[New Blogger Initiative] Join the bloggerati! Fame, fortune, flames await!

nbimedium

If you read many MMO blogs, you’ll see this logo popping up a lot during May because the gorgeous Syp (of Biobreak and Massively fame)  is organising a whole month worth of new blogger initiatives (NBI)  to encourage new bloggers to throw down with the rest of us!

There are at least 70 other blogs supporting the NBI, and I’ll get a link to the others later in the month so you can check them out. If you are interested, or recently started a blog and want to get involved, there is a bboard where you can sign up here.

We’ll all be aiming to post some articles giving advice to new bloggers – probably including advice we wish we’d had such as ‘never offer to buy the first round’ and ‘don’t go to bed with your boots on.’ If there is anything in particular you’d like words of wisdom on from me, feel free to suggest in comments. (Don’t ask about how to make money from blogs, I’ve never tried to do that so I’m the wrong person to ask!) And we’ll be spreading some link love.

So if you’ve always wondered about blogging about games, whether it’s one particular game that you love, one that you’re really looking forwards to, or general squeeing or ranting about games you love/hate, there has never been a better time to get started.

Why blog, and how I got started?

Blogging is a great hobby. You get to practice your writing, polish up your editing skills, spend lots of time thinking and writing about your favourite hobby, and make new friends. That latter may sound odd, but after you have been knocking around the blogosphere for awhile, interacting with other bloggers and writing comments on their posts, you get to know people.

I’ve also found that blogging means I enjoy games more, rather than less. It doesn’t feel like work, instead I think more about the games I play and why I like them. It doesn’t work like that for everyone – some writers find that analysing their games takes the joy away, and if that happens then you can stop any time.

Others find that they love writing guides to their favourite games to encourage new or inexperienced players to get involved. MMOs encourage community building and social gaming, even if a player prefers to be solo at all times in the game itself. I’ve seen many keen and insightful commenters who play solo, where I’d reckon that interacting with the bloggers is part of the social gaming experience.

And the other great thing about blogging is that instead of bothering the partner/cat/random facebook friends with details about your screenshots, character and the cool stuff that happened in game, you can talk to readers who are actually interested :)

The first MMO blog I wrote was about Warhammer Online, which was called The Book of Grudges (an inspired name, I still think) – my sister, Arbitrary, thought of it and co-wrote the blog with me. We started it during the hype cycle for WAR and stopped soon after the game went live.  I still have a soft spot for WAR, whatever it’s issues, we had a lot of fun playing it. We didn’t really have a blogging strategy, just we both posted short posts whenever we thought of something to say. This resulted in a blog which had loads and loads of short updates, BoingBoing style, which seemed to be entertaining for people. WAR also had a great blogging community and we threw ourselves into it, and many of the other WAR bloggers who got started during that time are still going now.

After that, I took a break for a few months, started playing WoW since Wrath had just come out, but I missed blogging. I did think hard about starting again on a new blog because it meant starting from scratch again with no readers. But this time I knew I didn’t want to focus on just one game, so I did it anyway! I knew that the WoW blogosphere was huge and unlikely to want much to do with me, but I figured “Hey, why not?” even if just me and Arb and a few old WAR blogging friends read, it’s something to do.

One of the nutty things I did when I was first getting started was write a polite rant about something one of the big WoW bloggers had written. If you read that post, you can see how my writing style has improved since then. But the thing which blew me away was that Matticus linked to me in his blog as part of a summary of reactions to his post, and replied. I wasn’t expecting him to even notice, I was just a two-bit blogger. But some of his readers came to check out the link and before you knew it, I had COMMENTS! (!)

So the WoW bloggers weren’t such an intimidating bunch after all. And this is what you’ll find with gaming bloggers in general, we do like to interact with new voices even when they disagree with us.

So you want to get started!

I’m not going to post a newbie’s guide to blogging right now, but the first thing to do is decide which platform you want to use. WordPress or Blogger are the main platforms people are using at the moment. I like WordPress, which is where this blog is located.

