It Doesn't Open a Tomb

     Yesterday I finished a small depiction of something that happened in my all girls gaming group. After falling through a portal into what was apparently the tomb of a great dragon king, our group was arrested by the nearby dragon population and sent on a series of quests for atonement. Who knew breaking into an ancient tomb and stealing an enormous crown was a crime? This particular quest focused on us scaling a mountain and retrieving half of a magical coin. The young chaotic, volcanic dragon guarding said treasure refused to give up "his shiny," even though we knew where there were a lot of shinies to exchange for it. In fact, there was a perfectly good dragon crown going to waste not too far off! After negotiations fell through, our Ranger, managed to somersault onto the youngling's head and up onto the invisible platform where the half-coin lay. Beating a hasty retreat, we stopped to rest and discuss exactly what this thing did, which lead to the following conversation fragment:
      It also lead to this quote:
     "There is a special Hell for people who trick kids into grave robbing. A special Hell."
     Experiences like this are what I live for; seeing just how insane we can drive each other. Our GM told me once that she was surprised the group was still together. I think it's due to a healthy mix of intelligence and snark.We teeter just on the cusp of killing each other, but we don't because we know we'd be missing out on some fun. My half-Orc fighter would be nothing without the utility Fire Genasi, the iniquitous Human Ranger, the half Elf Battlemind, or our long suffering Eladrin Warlock (pictured above with the Orc). Not to mention the string of Clerics we leave behind. No one seems to want to play the Cleric. Also our GM didn't think we would actually try to reason with the dragon. Sometimes it pays to not kill everything in sight. Did I mention our character alignments were technically "Good?"
     I'd been thinking of doing a picture "someday" of the events of the group, and yesterday, Penny Arcade convinced me to "why the Hell not!" I picked up the newest compilation of the webcomic. The Borders Bookstore I used to frequent and buy these collections at closed down last summer, and the only other bookstore in the mall doesn't allow you to sit and peruse their wares so much. I snatched it up and read a good chunk of it as I sat waiting for "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" to start at the theater. I have just picked up on PA again, after wandering away from it back in 2010, or so. As an MMO player, I felt the last book bashed that type of game a little too much. It's okay to hate MMO's, just don't make me pay $15 for the same tired mockery of the genre. The guys seem to have mellowed on that front, though, and as a result, I'm having a lot more fun reading this one. I highly suggest you check it out.


The Tale of Mad Matt and the Union

      Listen my child and you shall hear...of how “Mad” Matt made some IRK members lives a little more interesting. We all have met those players, the ones who don't seem to pay attention to the chat channels and rush into trouble without preparing for it. Some of us have even done it ourselves, before we knew better. I've been gaming online with Matt since early 2009. On Anarchy Online, we belong to The Independent Rubikans org, now being run by our friend “Namiru”. Nam encourages us to help out others in the game and strengthen overall relations with the rest of the community.
      This story came about as we were in the middle of leveling our paid account characters in the Temple of the Three Winds static dungeon. Nam was on his Temple services toon, “Keepdafaith”, when a team of people from the Union org came to us in need of help gaining the Stygian Desolator.
      A marvelous, blade this thing is! It is the size of most people's toons (about five or six feet in game space), with a bright orange-red, curved blade. The description for it reads thus:

“...the path back to Paradise is lined with the bones of my enemies. Their screams soothe me during the long nights, when I dream of what I have lost. I laugh when I recall their writhing anguish, their groveling to please me, the hope that their suffering will be put to an end. But I feed from their anguish and the begging look in their eyes as they grovel at my feet, hoping for a cessation...“

      It is dropped by Aztur the Immortal in a room deep within the Temple. However, first, we had to fight our way through the bosses who spawn before Azi: Uklesh the Frozen and Khalum. And before them, we had Gartua the Doorkeeper, the Guardian of Tomorrow, and other enemies agging us. Which was everything. In ToTW, even if it's grey and several levels below you, it will attack. A lot of people don't even bother killing on the way out, but rather train all the minor enemies (and some bosses) up to the exit.
Now this was the first time Matt and I had ever heard of the Styg (as it is affectionately called). I remember Nam telling us about it over the Skype call we were on. He made mention that we were to let a specific person from the Union loot Azi's corpse when we were done, but a certain person didn't seem to be paying any attention. Matt was on his Martial Artist and was busy killing his way through the corridors with the other team members.

