I had the opportunity at the beginning of the month to update SWTOR to the latest patch, so I’ve been spending a lot of my gaming time trying the game out again. My main account has Preferred status (since I was previously a subscriber), and I had a handful of their Cartel Coins currency saved up (Cartel Coins are what you use to buy stuff from the in-game store), so I’ve bought back some of the functionality you lose by not being a subscriber. I also started a second account, as a free-to-play member, just to see what the differences are.

I suspect that if you were coming in fresh – that is, you hadn’t been a subscriber before – the basic account would seem perfectly fine; all of the complaints about “restrictions” that I had were because I’d gotten used to the game as a subscriber. That said, if my biggest complaint about the restrictions is “I’m not getting for free now what I was paying for before”, it’s a pretty petty complaint! Beyond that, in comparison to, say, the first incarnation of World of Warcraft (I dislike the term “vanilla”, but that’s a different post), it’s actually roughly similar to the privileges we got as part of the base game, and there are quite a few additional benefits (for instance, being able to craft directly from the bank/storage, which WOW still doesn’t implement).

On the other hand, as a Free or Preferred player, Bioware does tease the extras you get as a subscriber in the interface (“Subscribers get extra reward options when they complete a quest!”, “Subscribers can hide their head-slot item!”, “Subscribers get a full set of action bars!” etc.), which means that even if you’re not a subscriber, you know what they get that you don’t – which is, I have to confess, a pretty good way to get people to pony up the $15 a month.

The two biggest complaints that I had do still hold: you can’t disable Auto Self-Target on buff and healing abilities (meaning that you have to target the person you want to affect before you start casting; this is really only an issue because I got into healing classes in WOW and RIFT, where you could toggle the spell and then click the person you wanted to affect, and so my muscle memory is wrong); and there’s still no water in the entire game that’s more than calf-deep, which means that there’s no swimming. The latter sounds ridiculous, but it’s a matter of verisimilitude; if, for example, you have to cross a body of water (as you do in the Republic trooper and smuggler starting zone), you’re just wading, instead of having to swim across it.

There’s also the issue of same-sex relationships; these have been teased and promised since before the game launched, and they’re still not implemented. Part of this, I suspect, is that they want to add new characters to have same-sex relationships with, instead of, say, letting my female Imperial Agent have a relationship with Kaliyo; I’m not sure I understand the justification, but that would be a stumbling block. And, to be blunt, the percentage of players for whom this is an issue is smaller than the percentage of players who want to see additional endgame content and off-rails starship combat, so that’s what’s getting the developer attention right now. Still, I hold out hope.

All in all, I am actually having fun with SWTOR again now that I can play it, and I’m hoping that this time, I can keep it updated and actually be able to play in the long term – since being a Preferred member seems to be enough for me right now. (Although Bells gave me a week of Subscriber status as part of SWTOR‘s recruit-a-friend program, and the subscriber benefits are pretty sweet…)

 

The trouble I’ve been finding with playing games is that I haven’t been going in with goals. I’ve just been logging in to log in; and without a goal, I find myself just logging out again five minutes later. (Or shutting the program down, or closing the book – you know what I mean.)

So this weekend, I experimented with gaming with intent. When I logged in on Friday, I decided that my goal was to get Rolastra to level 72 and to complete Howling Fjord, and I was involved enough that I made my goal. (I wrote an addon, a while back, that tells me to get up and do something else every half-hour, and starts giving me grief if I stay logged on for more than four hours at a time, so I’m not just plunking down and not doing anything else until I meet my goal; in that time I also cleaned up the house and wrote about 1500 words on a different project.) On Saturday, I decided to get to level 73 in Dragonblight, and made it with plenty of time to spare. And while I didn’t log on for more than a few minutes yesterday, I’m looking forward to the next time I get to log in and play the game – for the first time in quite a long time, the game is something I want to do, and not just something I do because it’s there, and it’s because of the goals I’m setting and achieving.

