Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Introducing Rufflebutt

In the last post, I mentioned how my daughter had dragged me into playing GW2.   Here is a screenie of Rufflebutt the Barbarian.

She grew up (known as a family in-joke as ThingOne, taken from The Cat in the Hat) with us playing MMO's.  She was 10 years old when Everquest launched, I think we started playing before she turned 11.

At the first, we had just one account, I got it as a gift for my beloved spouse, who had been playing a text MUD available through AOL.  I think my evenings in those days were spent with Mario64 and Ocarina of Time, and so on.

Well, she had a blast (my wife) and I started a toon on her account.  Yes, I know you weren't supposed to do that.  It was a monk, Aquino.   But it soon became clear that This Would Not Do.

So I got my own account.   And the first toon I rolled up on it was our beloved, fabulous redhead.  Although his hair wasn't terribly red, or terribly fabulous given the state of Everquest graphics.

As time marched on Things One and Two became interested in the game.  Apparently they also thought it was a bit weird.  Kids are like that.

Later, as a young adult, she would sit in our living room with her laptop and talk to her friends over Skype, sometimes doing a "tabletop" RPG via IM and talking in voice.   I have danced over voice chat with some of her friends, forging an alliance with them, our mutual dark purpose being her mortification.  I'm not sure I was wholly successful, though.

Now she's off in Art School, though she wants to be an illustrator, not a modeler or game artist.  And playing MMO's on her own.  A few weeks ago, she posted this on Google+:

So tonight we ran a dungeon in Guild Wars 2 ... Now, I generally play MMOs with the vaunted method of "solo EVERYTHING", so I have no idea how to shot dungeon strategy, and all but one of the rest of us hadn't done any of the GW dungeons. The dungeons in guild wars are MUCH harder than normal PVE, and the one we chose, Ascalonian Catacombs, is apparently one of the hardest in the game.

So we died a lot. It was still a ton of fun (and you make some serious bank), but there was much death to be had.

It was at the point where we were switching to a third strategy to fight a particularly ornery pair of bosses that I suddenly remembered my dad doing raids in Everquest and Everquest 2. As a kid who played WoW by pretending no one else playing the game existed (which is still the best way to actually play WoW), it all seemed silly, and sometimes kind of annoying, that we'd have several hours in an evening with he and mom screaming at guildmates over vent as Vox used them as a human yo-yo. How was that possibly fun?

And now, at nearly three in the morning after a dungeon we started ...four hours ago, I just want to say; [Dad], I get it now.
Yesterday, I asked her if it would be OK to post this to TT.  She said yes, but then a few hours later, posted a link to Paint Stains and Video Games, a blog that she had just been inspired to create.  The first post is titled "My Father's Daughter".    In it, she says this:

I got asked if he could quote a post in his blog. My phone rebelled telling him sure whatever. I went and looked up the blog later. I still thought it was kind of dorky. There was a 'create journal' button over in the top corner. 
Being dorky or dumb didn't mean I was immune, clearly.
Dorky? Dumb?  I'm calling her "Serpent's Tooth" from here on.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Playing Guild Wars 2

First my daughter started playing.  She calls her character Rufflebutt the Barbarian.  She posted screenshots to Google+.

Then my wife, Lobi, started playing, and telling me how much fun she was having.  I was still busy playing Torchlight II solo and with friends.

Finally Dusty Monk posted about his Mesmer.   Given the choices of classes in GW2, it was inevitably the right one for Toldain to be, even though it doesn't actually let you, you know, mez anything.  (Of course I was going to play Toldain, don't be silly!)

So I sighed, and popped off to the store for the game.  Actually, I kept playing Torchlight II until I at least finished the main story arc.  Then I popped off to the store.

Installed from the DVD's, and then - hurry up and wait for all the updates.   That took basically all night and then some.  Sigh.   I'm hearing Carly Simon, and thinking of ketchup:

Of course, when I start the first character I create is my beloved, 3000 year-old-redhead.  However, there are no "elves" in this game.  Sylvari is kind of the corresponding thing to elves, but they are really more of a wood-elf thing.  They have the potential longevity to front Toldain's 3000 years, too.

