Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SW:TOR -- The Decision.

After much deliberation (and reading lots of reviews by people who have played to end-game) my husband and I have decided NOT to play TOR at launch.  We feel that there are too many issues -- and potential issues -- with the game and we'd rather wait, watch and read about how the game is doing 3+ months after launch.

The things that contributed to my decision the most are:

- No customizable/movable UI (should be a standard MMO feature by now)

- No combat log!  (This is a basic NECESSITY in an MMO)

- No raid assist panel, or "show target of target!"  (This just pains my end-game/raiding heart)

- The combat seemed more focused on cool animation than skill.

- The worlds seems very narrow/linear without any real capacity for exploration outside of just getting from point A to Point B.

The things I listed above are from my personal experiences.  If I am incorrect (and, for instance, I just couldn't find my combat log) please let me know!  I'd love to hear that this game is better than it currently seems.  And please understand that I liked a lot of what I experienced (read my last blog post) in this game and WANT THIS GAME TO SUCCEED!

I know that games can change a LOT after beta and even in the first months following launch.  This is why I haven't given up hope for TOR and am only saying "not yet" rather than "never."

I hope that Bioware chooses to fix the flaws and add the features/content that will makes this everything we'd been hoping it would be for more than 3 years now.

For now:  reading, watching, waiting and hoping.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time to talk SW:TOR!

I know that there are a zillion people out there talking about "Star Wars: The Old Republic" now that the NDA has lifted... but none of them have been ME yet, so here we are!  (Oh, and I promise not to hit you with any big spoilers without advance warning.)

I first tested the game 2 weekends ago.  I played a Smuggler (completely solo) and tried to get as much leveling and content completion into my time as I could.  I think that the self-imposed grind to try and get out of the prologue and into a starship ended up being a big mistake.  I watched all of the VO stuff for each quest, but was very focused on "getting somewhere" and didn't really take the time to appreciate the unique combination of a solo RPG feel mixed with an MMO.  After less than two days of playing this way, I ended up totally burned out, completely disappointed, and bored with the whole game.  I wrote Bioware some choice reviews about the repetitive, generic nature of the mission objectives and combat and walked away feeling like this was just another generic MMO like WoW but dressed up with a Star Wars theme.  I had made my mind up that I wasn't going to play it, and that was that.

Then my husband finally got a beta invite for this last big weekend.  He already knew how I felt about the game, but I said that I would give it another chance so we could play together.  Playing in a virtual world with friends/loved ones is one of my favorite aspects of gaming.  This time, I took a totally different approach.  We both played Jedi (he was a knight, I was a consular) so we could quest together from the very beginning.  There were no self-imposed goals -- though obtaining that first lightsaber was pretty compelling -- and we both got swept into our stories, as well as each other's class story.

There was also a late night table dance that left my husband exclaiming to the world "This is the best MMO evar!"

We played the game all evening, and then woke up wanting to play some more the next day.  That kind of excitement doesn't happen very often for me in a game, so I was surprised when it hit me that I was really, REALLY having fun with a game which I had completely denounced just two weeks earlier.

So, what made it different/better this time around?  I think that there are a few factors:

1)  I didn't care for the beginning planet for the Smuggler/Trooper.  It felt too much like a generic, crowded war zone for my taste.  The starter area for the Jedi, however, was lovely and allowed some moments of peaceful exploration between the combat.

2)  The group play is like nothing I have ever experienced in another MMO... in a good way!  I felt as captivated by my husband's story as my own and the social points just for playing with him felt like prizes.

3)  I took time to try out the crafting and found it unique and fun, even though it devoured all my credits.

4)  I realized that with parties only consisting of 4 people, my husband and I (with our two companions) could duo this whole game if we wanted to.

5)  I allowed the game/story to set the pace instead of forcing my own leveling agenda onto it.

I think that number five is the most important difference in how I felt this time.  TOR isn't just another grindreallyfasttocapandgetsomegear type of MMO.  The story is what drives everything, and your involvement and choices change that story and shape your experience.  I think that Bioware has made a very unique MMO that will be a more captivating experience than most.

