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Because this is the only good thing I have for this past weekend’s LOTRO adventures, let me put it up front: Northern Mirkwood, from what I have seen so far, is flat-out amazing. It’s just a huge forest that makes me feel small and like an actual explorer. The devs really struck on a great environment here, and I can’t wait to scout around more of it.

With my computer repaired, I spent an entire evening reloading programs and MMORPGs. Did you know that MMOs are big? They’re big. I kind of forget that when I’m not loading up new ones every day, but just try doing about six in a row. They’re huuuuuge. And LOTRO is no slouch here. Even after I had it fully patched up, the game kept crashing on me because I had DirectX 12 and not 9. Because of COURSE you need 9, since this is 2009 or something. Had to install the whole ancient DirectX suite on my computer just to get this MMO running again. Ah well. At least I got LOTRO on my SSD, which is a first for me. Having it load quicker is worth it.

But while I wanted to spend the evening romping around Mirkwood, I had a few quests left in the Halls of the Elven-king that needed finishing. Seriously, it would bug me to no end to leave them unfinished. Plus, I’m not in a rush, so let’s try to be as completionist as possible here.

Oh hey, Legolas has moved back in with his dad. You’d think he’d be a king in his own right after helping to save the world, but nope, he’s a college student coming home to bum off of his parents for a while.

By the way, SSG? You think you could afford an afternoon or two with your artists to upgrade the visuals on your major characters? The whole painted-on faces is embarrassing when it comes to the members of the Fellowship.

It was here in the underground caves that I met this dolt and was reminded all over again why Elves are a bottomless well of pain and suffering. I’m outright convinced that this whole quest chain was devised by a developer who knew that one day I might play this zone and wanted to see what fresh hell he or she could make for me.

So. There’s a harpist who is TOO BUSY with his “music” to go about throwing a party for all of the Elves just hanging around. Guess who he gets to do it? Why, it’s Mr. Gullible Traveler! And so the next hour of my life unfolds as I go around doing his busy work.

Said busy work involved flower picking (because it’s Elves and of COURSE there is flower picking, it’s 2018 and we’ve cast the One Ring into Mt. Doom and WE ARE STILL PICKING FLOWERS FOR ELVES IN THIS GAME). I assure you, I am the type of person who is actually screaming out loud when I type in all caps.

But are flowers enough for a grand party? No! I must get wine and then personally run around handing it out to Elves, getting them good and sauced. Listen, they’re Elves in a cave. They don’t have that much to do, and there’s a huge cellar not two minutes’ walk down the hallway with all of the wine in the world. But they’re too lazy — this should be unsaid, as they’re Elves — and it’s up to me to fulfill this important mission.

As I’m curled up on the ground, mewing for this quest to be over… nope. Now I must DANCE WITH THE ELVES. I want “Dances With Elves” on my gravestone. Yet again, I wish LOTRO had a sort of quest choice system or branching dialogue or any way other than outright refusing a quest to lodge a complaint against what’s being done. If I could have stuffed those flowers up the harpist’s nose, poured the wine over the heads of seven elves, and kicked the rest in the shins, that would have been the best quest ever. And I wouldn’t even care if my reputation took a hit.

At this point, I want to stress that I’m not making up the particulars of this long, pointless quest. It gets better:

I…

I…

I am at a loss.

So that harpist’s actual day job is that of an Elf janitor. But he is TOO LAZY to actually do his job after that exhausting hour of making me set up a party and he falls asleep. Then the game’s quest text says, with as straight of a face as it could muster, that it would be really peachy keen if I went around mopping up Elf puke for my new “friend.”

You think I’m joking? That I’m exaggerating? I HAVE ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF:

This? This right here is why I loathe Elves to the very bottom of my being. Just haughty little rich snobs drunk on their love for trees and vomiting without a care in the world. Because they know that their groupies will come along sooner or later to clean up their sick.