WordPress for Beginners

Blogger (it’s part of google so you can log in using your google account)

If you use Windows, I’d also recommend Windows Livewriter as a blog writing tool, although both WordPress and Blogger let you type your post straight into an online editor.

I also recommend reading other blogs, for two reasons. Firstly they’ll give you an idea what people are writing about, and secondly writing comments on other blogs and interacting that way will be one way to get involved and have larger blogs post links to you. Most bloggers have a blogroll to the side of their posts, mine is on the right hand side, which is a good way to start reading around.

And go sign up on http://nbihq.freeforums.org/index.php if you’d like to get involved, there will be a lot of advice and linkage around this month. Take advantage of it!

When anecdotes attack…

I know it’s no big surprise that World of Warcraft and MMOs in general can really provide a bond between people where there really wasn’t anything much else in common.

I wrote a while ago about my boss’ young son and his little written note asking me how to get off Teldrassil. And my boss said her coolness factor with her son had gone up a couple of notches for knowing someone who could answer his questions.

Steampunk Phoenix tattooA couple of weeks ago, I went to get a tattoo I’d had planned for a while. It was a mammoth 8-hr session of tattooing (and I still need to get the background put in!). The tattooist had mentioned he was into computer games, but it was only when his girlfriend showed up towards the end of the session and he casually mentioned that both she and I played World of Warcraft that the big gaming discussion took place. She was in her early 20s, I’m 40. She’s a very hip goth chick, and I’m just an all-round geek. And yet we both play on EU roleplay servers (not the same ones, but still) and managed to have a very long and animated conversation about the game, Cataclysm, healing and roleplay in MMOs. Considering this was after around 6h of tattooing, it really helped get me through the final stages.

And then we come to last week. Just before a meal with workmates I went round to my co-workers’ house (she lives much closer to work than me, and yes, we work in a 2-person library, so it’s just us most of the time). Her 18-yr-old son came down to get some food and mentioned something about the Shattering and World of Warcraft and I discovered he’s also a healing nut (though he plays a druid to my shaman) and he ended up abandoning his sick girlfriend for 45m to have a chat with me about WoW.

It’s funny only because all these incidents all happened so close together. Normally I go through life with my gamer friends on one side and my non-gamer friends on the other. And while the non-gamers may be pretty tolerant to my explanations of these games, I don’t often have moments of connection via MMOs. (I mentioned on a very old blog once that my colleagues in the big library all knew that I went to fight a Balrog every friday night in LotRO and frequently asked how it had gone, even if they had no idea what any of the words meant ;p).

Anyway, thought I’d share because it made me feel warm and fuzzy!

Blog news: Ratings on comments, future post schedule

Just a brief update on a couple of changes around here:

I had been trialling the WordPress option to let people rate comments  on this blog (you may have seen the thumbs up/ thumbs down icons). I’ve turned it off for now, but thought I’d pass on some good and bad things I saw with it — feel free to leave comments if you feel strongly about the issue.

Good points about rating comments:

  • It’s very easy for people to feel that they can make a contribution to the discussion without necessarily having to write a comment. If someone else said something you agree with, instead of posting “I agree with Nick!” you can just click on the +1 vote.
  • It’s fun for people to be able to see how their comments are viewed by everyone else.
  • It’s another way for people to interact with each other, and interaction is one of the things I really like about blogging.

Bad points about rating comments:

  • It can put people off expressing strong feelings, especially if they disagree with the blogger, because they may get automatically voted down by ‘fans’. (I don’t expect anyone here to be all that fanatical, but since it’s my blog I do have a built in power bloc.) So people can feel oppressed if they want to say something unpopular.
  • On the other hand, that could happen anyway. It’s just that instead of  typing as a comment, “No! Spinks is a goddess! How dare you disagree!!!” it is much easier to click -1 on the comment you disagree with.
  • But if it actively puts people off from commenting then the whole discussion will get less interactive, less lively, and less interesting.

My gut feeling is that although the voting can be fun, the downside at the moment outweighs the upside. As I said, feel free to leave a comment if you feel strongly about it.