Now, granted, there are some caveats. You can’t make yourself enjoy an otherwise-unenjoyable task with goals; these mini-endpoints would mean nothing for my motivation if there weren’t a fun (for me) game underneath. You shouldn’t set your goals too high; I’m not setting my bar at “80 the next time I log in”, for what I hope are obvious reasons. And you shouldn’t set goals that rely on the random number generator; if your goal is “win [whatever the best and brightest loot is] when it drops”, you’re assuming a) that it drops, and b) that you’re going to win it. Don’t base a goal on an event whose resolution is fundamentally out of your hands; it’s just as bad as saying that your goal is to win the next time you pull a slot-machine arm.

Still, the magic of explicit goal-setting has been a great way for me to rediscover an interest in the game (especially since it’s been so long since I went through Northrend that I don’t really remember it very well), and for the first time in a while I’m actually enjoying playing games, so that has to count for something.

 

Well, I caved. After nine months away from the game, I finally bought 30 days of game time for World of Warcraft. Amusingly, it was with the intent of playing with Alex – and we haven’t managed a single minute of play time together since I bought in. Instead, I’ve been largely playing my draenei paladin, Rolastra. She’s currently in her early 70s (I think I hit 71 the last time I played), and wading her way through the Howling Fjord up in Northrend. (She hit 68 less than halfway through Nagrand, and her hearthstone’s been set in Dalaran since Wrath was the current expansion, so it was easy to just pop on up.)

Rolastra is actually the character I created with the express intent of seeing how far I could get her just by running dungeons, and I intended her to be my tanking character once I hit max level (which was 80 back then). I spent a lot of time running a lot of dungeons with my friend Jess’s priest Noore, but between Jess quitting WOW and my connection moving from smooth, buttery cable to “an internet connection only in the broadest sense of the term” satellite, I haven’t run a single dungeon since before Mists of Pandaria was released, and in light of that, I figured I’d see how Rol did in the wild.

Turns out she’s pretty fun to play. She was 50 when I stopped dungeoning with her, and while I won’t say those 21 levels have been easy to come by, they’re a lot easier than I thought they’d be. For some reason, too, I have much less trouble with her than I do with my Death Knight Ixtamna, which is why Rol is getting my attention and Ixy is sitting, unloved, in Paw’don village. (Let’s not mention poor Theande, who is currently on the Timeless Isle waiting for me to get her the hell back to the Alliance Shrine because between my connection and her squishiness, the Isle is a deathtrap, of the “literally spending more gold in repairs than I’m getting in drops and grey items” variety.)

 

Of all the things for an ex-raider to be playing and enjoying, I’m actually spending most of my gaming time on a web-based dragon-breeding game called Flight Rising these days. Gathering treasure and items, breeding dragons, and fighting with them in the Coliseum is, unexpectedly, really compelling.

Of course, the fact that the wiki is woefully incomplete has been taking up a lot of my time, too. I’m pretty sure I wrote half of the non-item pages on the wiki at the moment, in addition to building templates and doing behind-the-scenes stuff for other editors. Again, it’s weirdly compelling.

If you’ve a mind to join me, my username is res_umbrarum; look me up.

In actual MMO news, I went back and tried RIFT and WOW for a little bit. Because of how RIFT‘s network interface is structured, the game is actually pretty much unplayable on my internet; if I can log into the server at all, none of the NPCs load (I sometimes get voices and the “column of light” that means that a figure is being drawn from the server to render), and it takes several full seconds just to open my bags (which is weird, because I would have figured that would be client-side). Also, patching is still a pain in the ass; I talked to the official rep on Twitter, whose response to “it sucks to have to get up at 2 AM to log in so I can patch” was “yes, players in your situation have to do that”. Not exactly the response I was looking for.

WOW, on the other hand, still works decently well. I didn’t log into my main account; instead, I started a trial account. The new-player experience is actually kind of invigorating; I can’t mail myself heirlooms, bags, or gold, so I’m stuck doing things the hard way, and despite what all the old hands (who have leveled from 1-90 with heirlooms, 20-slot bags, and thousands of gold) say, there’s still quite a bit of game there. My favorite character at the moment is a level 5 undead rogue, but she’s by no means the only character I’ve put any time into. (And, again, without heirlooms, gold, or bags, it actually does take more than five minutes to get out of the 1-10 area, which is nice.)