If you wanted to know, the end to all of this was pretty much nothing. Just some XP and tokens and that’s it. What, no follow-up quest where I go around presenting my backside in case an Elf wanted to wipe off the dirt from his otherwise-immaculate boot? Wasted opportunity, that.

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I did not have the best of weeks last week.

It all started Sunday, when I came home from work and my wife told me that she was having a hard time accessing World of Warcraft, as it would just hang a lot. I noticed that my hard drive kept spinning up to 100% and staying there, especially when programs were open, and so began a multi-day investigation into the situation.

I tried out a few things, but nothing seemed to help. Meanwhile, the situation got worse, as various programs stopped working and I got a message from the system kindly informing me that a hard drive failure was imminent. That sent me to the local computer store, where they confirmed that my HD was shot. While they were able to recover my data and transfer it to a new hard drive, it put me out of operation for a few days and racked up a healthy bill.

This all meant that my gaming time last week was quite low and infrequent, obviously. Whenever my main computer goes out of operation, I have to resort to my five-year-old laptop. Now, let me sing praises for this laptop — it really has been one of the best machines I’ve ever owned. I spent no more than $600 on it back before my third child was born, and it’s functioned as my travel and work computer ever since. I chose it because it had a nice big 17″ screen and an AMD chip for gaming. Nothing super fancy, but you’d be amazed how many games I’ve gotten to work on this over the years.

But as it has been aging and my spare gaming time shrinking, I really haven’t used it for gaming much at all. At least, until last week. I booted up World of Warcraft on it for the first time in many years, and even though these specs are far below the current recommended, it worked fine. Worked even better, in fact, when I lowered all the settings. Had something like a decent 30 FPS going on, more than enough to do my dailies and mess around with the auction house.

Now that I’ve gotten both of my class mounts (DK and Hunter) and am on the verge of finishing up the last rep grind for the Void Elves, I’m really starting to turn my attention over to my Warlock. She’s got more than enough to do to fill two months between now and the pre-expansion patch, but the question is how much is really necessary. Probably not much. Technically, I could take her into BFA right now if it launched and not have to worry about progression, as long as there was a way to leapfrog the rest of the Legion storyline and start into the next expansion.

But I’d like to spend some time with her, get reacquainted, and maybe do a final tour of the Broken Isles before it becomes truly obsolete.

I find that on slower and older computers, ranged and pet classes are a godsend. You don’t have to fret so much with positioning and precise timing of attacks, just send your meatshield out and jam on a few keys. Warlock lifestyle was always somewhat relaxed to me.

And even though it was a bummer about my computer, I try to take such breaks with good cheer. Always a good excuse to get in some more reading and writing, not to mention family time. And better than the hard drive break now than in a couple of months when I’ll really need it.

Probably the best part of this mess is that I’m upgrading to a SDD for my OS and gaming, and relying on the 3TB mechanical hard drive for media storage and other programs.

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The day that I write this, I have crossed the 75,000 word mark on my fantasy novel. I’ve been writing it since early March, springing out of an idea that became the first couple of chapters that became part of my daily routine. Rain or shine, cruddy day or happy one, busy or laid back, I make it an ironclad goal to get in 1,000 new words.

Some days that means just fitting it in during my lunch break. Other days, I’m writing feverishly before I fall asleep or lugging my little Chromebook around while hauling the kids here and there. I’ve written two paragraphs while standing at the checkout counter waiting for a hairstylist to ring me out. I’ve endured a few questioning looks at my kid’s swim class when people saw “CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE” pop up on my screen.

It’s been a bizarre, breathtaking, and incredible experience so far. I never really thought, outside of NaNoWriMo, that I would actually write a book… but here I am. I have never, ever written a single piece of fiction this long. I’m on the edge of my seat, worried and wondering if I’ll be able to land the whole story in the next month as I aim for 100,000 words.

