Media that’s shaped my worldview

Prompta2020

2020’s version of Blaugust is in full swing, and it’s my turn already. Thank you Dragonray for handing over the baton, I hope I’ll be able to meet the high expectations you’ve set for me. 🙂

Here goes.

Blaugust Promptapalooza – Prompt 3

What are some key sources of media (games/movies/etc) that have shaped your worldview?

As I’m writing a blog that mainly focuses on video games in general and MMORPGs in particular it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those will get a mention here. I was born in 1976 though, so I’ll have to start off with some earlier types of media.

Radio
Not ours, but we had the exact same model in our kitchen

You know, it’s funny. I’ve been working in radio broadcasting for almost 20 years now, and during that time I’ve often said that I enjoy it despite not being and never having been a radio listener myself. While thinking thoroughly about today’s prompt I’ve realized that it’s actually not true at all.

I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the stations’ names, but back when I was little the radio was always on at home. My mom also played vinyl (and shellac) records, of which I mainly remember The Beatles and ABBA, but mostly it was the radio playing.

I liked it a lot, and it didn’t take long until I begged for my own one with a built-in cassette recorder so I could record my favourite songs. Once I’d got it I would sit on my bed for hours on end, listen to the music and record the songs that I liked the most. To this day Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts is one of my all-time favourites, for example.

I guess radio shaped my worldview insofar that it taught me early on how beautiful, heart-warming and life-enriching music can be. I can’t imagine a life without it.

TV
Ok, I’m not actually THAT old, but you get the picture

Growing up during the eighties in an urban environment also meant watching a lot of TV. Until about 1985 we still had a black-and-white set and a grand total of three programs to watch, but around my 9th birthday we got a color set, a VHS recorder and cable TV. From then on there was no stopping me.

I soaked up everthing a boy of that age ought to like (at the time): shows like The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, reruns of The three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy; a bit later I was really into The A-Team, Knight Rider, Airwolf and so on. I even got my first taste of Anime (without knowing it) with Captain Future and Saber Rider.

I wouldn’t call any of that life-changing experiences, but the things I watched have undoubtedly shaped me in some way or other.

At the age of twelve or so a true landmark event happened though: I got to watch Return of the Jedi – and thus a Star Wars movie – for the first time. I believe I’d never been so enthralled by anything in my life. Other stuff I’d just watched, but that movie took me to a galaxy far, far away indeed, and I think it really changed the way I watch movies. Nowadays I get totally absorbed by the story – usually even if said story isn’t all that great – and forget about everything else until it’s over.

I have to admit that it can be somewhat demanding to watch movies with me as I don’t tolerate talking, cell phone usage or anything else that might distract me (chips are okay though as long as I can have some too), but that’s just the way it is now and the price, I feel, for being able to immerse oneself completely.

Great movies and shows take me to places and let me experience adventures I would never see and have in real life, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Reading

You probably wouldn’t be reading this now if I hadn’t been a huge fan of reading all my life.

It started, unsurprisingly, with comics, mainly Mickey Mouse, Asterix and Clever & Smart. I tried to like Marvel and stuff, but those were just too ‘loud’ for me, if that makes sense.

At age 13 or so I shifted away from comics and started to read ‘real’ literature – if you’re willing to call penny dreadfuls literature, that is. John Sinclair is written by a German author and tells the stories of a Scotland Yard inspector specialized in paranormal investigations. I used to read those every week for a couple of years straight, and that’s what kicked off my turning into a serious bookworm. I assume it’s also where my penchant for horror movies came from, to boot.

For the next ten, fifteen years I read a hell of a lot, mostly science fiction and fantasy, but also thrillers, historical fiction and even non-fiction (the latter especially about ancient Egypt).

These days I’m not reading as much as I’d like, but I still do of course.

If you’re reading this I don’t need to lecture you about the power of the written word, do I?  Suffice it to say, without reading so much I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I’ll never stop enjoying it.

Games

Playing video games is pretty much the earliest memory of consuming any type of media that I have, and it has always been my main hobby, if you will. It’s much more to me than a hobby though.

A really great game can, in a way, be the culmination of everything I talked about above. Experiencing adventures I could never have in real life? Check. Music that evokes strong emotions and makes the ride all the more enjoyable? Absolutely. Thrilling, touching or funny stories with heroes to root for and villains to despise? Sure thing. Well, sometimes anyway.

Add to that the ability to play an active part in all of it instead of just consuming passively, and in some cases to even fundamentally affect the outcome, and you get something truly marvelous.

Unfortunately playing video games has also helped to shape my worldview in a negative way though, as it has taught me that even amongst ‘normal’ human beings (i.e. not counting scum like terrorists, rapists and so on) there’s a frighteningly large number of dickheads out there. I’ve had stretches where I outright refused to play online-multiplayer games because I just wasn’t willing to take it anymore.

Apart from that though, what can I say, I just love playing video games. They’re inextricably a part of me.

And there you have it.

Tomorrow the wonderful Roger Edwards (thanks for all the great movie reviews by the way!) will be there for you with the fourth installment of Blaugust Promptapalooza 2020, so head on over to Contains Moderate Peril and have a look. I sure will.

Turning the trinity up to 11

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Why do I always have to go first again? Oh, right, “tank”…

I don’t like to break my promises, I swear (heh), but before I actually, finally, start to talk about The Secret World’s quests and story I need to rectify one glaring omission I’ve made in my posts about its skill- and gear-systems.

Since my return to the game I’ve made a couple of friends (or let’s rather say acquaintances) with whom I’ve been running some dungeons every now and then. Not only are TSW’s dungeons really great fun, doing them again also reminded me of the fact that this game allows for even more creativity when designing your class and build than I’d initially remembered.

Now, sure, the most common way to run the majority of these dungeons is the tried and true One tank, one healer, rest DPS group setup, and that’s also what the group finder looks for when assembling a team of five. The “Holy Trinity”, as it were, if the holy spirit had two siblings. However, in The Secret World even such cookie-cutter groups can vary quite a lot in how they’re set up.