Future Schedule

Just for information, I am back at college full time at the moment and still adjusting to the schedule. With Arb’s help, I expect to be able to keep up fairly frequent posting but this will now depend on having enough time at weekends to write posts in advance. Especially when coursework and essays come due, I can’t guarantee how the schedule will hold up, but I have every intention of chronicling the effect Cataclysm has on the in-game communities in WoW. (Quite happy that the expansion is dropping just before the end of term – and although I’ll expect to be playing on a fairly low schedule I’ll see if I can find someone who plays more regularly as an extra guest writer.)

On the bright side, there will probably be more posts that touch on issues like the ones I have written recently about industrial societies and consumerism in MMOs. Textbooks can be pernicious.

A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year! Best of 2009.

Happy Birthday, blog!

((twilight zone music))

On this day last year, I wrote my first proper post for the blog. It was our first trip into Naxxramas, and I wanted to talk about why it felt like such an edgy period getting raids started at the beginning of an expansion.  It also  documents my first raid as one of the main tanks for our 25 man raid group (which they have kindly let me keep doing all year).

Oh, I was nervous alright. 24 other people relying on me to not mess up their evening.

I’ve gotten a lot more confident since then, both with writing and tanking. So has our raid group, which happily spent much of last night wiping on one of the new bosses that got patched in this week.

I’d like to thank everyone who follows or has ever commented on the blog, it’s just amazing to me that I can write some blurb and people want to come and chat about it. I love you all. My goal was to try to write something every day, and although I have given myself the odd day off, it’s mostly been realised.

I’d particularly like to thank Larisa (who was the first person who ever linked here that I didn’t know personally), and Matticus (who was very decent in responding to a critique I wrote about one of his posts; and he’s a big blogger and doesn’t need to do that, I was and still am touched).

So with no more ado, here are some of my favourite posts of the year:

My Roleplaying Posts
One of the things I really enjoyed writing this year was a six part series on roleplaying in MMOs, what the main problems are, what works, what doesn’t, and how it could be improved.

And, finally, my cat.

Thanks again for coming along for the ride. If there’s anything you’d like to see more or less of next year, feel free to leave feedback either in comments, via twitter, or  email.

Feeling bad about cutting other people out

A few weeks ago, my raid group had a really good application from a paladin. He was a tank, he had loads of experience, he sounded very cool and laid back, and exactly the sort of person we’d all want to raid with. But there was a problem. We have enough tanks, and his heart wasn’t really in playing as an offspec.

The raid leaders thanked him nicely, informed him that they’d be in touch if any of us fell under a bus or moved to Antarctica, but noted that there was no room. So we passed up on including a really nice guy in our community and I feel as though it was partly my fault.

I love raid tanking but I also know that part of the reason I wound up in this slot is because I dug my heels in at the start of the expansion. And I’m still digging my heels in now. I could step down to let someone else have a go, but I’m not going to do that — they can wrangle my shield out of my cold undead hands.

I’m not sure if this is true of other raid groups also, but I know that all of our tanks get twitchy if we go for more than a raid or two without tanking anything. I think this may be less bad for the guys who have a healing offspec — healing feels as useful as tanking even with a slight gear deficiency. Dps as an offspec however? Say hello to the bottom of the damage meters unless you’re on an overpowered class or got really lucky with 10 man drops. (I miss my overpowered Fury days, oh yes I do.)

Maybe it’s because a couple of us are female so we tend to get more emotionally bound up in the social side of things. And so if we’re not tanking, we feel like a drag on the group.

The problems of class and role quotas

When you have raids which require fixed numbers of roles, you run into these problems with recruitment.  You have to turn away perfectly good candidates because there’s no spare slot for them. People who are soft (like me) do feel bad about ‘stealing’ a slot that many other people want. (Feeling bad doesn’t change how I act, I just feel vaguely bad at the same time.)

I remember a post by Chastity@Righteous Orbs that caught my eye a few weeks ago. He (or she?) commented that he was the only tank in his raid group and he found that this made him very jealous and protective of his spot. He found himself subtly discouraging other would-be tanks from going that route, even though he knew it was a bad idea because they needed more tanks.