I haven’t shown anyone it yet. My wife has been remarkably patient considering how much curiosity she’s had over this novel, but perhaps she’s just glad I’m writing. After all, she’s been encouraging me to write books for years now. My daughter, the reader, is the most interested and keeps trying to sneak peeks at my screen. Not yet, I say. Wait until it’s done.

I’m having a great time doing it. I’m proud, in the good-kind-of-proud way, of what’s come out of me. Compared to my previous attempts at fiction, this one actually has more structure, flows better, and isn’t a mad-dash scramble to come up with crazy scenarios. Every day when I sit down to write, I honestly don’t know where the story is going to go. Oh, I have a general idea, but so very often the tale takes a turn away from me because it’s what needs to happen. It’s what the characters would do. I don’t fight it or force it, I just go with it and continue to ride the wave while guiding it in a loose way. I’ve been surprised countless times at what has happened — how a throwaway character became one of my main cast, how this fictional world has taken shape, how loose plot threads were resolved.

But while the experience of writing it is quite ducky, I’m gnawing off my fingernails because I can’t stop asking the question, “Is it good?” I think so? But I’m both too close to the material and too hard on myself. I hope it’s good. It’s not Tolkien or Martin or anywhere near the level of popular fiction writers today. There are many rough spots that need smoothing and reworking. I’m going to plan for at least two rounds of revisions before I even think about showing it to others.

I hope it’s good. I would love to entertain others as much as this has entertained me. But it might not be a book for everyone. There’s practically no fighting, for starters. I don’t think I’ve written a single fight scene in those 75,000 words. Not much in the way of romance or evil empires or children of prophecy, either. It’s a fantasy world, yes, but a much more grounded one than I had originally envisioned.

There’s no part of me secretly hoping that this will be a best-seller, but published? Maybe. Again, I have to see when it’s done. I have to do drafts and evaluate and have others read it to give me feedback. I already have ideas for a sequel, but that’s really getting ahead of myself.

I don’t want it to be good because the praise would boost my ego. I want it to be good because I want it to be good. I want someone to pick up this novel and be drawn into it, wanting to find out what happens next all the way through the final chapter. So I’m going to ride that bucking bronco of a story to the end, and hopefully then I’ll be able to look back and see a good thing standing behind me.

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Disapproving eagle looks on while I practice my yodeling skills. Hey, when it’s the end of an expansion era, decorum goes to dirt and we’re free to follow our passions.

The happy news is that I finally, after a lot of stalling and meandering, got my first class mount from Legion. The quest chain was full of pointless busywork, but I did find the payoff agreeable. Similar to how Legion has whipped up smaller solo instances for the artifact weapons and (more recently) the allied races, so too are there ones for the class mount.

For the Hunter, it involved going to a late-night party in the woods with Odin and then hunting down various spirits of the animals. I loved the atmospherics in this one — the woods were darker than World of Warcraft usually is at night, and I really dug it. I need to get that potion that turns the nights dark in this game. Remember reading about it somewhere.

Anyway, the instance wasn’t too long or uninteresting, and by the end I had procured a wolfhawk to call my very own.

Wolfhawk: When World of Warcraft’s dev team is just picking random animal names out of the hat and slamming them together to make new mounts. Better than Beetleslug and Shrewsparrow.

The kids (and I) enjoyed the small cinematics for this. That’s something I’ve quite enjoyed this expansion, all these little in-engine cinematics that Blizzard is using for key storytelling moments. Just makes me want more of them.

Actually, as ridiculous as this combo sounds, they actually pulled it off. This mount is wonderfully detailed and looks great both running and flying. Going to be using it on this character for a while now, because there’s that spirit of pride and ownership at play.

I’m really starting to pare down on my final goals for both my Hunter and Death Knight, which means that it’s about time to just switch over to my Warlock and see what I can do before the summer is through.

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Last week when I was griping about a few of Star Trek Online’s worst features, my sour opinion on the game’s music seemed to hit a chord with at least a few readers. I know my Battle Bards co-host Steff disagrees with me — she seems to like this OST, although I suspect it’s mostly for a couple signature tracks — but honestly I’m surprised how irritating and non-Star Trek most of these pieces are.

