Updates! LOTRO, CoH, Glitch, SWTOR, and stuff

meand saruman

Most of my gaming time this week (sadly, not enough) has been spent in LOTRO. My impression of Isengard so far is that Turbine have done a good job of providing ‘more of the same.’ That’s not a bad thing per se, it means that the zones feel well designed, the storylines are engaging, the PvE flow is good, and I haven’t seen the servers this busy for a long time. I’m enjoying how the burglar plays, as long as I don’t compare it to any other class. There are a few minor tweaks that improve dps, and the new Isengard skills involve updates to existing skills which make stealth more appealing (can riddle from stealth, get automatic crits from stealth, etc). As a QK burglar, I’m happy enough.

Although there are definitely other classes which are tougher in PvE, what I love about my burglar is that when I die in PvE, I can usually stop and think and try another approach and then succeed. The class has a large toolset. And that’s one of the things I enjoy.

One of the things that works well for Turbine’s storytelling in these zones  is that Middle Earth legitimately has poor communications across the regions (unless you cheat and use a palantir or MMO mail/ chat channels). Also the ring quest is secret and no one is supposed to know much about the rangers. So this means that when you rock up to a village and no one knows who you are, but they see that you look like a seasoned fighter who has come in their time of need, it’s plausible. It also means that you end up feeling like the man/woman with no name, which is actually pretty cool.

I’ve encountered Saruman in an epic storyline (yes, I was expecting someone taller too), and I’m enjoying the swashbuckling look of the Dunland clothing, as modelled on my burglar above. And through the wonders of cosmetic clothing, she can keep looking like a female version of Errol Flynn for as long as I want. Wish I could get those boots iRL.

Turbine have a very cool dev blog about how they develop their epic storylines, recognising that players will want to visit key locations from the books and encounter key characters.

As we design the Epic Story for LOTRO, the biggest consideration is something we call T-Factor. The more Tolkien something feels, the more T-Factor it’s said to have. All the most iconic characters and places in The Lord of the Rings are considered to be the “Biggest T.” In all things, but especially in the Epic Story, we’re aiming for lots and lots of Big T.

I’m a great fan of tea.

City of Heroes

CoH is in full F2P mode now, and my beloved is encouraging me to jump back in and have a go. Because I used to subscribe, my account still has some of the veteran rewards, mostly costume pieces or minor (but quality of life enhancing) abilities. I hear a lot of good things about the F2P revamp and it’s definitely on my list of things to do when I have more time.

Anyone have any feedback on how the game is feeling at the moment?


Other people have written about their experiences with Glitch, which is a side scrolling flash-based browser game with zones and crafting and things to collect. I’m struggling to really call it a MMO but I think it probably has to qualify. Lots of players can play simultaneously and communicate with each other, it has zones and quests, and customisable characters.

I hung out in the game for about an hour and found it fun but I’m not sure I feel very compelled to go back. I can understand why people compare Glitch with Facebook games (there is something of Farmville in the point-and-click and you-can-only-collect-cherries-once-per-day), but for me it has more in common with Kingdom of Loathing. And a fairly complex skill tree system that probably has more in common with EVE than anything else I’ve seen.

I will definitely aim to spend more time with Glitch, if only to understand better why some of my friends like it so much. I don’t really find much of interest yet in the virtual world, which probably says more about what I like in MMOs than anything else.

It is free to play and you can spend money to buy credits to customise your character etc etc. I have 3 spare invites so feel free to leave a message if you want one.


Anyone else excited about SWTOR? Among the blogs I read, I sometimes feel as though I’m the only one. I haven’t seen the beta so I’m just basing this on what I’ve read, but really, if you like Bioware’s RPGs and are expecting more of the same with full voice acting, Old Republic setting, sub model and extra MMO-like stuff borrowed heavily from WoW which you may or may not like, and find that appealing I don’t see a reason to pass on it. I’ve said this before but I do expect a LOT of the storytelling in this game, and since that’s one of my great interests I can’t wait.

I know there is a large probability that I will be bored after 3 months, but I now know that this is because I’m /usually/ bored of a new MMO after 3 months. The test for me is whether I want to dip in again after having played at the start and taken a long break.

In my case, given the current workload, I think it may take me longer than 3 months to get to max level anyway.


In my view, the main issue with WoW is (and maybe has always been) that the devs can’t quite settle on which type of customer/ player they are aiming at. This means that if you find one expansion or patch is absolutely perfect for your playstyle, it’s practically guaranteed that this will change on the next content update. Blizzard really struggle on the idea of providing more of the same.