And, of course, Guild Wars 2 is still playable; I ran around on the last day of the dragon festival hitting piñatas and racing moas, and it was great. My friend Jess and I talked about the difference between RIFT and GW2, and she summed it up nicely: “Compared to RIFT, GW2 feels as advanced as RIFT felt compared to WOW.” It’s true; the game is, frankly, just better.

(I haven’t even touched SWTOR. The same problem I have with RIFT continues with SWTOR, and unlike RIFT, I have a lot more of SWTOR to download before I can play…)

So that’s what I’ve been playing recently. What have you been up to?

 

Yet another filk. I’ve been wanting to write this one for six years.

The Darkmoon Faire’s falling down on its knees
The vendors are all shutting down
It’s raining in Orgrimmar two flight paths east
Where you should be, no one’s around

I need a queue pop
I need a good tank
I need a gear drop
I need a queue pop

These trained mobs and bosses are running me down
And I don’t have damage to give
You get what you’re geared for
But soloing dungeons is no way to live

I need a queue pop
I need Consecration
I need a trinket
I need a good tank

And I get no answers
When I post my Recount
It’s raining in Orgrimmar, baby
And I might as well sit on my mount

There’s strats I remember and strats I forget
I miss running with you; I should
But you’re off playing some other damn game
I hear it’s not even that good

I need a queue pop
(Maybe I should buy that new game)
I can always hear LFG
(But the players who use it are lame)

And I wish, I wish it was the same game
Because I’m lonely for vanilla
I’d like to hear a little “u rdy?”
I guess it’s time to put the cash down

I need a queue pop
I need a good tank
I really need a good tank
I really really need a good tank
I really really really need a good tank
I really need a good tank

 

In a fit of productivity, I decided that I was going to start posting here again.

It was only when I actually opened the Add New Post page that I realized that I’d stopped because, well, I’m not really playing any games seriously anymore.

Part of that is the latency problems that I mentioned in my last post. When my average ping in an online game is around 1700-1800ms, they just aren’t very much fun to play – at least not on the level that I was used to playing them – and I can’t justify paying a subscription fee for them. So I got Theande to level 90 in World of Warcraft and then just petered out; I realized that I was logging in, doing dailies, and logging out, or just running Nashoda in circles around Eastern Plaguelands gathering herbs while I watched DVDs, and that doesn’t merit $15 a month, especially when I was never going to get to use anything that I could have spent the daily rewards on and there didn’t seem to be much point in just piling up more and more herbalism gold.

My internet situation also makes playing RIFT and SWTOR difficult. I have a strict limit on the amount of bandwidth I can use each day, and can only download with impunity between 2 and 7 AM Eastern time. Normally, this is okay – I can just use a download manager (my ISP conveniently provides a pretty good one) or, for programs that require updates, schedule the program to run overnight. But RIFT and SWTOR won’t let me schedule them to download overnight; both launchers require that I log in before they’ll give me updates, which means that I either have to get up at 2 AM and launch the launchers, or log in before I go to bed, pause the download, and rig a program that simulates a mouse click to resume the download at 2 AM. (Incidentally, a few other games follow this model; I believe Star Trek Online does, for example, but I’m not sure.)

Or, as I’ve done, simply not play the games. I haven’t logged into RIFT or updated SWTOR since July 2012 – and I’m certainly not paying subscription fees for them. (And that’s actually kind of sad for me – I had a character, Agystha the cleric, at max level in RIFT before the expansion, and one, Tipanyu the Sith Sorcerer, in SWTOR who was almost at max level but who’d finished her personal story – and I miss playing them. But even though SWTOR is free to play now and RIFT is going there, I still can’t update the clients without logging in. There’s not even a paywall in place anymore, guys; cut it out.)