While I hate to turn off the soundtrack in an MMO, preferring to let the game present itself to me in its fully intended glory, I haven’t been able to listen to STO’s music for years now. Any time I come back, the music is always deactivated, and I provide my own score for the stars.

What I’ve been doing as of late is substituting the music from the Star Trek series and movies, and I have to say that it works remarkably well. In particular, Ron Jones’ TNG soundtracks transform this game with their very unique and memorable qualities. Berman reportedly disliked how much attention Jones’ music was getting, and Jones was let go after TNG season 4. That’s a shame, because most of the rest of the music from that show was pretty generic and forgettable. His stuff? Still well worth listening to today, even if it is totally synth 80s, through and through.

I took this approach with Star Wars: The Old Republic, too. SWTOR’s soundtrack isn’t bad (and I quite like the newer stuff, to tell the truth), but when it got a little dour, repetitive, or lengthy, I would switch over to a playlist that used the movie music as a perfect substitute.

Star Trek simply deserves great music. The franchise has seen some masterpieces (Star Trek’s I, II, III, VI, Ron Jones’ work, the theme songs), but it’s not as consistently great as it should be. Likewise, the game needs killer audio to go with its gorgeous visuals. I’ve put three screenshots from recent adventures in this post, and you can tell that this game is not lacking in those cinematic vistas. Bad music or no music at all detracts from it, while stirring symphonies transform these adventures into unforgettable experiences.

It’s probably just a pipe dream to hope that Cryptic will bring on board a composer(s) who would do this game justice at this point. Kevin Manthei has his strengths, but he is not suited for MMORPG composition at all. Maybe one day, STO will sound as good as it looks. Until then, my substitutions will have to suffice.

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After an incredibly long absence, Retro Reprise is back for a kind of weird episode — but aren’t those the best? On this week’s show, Syp listens to many video game studio logos and fanfares from the 1990s. These jingles may be short, but we heard them so many times they became burned into our brains! Which one was your favorite?

Show notes (episode download, episode page)

  • Intro (Sega Scream commercial)
  • Origin Systems
  • Rare
  • Capcom
  • Apogee
  • Hot-B
  • Blizzard Entertainment
  • Konami
  • Microprose
  • Interplay
  • Crystal Dynamics
  • LG Software
  • Micronet
  • Ocean Software
  • Seta Corporation
  • Sierra
  • Telegames
  • Warp
  • Outro
  • Special thanks to the Retro Video Game Logo Project!
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Bio Break by Syp - 1w ago

Mad Tea Party is another fantastic Ravenloft quest that shows off much of Dungeons and Dragons Online’s strengths: its storytelling chops, quest choices, non-standard settings, humorous writing, cool places to explore, and devilish puzzles. It was another one of those evenings where I didn’t care that much that the quest was going long because I was totally involved in it.

This one has an odd setup: A local lady is throwing a tea party and has invited the town’s baron to attend. The twist is that the two are fundamentally enemies (she is pro-Stahd, he anti-Stahd) but both are pretty awful human beings. As the quest and party progresses, you get the choice to betray one, the other, or both. I’m the harbinger of chaos and doom, so I decided to bring down the whole shebang.

I think that objectively, the lady is the worse of the two. She’s a literal devil worshiper, for starters, and has a house of horrors if you are daring enough to poke through it. You know the type: well-preserved corpses lying in rooms for no reason, skulls in chests, secret underground cult clubhouses.

Oh and she’s squirreling away a girl who thinks that she’s an angry cat. That’s my daughter, most days.

I think that this is the first DDO quest where I actually fought devils. You don’t see devils in a lot of MMOs, come to think of it. Demons, yes, but devils? Not as much. They’re pretty creepy looking, especially their teeth.