And I understand that also. In the beginning of the expansion when we were all still jockeying for raid roles and didn’t entirely know how many tanks we would end up needing, things felt more competitive. And I say this as someone who genuinely likes all the other tanks in my raid group.

It’s just that now it’s all over and I do feel comfortable in my spot, I have the luxury of looking down at the new applicants, shaking my head sadly and crying into my roast hazelnut latte at the sheer misery of it all, and whining on my blog about the existential angst of the lonely tanking road.

Nothing says I love you like a mechanical squirrel

squirrel

I’ve been spending some time lately duoing alliance characters with my husband. It’s been fun and chilled out. Yesterday, I found this in my mail. It’s one of the oldest pets in the game, and one of the cutest. So sweet.

squirrel2

(Admittedly I did send him the pattern. You can learn a lot about successful relationships from this :) )

Professor Layton and the Curious Offline Experience

Tesh wrote this week about how losing internet access for three weeks nudged him into playing more offline games and breaking the online umbilical cord.

I enjoy feeling connected when I’m playing games. I’m the kind of nethead who thinks it’s great that connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous, but it can’t be denied that there is something very relaxing about just cutting the silver cord and immersing yourself into stand alone media.

So in the spirit of being unconnected, here are four cool offline things I’ve played, seen, or read this week.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Having Galactrixed out for the moment, Professor Layton is my current DS game of choice. It follows in the footsteps of handheld RPGs with a puzzle mechanic thrown in – so it’s not a million miles away in concept from Puzzlequest, or Phoenix Wright (another set of games I enjoyed very much). Like Puzzlequest, Professor Layton tells its story between bouts of puzzle solving. Like Phoenix Wright you get to explore areas, pixel bitch to find clues, and talk to suspects before coming to your conclusions.

Where the game really stands out is firstly that the story itself is convincing and utterly charming. It’s a bit offbeat but I liked it very much. Imagine a standard English/Agatha Christie style murder mystery with JRPG conventions thrown in and you’ll be on the right tracks.

But the reason the game has been so popular comes from the sheer variety of puzzles to solve. There’s everything from maths problems, logic problems, geometric puzzles, puzzles with a gotcha where you have to read the question very carefully, puzzles where you have to move blocks around on the screen, and just about anything else that you can imagine. The difficulty is not high, but I tend to welcome that in a game which you might want to play without a pen and paper handy to help. i.e. if you are expected to do most of the puzzle solving in your head. I certainly felt as though I was being given a good workout without being stuck for ages on any of the puzzles.

Some of the issues I had with the game are:

  • No verbal puzzles. This makes sense in a game that needs to be easily translated, but actually does bias the game very slightly towards male players. (Women are usually better at verbal puzzles, men excel at maths and spacial types puzzles.) I thought that was an oddity in this genre.
  • Some puzzles will need you to have a pen and paper handy. I don’t think all the maths ones could easily be done via mental arithmetic. And that’s probably not great design for a handheld game.
  • Not all the puzzles really used the power of the DS. The more interactive puzzles were definitely more fun. I enjoyed moving blocks around on the screen, for example.

Speaking of the internet connection, the game does allow for downloading further puzzles via the DS wifi connection. There are also extra puzzles which you can unlock as you make your way through the game. However, if you were to go straight to an internet walkthrough every single time you got stuck on a puzzle, you would lose a lot of your gameplay here.

I really think it benefits from being played on a train, or somewhere where you have no net access. It forces you to actually think, and get frustrated because a solution doesn’t work, and then try again, then finally solve the puzzle. And if you keep trying and then look it up, at least you feel you made a good attempt first.

I’m not quite at the end – saving it for train journeys this week –- but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Professor Layton and I’m looking forwards to playing the next installment in the series. I think they are onto a winner with this format.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall is in the running for this year’s Booker Prize, and I was so keen to read it that I bought it in hardback (it’s very cheap on Amazon at the moment).

Hilary Mantel is one of my favourite living authors, and one of her previous historical novels, “A Place of Greater Safety” is in the running for being my favourite book of all time (if you are at all interested in the French Revolution, read it, she brings the era to life like no one I have ever read.)