      We broke into the room and killed everything, then turned our attention to Uklesh. After the first two bosses fell at the alter, we found ourselves face to face with the big bad, himself. This was actually the first time Matt and I had faced any of the final bosses for the Temple. Nam and the other IRK members had warned us of trying to take them on. We managed to make it through Azi, but it was a close call.
      Then Matt rushed forward. Then Matt opened the corpse. The Nam and I heard Matt say, “Ooooo! What's this? Well no one's going to be using it, so I guess I'll take it!” In the chat window, the team saw the phrase: “ looted Stygian Desolator.” The Styg is, of course, “No Drop” and ”Unique”, meaning that once you pick it up, it's yours. There's no trading it to other players and no selling it to a shop.
      Our escort proceeded to flip out in the chat, “A MA?! Are freaking kidding me?!” Matt and I were promptly kicked from the team, and Matt's toon went on to commit obligatory seppuku. It was one of those Oh-Shit-What-Have-We-Done moments. We'd seen their members running around, so they were a definitely an active org during a time when even the biggest orgs lay barren, gathering dust. The last thing we wanted to do was make 'em mad. Fortunately Nam was able to run the Union members through again, after waiting for the lowbie escort to run back from the Shadowlands. In fact, one of the guys apologized for the escort blowing his stack, and said the guy was a bit of a n00b. Eventually Nam was able to kill Azi again and the Styg was gotten by the appropriate player and all ended happily ever after
      Later we discussed the incident with our friend Bob, another IRK member. “What?! Oh man, we shared a chat bot with them!” he exclaimed in despair. However, IRK hasn't suffered from any severe fallout from the event. We still see members of the Union around along with quite a few orgs that are still hanging in there. Perhaps if the graphics update goes through, we'll see a resurgence, if brief, in the ones that have shut down in recent years. Matt and I are now playing on our fr00b Enforcers, which have far surpassed our paid mains in levels. Matt has also been doing a review show on Mad Matt Reviews bliptv and Mad Matt Reviews Youtube. I'm sure he'd appreciate polite constructive criticism. Don't forget to say hi to the IRK on Rubi-Ka!