The Baron is more of a raging jerk than anything else. He locks up anyone who mocks or protests him, and his main enforcer has an arm that’s covered by these purple tumors for some reason. Oh, and he has a wizard son who keeps exploding the help while allegedly trying to teleport them out of a teleport-locked country.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was that I couldn’t do anything with this mirror. My Use Magical Device skill was too low. But man! I wanted to!

Pity for your FACE, you mean. In the end, it was a lot of killing back and forth. I do appreciate that the quest seemed to offer branching choices, but I suspect that most players are going to be like me and just wipe out everyone in both manors.

It was cool to see the peasants cheering the demise of the Baron, but the dungeon master introduced an ominous note by saying that with a power vacuum in the town, there’s an opening for a strong leader to swoop in. Gee, wonder who that might be?

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Since my head is stuck in MMO news, gaming, and discussion for a part of my day, I have been known to conjure up hypotheticals to keep me amused. After all, the news is often so weird and unexpected that my daydreams might one day happen — you never know!

One of those I’ve been pondering lately is what would happen, exactly, if a studio brought back online a rather popular long-deceased MMORPG. Say, City of Heroes or Star Wars Galaxies. Just out of the blue, “Hey guys, we’ll be reactivating the game next week, officially. See you then!”

While those two titles are almost certainly forever lost to us, it’s not the craziest of questions. We have seen dead MMOs revived (such as Asheron’s Call 2 coming back for a short run, or Shadowbane in other territories, or Hellgate: London). It all depends on whether the code is still out there, the servers capable, and the studio willing. Plus IP issues and all that. Anyway, it’s feasible, it’s possible, just not that likely.

But hey, who knows? I mean, we’re seeing an interesting surge of interest in classic servers, what with Old School RuneScape, World of Warcraft Classic, RIFT Prime, and the like. People miss what they used to have. They miss the old times. They want to go back. As a retro gamer, I get that. So maybe there are studios thinking that they could make a quick and relatively easy buck by flipping back on the switch to a game.

It would be the event of the year, I can tell you that. If City of Heroes came back next week? It’s all anyone would be talking about for a good month. Players still carry many torches for that game.

There would be a lot of questions and issues to work through. Who would handle it? Would old characters be available? Would it pick back up from the last patch? Would there need to be hardware and software improvements to handle the changes in the years that have since ensued? Maybe it wouldn’t be a “relatively easy” move to get some money, but still, this is my daydream.

People would rush in to play these games. Some would be coming back home while others just curious. And then there would be those players who never really got a chance to try out these titles but subsequently felt bad that they missed out back when it was operating. Not that that is me and SWG, oh no. Look elsewhere for your shame.

I think about this whenever Paragon Chat comes up in discussion or I log into that client. The second you’re in that program, you can believe that CoH never died. It’s still there, somewhere. Still online. And while it really is just a shell of the former game, it’s amazing how so little can trigger a wave of nostalgia and instant believe in its current operation.

I do wish, and not for the first time, that there was a place that old, unwanted, or unpopular MMOs could go to retire as an alternative to being shut down. A museum or a discount studio or something. It burns me that I can play an arcade-worthy Ms. Pac-Man on a keychain device these days but I can’t log in to, say, Marvel Heroes that shut down two years ago. (Speaking of which, can you imagine how much money Gazillion would be making from Infinity War tie-ins?)

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Life moves pretty fast in the 25th century. I think it’s the 25th? I’m not even going to check. There are ray guns and space ships, so it’s the future sometime.

I’m dashing as fast as I can through the familiar old missions, and as I write this, I’m all the way up into the upper 30s. I kind of forgot how involved and long some of these missions can be, and sometimes I’m not going through them as quickly as I would like. With a month to go until the expansion, I don’t think I’ll have this character fully ready, but I’ll be happy if I’m in my endgame ship by the end of May.

One interesting feature that I’m experimenting more with this time around is the ability to freeze time in ground segments. Since it all takes place in isolated instances, there’s the ability to be able to do this, and that makes for cool picture taking opportunities — especially during combat. My only quibble is that sometimes there’s a lag between hitting the butting and having the time freeze take effect.