TSW_Trinity2
I wonder if that’s a good safespot behind the tree there…

For example, there are three really strong damage-enhancing buffs that every group wants to have. Usually one DPS player provides two of those (locking that character into a Pistol/Shotgun weapon loadout) and another one the third, but it’s just as viable to split them up between three players, and if needed even the tank or, in a pinch, the healer can fit one into their builds. Of course no good group strictly needs these buffs, but they’re obviously very nice to have, and I really like having the freedom to puzzle out a solution that works for each new team composition.

Also quite important for how a group operates is which kind of healer it has. Technically there are three different flavours of healing, namely Blood Magic for barriers and a little direct healing, Fists for strong direct healing and HoTs, and Assault Rifles for leeching, i.e. healing for a percentage of the damage one does.

In reality though there are just two basic types of healers: ‘full healers’ that mainly use Fists and may or may not choose Blood Magic as their secondary skillset, and ‘leechers’ who use an Assault Rifle and, again, may or may not have a Blood Magic focus in their off-hand.

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If you keep this up no kind of healing will do you any good, mate

Full healers are very powerful and can heal pretty much anything when geared and specced right, meaning that as long as no one gets one-shot, no one dies. Additionally they don’t care much about boss abilities like shields or damage-reflect because they can build their resources without hitting anything and thus just keep on healing however long it takes. The downside is that they deal no damage whatsoever.

Leechers are quite the opposite. They need to shoot stuff to build their resources and, more importantly, they need to deal damage to actually heal anyone. This obviously puts more strain on that player as they need to always be in range of and have line of sight to a) the player(s) they want to heal and b) a mob to hit. If the target has a shield or ability that reduces incoming damage a leecher also heals less and thus has to have some kind of ace up their sleeve for situations like that. This is even more true for some bosses who get a reflect-shield under certain conditions as everyone needs to stop attacking those altogether the instant the shield goes up if they don’t want to kill themselves.

By the way, the whole leeching-mechanic is made feasible by allowing players to have two targets selected at the same time, one friend and one enemy. Whatever hurty stuff you do is unleashed on your offensive target, whereas all buffs, heals etc. go to your defensive target. It’s another of TSW’s great little ideas I wish more MMORPGs had adopted.

The huge advantage a leecher brings to a group, the bigger and possibly much desired challenge for that player aside, is additional damage output equal to, sometimes even greater than a fourth DPS player.

TSW_Trinity4
There are times when you just need to deal all the damage

This is all fine and dandy, but until now we’ve yet to leave the confines of a ‘normal’ group composition. So, what if that’s all gotten boring and you want to mix it up and would also like a bigger challenge still? Well, how about trying yourself at heal-tanking?

Yep, that’s a thing. The idea behind it is that a healer builds up a lot of hate and is notoriously prone to draw aggro anyway, especially of newly spawned adds and such, so why not use this to the group’s advantage and let the healer tank altogether?

This is made possible, once again, by the game’s extremely flexible skill-system. You see, a tank in TSW keeps aggro mainly by slotting a passive ability named Agitator.

TSW_Trinity5

This beautifully simple – and obviously very strong – effect makes it a must-have for any tank. But, as is true for every passive in the game, anyone can use it. All you need is to have it unlocked and one free passive slot.

There’s a bit more to heal-tanking than using Agitator of course, like having more hit points than a normal healer, some defensive stats and a couple more bells and whistles, but basically it’s what it says on the tin: tanking by healing, and healing while tanking. And just like that your group has a free spot for another DPS or whomever else you want to take along.

TSW_Trinity6
Sometimes a severe beating is all that’s called for

Still not enough? Enter the leech-tank.

By now you can easily deduce what this is: a heal-tank who heals by shooting stuff. Or, in other words, it’s a tank, a healer and a full-fledged DPS player all in one neat package.

I saw a video once where a group of three players led by a leech-tank beat the New York raid. That raid is actually meant for ten (!) people, has aggro-swap mechanics (meaning that you need at least two players with some tank abilities) and all kinds of other nasty stuff. Mind you, this was before rising gear-levels made that raid much easier. And what do you know, the video’s actually still up on YouTube:

Unfortunately this isn’t from the leech-tank’s point of view, but it’s still impressive if you know that fight. It looks kind of easy, but I assure you it’s not.

Personally I have never done such extreme things, and it still boggles my mind how stuff like that is even possible. But it is, and this is one more reason why I love games so much that offer loads of freedom in how to play them and tackle the challenges they present us with. Amongst all MMORPGs I’ve played The Secret World clearly takes the crown in that category.

Clothes make the man – but not the stats

TSW_Gear1

The Secret World did a lot of things differently than its contemporaries. Of course different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but one of the design choices that truly seemed like a stroke of genius to me at the time – and still does – was to entirely separate player characters’ looks from their stats.

Sure, pretty much every MMORPG provides some sort of wardrobe system nowadays, but most I’ve fiddled around with require exactly that – a lot of fiddling around. There always seem to be some caveats too, like certain consumables being necessary to convert stat items into appearance items, limited wardrobe space (until you buy more, of course) or other inconveniences.

TSW went a completely different route from the start. It’s quite simple and elegant, really. There are stat items and there are clothing items. With the exception of weapons you never get to see the former on your character, and the latter will never have an impact on your (combat-) performance whatsoever.

TSW_Gear2
Wait…where was I when the 3rd anniversary t-shirt van came by?

Clothing items don’t take up space in your inventory either, they go directly to the corresponding tab of your Dressing Room. As far as I’m aware there’s no limit to the amount of clothing you can store. I have lots and lots of stuff to choose from and can swap around at will knowing that my stats won’t be affected in any way.

TSW_Gear3
Which comes in handy during full moon, let me tell you

The bulk of your stats, on the other hand, comes from talismans. They’re called rings, bracelets, belts etc., but you won’t ever see them on your avatar.

Just like the skill system gearing your character is a rather complex and unfortunately not very intuitive matter, but once you’ve dug into it you can tweak your stats just so to make your build work the way it’s supposed to.