And then there’s Guild Wars 2. I bought the game back in December, when I had a little extra money, thrilled that it was an online game without a subscription fee and that it would let me update the client without having to be logged in. (In fact, it keeps you logged in unless you explicitly log out.) I got an Engineer to her mid-30s, and a couple of other characters to the late teens or early 20s, but I haven’t actually played GW2 in several weeks. (I still have the launcher updating every night; I just don’t play it.)

The problem has become that because of my lag, I have a hard time participating in events, and I can’t run dungeons or do PVP at all – so I find myself just doing the same things over and over, with different locations and different skins. And the automatic level adjustments – when you enter a lower-level area, your level and stats are lowered to match, rather than decreasing the XP and gold you get from doing the activities – actually hinder me, because despite the fact that my Engineer is level 35, I still struggle with certain mobs in low-level areas (the cave full of wurms in the Norn 10-15 area comes to mind), and because I can’t run dungeons or do events easily, I can’t get the gear to bring myself to a level where I can handle them.

So why am I still writing here?

Because I used to love playing games, and I’m hoping that writing here will help me rediscover that desire to play and to excel in those games. Right now they’re just another thing I do if I have time and nothing else has grabbed my attention – it’s really on the level of “dust the shelves” or “straighten up my desk” – but I’d like them to be something that I want do. So that’s the goal: one post a week, on Wednesday, to figure out how to get my groove back. That’s what I’m doing here.

 

It’s no secret that I liked RIFT an awful lot. I made a tactical error near the end of my time in the game: I was feeling neglected in the (extremely large) guild that I was in, so I broke off and made my own vanity guild, as I’ve done countless other times in games – except that I found myself missing the community to talk to, and without that, I was having less and less fun logging in. When Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, I dropped RIFT entirely.

I’ve known for a while that people who have purchased the game but haven’t paid a subscription fee can log in and use (but not level up) their characters above level 20, and can create and level characters to level 20, so it’s little surprise to me that today, Trion Worlds announced that on June 12, RIFT is going free-to-play for everybody. Subscribers will receive bonuses to XP and mount speed, among other things, and I hope Trion won’t take the same approach that EA did with SWTOR and lower the baseline so that the “bonuses” are what people considered standard before the F2P announcement.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get me back into the game. One of the drawbacks to both RIFT and SWTOR, and the reason I don’t play either despite their F2P portions, is that they hide updates behind a login screen. In a way this makes sense; it helps prevent non-subscribers from getting access to new content for the game, which wouldn’t be a big deal if there weren’t the possibility of private servers that use the base client but reverse-engineered server software. However, it does make a big deal to me – because, frankly, for the last year my internet has been terrible. I’m far enough out in the country that I’m now part of the 10% of the United States without access to broadband internet; Verizon has no intent to run FiOS out to my area, Comcast won’t run cable without a $13,500 investment on my part (since there aren’t enough customers in the half-mile between me and the end of the existing cable service to justify their installing cable out here), and the phone lines date back to 1915, so they’re too unstable for DSL.

Instead, I have satellite internet. Satellite internet, at the level I’m willing to pay for, offers speeds on par with 1996-era ISDN lines – and no matter what level I pay for, I have a daily bandwidth cap of 500MB. I can only download freely between 2 AM and 7 AM. And that means that if I want to update my RIFT and SWTOR clients, I have to get up at 2 AM and log into the client. And frankly, I haven’t been able to justify that, despite the fact that I paid for the software.

(Also, I’ve just discovered that when I got a new computer earlier this year, neither SWTOR nor RIFT was transferred to the new hard drive – and the hard drive they were on has failed in the meantime – so I’d have to re-download the entire client again if I wanted to play. At 5 hours a day and a maximum of 128KB/s… I’ll be lucky if I have the RIFT client downloaded before the F2P goes live.)

It’s sad to say that one of my basic qualifications for buying an online game now is “can I update the game without signing in?” – but I have to confess, that’s the biggest reason that I’m not planning to pre-order the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online – and it’s why, instead of playing RIFT or SWTOR, I’m instead playing Guild Wars 2 (which does allow you to download client updates without logging in) and single-player games.

