One Man’s LOTRO vrs WoW Grudgematch!

These three entries about Lord of the Rings Online are actually some old entries I re-published because I was noticing that LOTRO is currently performing quite well on’s charts and was putting some consideration towards playing myself.  What’s being said here actually more pertains to my perception of LOTRO back when it was released.

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True Roles of the Fellowship

One of the lead perks of alt-i-tus for me is the class balance discussions. I just love to see the interplay of the various professions the developers have designed into the game. Today, I turn my roving eye to the classes of Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.

The funny thing about this game is the developers tried to make the class roles really simple by boiling them down into a few words, for example, “Nuker.” Nevermind how immersion-breaking that is: For whatever reason, these official roles are often inaccurate. Fortunately, a little research is all it takes to assemble an understanding closer to the truth.

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Mocking Success / Killing The Grind

Following up on my discussing restarting a character in Oblivion, I fell off the suspension of disbelief train and straight into realizing that even a 94/100 game has something worth mocking.

One more rant for the road.

The worst failing of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is that, on the most basic level, it’s a role playing game.

Now, I probably know what you’re thinking: Hey, I’ve enjoyed RPGs before. Sure, there’s something uber kewl about a game where you can play somebody else and have more fun than you do in real life. However, somewhere along the line it became all about the power. The ph4t l00tz and m4d st4tz, comparing your e-peen to the rest of humanity’s because, lets face it, you need that kind reassurance when you’re being subconsciously reminded that you didn’t achieve much in real life while you were filling your leveling bar with pixels.

This is an old story because the smart game developers realized this problem and started to design away from it. World of Warcraft’s accelerated grind, zero to sixty in 500 hours is a whole lot less than EverQuest demands.

Oblivion did a pretty good job of keeping the grind to a minimum, so much so that players came out with mods that slowed down the leveling process. Yet, the grind still exists, even in Oblivion. Where does the beast live? How do we slay it for good?

Well, I had waxed reflective about this extensively on a certain discontinued think tank, and came to realize exactly where the grind exists. It exists when you stop having fun and the developers are dangling something that you believe should make the game fun just out of reach. So, you mentally injure yourself trying to get that foozle and, just like that, grind city includes population you.

So, anyway, what does this have to do with Oblivion? Just this: I’ve been trying to play Shivering Isles for over several weeks now. It’s a well acclaimed new expansion with uber graphical effects and content, maybe a little buggy, but unfortunately a strange kind of grind has been getting in the way. It’s not the character progression that’s been the problem: Oblivion scales; you can wander wherever you want. It’s the content.

It makes for a weird grind – usually the problem is that the grind is keeping the content away, but Oblivion gluts you with content. It drops you in the game with a main quest line that consumes maybe 20+ hours. If you want to benefit fully from cooperation with the Mage’s guild (perhaps to flesh out those needed spells) there’s another 20ish hours. If you have Knights of the Nine installed, there’s another 15+ hours. Those are small potatoes: the side quests and temptation to explore every ruin can take up hundreds of hours. Basically, what we have here is a story grind, a non-linear game that hits you with linear-feeling obligations.

Now, I realize this is partly having to do with my competionist attitude, but that’s really nothing new. Which sounds more arbitrary to you: [Spoilers:]

  1. “I want my character to act like he believes Daedra invasions and rampaging long-dead Alyeid murders are higher prioritizes than becoming a disciple to a mad god.”
  2. “I want my character to act like he believes he needs the vorpal axe of slaying badly enough to spend 72 hours camping mobs that aren’t worth experience to him for that added +5% damage boost.”

They’re both pretty rediculous, and reflect the overall limitations of many RPGs to spin a compellingly realistic tale.

Oblivion is not a perfect game, despite its acclaim. Still, I look forward to seeing Bethsoft’s next efforts, including Fallout 3 (now that they’ve bought the rights). They may not be perfect gamesmiths, but they’ve improved a lot since Redguard and Terminator: Future Shock.

Paying Attention

I suck at this. Maybe you do too. However, there’s a lot more to it than I once thought.
Try counting from 0 to 10 to 0 again, slowly, with each count happening each time you breath out naturally. I’ll wait.

It’s a simple test, but if you’re like me, chances are you’re going to hit 11-25 a few times and realize that in the time it took you to reach 10 your mind wandered elsewhere. If you’re good, you might manage it on the first try, but at the very least you’re probably going to become aware of the difficulty keeping focused.

Focus is hard, and perhaps the most difficult truth for anyone to deal with is that it’s damn hard to truly pay attention to life. I bring this up only because paying attention is an inherent difficulty extending to everything, and this includes gaming.