Over Wrath and Cataclysm, they seem to have been changing tack more and more often, so it’s not surprising if the player base (which usually reacts to changes approximately a year or so after they happen) is feeling restless and uncertain. When I say that the player base has a delayed reaction, I mean that social structures designed for one type of play tend to endure even after the game changes.

This is why raid guilds continue to fall apart. WoW hasn’t really been that holy grail of hardcore raid games for awhile, probably not since TBC. This is because part of the hardcore raid appeal was being able to see content and lore which others didn’t, and hard versions of existing raid instances don’t really fill the same niche.

I actually think that they’re now settling into a new model, and hopefully they’ll stick with it long enough that people can at least decide where they’re at for more than one patch at a time. The new model is: new or returning players can jump in at any patch and easily gear for raiding, raid and instance content available via PUGs to all players, and hard modes for hardcore players. There is a squeezed middle here but as Tobold says, maybe they aren’t the player base you’re looking for. With WoW, you always have to ask: who is this content aimed at?

The new Looking for Raid finder is going to be great for anyone who wants to see the last raid of the expansion (and kill Deathwing) and isn’t in a hardcore raid guild. The LFR version of the raid is going to be easier than normal mode (which is likely to still be pretty hard, if Firelands was anything to go by) and should fill the purpose of getting everyone to see the content.

I don’t know how this will affect raid guilds but I suspect casual raids in particular will be hit hard. If you have the choice of raiding regularly with a casual guild that struggles through the normal modes or hitting up the LFR (which has no raid lock so can be done multiple times per week if you’re desperate to grind it and gear up that way) I think people will tend to drift to LFR unless the social aspect of the regular raids is stellar.

As to why they put in a special legendary weapon and questline just for rogues, I have no clue. I imagine part of the questline will require hardmode raiding, so that narrows the possible user base even more. Having legendaries be rare is fine, but a whole epic questline just for one class still feels like an odd way to go about things to me.

Another thing to note is that the new instances will be dropping gear of equivalent level to normal firelands drops. That probably signals the death of firelands raids once the new patch drops.


Syncaine thinks it is awesome that the CCP CEO has apologised to EVE players and decided to actually focus on creating content that they want.

I think that if I was playing a sub game where the only new content I’d had for a year was something lame that NO ONE wanted, I’d expect an apology too. And if they’re so bad at listening to the player base (less large than you’d think given the number of players with two or more accounts) that they need grandstanding tactics by players on an egoboo to draw their attention to basic things like this, then why are they running an MMO in the first place?

The nearest equivalent I can think of is that LOTRO had a fallow patch when the devs were working on the unannounced F2P conversion. That was shocking too, but at least people could see that the F2P conversion was actually done in the best interests of keeping the game viable. Unlike a new CPU-eating character generator used only in a single room for each player.

One of the side effects of the rise of the F2P model is that it does make players think about what they expect from a subscription model in a game.

Why Superhero MMOs have failed us

I’m disappointed in so called super hero MMOs.

It isn’t because I hate superheroes. I used to read X-Men religiously as a teenager and I bought all the Sandman comics as they came out. I love Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and my husband even made me read through his old copies of Luther Arkwright before we got married (I think he wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his friends by not knowing the dialogue off by heart.) I have original copies of The Crow. And, big admission, I also collected all the Marvel Secret Wars comics.

But somehow all the superhero MMOs  model the dull and more tedious parts of the superhero experience, and not the things I loved.

See, the basic problem is that superhero comics are very squarely all about the main character. S/he is pasted up on the cover and takes front and centre of every story all of the time. Writers do use this as a way to discuss what it means to be a hero, and particularly what it means to be that specific hero. You may not get vast amounts of character development but when you do, it’s a major huge plot point. The story, the villains, the drama, the setbacks and how they are overcome — these things should be front and centre of the superhero experience.