At least the weapons are very simple at a basic level. They only have one intrinsic stat, Weapon Power; the higher that score, the more damage all attacks done with that weapon deal.

Additionally you can wear a total of seven talismans, with each of them boosting one of your three main stats: Attack Power, Healing Power or Health. Here you ‘just’ need to find the right ratio for your build. For instance, if you’re going to be a tank you’ll want to have enough HP to give your healer a chance to keep you alive, but not more than absolutely necessary as you’ll also need to deal some damage to hold aggro. An effective solo-build might even utilize a mix of all three stats to kill stuff and stay alive while doing so.

Of course these aren’t the only stats you need to think about. Each talisman and weapon also has a slot for a Glyph and another for a Signet, which is where things get complicated.

Glyphs add well known RPG-stats like chance to hit, crit chance, crit power, evasion, block and stuff like that to the talisman or weapon you slot it in. Unfortunately the game does a very poor job at teaching you how to actually weigh these. Oh, sure, in order to do damage I obviously need my attacks to hit their target. But how much chance to hit do I really need? How exactly do block, evasion and defence work, and how much of each should a tank have?

Signets add even more complexity, as most of them don’t give a flat bonus but some kind of proc. For example, the Signet of Breaching I use in my sword adds “When you penetrate a target you make that target take 16% more damage from further penetrating hits for 7 seconds”. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But how much penetration rating do I need to a) actually proc this reliably and b) make the most of the damage bonus it gives?

To be honest, while gearing up as a tank for Nightmare-dungeons I relied very heavily on some great theorycrafters’ expertise who’d posted their findings on the forums, primarily this very thorough guide (still worth a read if you play or have ever played the game).

TSW_Gear4
Known for our inconspicuous appearance we were not

So, just like with the skill system, the game should definitely have done a much better job at explaining things, and the failure to do so is most likely one of the reasons why it wasn’t a big success.

But, also just like the skill system, once I’d weathered the initial storm of bewilderment and wrapped my head around it all I had so much fun gearing up my various builds, getting the different talismans and chasing the right Signets – I really think it was more than worth it to persevere.

TSW_Gear5
Who do I want to be today?

Being able to swap your whole build – skills, augments, gear, everything – at the touch of a button is the icing on the cake of course. I’ve never much liked being locked into a specific role at character creation, but even MMORPGs that didn’t do that, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies come to mind, at least made me level up my new skills or professions the hard way every time I’ve swapped. TSW lets me keep everything I’ve unlocked once forever, and I can now run one dungeon as a tank, the next as a healer and then do a scenario as a Jack of all trades no problem.

Doesn’t this take away some of a character’s identity though? Maybe a little bit, yeah. But I feel my character expresses most of his identity by way of his looks, and he also uses his trusty blade as the main hand weapon for most of his builds anyway, so a common theme is still there.

In any case, of all character- and gear-progression systems I’ve experienced this was and remains one of my favourites.

TSW_Gear6
Just another day at the office…what, you don’t have a killer-bunny colleague too?

Next time around I’ll finally talk about the game’s outstanding quest design, as promised.

All roads lead to Rome (except when they don’t)

When one intends to talk about The Secret World’s strong points it’s hard not to start singing hymns of praise about its phenomenal quest design right off the bat. And I’ll get to that, promise, but as the quests weren’t changed significantly for SWL (as far as I’m aware) you don’t need to play a “dead” game to enjoy those. Since I’m talking about the original game specifically I’d like to start off with something exclusive to that version: the skill system.

TSW_Skills1
The skill wheel, aka every theorycrafter’s wet dream

The basic premise isn’t actually all that complicated. You get to wield any two out of nine available weapons at a time. These are (categorizations mine):

    • Blades (tanking / melee damage)
    • Chaos (tanking / melee damage)
    • Hammer (tanking / melee damage)
    • Assault Rifle (healing / ranged damage)
    • Blood Magic (healing / ranged damage)
    • Fists (healing / melee damage)
    • Elementalism (buffs / ranged damage)
    • Pistols (buffs / ranged damage)
    • Shotgun (buffs / ranged damage)

Once settled on a combo you choose a total of seven active abilities from the two corresponding skill trees, and additionally seven of all existing passives. Those fourteen abilities make up your build or ‘deck’.

However you need to unlock those actives and passives by spending XP first, and this is where things can get a bit hairy for beginners as there are something like 60 actives and 270 passives to choose from for every weapon-pairing. In a perfect world any combination of abilities that sounds fun would also be totally viable to use, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Since you can unlock the whole wheel eventually it’s not really possible to ‘ruin’ your character, but whatever you unlock first is what you have to make do with for a while.

We know that many people have given up on the game pretty soon after release, and one reason that I’ve heard quite often was that they’d run into a brick wall of difficulty in Blue Mountain, the game’s third zone, and that they either weren’t willing to repeat the first two area’s quests over and over to earn enough XP and fix their builds, or that they had no idea how to even fix them in the first place.

Me? I didn’t even get that far until I had the same problem. In Savage Coast, the second zone, I had my first encounter with a monster type whose appearance still gives me the chills even today: the Ak’ab.

TSW_Skills2
They are as annoying as they are ugly

Not only do these fuckers have a (very briefly telegraphed) dash attack that knocks you on your butt if you don’t dodge in time, they’re also extremely social. Attack one, and all of its friends come running posthaste from what feels like miles away. I just could not finish the quests in that wretched forest shown above, and it wasn’t fun.

I was in love with the game and not willing to give up though. The Builds & Decks-section of the official forums was, unsurprisingly, very lively at the time, and there I found a guide that was a game-changer for me. I actually only clicked on it because I liked the name, “Regen like Wolverine”, but its underlying idea seemed sound and once I’d unlocked the necessary abilities I became basically immortal indeed. I cleared all of Savage Coast with ease, and when I quested through Blue Mountain afterwards I couldn’t even imagine which area or monster type might have given so many folks a hard time.