Of Anarchy Online and The Future

        As many of you may already know Colin “Means” Cragg recently stepped down as Game Director for Anarchy Online and has passed the torch to Fia "Lindelu" Tjernberg. Sometime this month, Lindelu will make her first post updating players on the what to expect from here on out for the game.
        Some people seem to think this signals the end of Anarchy Online; that Means was leaving a sinking ship. Other more optimistic folks, such as myself, feel this could make for a breath of fresh air and will allow new ideas to germinate. I know I only post to this and others blogs once in a blue moon, but I found myself so excited by this news I had to write something up. My head has been swimming lately with the possibilities a new Game Director brings.
         Now that 's not to say I don't appreciate what Means has done. I started playing AO in 2009 and Means is pretty much the only GD I've known. According to his farewell post, he worked on the Alien Invasion and Legacy of the Xan expansions, as well as play testing the Crypt of Home static dungeon. For the past 8 years, he has tried his best to please the player base, while playing a dual role as Game Director and Producer.
         But there have been some less than spectacular content updates as well. One that comes to mind in particular is 10th Anniversary event, or what my friends call the “Failaversary” event. You and a host of other players were tasked with hunting down a mob called Desert Nomads which dropped certain “no drop” (nontradeable, nonsellable) items that were then to be given to a special NPC called the “The Tinker” at Stolts Trading Post in Newland Desert. Once that NPC had collected 5,000 of the items, a level 220 boss known as The Desert Rider would spawn. Killing him required a large number of level 200+ characters to gather and work together. However, once he was taken down, there was no crowd control to make sure by-standers couldn't loot the corpse. Thus, you had a crowd of 50-100 players of all levels sitting on the corpse, clicking it like mad and coming up empty handed. The loot included 6 Clio Yalms (a small speeder like ship; the Clio comically resembled a Prius) and 6 sets of quality level 300 Nomad armor which requires all of your base abilities to be 750+ in order to even equip it. In other words, this event seemed more geared toward high level players.
         I talked to my friends in The Independent Rubikans, one of the first Orgs (guilds/clans) founded in game. “Namiru,” who has been playing AO off and on for the past 10 years, had a problem with a lot of the new content being tagged for end game, rather than creating content to bring in new players. As a consequence, he and the others felt the game's population was falling, and they blamed Means and some of the other developers for it. I try my best to see things from both sides. I understand that the game can't run on good will alone and that Funcom relies on both in-game ad revenue and subscriptions to keep things running. And to keep people who've maxed out their toons subscribed, one of the few things I can think of is adding end game content along with bolstering the PvP experience.
         On the other hand as someone playing for free (“fr00b”) with a toon that has reached level 90, I feel like I'm running out of options for gameplay. There are daily missions, epic daily missions, and the regular mission terminals, and there are still bosses in the Biomare static dungeon to take out. However, when I and my mostly fr00b team first got to Biomare, Namiru turned to us and said that this was pretty much the end of the fun when it came to being a fr00b. I mentioned some of the other static dungeons such as Crypt of Home, Steppes of Madness, the Inner Sanctum, and Camelot. He shot down most of them stating that these where simply meat grinders and that you usually only went into them with the idea of obtaining certain No Drop items. He felt that Camelot in particular would be a better dungeon if the devs made it strictly PvE, instead of a mix of PvP and PvE. Not only do you have to fight the monsters there, but also the other teams camping the big boss at the end.
        Now I'm a casual player who's highest level toon is at 92. I've only just barely gotten Namiru and another fr00b friend, Matt Winchell (host of Mad Matt Reviews), to try running through Crypt of Home with me. I'm not a dev and I have no idea how much work goes into maintaining an MMO of this age, let alone refreshing the experience for those who feel they've done everything here. I guess, though if I were to improve the game, I'd try to:
  1. Give fr00bs access to at least the buying portion of the auction house (this is was initially a suggestion made by Namiru).
  2. Another idea that has been brought up to Means on the forums is to add a coherent story/quest line to the open world experience. If well written, this quest line could really enhance the sci-fi aspects of the game and further acquaint the player with the three factions we first met on n00b island.
  3. The devs could even offer more unique items encouraging players to experiment with different builds. AO is a fully customizable game when it comes to the 14 classes available, the only limit being how many Improvement Points you're willing to invest in nontraditional skills for your class. Some players feel it is throwing away IP to make an Adventurer class run around with a shot gun, or a two handed sword, etc. instead of the typical pistols, but the fact that the game takes such customizability into account is unique and worth reenforcing. I admit, that last suggestion was based on the fact that I have a dual wielding one handed blunt Enforcer.
  4. Or perhaps streamlining some items would be better. There are several types of equipable lighting items which could be combined into one. Perhaps more isn't better.
  5. Yet another idea is cheaper, easier to access to vehicles. Even with the fast travel provided by the Wampa Network and the even faster Grid, you still will have to run quite a distance to get to mission doors. I was able to purchase a Yalm at 2 million credits only because I found a ring Namiru bought from me for $20 million credits. I also had to wait to be able to equip it once my navigation flight skill got up there. An idea would be to keep the jetpack available, if not for free, then perhaps as a quest reward or shop item.
  6. Maybe someone could write a better guided? Or maybe fill out the AO wiki (I think there's a couple out there)? Then again there are quite a few guides already put out by such fine sites like AO Universe, really a site everyone should read when they first start out. I think that if I had taken the time to read it more thoroughly, I could have saved my friends a lot of time. There's so much info associated with this game that I'm surprised anything coherent exists.
  7. Maybe adding more map variety to the missions might help boost interest in them and boost the variety of game play. In fact, varying the writing for the missions themselves would help. Every other mission seems to be find this person, kill that person, find this object, etc. with of the dialogue in the transmissions being cloned in the same 4 or 5 selected missions.
  8. More variety in mobs might also boost interest. There certainly is a lot of unique looking creatures, but there's others such as some of the mutants in Biomare and the SoM that Namiru describes as “place holder monsters.”
  9. How about more social garb? I loved the Halloween costume pieces for 2011. Also, something that allows you to try on clothing without having to buy it first would be much appreciated. Many times, I thought a pair of boots would fit my ensemble only to find they don't work at all with any of my toon's outfits.
  10. How about improving and adding to the furniture in apartments? I like sitting on my couches rather than in them. More furniture of different varieties could be gained either through shops, crafting, or questing. Another idea would be to give each profession a way of taking basic furniture, and crafting it into something that matches that profession’s aesthetics.
  11. I keep reading about a balance problem. Namiru is always telling me how he thinks Agents are over powered and Fixers (the computer hacker class) are neglected. Being a casual gamer, I've really only experienced a few classes, the Martial Artist and Enforcer being my main paid and fr00b classes.
  12. Another topic people keep mentioning on the forums is the weak PvP. Now I don't usually do PvP except for dueling with friends, usually with a veteran player looking on to see if there is something awry with my character build. From what they are saying, the Battlestations where people can enter PvP instances according to their levels, are very empty thanks to the new daily PvP missions. I don't know much about it, but maybe there are ways to offer trophies for one on one, team, and even org PvP battles. I know Namiru gains Victory points for defeating foes in the Battlestations, but maybe unique or rare items could be handed out to the victors as well.
  13. Okay, one last thing I can think of for now. I would love to see more books, soundtracks, and other merchandising for AO. In fact, I was a bit disappointed to see there was only one book written for the game's mythology. I have no idea how Shadowlands or the Alien Invasion could be written into a coherent storyline, though it would be interesting to see someone try it.
        To reiterate, these are just suggests, many or all of which may never even come to pass, or they do exist and I just haven't come across them yet. I understand the devs are not some magical little fairies that, with the wave of a wand, can change the game at will. And again, I have no game development experience, whatsoever. Consider this a wish list for AO, a recording of my hopes and dreams for the future of the game. If anything, the rumor mill is still churning out gossip pertaining to a possible Anarchy Online 2 (reported canceled a while back) in the works after The Secret World wraps up.
         The Secret World is another beast altogether, and I might write about it depth some other time, nce it's been released and once I have a computer that can handle it. From what I've heard, it doesn't implement a level or class system. Rather, the selected skills are grouped together into 7 active and 7 passive, many of which can be used across the board for either ranged, melee, or miscellaneous. It's kind of similar to AO, in that varying amounts of IP can be invested into any skills you wish on your toon. However with Secret World, you might not be gimped so much in return for your creative character building.
         So there's the news, and then some if you haven't checked out AO in a while. It's showing it's age graphics wise, but gameplay is quite fun. That is, when you have the people to buff/twink you into your armor, weapons, and cybernetic implants. But I might get into more about the actual gameplay and socializing in another post sometime. For now, I'll wait with baited breath for Lindelu to post her update, and go forward into 2012 with high hopes for Anarchy Online.