But the hair!   I don't want leaves for hair, I want fabulousness!   I can have red leaves, but that just didn't cut it for me in the end.

So I created Toldain as a human, a noble human.  Except that secretly, he's still an elf who slipped through an interdimensional rift and wound up in Tyria.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I'm somewhat like Wilhelm in that I always try for the same look, at least in the first character.  He says, of GW2:

I always just try to make me, and this time around the “me” seemed a bit more effeminate than I would like to imagine myself, in an anime hero, pretty boy, male model sort of way. 
Of course, when it comes to Toldain, being a pretty boy is a good thing.   And my hair did come out looking very fabulous.

Actually, it's pretty much the exact hairstyle, color, and facial shape that Toldain had in EQ2.  I am very pleased.  The ears aren't pointy, though.  Sadly, it's very hard to get much of a closeup, at least out in the field.   I'll try to get a better one.

Let's go over a few of my likes and dislikes about the game:

Events and Frictionless Cooperation

This is by far my favorite aspect of the game.  Something's happening in the world, and you can just jump in and do something about it.   Other people will be doing it, too.   

Bandits are trying to poison the water reservoir.  Can you stop them?   If not, then the reservoir is poisoned and you have to try and collect poison globules and bring them to a brainiac, so he can make an antidote.   It's a chance for redemption.  I don't know what happens if this fails, or if it can fail.

But I like the dynamic aspect of it.  I like that there is frictionless co-operation.  In fact, most of the game is built around the idea of "frictionless cooperation".  If I do buffs, they affect allies that are close to me, they don't have to be grouped with me.  Experience, karma, and loot are applied to everyone, there's no need to group, nor is there any sense of kill-stealing.   Yes, this would allow power-leveling, except that the game automatically reduces your level to the maximum level of any area.   Leveled-down characters do seem to be slightly more powerful than true-level characters, but what the heck.

This is frictionless mentoring.   You can just wander into a noob zone and help people, and their's shared risk.  This is what I've been wanting from an MMO ever since EQ2 got this so, so wrong.

Only One Hotbar

You have only one hotbar.  Half of the 10 slots (well, really there are 14, with F1-4 adding more) are predetermined by your choice of weapon.  The other half are chosen from two pools, which you unlock over time with points garnered from mini-challenges within the game.   

The thing I like the most about this is that it presents the possibility of strategy being important.  It's easy to switch weapons when you aren't in a fight, but not so easy when you're in one.  Slot skills can't be switched at all, and you can only switch from one weapon set to one other set, and there's a cooldown on switching back.

At first, the approach among players seems to be "which of the possibilities do I like the best" and they will pick a combination and stick with it.   Psychochild complained that with his engineer he seemed to stick to one thing.   However, there's a huge potential space here, and one that I'm having enormous fun  learning and thinking about.

Persistent Buy and Sell Orders

EQ2 had a "persistent sell order" model.  Player merchants would offer things for sale at a set price and other players could buy them or not.  EVE Online added the persistent buy order, where you put up money and an offer price, and players with stuff to sell could just dump them down.

Of course, a persistent buy order doesn't work if there's no friction to selling, and it's not clear whether there is much friction to selling.   ArenaNet has made it incredibly easy to sell stuff on the Trading Post, and harder to buy.  Selling can be done anywhere, and you can empty your bags in the field.  

There must be some limit to how many sell orders you have, right?   Otherwise there's a spam issue.  I haven't seen it, though.

I prefer this kind of selling to auction selling, especially the sort of auction that charges you even if what you auctioned didn't sell.   That's sort of necessary because of spam.  But it has a chilling effect on sellers, which means that often in mature games with auctions (LOTRO) there would be categories of items that just didn't exist.  It wasn't worth the risk/effort/friction to bother to sell low-tier ore, etc.  This will not be an issue in GW2, I think.  

The Trading Post is not very good for economic game play.  There is almost no opportunity for arbitrage, because it's so easy to sell.  Prices are driven way down.  This is good for buyers and not for sellers.  But I think that's probably what they wanted.   Economic gameplay is secondary to killing stuff.  This isn't EVE Online.