TSW_Skills3
It’s such an…inviting place, after all

I guess the gist of this is that the skill wheel offers everything you need to succeed, but there’s not enough guidance about how to start and build an efficient deck. The game does have deck suggestions – they even have cool names and matching, quite fancy outfits you earn by unlocking every suggested ability – but unfortunately none of those decks is really that good in practice. In my opinion Funcom should have updated those early on by implementing tried and trusted community-made builds to help new players better understand what works and what doesn’t.

Wait a minute, I hear you wondering, didn’t he say at the beginning that the skill system is one of the game’s strong points?

Yes, I do think that it is. Because you know what? I had so much fun while taking the first few steps with it, and even more fun once I’d overcome that hump in Savage Coast. Using that build suggestion really opened my eyes for the vast possibilities this system provides. From then on there was no stopping me. I always poured over the skill wheel wondering what I should unlock next, which powerful combo I might have not yet discovered.

And the kicker is: once the whole thing had ‘clicked’ for me I was able to make almost anything work. It’s just like with everything, cluelessly flailing around rarely gets you anywhere, but once you got the fundamentals down pat you can expand, experiment and improvise around those and become more successful than ever.

TSW_Skills4
PARTY’S OVER! Oh, wait, that was a lawnmower, wasn’t it?

Later on even more complexity was added. You can now equip one of five auxiliary weapons (fun stuff like a flamethrower or that chainsaw above) in addition to your two main weapons and choose one active and one passive ability for it, expanding your deck to eight each. Also, various augments can be attached to the seven main active abilities for additional effects and bonuses.

The possibilities are pretty much endless, and I love it. Sure, it’s not easy to wrap your head around at first, but once you’ve ‘got it’ the freedom to play just the way you want is unmatched, which is something that has always been very important to me.

Of course, to make optimal use of your dream build(s) you also need the right gear to match. I’ll talk about that next time.

The condemned live longer indeed

TSW_return1

When Lakisa told me not long ago that she would very much like to play a scenario-mission or two in The Secret World sometime I had to remind her of the sad fact that this outstanding game doesn’t exist anymore as we knew it – at least officially, that is.

Granted, I’d never heard anything about the servers having actually been shut down, but since Funcom launched – excuse me, frankensteined Secret World Legends into existence in 2017 the game’s launcher unsolicitedly patches itself to that version, and the old servers can’t be feeling too well after three years of (presumed) neglect either, can they?

I wasn’t sure whether there’s actually still a way to play the original game, is what I’m saying.

However a bit of googling revealed, much to our delight, that the servers are still up and running indeed. I used my old DVDs to install the game files, prevented the launcher from patching itself to SWL following these easy instructions and soon the old, familiar log-in screen welcomed me.

Anxiously I logged in and found my character just where I’d left him, standing on Agartha’s main platform, which triggered all kinds of nostalgia right away.

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What’s remarkable – or at least surprising – about this picture? Exactly, that I’m not the only one on it.

Now, before anyone gets their hopes up, there’s obviously not a huge amount of players around. Compared to, say, seven years ago Agartha’s pretty much a ghost town. But whenever I log in I see anywhere between two and six other players there, and that’s about two to six more than I’d expected.

I’ve even been whispered to from players who were looking to fill up their respective group or raid twice already. Had I not been in the middle of a scenario-mission both times (what can I say, I really like doing those) I would have gladly obliged, and we added each other to our friends-lists for another time.

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There’s also a Discord channel for those who still play the game to group up more easily or just chat. As of yet Lakisa and I haven’t actually done any group content with others, but we will for sure.

As for the game itself, it looks and feels just the way I remembered it, as if no time had passed at all. It absolutely is in maintenance mode though. The last patch dates back to December 13th 2016, and there won’t be holiday, anniversary or any other events happening. Which means no world bosses to fight either. That’s a shame, however there probably wouldn’t be enough players to bring those down anyway.

TSW_return4
Not quite as many folks around anymore, no Sir

Other than that all the content is still there waiting to be played, and in my opinion that’s a hell of a lot, despite any claims to the contrary. More importantly, the quality of said content is off the charts in many respects, and although I’ve done it all before I’m enjoying myself immensely.

I can’t even decide what I love the most: the setting and atmosphere, the quest design, the great storytelling and voice acting, the music, or the extremely flexible and borderline addictive skill- and gear-systems.

I guess I’ll just have to rave about all of them, which is exactly what I intend to do.

Going after Goons again – EVE Online

A couple of weeks ago NCDot and Pandemic Horde deployed to Pure Blind, which brought us relatively close to space currently owned by The Initiative. They belong to the Imperium and thus, no matter how much they like to talk up their independence, are nothing more than another Goon pet-alliance to us.

Fighting Goons is always a good thing, however this particular deployment has left me rather cold thus far, which is why I hadn’t posted about it yet despite having partaken in several fights already.

The thing is, I don’t quite understand what we’re after here. I know, I know, getting fights and blowing up Goons should be more than enough to make me happy. I like to have at least a vague idea about our strategic objectives though, and while the average line member obviously doesn’t ever learn all the details we usually get to know what our grand goal is.

When we went after GotG last year we clearly knew our goal: to eviscerate and wipe them off the map completely, which we did. Clear objective, clear win-condition. Felt good.

Doing the same to the Imperium is out of the question though, they’re just too large for that. Also, if this was supposed to be an all-out offensive the whole of PanFam would’ve deployed and we also would’ve brought our Titans and Supers along. However Pandemic Legion didn’t join us on this one and we left the big toys at home. So, really, I have no idea what we’re actually trying to achieve here.

Anyway, fleets are going out every day, and I’ve been on a bunch. This is also the first time I’ve brought my alt with his Dreadnought along, and for most fleets I had him logged in and ready to go.

F7C_1
Ferox battlecruiser on my left screen (zoomed in quite a bit), Revelation dreadnought on the right

Alas, I’ve yet to undock him as we haven’t actually commited our Dreads to a fight whenever I was around.