I’m getting frustrated that I can sit down to a good game and suddenly notice it’s 5 hours later. Where did those five hours go, really? We say, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, but it’s really just because the mind is well occupied with what’s going on so we don’t pay attention to the passage of time.

Am I cheating myself out of the true game experience by spacing out? Am I really living during those 5 hours I spent in the game? I wish I’d paid better attention.

A major pillar of the assertion made in Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun was this: The mind, like the body (or perhaps as an extension of the body) simply doesn’t want to work. It’s in energy conservation mode all the time, preserving those precious calories it assumes are in short supply. The mind has “fun” so long as it’s learning something about the game, and then develop resistance to further study by exuding boredom.

The book is a good read, and I can appreciate that I found an accidental parallel between this and observations as to how hard paying attention really is. However, this leads me to wonder… if you’re bored of a game, are you really done with it or have you simply stopped paying attention?

Consider this: the creators of the game probably dumped hundreds of thousands of paid hours into this game. There was a lot of work put into the textures, the gameplay mechanics, the animation, the musical score, and so on. Why is our ever-foraging ego, hungry for something new, largely breaks down and ignores these factors?

In terms of evolution, one has to wonder why we play games at all. Practice of useful skills is the usual reason for play, but you won’t find any good survival skills in Pac Man. What do our roving egos expect to find in games? At what point did they cease finding it, and thus flipped the switch to stop finding the game interesting?

Food for thought.

Masochistic Dreams Of Game Design Oblivion

I ran across this post the other day on the website of Chris Crawford, veteran of the game biz.

It basically says “You can either break into the industry through a trade school or get a more formal liberal arts education and then a real job. The first way is quicker, but the second way is a much more reliable method to avoid getting assigned to mere grunt jobs.”

As a University student seeking a DTC degree, that’s got me in a good mood: I’m on the right track. To these ends, I’ve found myself emulating the other part of his article: While in school, play with game design.

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Mr. Crawford advises building little “go karts” – crappy games that serve as educational means to understand how a game is put together. Truth of that matter is, I’ve already done a bit of muddling around with that in my Java and C++ days. That’s the technical side of things, and now I’m looking at content quality side.

So it is that I’ve found myself once again attracted to developing an Oblivion plugin. Once the choice to turn down the triple-O was established, that option became open. I was also heavily encouraged by encountering the very sparse monster variety that the stock Oblivion spawn tables use.

Some player on the official boards said that the Elder Scrolls Construction Set stopped working once the Shivering Isle was installed, but I haven’t discovered anything of the sort. The NPC preview window is bugged (possibly my uber-fast new P4 650 processor is causing the contents to fly out of view when I touch it) but none of this stops me from making the kinds of changes I wanted to make. Geldon Yetichsky, the Oblivion plugin creator, is back in business.

As it turns out, I don’t want to make really in depth changes. I’ve decided that my Plugin will stand alone as the “purist” of well done Oblivion plugins. So far I’ve come up with three “Guidelines for Preservation of Oblivion Purity”:

  1. No new objects, whether they be items, monsters, or spells. All modifications must be made to existing objects.
  2. The fully scaling monster spawning system remains in place. Oblivion was conceived as a game where you can explore freely without worrying about running into unbeatable foes, and this assures that.
  3. All spells must be able to be recreated by the player when creating custom spells. In other words, no turning off the auto mana calculation.

One of the main benefits of this approach is that save games can be compatible whether or not you are running this mod. If you get tired of running the mod, just uncheck it and you’re good to go. If you find a mod that adds additional content while leaving the stock Oblivion content alone, you should have no problem running it alongside this one. Unlike Oscuro, I’m not rolling everything and the kitchen sink into this, and as a result I have a “pure” mod that leaves the horizons open to expansion.

So, that’s pretty well conceived. Now all I’ve got to do is actually code the thing. I’ve some previous experience from my old plugins (now residents of dev/null) to determine some good changes to make. The preservation restrictions actually remove a lot of the work I could have done. Given a week or two of 3 hours a day, I could very well be finished with the base Oblivion enhancement and ready to move on to stage two.

Stage two is a next version plugin that enhances both Oblivion and Shivering Isles content. First, I have to complete the Shivering Isles expansion, otherwise I’ll spoil it for myself. You never know, it may not even need improvement. After completing this second plugin, I could potentially move on to a third “impure” plugin that makes more radical enhancements that don’t necessarily follow the three guidelines laid out above. However, I’m thinking a bit far ahead – given my erratic whims, I’m not even sure I’ll finish stage one.