This time, she’s writing about the Tudor era, and in particular about Henry VIII and his chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell (and his cut throat rise to power).  The timing is perfect. We’ve had TV series recently about the Tudors, to tie in with the 500th anniversary of Henry VIIIs death. And C J Sansom’s amazing historical murder mysteries, set in precisely this era, have been huge best sellers in the UK.  (Also highly recommended if you are a fan of the genre.)

Mantel is a fantastic writer and I can’t wait to see how she’s treated the subject matter. I’m planning to work my way through the book this month and see how it goes. She made the Booker shortlist last year also but maybe this is going to be her year to shine.

In the Loop

The DVD of choice this week was a film I missed when it was in the cinemas. In the Loop is a smart political comedy about incompetent ministers, sweary scottish spin doctors, Anglo-American politics and war in Asia.

The Guardian called it the smartest, sharpest comedy of the year and they could very well be right. One of the least Hollywood films I have seen all year – it’s very sharp, surprisingly funny, and the characters are brilliantly drawn and characterised. Highly recommended if you like your satire razor-sharp and aren’t bothered by heavy swearing.

District 9

30 years ago, aliens made contact with Earth. And it’s been downhill all the way from there for the ‘prawns’. District 9 is real science fiction, all about ideas and speculation, rather than the flimsy excuse for high budget action scenes that Hollywood sci fi often presents.

It made me think. And that’s a common link with all of these games, books, and films.

Highly recommended, although it is rather visceral in parts (Peter Jackson’s influence, perhaps).

Finding the game to suit your mood

Over the last couple of weeks, my patterns of game playing have changed. I’m still playing the same games as before we had a death in the family, but I have noticed that I am playing them in different ways.

I’m enjoying the social contact and escapism in my MMOs, but I also have a lot of other things to do in real life. I find that I’m reluctant to spend too long in game. Sometimes I solo — more than usual. I’ve started low level alts with sisters and friends, on a very no-strings-attached understanding.

I’ve also been avoiding in game stress. I’m looking for a more peaceful and less challenging experience right now. Maybe it’s part of the grieving process, or a way of escaping from real life upheavals. I’m not entirely sure. Either way, I’m not enjoying progression raiding in the way I had in the past. I can live with it — we have such a light raid schedule that one night a week isn’t going to hurt — but right now I can’t honestly say that it’s fun for me.

I would normally stop doing things if I decided that they weren’t fun. But in this case it’s only one night a week, and I enjoy the company and being able to keep my hand in. I’m hoping this phase will pass soon and I’ll be back to gleefully comparing my repair costs with the other tanks as usual. (In case anyone was wondering what we discuss in the tank channels.)

I also find myself retreating towards familiar things. I would love to spend more time with EQ2 but somehow in spare moments I still drift back to WoW. I think this is down to the low barriers of entry to a game you know very well. Also, I already have a couple of characters who are geared for endgame there and a social circle,  and I’m familiar with most of the current content. It’s very low stress for me to hop into WoW, run a couple of instances with friends or PUGs, and hop out again. A large part of this is because the heroics are easy, I’m overgeared, and I probably could run them blindfold.

EQ2 isn’t high stress by any means, but it takes more time and energy to go and learn a new game, explore, make new friends, and figure out new content and mechanics. And energy, as much as anything, is what I’m trying to recharge at the moment. For the same reason, I bowed out of trying any of the new releases this month. It’s not the right time, and I’m not in the right mood.

Back on the DS, Galactrix has been seeing a lot of play, probably because I’ve spent a lot of time on trains.

I love it more and more with every session, despite the game’s  huge sucking flaws. Yes it spends a freaking aeon saving and loading itself all the time — it has more load screens than EQ2 in open beta. Yes the screen manages to be sensitive when you want it to be forgiving, and vice versa. For all that, I love how it plays and I love what they were trying to do. I’m finally discovering the main storyline, and trekking around the galaxy unlocking stargates, fighting baddies, discovering rumours, making new items, mining, trading, and unlocking my latent psychic powers. I am also impressed at how many variations there are on a simple “match three colours” game.