But I'm still torn on whether or not I actually want to spend $160 (2 copies) plus $30 a month for us to play this game.

Here's the biggest reason (cost aside) why I might not buy/play TOR:  because even though I love that this game is story driven and different, I'm still an end-gaming lets-go-kill-that-huge-monster-in-a-huge-group kind of girl.  I love my raids!  Not for the loots (though that is nice) but I love the challenge of 12+ people working together to overcome unbelievable odds to defeat an epic foe.  I love the tactics of end-game raiding.   I love the trial and error of a new fight.  I love feeling a part of something bigger than just me and my story.  And I have all that in LoTRO.  I also have the name "LOTROgirl" everywhere, and that could end up being awkward. ;-)

The reason I might end up playing TOR is that it fills another game void I didn't really know I had before I tested it the second time.  I can immerse myself in a story -- without the stress/tedium of end-game grind -- and be thoroughly entertained.   I can also have it feel like a solo game on those days when I am not feeling like interacting with the MMO world, or when my amazing yet introverted husband wants to run something challenging with just the two of us.  He reminded me yesterday that he is NOT and end-game/raid person and that he was thoroughly enjoying the TOR beta without consideration for what it would be like at cap.  That ended up reminding me that once upon a time I enjoyed the experience of just playing and living in the MMO moment, too.  And that's something I haven't felt in a really long time -- being captivated by a game without end-game goals and promises of fat loot.

As much as I'd like to say that I would play this game with the hope that there ends up being some awesome end-game, it's hard to make decisions based on what the future MIGHT bring us in a game.  For now -- in the limited time I've gotten to try it -- TOR is enjoyable just the way it is, just in a different way than LoTRO is.  Maybe there is room in my heart (and schedule) for both games.  I'm still undecided.

Maybe a few more hours of beta testing will help... *clicks SWTOR icon*

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Middle-earth Real Estate: Where Would You Call Home?

Real life this last week has made me think that it might be nice to actually live in-game, were it possible.  Have you ever given any thought to what spot in LoTRO's Middle-earth that you would call home, if you could?

Although my main (non-RP) character in game is an elf, the choice for me is easy.  I would blissfully settle down in the Shire.  And, yes, I have a specific place that I think would be my perfect fit in Middle-earth:  Buckland.

Just imagining walking down this path on the way back home (with some fresh baked pies) makes my heart feel light.

Not only is it peaceful and scenic, but Buckland area has everything else that I could want in a Middle-earth hometown.  It isn't as big and bustling as Michel Delving or Breetown, but still has certain necessities like a large open market as well as the entertainment of the Buckland Faire.


If you want a nice meal and a pint, The Golden Perch is just across the Brandywine River in Stock; and if you prefer to catch your own breakfast, sunrise over the Brandywine makes a lovely backdrop.

Buckland has all of the typically beautiful scenery that you would expect from the Shire like gorgeous fields of wildflowers crowned by rolling hills, and little, out-of-the-way spots near the water that look perfect for peaceful, drowsy, summers.

Buckland also has something that sets it apart from the rest of the Shire.  It is bordered by the Old Forest and is the only town to have an entrance to it.

This might be a turn-off for some people, but I think that the mysterious beauty of the forest is amazing, even if dangerous to wander about in.  As a writer who flirts with dark fantasy, of course I would also love to be able to start my own tale with, "I live at the edge of the forest."

Where is your ideal bit of Middle-earth real estate?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coming Out... as a Gamer

I started online gaming regularly in 1999 when Asheron's Call first made it's awesome appearance.  Since then, much of my free time has been devoted to exploring these online worlds (If interested, I list most of what I've played in my profile); and yet -- until very recently -- when I was asked what I like to do for fun, I shied away from the most honest and obvious answer which is, "I play games!"

I have only "come out" as a gamer over this past year.  I think that part of the reason I stayed in the gaming closet (Woah, now I am totally thinking how awesome an actual Gaming Closet could be!) for so long is that -- much like other geek-ish hobbies -- if you don't partake yourself, you probably won't "get it."  I got tired of trying to explain what these games were and why an adult would spend time playing them.  I also heard so many negative comments from family and friends regarding the gaming habits of my partners that I was eventually pushed into denial and hiding.

