light playing off structures in a really believable way. I’m reminded of LOTRO and Fallen Earth, but I feel TSW takes it just that bit farther, which makes sense given the release year.

Not outdoor scenery, but I love this shot all the same.

Finally, I wasn’t sure how the “level-less” system was going to feel in practice, and I think it’s clear that you are still gated, in a sense, by how many skill/anima points you can put into building your skill trees; I’m sure you’ll need skills more than 2 points deep (and so on) to beat certain bosses in missions, etc. But from what I could tell, there was one very big gate missing for me as I progressed through the overarching storyline missions: at no time was it “suggested” to me that I be of a certain capability before proceeding, and I actually did skip most side missions just to see if I would be able to. Not only was I allowed to do this, I could also still keep pace with the monsters the game threw at me, even within story instances, which is more than I can say for the previous two heavily story-based MMOs I recently beta tested. I don’t know if this is indicative of the rest of the game or just a case of beta trying to make it easy on us, but I could not have been happier.

Oh, I’ll do the side missions – I have nothing against them – but being the story fiend that I am, if I had a common complaint to lodge against both SW:TOR and Guild Wars 2, it was that my major storyline was spread out over levels such that I had to engage in other activities before I could feasibly continue, and I hate being restricted in that way. Not having levels meant both that the early zombies were not quite trivialized, while still allowing me to see progress in my ability to take down harder enemies. Later I look forward to not facing down an exponential XP curve to acquire that next SP or AP (dare I hope?).

One  riddle I can’t seem to crack about The Secret World is that of audience; that is, what is the audience Funcom is going for, and how big is it? On the one hand, I welcome the changes from the standard MMO, both genre-, mechanics- and content-wise, and I think this could be a really strong niche title with an amazing, helpful, tight-knit community if it gets all the technical issues ironed out before launch. On the other hand, with EA backing it, how happy would they be with a “strong niche title?” I just don’t see this going over well with a lot of crowds, from the open-PvPers to the action combat fans to the sandbox aficionados to the rush-to-endgame crowd. Yet it has the raiding and the gear progression and a subscription fee that seems to imply they expect more than a few folks to cross over from other games and make a home here. I can’t quite figure it out. What would constitute a success for The Secret World?

So now I find myself wondering whether the things I feel TSW does so well – story, interesting world and characters, variety and complexity in gameplay, stunning graphics – really do trump the things that bug me like the odd old-school resource competition, a raiding end-game with gear progression, subscription fee, and my qualms about the audience and success it may or may not achieve. I don’t have an answer yet, but prior to this weekend, I thought there was no question at all. I’m not convinced there isn’t some Illuminati mind control involved.

Illuminati mind control and a soft-focus lens.

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Except for how they differ.

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[GW2] Ruins of Rin

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Today is Day One of the Newbie Blogger Initiative, a month-long endeavor to welcome and encourage new bloggers into this terrifying public online world.

…wow, I’m really selling this, aren’t I?

There are over 70 blogs participating in this initiative, including myself as a sponsor, so if you’d like to throw in your hat, be sure to visit the NBI forums here. That link is good for either newbie bloggers themselves or anyone with an established blog who’d be interesting in being a sponsor. Starting a new blog is scary and there’s not much worse than feeling your words are going, unread, into the aether, which is why I’m so honored to be taking part this month.

Later in the month I’ll have a post up with some advice, tips and suggestions on getting your feet wet from my own experience blogging, and at the end of May I’ll be posting a wrap-up with all the articles written by the sponsors taking part.

Blog on!

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