The game is beautiful.  I upgraded my system to play it, getting a quad-core AMD chip, a lot more memory, and a SSD.  I kept my fairly recent gfx card, though.   However, I ended up having a cooling problem.   The computer had this bad habit of just overheating and shutting off at awkward moments.

Dialing down the gfx features didn't seem to help.   So then I found that it was on free-run framerate.  So dialing down the gfx features probably meant that each frame rendered faster, giving me a higher framerate and thus making my cpu overheat even faster!  Sigh.

However, I went out and bought a liquid cooling system and installed it.  Now the thing runs fabulously, in much higher res and art settings.  I will have new screenies soon, I think this is at reduced settings:

Exploration, Viewpoints, and Jumping Puzzles

I have Achiever habits, but I'm really an Explorer and Socializer at heart.  Each area has lots of places to find.  In the lower left of the screenshot above is a vertical streak of light with some sort of flag or parchment on it.  If you look closely, you will see my 3000-year-old self standing next to it.  This is a viewpoint.   You get some experience for finding them, as well as a breathtaking view of the gorgeous graphics.

(By the way, since this whole MMO thing started it's either got a lot easier to hire more artists, or a lot easier for  an artist to drop a buttload of architecture into a game.  Probably both.)

Sometimes it isn't all that easy to figure out how to get to these spots.  Sometimes it involves combat, sometimes it involves jumping places.  Sometimes there's both.   I got a viewpoint last night in Kessex Hills that required a blind jump off a cliff.  I was rewarded with a little exp and a breathtaking view of a waterfall.  Which like the in-the-moment rube I am, I completely forgot to screenshot.

It doesn't matter. I love this.  I got all 50 stars in Mario64, after all.  I haven't done a true "jumping puzzle" yet, I look forward to it.

Server Interaction

All of your toons must be on the same server.  I imagine this made more sense when you could arrange to do an instance or otherwise hang out or do battle with people on another server.   However, this isn't working now.   So I can't play a toon on my daughter's server.  I could move everything there, but it's marked as very high load.  And if I'm sitting in a queue for an hour waiting to log on, I'm not actually playing with her, am I?

I really like the EVE Online model where everyone is in the same universe.  In a fantasy MMO, however, putting that many people in one place would pretty much crash everyone's experience, both from graphics, and from server lag.   Still I can dream, can't I?

I'd really like them to get this working.

Last words

I leave you with my Asura Engineer, Festus Wockle.   Festus comes from tabletop RPGs, where he was a gnome with a high voice, an inclination to sing, a love of bright colors, no fashion sense, and a slightly irritating manner.   I think he's realized quite well.  I love all the techno-gibberish in some of the Metrica quests, or whatever they are called now.  I look forward to seeing what they've done with the other races.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Getting the Band Back Together

Somehow, a few summers ago, we all stopped playing Everquest 2.   I stopped logging in because when I did, no one else was logged in.  I moved on to other things.  I played EVE Online for a while.  I tried out DDO.   We had some fun with that, but one of the key members of our little band, Milia Flibertigibbet, didn't care for it.  And these days, where Milia goes (or doesn't) Jioja goes as well (or not).

Phritz and Lobi and Karaya and yours fabulously truly made a go of it for a while, but that kind of ran out of steam as well.  I think the changes to AC and attack rating were kind of the straw that broke the camel's back.

However, Milia reported on Facebook having fun with Torchlight and suggested Diablo III or possibly Torchlight 2 (which was announced as having a multiplayer mode, even though Torchlight did not) as a game we could all get together with.

Torchlight II launched a few weeks back, and all of us jumped into it.  We've been having a great time with it, and it's great to hear Milia's voice on coms again, even if only on weekends (time zone differences are hard).  Karaya is doing crazy builds that kick complete ass (no one is surprised).  Phritz is building armies of undead that swarm our enemies, and at least get in their way, and look impressive.  I have a redheaded embermage named Toldain, (of course).  However, unlike Torchlight, there appears to be no Charm spell in the game, so that's kind of sad.   Tolly is more along the lines of mad ranged dps and no hit points.   He also has a fluffy dog named Agnes, who throws a mean fireball.