Things you can do in a superhero MMO:

  • Design a cool costume and write a backstory that is largely irrelevant
  • fight random baddies
  • quest

Things you cannot do:

  • Have a dependent NPC who gets into trouble and needs to be saved a lot
  • Run a story where you start by fighting with another superhero and then team up with them (unless you pre-arrange it with another player and duel them to fake out the fighting)
  • Quests that tell personalised stories about what it means to be a superhero (note: fighting hellions in Perez Park does not count)
  • Soap Opera style supergroups.
  • Have a mentor who gets intro trouble and needs to be saved a lot.
  • Have a secret identity. Worry about whether it gets discovered. Need to balance the needs of the secret identity with the needs of the superhero persona.
  • Have a gearing up sequence (like in Iron Man)
  • Play out your backstory
  • Get captured by a supervillain and have to escape a deathtrap

If I can’t show what being superhuman means to my character then what is the point? If I can’t show the tension between the superhero role and the ‘real life’ role then all that is left is flying around (which is cool) and fighting bunches of mobs that might as well be the MMO standard pig for all they mean to me.

A MMO is more like a LARP – no player is particularly special. They’re all average Joe/Jane characters getting on with their lives. But it isn’t even a simulation of what it might be like to live in a city full of superheroes. The characters never clash over territory, never both jump into the same fight, suffer mistaken identities, and fight each other by mistake. They never get into trouble with the cops for acting like vigilantes. So even as a less personal simulation of a city full of supers, the games don’t work.

Maybe they work as small scale tactical fighting games. Maybe the fluff and costumes and travel powers is enough to keep people amused and they can tell their own stories in-between the gaps. But how is that really different from kill ten rats? It seems to me like such a wasted opportunity that CO didn’t try to do something just a bit different.

Griefing people … for SCIENCE!!

A story that has been doing the rounds and caught my eye today was that of a  Professor of Mass Communications who deliberately riled up the CoH community and then wrote a paper (link is to a word doc) about it.

The way the story is being reported is that he went to a PvP zone on his superhero character and attacked supervillain characters. Players in CoH aren’t big on PvP and tended to use the zone for farming or private duels and he disrupted that, so they (over)reacted very harshly. Lots of smack talk, death threats, and so on.

And I thought, “Oh the horror, forcing people to PvP in a PvP zone! Whatever next?”

I was put right by my husband and friends who also play the game. Lum goes into this in more detail too. It wasn’t just that he was forcing people to PvP, he was actually teleporting them straight to NPCs who would kill them instantly, thus incurring extra xp debt/repairs that wouldn’t have happened in a straight player vs player fight. This would be known as griefing in most PvP-type games that I have played, although sometimes training people onto NPC guards is a smart tactic. Just … not generally when there is no skill involved and no chance for the victim to either fight or escape.

My friends weren’t just pissed off or amused though. (If you want to avoid gankers in that game, then just don’t go to the PvP zone, right?) They were utterly outraged.

Looks like valid research and a valid paper to me

Here’s my conclusions:

  • I think there’s enough material there on how players behave (cue huge overreaction) when their agreed norms are breached to make a decent study.
  • I think it’s interesting that the devs allowed such an unbalanced power into the game and didn’t fix it, even when lots of other players had complained. If anyone was ever considering PvPing in CoH (and I’m honestly not sure why they would), then I’d stop that thought right now.
  • I think that the fact that players didn’t trust the devs to stop the griefing affected how they responded. In a game where devs were quicker to hotfix PvP imbalances, they’d probably have just reported him and moved on. As it was, they felt powerless to stop him.
  • I’m surprised that Twixt had evidently played the game for awhile – because he says so in his paper – but didn’t explain why his particular form of PvP/  griefing was so outside the normal rules of behaviour. He seems to think it was just because he was making people PvP in a PvP zone.
  • He’s not very clear in general about what the game rules actually are, or how the game rules can be fuzzy or change over time in a MMO. eg. an ability that is legit in one patch can be fixed in the next. His goal wasn’t to change the rules though (which is what is likely to happen when you find an exploit), it was to break the social rules whilst still keeping the game rules.
  • I’d love to see him try it in a more PvP oriented game. Or one where the devs have more resources to fix stuff, or are just generally more on the ball.
  • The majority of CoH players clearly did not want to PvP. However devs had been trying to introduce it as an element to the game, it didn’t work.
  • Why on earth did the supervillain players not band up and stop him? They were PvP flagged. Was there an imbalance on his server that meant they were always outnumbered? Or some other reason they couldn’t take the law into their own hands? I’m curious as to whether anyone tried to stop him in game or whether they just left it as smack talk on channels and forums.
  • Shame he didn’t actually do this on a supervillain; being a known griefer would have been a great way to build up some immersion and player notoriety. And it would have been an intriguing way to grief people, bend the local rules, but still in a sense be playing in the spirit of the game. (I know that wasn’t his goal but it’s interesting to me that you could do it and argue that point.)