I've spent most of my real life being a very open, unabashed sort of girl -- if I want pink hair, then I dye it pink! -- and that's the place where I am most comfortable:  The place where my opinion of myself matters the most.  When I realized that my discomfort over being honest about this topic was affecting how I was feeling about myself, I knew something had to change.  Hiding such a big part of me for so long had frayed the edges of my self-esteem.  I think that my unconscious logic went something like this:  If gaming is something that needs to be hidden, then it must somehow be shameful, and if I am partaking in something shameful, then I am less valuable as a person.  I obviously had to evaluate what gaming was to me, if it was worth the "shame" that I (and others) were assigning it, and what to do about it all.

My conclusion actually took a very short amount of time when I thought on it all logically and compared my hobby to other hobbies.  My hours gaming are no more wasted, silly or harmful than the hours that people spend doing most other non-essential activities.  Hobbies are meant to be activities that pass the time while making us happy; and gaming makes me happy!

Now I am OUT as the proud gamer geek girl that I am.  I no longer try to blend in like this..

... and it's made me a happier gamer and person for it.  It's also made me want to blog about it all, so YOU get to reap the rewards, too! *wink*

Sometimes I still get confused looks or laughter when I mention that my alter-ego is a lvl 75 Elven Hunter, but I no longer let it affect me negatively.  Most people have some sort of activity that they partake in that is non-essential to their survival, and that's okay.  Instead of feeling shameful for time potentially wasted, I now feel grateful for having a life where I'm afforded the time and resources to have as much fun as I do!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gamer Girl Survival Guide # 1

I had a bunch of thoughts sparked by the first comment on this CSTM post on the topic of being a female gamer/MMO player* and have decided to break them down into individual posts to create my Gamer Girl's Survival Guide.

The first survival tool for being a female in what still seems to be a "man's world" -- although LoTRO has more female players than any other MMORPG I've ever played -- is:  grow a thicker skin.  If we can't handle a bit of discomfort caused by other humans online, we shouldn't be playing an MMO and should probably go back to playing The Sims where we can create every aspect of our world and occupy it entirely alone.

I'm not saying that women should condone really inappropriate or harmful behavior or anything that is worthy of "reporting," rather (like in real life) we have to learn to tolerate certain things in order to play with other people.  We need to choose our battles carefully and weigh the consequences.  Example:  There is a particular seasoned member of my kinship who makes blatantly sexist, vulgar and misogynistic comments in kin and raid chat on a regular basis, which is inevitably followed by a string of typed lololols and laughter in Ventrilo.  Is this potentially upsetting and annoying?  Yes.  Is it worth taking it up with my officers, causing drama, and potentially upsetting what is otherwise an amazingly functional, drama-free and happy kinship?  Not to me, it isn't.  At least, not yet.  Everyone has their "line" that can be crossed.  In the real world, we have to draw that line further out to protect ourselves, but online -- etiquette lacking the way it does -- we have to make some concessions for peoples' misbehavior or we will either be very unhappy gamers or find ourselves paying a monthly fee to play all alone.

There isn't any way to completely stop the barrage of stinging darts -- that is sometimes aimed at us and sometimes friendly fire -- but we have the ability to choose to shrug off what we can, and the responsibility to deal with whatever we can't shrug off in a way that leaves us as blameless as possible.

None of this is as compromising as it might sound, nor as difficult.  Chances are if you are already a female MMO player, you've achieved this by now.  And if you're a new girl to online gaming:  Don't be disheartened!  Even with the annoyances, sexism, and trolls, it's still well worth putting points into your real life "resistance rating" and "ass-hat mitigation" so that you can be part of the adventure!


*I realize that this topic is going to be touchy.  I'm going to have women angry that I make concessions to men (and use the term "girl" and other non-empowering titles); and I am going to have men who are angry because they feel that I am stereotyping and generalizing them.  I get it.  Feel free to comment.  I actually do care how you feel, although in this place -- my blog -- I care more about my own feelings, staying true to myself, and my self-expression.