So we had to figure out how to make internet shared instances.  At first we just made them and marked them "friends only" but that tag appears to be cosmetic.   Practically the first night we did it, someone none of us knew came into the instance, said hi, and wandered off to dungeon.  On subsequent nights, more obnoxious people came into the instance, so we started using a password.  Tagging a dungeon "friends only" appears to have no effect.  As opposed to searching for dungeons which are "friends only", which makes it easy for us to find each other.

Soon it developed that Milia had several alts, which was expected, which were all named "Milia", which was not.  And so the plot was hatched.  Phritz contacted us via side channels and fronted the idea that we would all level up toons named "Milia" and then all come into an instance with Milia, as a prank.   Of course, we loved the idea, and have been cooking it up for perhaps 3 weeks.

Our toons have been ready for maybe a week, and we've been waiting for the right opportunity - Milia is logged in and the rest of us available.  I'm sure that hurricane Sandy slowed us down, since it killed power at Karaya's house for several days.   But this Sunday morning the stars aligned.

Karaya, Milia, and I were doing some stuff to gather the Power Source for Nantiya, if memory serves.  I joined them with Festus, my engineer.  I began to wonder if I should wake up Lobi and Phritz, but the change from Daylight Savings Time was against me.   When Lobi woke up of her own accord and wandered out to me, a quick negotiation revealed that she wasn't quite willing to call Phritz and wake him up, neither was I.

So the dungeoning continued.  We completed the dungeon and were back at the Imperial Camp and afking and so on.  I sent a whisper to Nantiya that I was going to call Phritz, but I had no idea how we would work things.  Because, you see, it was Nantiya's instance.

If you leave an instance of the game that you created, you may not re-enter it.  The game persists on behalf of other players that may be in it, but once they leave, it disappears.  But in order for Nantiya to log in as Milia, she would have to leave.   I called Phritz and told him, "we're all online, I have no idea how we're going to arrange this."

Once we are all online, Lobi asks, "what's the lowest level toon y'all have?"  There are replies of, "sixteen" and "twenty" and thereabouts.  For all of us, we're speaking of our Milia.   So Lobi says she wants to play her low level toon, could we do that.  Sure, we say.  Lobi says, "Ok, I've started an instance, come join me."

Phritz chirps up with, "Log on, Milia".   Milia, after a moment, says, "Oh, you!" or something.  She is being teased about having many toons named Milia.

So we start logging in.   Milia says, on voice coms, "I see two Milias in game, does anyone else see two Milias?"   Since I'm looking at a list of four Milias currently in game, I say, "I don't see two Milias".

Soon we are all gathered around her in the Estherian Enclave and the game is up.  "You're all named Milia," she says.  It is precious moment.

Three of us are outlanders.  My toon is a berserker.  Four of us, I think, have cats as pets.  This is because Milia's cat is legendary for it's desire to either disrupt Milia's game, or play it with us of it's own accord.  (Perhaps I should state that in the plural, since I'm pretty sure there's been more than one cat climbing across her laptop's keyboard as she stomps orc butt from the cozy confines of her bed.)

Our DPS is nothing short of amazing.  The game will scale the number of mobs you face for the number of characters nearby, but they do not stand up to us for any length of time.  In short order, we are ready for the boss.

This fight doesn't go quite so well.  The Grand Regent has a ton of hit points, summons lots of friends and has a few hits that go right to the bone.  I died a few times before I remembered to run away periodically so that I can heal before diving back in.

Finally, The Grand Regent is vanquished (I will avoid gendered pronouns, it is a hideous thing from dimensions that know only insane gibberings.  I think gender is at best a meaningless concept to it.)  And we do the "run around and grab up all the loot and coin dance."

And thus ended the saga of the Five Milias, which is sure to go down as only slightly less noteworthy than the Seven Samurai, the Forty-Seven Ronin, or the Twelve Angry Men.

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