As is always the case in EVE, whatever does or doesn’t happen mostly depends on where and over what you’re fighting. If we stay in relative proximity of our staging system – meaning that we can drop Dreads and Carriers onto the enemy at a moment’s notice – and aren’t attacking something important like a Keepstar they mostly choose not to commit to a fight and let us shoot the thing uncontested, like these two Fortizar class citadels.

F7C_2
Another one bites the dust…

If we dare venture further south however we find ourselves in range of their Titans and Supers, which dramatically shifts the balance of power in their favour and makes bringing our caps to a fight a very risky move as we might well lose them all without actually accomplishing much.

Determined to get things done regardless we set out on Sunday to destroy an Ansiblex jump gate and a cyno beacon in F7C-H0, the very system in Cloud Ring that serves as Goon Expeditionary Force’s staging at the moment, which is their We’re not officially at war but some of us still want to do PvP-stuff sig.

Horde went with Hurricanes, we brought Feroxes. I’m pretty sure the cheaper battlecruiser-doctrines were chosen because this was regarded a suicide mission from the get-go. A second fleet for our caps was formed and ready to go too though, so we would’ve been able to escalate quickly had the fight looked promising for whatever reason.

It actually didn’t look too bad when we arrived. Goons had a Sacrilege fleet, Init brought a sizeable force of Abaddons and Bhaalgorns. We were outnumbered, yes, but we’ve seen worse. Also, TEST showed up too, obviously wanting a piece of the action, and while some of us were shot by them they seemed to be mostly focused on Goons. We’ll obviously take reinforcements, whether invited or not.

As usual when we face off Goons I wondered whether I would meet Wilhelm Arcturus on the battlefield this time around, and lo and behold, there he was amidst the Sac fleet, flying logi as usual.

F7C_3
Blue and purple: good. Red: bad! Grey…who knows?

He was never called primary by our fleet though, so I luckily didn’t have to shoot at him. He’s done his own report of the battle too, which is worth a read of course.

Anyway, the fight began with the usual dance where fleets circle each other looking for a good warp-in. It didn’t take long though, and once we warped right into Init’s fleet and bubbles went up all around us we knew that the slugfest was on!

F7C_4
An Abaddon dies, next target already locked up, drones shooting the Ansiblex

From our perspective it even looked quite good for a while as we destroyed one Abaddon after the other while not losing much ourselves. As it turned out, though, that was because Horde’s Hurricanes took the brunt of the enemy fire at first. Meanwhile what we’d feared from the start happened: Goons brought their Supers and Titans to the field. At that point the fight’s outcome was decided, the only question was whether any one of us would make it out alive at all.

We lost all of our fleet boosters first, then they proceeded to decimate our logi wing. At that point the order came for everyone to align to the Alsavoinon gate and overheat our microwarpdrives. As Alsavoinon is a lowsec system no warp disruption bubbles can be launched there, so making it through that gate would probably mean getting home in one piece.

Only that we were still up to here in bubbles, and the still pretty strong Abaddon fleet was right in front of us…

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My Ferox heading almost straight towards all those baddies

Every time we got halfway near the edge of the last bubble a Goon interdictor landed right at that edge and dropped a new one, lengthening our path to safety by another 20-25 km. To conserve capacitor and keep the MWD running as long as possible I’d already disabled my shield hardeners a while ago, but no one aimed their guns at me yet. Others weren’t so lucky, and Lakisa was one of our last Basilisks to go.

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The bubble’s edge, so close and yet so far away

And then no more dictors came and some endless moments later I was free. I frantically hammered the warp-button until my client finally got the message that I indeed had entered warp. My sigh of relief was cut short however as the gate wasn’t far away and heavily bubbled too. Of course. Another 40 km to go, with an enemy fleet sitting right at the gate. Again I set my course and overheated the MWD, convinced that those ships would soon start to blink first yellow then red, heralding my demise. No one even locked me though, and soon enough I was in range and hit the jump-button. I was too excited to pay attention to alliance tickers at that point, but in hindsight I assume that fleet must’ve been TEST’s Zealots, which would explain (more or less) why they didn’t blow us to pieces.

So yeah, I truly survived and returned to our staging with a nearly burnt-out MWD but otherwise unscathed not long after. I guess that particular Ferox is my lucky charm as it wasn’t the first time I made it out of dire straits while piloting it. Astonishingly almost half of our fleet reached our safe haven intact, but, again, the enemy had probably just been too busy picking Horde’s fleet apart.

The funny thing is, although we took a severe beating Goons didn’t actually commit their big guns quickly enough to save their structures, and both the cyno beacon and the Ansiblex went boom. So, op success! Ha! Kind of, anyway. They obviously anchored new ones right after the fight was over, and the battle report shows, unsurprisingly, that they won the ISK battle by a fair margin.

So I guess in the end everyone won. Ain’t too bad of an outcome, really.

Time flies when you’re having fun

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As per tradition: moar cake!

Hard to believe, but today marks this here blog’s third birthday.

Had you asked me back then whether I thought I’d still be writing blog posts three years down the road…I really don’t know what my answer would have been.

One thing I do know for sure though. Had you told me at the time that I would publish 187 posts with a total of 156 thousand words, and still no end in sight, I’d called you crazy. But here we are.

The main reason, of course, is that it is a lot of fun. Much more so than I would have imagined. It’s also an ongoing learning experience. When I compare my first couple dozen posts with more recent ones it’s almost as if someone else had written the former. It’s remarkable how quickly human beings can learn stuff that’s rather alien to them and become at least somewhat proficient just by doing it over and over.

Along the way I’ve even learned a bit of HTML-code – I didn’t want to, but WordPress made me – which may come in handy…or not.

What didn’t happen was blogging becoming my true love and/or main driving force. Towards the end of Blapril Bhagpuss said that he’d rather write about games than actually play them, at least at the moment. To me actually playing the games is still much more important, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. After all the desire to chronicle my gaming adventures was and remains far and away the main purpose of this blog.

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Speaking of which, this third year has indeed been quite an adventurous one, not least due to the release of ArcheAge Unchained in October. Sucker for sandboxes that I am I’ve been deep-sea fishing, building a family empire with friends, trading, making music and generally goofing around quite a lot since then.