Even though I could have requisitioned the next tier up of ships, I’ve decided to stay in my Ambassador-class starship for the 30s. It’s simply one of my favorite Star Trek ship designs. I know I’m weird, but the Enterprise-C trumps all of the other Enterprises in its design. It’s just stately and sleek without being too curvy or too stark.

This is the U.S.S. Jorg, and I’ve taken far too many pictures of her sailing through space. She’s pretty durable, although that could be thanks to the purple gear rewards that the Delta Recruit event is paying out.

OK, one more picture, because this one is my favorite. The weather in space is cloudy with a 50% chance of rain.

The other night I took an excursion back to Spacedock. I don’t think I’ve commented on the redesign — it’s not that new at this point — but I definitely remember how Spacedock used to look, and boy is this so, so much better. They did a masterful job coming up with a space that makes for a great player hub that’s open, visually attractive, and offers quick access to key vendors.

I don’t think I’ve ever checked out the improved Club 47, so I made a point of doing so this time. Again, so much better than the old one, which I think was a disco floor and a few tables. This club definitely has an 80s neon feel to it.

If my character could look and dress like this, I would do so, full stop. Seriously, Cryptic, sell me these clothes!

My favorite environmental joke in the club is seeing a line of frustrated clubbers standing outside of the potty. Also, there’s only one potty for all of these races and genders. Seems like poor design.

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As we count down toward World of Warcraft’s late summer expansion, I’ve seen a lot of articles talking about what players should be doing to prepare (get normal sleep and live a normal life) and what Blizzard is doing to prepare (enlargening its bank vault to accept even more money). But what I haven’t seen as much is discussion about what people want to do when the expansion comes out.

Maybe that’s because there’s still a lot of unknowns and because the answer seems obvious (level, loot, raid), but here are six objectives that I would like to accomplish during the first year of Battle for Azeroth:

1. Take my time

This is always the hardest to follow, because there is such a huge race to the new endgame that it becomes easy to feel left behind and pressured to keep up. But really, with all of the new zones and quests, I want to just take my time, sightsee, get into the lore, and enjoy the journey. We’ll all be in the endgame soon enough — and for a long, long time.

2. Hang out with my guild more

I do have a really great guild… and I’ve been neglecting it. Part of that is because I’m often off in other MMOs, but part is that I didn’t get much into the raiding or mythic plus scene in Legion. I’m going to make an effort to put myself out there more and be more open to guild activity nights.

3. Take a look at both sides

Because I used my free level boost on my Warlock to help with allied race unlocks, I feel more than a little bit bound to pursuing that character. Plus, with all of my toons on the Alliance side, it’ll be nice to see what’s happening over on Horde side as well. So yeah, I think I’ll be sampling both sides. I don’t really care about their chest-bumping conflict to develop a strong allegiance to one side or the other.

4. Be better about keeping track of long-term objectives

Probably one of my stumbling blocks in Legion is that I wasn’t as attuned to some of the longer reward tracks that I should have pursued earlier on. Most of that came down to troubling myself to research guides — such as how to get class mounts — and it always ended up with me smacking myself on the forehead and going, “I wish I knew that sooner!”

This time, I’m going to sooner the crud out of it.

5. Level a Kul Tiran Druid

Been dying for a human Druid for a long time now, and the Kul Tiran forms look wicked awesome. That’s very high up on my list, although it all depends how soon this allied race is unlocked to play.

6. Make a list of old world objectives to accomplish

Blizzard’s trying out some new features that don’t, on the surface, seem to interest me. Warfronts are a huge “meh” and I have no idea how enjoyable island adventures will be no matter how much the devs fake enthusiasm in their videos. So I think it would behoove me to keep looking at legacy content in the game that I have yet to do and create a list of personal objectives. Even if it isn’t the newest stuff, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

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