And hey – if RIFT and SWTOR decide to get their head in the game and let me update without having to physically be at the keyboard in order to log in, I’ll be there with bells on.

(Yes, I know: I can log in when I go to bed and then use a keystroke emulator to update the software. In fact, I have done that in the past. But when many MMOs these days actively look for keystroke emulators so they can identify cheaters, I’d rather not take the risk.)

 

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular guildies log in
There’s a Field Marshal sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his HKs and wins

He says, “son, can you queue us for Alterac?
I’m not really sure how it goes
It gets changed every week
But I knew it complete
When I wore a Knight-Champion’s clothes”

He sings “Capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an”

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Lufi the moonkin’s a friend of mine
She tosses up Moonfire for free
And she’s quick with a HOT
Or to bear-tank the lot
But it’s DPS she’d rather be
She says “Goddamn, this warlock is killing me”
As he fears her off once, then again
“Well, I’m sure I could balance this battleground
But what’d they complain about then?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an

And the frost mage is practicing Firelands
As the Pandaren slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a queue just to get HKs
But it’s better than queueing alone

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

Now Cyn is a character novelist
Whose alt slots are already filled
And he’s chatting with Baen, who’s off on her main
Finding newbies to hunt down and kill

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
My groupmates all give me a smile
‘Cause they know that it’s me
Who will queue PVP
And let them pwn n00bs for a while

And the ready noise sounds like a carnival
And the starting cave smells like fish feasts
And they run at the gate (‘cept the ones starting late)
And say “man, could you buff us, at least?”

Oh, capture the graveyards, then towers
Leave Drek for last, if you ca~
a~
an

Queue us all up, you’re the BG Lead
Queue us all up tonight
‘Cause we’re all in the mood for some PVP
And holiday weekend’s all right

 

Trion Worlds just announced the first expansion for their MMO RIFT, RIFT: Storm Legion. From the Gamespot article:

Storm Legion comes with not just one, but two entire continents; all told, Rift will more than triple in size. […]

Storm Legion also brings with it a new city to call home: Tempest Bay, a bastion for both Guardians and The Defiant. The expansion also brings with it a brand new soul for each calling, though Hartsman was frustratingly (and charmingly) mum on just what these souls may be. […]

Rift: Storm Legion is about more, more, and even more. There’s a new level cap (60, up 10 levels), new dungeons, new raids (2, to be exact), and a new Chronicle (that is, a challenging, story-driven instance). There are individual stories to be told in each of these content types, though they culminate in Storm Legion’s primary narrative arc, which involves Crucia, the Queen of Storms, and the legions she hopes to bring to Telara through the mysterious Infinity Gate.

More information at Gamespot and the official RIFT: Storm Legion website.

 

I have to say, one of the things SWTOR does well that I don’t think I’ve seen another MMO handle is recontextualizing the environment based on class. I recently came back to the game after a few months’ absence – I’d tried the free week they offered and they’ve fixed many of the issues I had – and I’ve been focusing on my level-44 Sith Inquisitor, to whom the large ground clutter in SWTOR plays like large ground clutter in pretty much every other game – just random crap everywhere to jump over or go around (or get stuck behind, in certain cases, not that I’ve ever done that).

But on a whim, today I logged into my Republic Smuggler, and all of a sudden, all of that ground clutter wasn’t just an obstacle – it was cover. On my Jedi Consular – at least thematically; it’s rarely physically true – the ground clutter wasn’t an obstacle or cover, it was ammunition. And so on.

I know it draws from the mechanics in Mass Effect, but SWTOR’s use of cover (and, thematically, Telekinetic Throw) really does a lot not only to justify but to enhance the idea of the environment being an interactable element. It’s not quite Red Faction – although it would be awesome if I could uproot a boulder with my Consular so my Smuggler friend could use it as cover – but it’s getting there.

(It occurs to me that part of the reason the environment isn’t more interactable is because it’s a persistent, multiplayer world, and it would be very easy to render the environment unusable if people had the ability to alter it at will. But we can dream!)

(Excellent comments on the last few posts, by the way – I haven’t replied simply because I don’t have good answers. :)