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Warframe was last year’s new addition to my gaming library, and a really great one. While it’s obviously neither an MMORPG nor a sandbox it has a surprising number of gameplay elements on offer that aren’t just about killing stuff. I’ve built a custom gun, went mining and fishing, composed deadly tunes, played Guitar Hero In Space and tried myself at parcours.

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The third game I’ve spent a lot of time with was EVE Online. I went back to nullsec, experienced my first Keepstar-kill, saw a faction Fortizar blow up and went to fight inside wormhole space. In April we would have finally made a trip to Iceland and attended the EVE fanfest too, but of course that didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Finally, about a week ago Lakisa asked me, quite unexpectedly, about an MMORPG we hadn’t been playing for a couple of years. Honestly, I’d had heavy-heartedly made my peace with the fact that I’d never play it again some time ago, what with the reboot it got in 2017 that, in my opinion, was totally uncalled-for and ‘improved’ an outstanding game very much for the worse. Turns out, though, that the original version can still be played and even has a couple handful of players.

So yeah, we’re back.

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Looking stylish as ever…

Don’t be surprised to read some stories about a supposedly dead game around here in the near future. Year number four, here I come.

Should I be worried about ArcheAge Unchained?

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We’re closing in on eight months since ArcheAge Unchained’s launch and I’m still playing every day. When I look past the various screw-ups – of which there were many, there’s no way nor reason to sugarcoat that – I see a game that has pretty much everything I want in an MMORPG.

As such the game’s well-being is understandably of great concern to me. Alas, Gamigo’s and XL Games’ current plans make me wonder whether they actually want their game to be successful.

I’m not talking about the fact that the upcoming Garden of the Gods update will be a ‘paid expansion’ although they’d originally said that any future content will be free. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously not cool to announce one thing and then do the opposite, however in my opinion it’s actually good that they’ve decided to charge for it.

Why? Because they can’t possibly have made enough money with Unchained up to now to make the whole thing sustainable. Even if they hadn’t openly admitted as much in the forum post linked above it would’ve been obvious to me.

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The thing is, the original ArcheAge is very heavily designed to make money with buy-to-progress mechanics. Labor potions, premium houses and farms, vehicle upgrades, stuff to help with gear progression; you name it, they sell it for real money. It’s P2W at its worst. For Unchained they’ve promised not to do any of that – it’s the whole premise and raison d’être for this re-release after all – and until now they adhere to that, which is obviously a good thing.

What they’ve failed to do, though, is to give us enough cool stuff we can spend money on instead. It’s the same mistake Funcom made when The Secret World went free to play. I’ve said before that the ArchePass – now that it works – is too generous with its rewards, and I stand by that. Almost everything one could ever need or want can be bought with diligence coins, and as much as I hate it when games want me to pay through the nose for every little thing I think this really is a big mistake.

Example: mounts. Lots and lots of new mounts and their corresponding bardings have been added to the game in recent months. Each and every one of them went to the diligence shop. Why, I ask? At least half of those absolutely should have gone to the credit shop. They’re all equalized in terms of speed anyway and the skills they have don’t make much of a difference either, so it’s basically just the looks that set them apart. Put the fancier looking ones in the cash shop, and players who are willing and able to spend additional money on the game have something to buy and show off.

Pretty much the only thing you can exclusively buy for credits are costumes, and there’s admittedly quite a selection. The problem I see with those is that they’re too expensive (the baseline is around 30$, some cost more, some less), meaning that a lot of players won’t even buy a single one of ’em, and the majority of those who do will probably only buy the one they like the most and use that forever. Also, until a couple of days ago* you couldn’t have more than two characters per account, so an army of alts to buy costumes for is out of the question too.

*You can now buy a token that extends the maximum amount of characters per account to three. It’s still capped at two per server however, and the token is bought with, you guessed it, diligence coins.

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The other mistake they’re about to make hasn’t gotten a huge announcement as of yet as far as I’m aware, but the list of goodies included with the two pricier expansion pre-order packs contains this little nugget:

Fresh Start Server Access

Jeez, seriously? The game’s less than eight months old and we’re already getting one of those?

ArcheAge has a long history of such ‘fresh start’ servers, and for the P2W-version of the game they do make sense – in a perverse, demented kind of way. After all each player who chooses to start over has the exciting opportunity to pay hundreds (or thousands) of bucks for all those progression-enhancers and premium items all over again.

For Unchained it is, frankly, fucking stupid no matter how you look at it, and so very, very short-sighted.

The immediate benefit for Gamigo/XL is obviously that each player who wants to play on that server – why anyone would actually want that at this point is beyond me, but to each their own – has to buy at least the expansion’s 30$-package for each account they have.

And that’s it.

They won’t spend much beyond that because, again, there isn’t much to spend money on, fresh start or no, so in a couple of months at the latest we’ll again be where we are right now. Only that the new server may well have done irreversible damage to the playerbase as a whole until then, so we might actually be off much worse.

You see, of all MMORPGs I’ve played ArcheAge is the one that has the highest critical mass of players it needs to work properly. There’s so much content that doesn’t make any sense or can’t be done at all if you don’t have a certain amount of active players – actually encouraging the playerbase to segregate is an unbelievably stupid thing to do.

Their answer to dwindling populations on older servers has always been to just merge those together. Yeah, great idea. Server merges, already a pain in your plain old themepark MMO, are a whole different beast when you factor in open world housing / land ownership. How thrilled do they think will our little family be when they tell us we’ll lose the ‘hood we’ve worked hard for and get the “exciting opportunity” of a new land rush? Exciting opportunity my arse! There’s no doubt in my mind that people have and will quit over stuff like this. Hell, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me quit the original game back in 2015.

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The publishers of the game’s western versions, first TRION and now Gamigo, have always gotten a lot of flak from us, but somehow I can’t shake the feeling that the main problem lies with XL Games, the Korean developer and publisher. Everything that’s happened since the game’s original western release in 2014 left me with the strong impression that they’ve always been a bit miffed about having to provide and support a western version at all. An annoying chore they’d rather not bother with. Now they even have to support yet another version, one without any kind of pay-to-progress no less.

Who do those stupid westerners think they are? Let’s just screw up every patch and marketplace update as hard as we possibly can, segregate the playerbase until there’s nothing left to do and generally make their lives miserable. Then we can shut the whole thing down already and call it a day.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But hell yes, I’m worried.

That’s a lot of stuff, I gather

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The other day Bhagpuss talked about the different gathering systems of various MMORPGs. Like him I’ve always enjoyed gathering a lot, and I’ve spent a huge amount of time digging, chopping and picking up stuff in pretty much every game I’ve played that has something like it.

I’ve actually had to force myself to stop doing it in single player games because I spent so much time with these ‘side-activities’ that I completely lost track of the main plot and associated gameplay, ultimately resulting in never having finished some of those titles because I ran out of steam halfway through – the first Witcher and a couple GTAs come to mind.

Fortunately MMOs are different in that they don’t have (nor want) to be finished, hence I still happily indulge in my gathering habits when I play that kind of game.

So let’s have a look at ArcheAge’s take on resource acquisition today, which is – as far as I’m aware – pretty unique in MMORPG-space, and definitely one of my favourites.

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You’d be surprised by how much stuff is needed to brew potions

Of course the biggest difference to most other titles in the genre is that the majority of plants and crops that players gather in ArcheAge don’t actually grow out in the wild by themselves. For the most part you actively ‘plant’ animals, seeds or saplings, depending on what you need, which then grow into gatherables in real time. ‘Real time’ as in stuff grows, once planted, whether you’re online or not; it doesn’t take years until a tree is fully matured for obvious reasons.

The bigger trees and animals do take a day or two to arrive at drinking age though, while stuff like crops, vegetables or flowers only need a couple of hours at most. Fortunately there’s no real urgency to harvest as soon as something’s ready. It takes at least two days for a grown plant to wilt or an animal to starve, so there’s no need to set an alarm in the middle of the night.

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All done and waiting to be picked up

Unless, that is, you chose to let your stuff grow out in the wild instead of on your own property. Yep, except for roads and villages you can plop down the goods pretty much anywhere. The catch is that anyone’s free to pick them up then, whereas only you – or everyone in your family or guild, depending on your chosen settings – can do so when you use your own land. Something you’ve planted is flagged as belonging to you though, and when anyone else picks it up they leave a trail of footprints. You can interact with those to report the theft, adding crime points to the culprit’s tally which might get them into jail sooner or later.

Due to this it’s rather unlikely that someone will steal, say, your handful of mushrooms, but more valuable goods like trees might be a tempting offer. Nevertheless it’s not that uncommon to come across wild tree farms, especially if you leave the beaten paths and explore the maps a lot. They can even be used to generate content. I’ve once seen a huge such farm, hundreds and hundreds of trees, planted deliberately (I believe) in a contested region and pretty easy to spot. As growing trees have a chance to get struck by lightning every couple of hours whole raids of all factions showed up for every growth cycle to try and claim any thunderstruck trees for themselves, resulting in big PvP battles.

But I digress, back to gathering. Some trees and most animals don’t just serve the purpose to be chopped down or butchered when matured. Apple, lemon, olive trees and the like yield fruit, leaves can be picked from bay and ginkgo trees, cows produce milk, sheep are shorn for their wool, you get the picture. After a while that stuff regrows and you can collect again.

The fun doesn’t end there. Seeds can be watered to accelerate growth. They can also be bound into bundles which occupy more space and yield less produce overall, but save lots and lots of time and clicking. Animals give more resources when fed and can be held in pens instead of placing them individually, again reducing the micro-management.

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The ambient noise…takes getting used to though

Unless you own an obscenely huge amount of farmland it’s also quite important to use your real estate as efficiently as possible, which is a science in its own right. Seeds, saplings, animals, they all come in various different sizes. What they have in common is that the space they occupy is always circular, so you can’t utilize your land to the last inch no matter what you do. It’s a lot of trial and error at first; if that’s not your thing you can consult helpful sketches made by community members like this one for planting trees on a 16×16 farm:

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Green: medium trees; red: small trees; orange: bushes

Again, if your intent is to make a decent amount of gold with any kind of gathering and/or crafting you pretty much have to grow your own materials.

This doesn’t mean that ArcheAge doesn’t have resources that appear in the wild at all though. Actually I like this game’s implementation of those quite a lot. Most MMORPG’s resource nodes feel a bit out of place to me. Tacked on, if you will. Instead of more or less generic nodes that contain certain crops or plants it’s the crops and plants themselves that grow here, just like they would on your farm, only that they blend in with the environment quite well and don’t look like a foreign object someone placed there by hand (with some exceptions).

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Would you’ve been able to spot all the gatherable ones?

I rarely go out and roam the world specifically to gather, but I do stop and pick up stuff whenever I come across something that I need. It’s a lot of fun to me that way because it always gives me a little moment of joy when I find something that’s worth picking up, whereas while gathering on purpose I only get that kind of satisfaction when I find a particularly rare specimen or some such.

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Gathering under water? Why, yes, of course!

So is ArcheAge a gathering freak’s dream? It depends, I guess. If you also like to plant your own seeds and things like that you’ll definitely love it. If roaming the wilds and picking stuff up is the only kind of gathering you enjoy it’s a ‘maybe’ at best, and you’ll not get rich with it either. I do like it a lot though, and…now you’ll have to excuse me, my lemons are ripe for the picking.

The Handy Guide to Instruments in ArcheAge Unchained

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So how does one acquire a variety of instruments to play those (hopefully) sublime songs with?

That’s a science in its own right, let me tell you. I don’t know whether this is a problem with Korean games in general due to the language barrier, or because ArcheAge is just too niche, but this is definitely one of the MMORPGs with by far the least amount of reliable information available in English, while being one of the more complex titles at the same time.

What’s worse, if you do find some info on a topic you’re interested in you can never be sure whether it’s still relevant or long outdated, nor if something that’s currently available in the legacy game is also present in Unchained. It’s quite frustrating at times, really.

So I thought, since I was going to talk about instruments today anyway, I’ll just try and put together a guide about what instruments there are and how to get them. Only to the best of my knowledge, of course, at the time of this writing (May 2020).

Ready, steady, go!

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The Basics

ArcheAge has many portable instruments that you can play anywhere and anytime, and also stationary ones which you need to place in your house before you can use them. Some of the latter only serve as props and cannot play sheet music though, so beware.

Read each item’s description carefully. When an instrument is able to play sheet music it always has a line of white/grey text that either says

“Sounds like xxx when playing sheet music.”

or

“Plays music when used with sheet music.”

If it doesn’t specifically mention sheet music at all chances are it can’t play any. Except for the three pianos (because of course there are exceptions), which don’t mention it but can play sheet music.

To actually perform a song just right click on a music sheet when you have an instrument equipped – or, if it’s a stationary one, it has equipped you, if you will. A Play- and a Stop-button will appear. Press Play, and you’ll start to perform the song.

Now, on to the different instruments and how to actually get them.

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Portable Instruments

In addition to main-hand, off-hand and bow each character can equip either a lute or a flute that can be used as a skill to restore health or mana, respectively. They play music when doing so, but it’s always the same tune and rather boring. All lutes and flutes can also play sheet music though, and these make up the bulk of ArcheAge’s selection of instruments.

There are many different sounds available, and different ways to acquire them. Always take note of the first phrase mentioned above (if it’s there), as it will give you an idea of what the instrument in question might sound like. A Hiram flute, for example, says “Sounds like a clarinet when playing sheet music.”

Without further ado, here’s an overview of all instruments I know of. The format is:

Where to get it (needed currency, if applicable) [tradeable or non-tradeable]

    • Name of the instrument (what it sounds like)

Starter gear [tradeable]

    • Civilian Lute (Guitar)
    • Civilian Flute (Flute)

Arena Shop (1k Kyrios Badges each) [non-tradeable]

    • Anthem of Battlerage (Powerful Guitar)
    • Aria of Archery (Impressive Guitar)
    • Ballad of Auramancy (Clear Guitar)
    • Croon of Shadowplay (Cheerful Guitar)
    • March of Defense (Soothing Guitar)
    • Dance of Songcraft (Whistles)
    • Dirge of Occultism (Trombone)
    • Echoes of Malediction (Trombone)
    • Fantasio of Sorcery (Clarinet)
    • Nocturne of Witchcraft (Bagpipes)
    • Ode of Vitalism (Ocarina)
    • Protective Fantasia Shield (Clarinet)

Gilda Shop [tradeable] / Credits Shop [non-tradeable] (80 Gilda Stars / 1k Credits each)

    • Cherry Blossom Shamisen (Shamisen)
    • Evensong Lute (‘a guitar that produces a heavy sound’)
    • Ironsong Lute (‘a guitar that produces sharp, metallic sounds’)
    • Meadowlark Banjo (Banjo)
    • Autumn Wind Horn (Horn)
    • Catspaw Recorder (Recorder – whatever the hell that is)
    • Reedwhisper Piccolo (Piccolo)
    • Stormwail Sax (Saxophone)

Crafted [tradeable]

    • Epherium Cloud Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Gale Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Life Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Meadow Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Mist Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Tidal Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Wave Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Desert Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Earth Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Flame Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Lake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Quake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Sunset Flute (Oboe)
    • Epherium Wave Flute (Oboe)
    • Marianople Violin (Violin)
    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

How to craft an Epherium instrument: Buy a Cloaked Illustrious Lute/Flute for 50 gold from a weapons merchant. Uncloak it. Craft a Magnificent Lute/Flute Scroll at a handicraft kiln (no skill requirement). Use that scroll to awaken the instrument to Magnificent (it doesn’t matter which of the four variants you choose at this point). Then craft an Epherium Lute/Flute Scroll at a regal handicraft desk (20k Handicrafts skill required) and repeat the process. Important: when awakening the instrument to Epherium choose which variant (and thus sound) you would like to have. Done.

The violin and viola are crafted at an artistry workbench. No further preparation is needed, but the materials are pretty expensive and a very high Artistry skill is required (150k).

Hiram [non-tradeable]

    • Hiram Guardian Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Hiram Guardian Flute (Clarinet)

Vocation Shop (50k Vocation Badges) [tradeable]

    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

Events (currency usually only available during the corresponding event) [tradeable]

    • Fortune Pipe (Pipe) [Lantern Festival]

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Stationary Instruments

    • Sovereign’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Brown Upright Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Princess’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Liberty Drums (doesn’t specify, I assume it’s drums)
    • Triestes Cello (doesn’t specify, but it sounds vaguely like a cello)
    • Noryettes Contrabass (doesn’t specify, but it sounds more like a…well…cello)
    • Brahms’s Harmonious Melody (doesn’t specify, but it sounds like a string ensemble)

These are all crafted at an artistry workbench and tradeable. The pianos aren’t expensive and have no skill requirement, whereas cello and contrabass belong to a set of four (the other two being the aforementioned violin and viola) and are equally costly and difficult to craft.

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The Brahms’s is the mother of all instruments. It sounds really great but requires 180k Artistry skill and a full set of the four string instruments to craft, which are consumed in the process. Ouch! A long-term goal, no doubt.

Thankfully some of these stationary instruments are strewn across the game world, waiting to be tried out. The currently running Daru event, for example, has an area with a piano, the cello, contrabass and the Brahms’s (which is where I’m playing them on all screenshots, as I obviously don’t have my own yet).

If you’d like to know how most portable instruments actually sound before deciding which ones to get, there’s a really great video showcasing them (a big Thank You to the person who made it):

And this is all I know about instruments in ArcheAge Unchained at this point. Getting them all is obviously a huge undertaking, but I’ll keep chipping away at it as it’s a lot of fun and really rewarding. As long as I play the game the guide will be updated whenever I learn something new or stuff changes. Good luck and have fun!

Blapril 2020 post count: 14