Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

Sealing the Rift

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

RiftWell, it’s been almost a year since I moved back to Florida. Life is still hard but thank you all for your patience with me through these times. I will be posting more often now, and I have plenty more topics to explore. Feel free to come along for the journey.

In the last year we’ve seen more MMO releases and I’m not going to insult your intelligence by claiming to have become expert at all of them, but I would like to talk about Rift, which emerged online in March this year and is now celebrating their first half-birthday after 6 months of operation.

If I have a complaint about Rift, it’s that my WoW characters are suffering because of it, because Rift is a full-featured MMO that many WoW gamers find easy to transition to. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying abandon WoW, as many are these days. I have played WoW  for years now, and wouldn’t ditch it just because a new game has appeared. But I am also playing Rift, I can’t help commenting on the similarities and differences.

Like WoW, Rift has both PVE and PVP opportunities set in a fantasy world with elements of magic and technology. In Rift, as opposed to WoW, these polarities are explicit. In WoW both Horde and Alliance avatars can specialise in the Engineering skill, whereas in Rift the violent rivalry is between two super-human flavors of Ascended fighters: the Guardians, chosen by gods to defend the world of Telara in their Vigil, and the Defiant, who use technology to create their own brand of  Ascended without the help of the Gods.

Therre are almost too many similarities between Rift and the World of Warcraft to mention. Before anyone thinks I am complaining, let me say that I am damned glad that the world of MMORPG gaming design has gotten to the point that I don’t have to COMPLETELY relearn a brand new interface every time I try a new game. Standardization is often not a bad thing, especially in control interfaces.

In both games you will see the floating ! and ? symbols that tell you someone has a quest or someone is waiting for you to turn in a completed quest. In both games you wear armor, equip swords and bows and rifles, cast spells, mine resources, craft items, and customize your abilities.

Okay, plenty of people have written about WoW over the years. Let’s talk about what makes Rift different. As you’ll see, the Rift developers have learned and combined good features and ideas from earlier games.

1. Graphics.  When the World of Warcraftdebuted in 2004 the Internet in general and servers and home computers were nowhere near aas fast as they are now. Compromises were made to ensure the playability of the game in the new online medium. I have heard WoW’s look described as a “storybook” style because it cannot be mistaken for realistic computer-generated art: textures and colors are done in a way that some find cartoonish but other see as more minimalistic, conveying an idea or impresison with the barest of touches, as in a haiku poem or a Zen painting of a bamboo tree.

That was then; this is now. Rift uses a later generation of rendering engine, taking advantage of faster processors and graphics cards to render a more detailed, more realistic, grittier environment that owuld not usually be mistaken for something from a storybook. Swords can leave trails in the air behind them as you swing, and other “particle” effects make for more realistic fires, smoke and so on. WoW has particles effects, but not as intense.

2. Rifts. In addition to the usual menagerie of critters roaming the woods and fields, there is a new feature that WoW doesn’t have.  Inter-dimensional “rifts” open all over the place, letting monsters from other universes. To seal the Rift, you have to defeat the monsters that came out of it. They comes thruough  in waves, so defeating all the baddies in phase 1 merely gets you another wave of monsters. If you win through several batches of alien troublemakers, the rift is finally sealed and you are awarded some “rift loot” to use in crafting recipes etc. This gives a team plenty to work on together; in fact, groups can be public or private and attacking a rift can make you end up in a public group, which lets you meet new players and, who knows, even get invited into a guild.

3. Mounts. Many MMOs restrict travel powers to give players an incentive to level up faster. In World of Warcraft, for example, you cannot even learn how to ride until level level 20, just as in City of Heroes you cannot learn travel powers such as Flight until level 14. (Unless you are a veteran like me; I have been in COH so long that my new avatars can pick up a travel power at level 6 — it’s a veteran reward for long-term membership.)

Mounts are awfully handy, since large MMO  worlds can take awhile to move around in. Rift developers acknowledged this with a instant upgrade that for a few more dollars sets you up with a mount much earlier. (The mount is a two-headed turtle complete with saddle that turns out to be as fast as a horse.) The down side? They mail the mount to your toon, so that you have to get out of the starting area to get to a region with a mailbox  to claim your mount.  If you make a second character he or she gets a mount too — the mount binds to your account so that any toons you make start with a mount when they reach a mailbox. Okay, this means you have to wait until like level 5 or 6 — but that’s a lot sooner and better than waiting twenty levels!

4. Customization.  City of Heroes raised the bar of character customization when they created an interface that lets you combine features and color combinations to select from virtually millions of possible looks. In COH you can even make your toon chubby and bald if you want to ( I don’t). By contrast, WoW character creation section has far far fewer looks to choose from; each of the WoW races has a small set of faces, hair styles amd hair colors to select from, making a lot of WoW characters look the same. If you want to role play being someone’s twin brother, WoW makes it easy — just choose the same face and hair. And look for the same armor or clothes.

Rift is a whole ‘nother deal. You can change the shape of your face, add tattoos or piercings or other touches of body arts.  You can easily makes faces that look noble or beautiful….or gritty and scarred. And skin colors are chosen from a color palette an artist could not fault, rather than from a list of approved hues. What this means is that when you move around in Rift, you see a lot more diversity — the characters are more unique and less looking like a field trip from the Valley of the Clones. Personally, I think this is a good idea, since most gamers will grow up to live and work in a world where people do not look alike (unless you already did and you are a geezer like me who winces every time a checkout clerk in a convenience store calls me “sir”).

Like I said, Rift did not pioneer this level of character customization; City of Heroes did. But the Rift developers have learned from what worked at COH. So did the folks at Aion. If Warcraft intends to stay in business, I hope they get a little more customizable.  Unless, as some have suggested, they are willing to let WoW go to seed because they want people to join Diablo III when it finally comes out.

It’s getting late here and I need my sleep (okay, I need to get into some gaming and THEN sleep, if you must know.)  See you in cyberspace. –MRK

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Play Styles

Saturday, September 11th, 2010
Well, It’s been a little while since I posted. I’ve had to move, and it’s been a little hectic and distracting.  I haven’t given up on Wizard101 (since I went for the $60/year deal so I am paid up until next July), but I’ve been looking for programming work and as we all know it is tough out there jobwise at the moment. But I’m not giving up. I appreciate all of you who have responded with suggestions and comments (especially the ones whose comments appear to indicate that they actually read at least one of my posts).
Today I’d like to talk about play styles. I could go on giving specific advice about particular games, but I am more interested in more generalized principles that can apply to many games. In my time spent so far in online games I have changed my play style from time to time, and looking back I realize that while the game designers might have had one main “mode” in mind when they created their games, we as player do not have to confine ourselves to one particular way of playing. I’m not recommending or judging anyone’s play style, just sharing what I have noticed myself doing. See if any of this sounds familiar to you. Have you found yourself being any of these types of gamer?
1. The Escapee.  I have played games in this mode where I don’t really care whether I accomplish anything, or help anyone else accomplish anything. I am just immersing myself in a fantasy world where there are no taxes, infomercials, relatives, employers (heh, can’t say no bosses can I? Sorry.) In this mode I often just wander around attacking enemies at random, ignoring quest-givers, hardly bothering to train new powers when I happen to level. Accomplishing, levelling, growing, cooperating are all irrelevant, because what I am basically doing is escaping from my main source of stress — my everyday life.
2. The Don Juan.  I have gone through phases where my main goal was establishing new relationships with female gamers.  In this mode, as in the Escapee, I am not so concerned with doing or growing my avatar, but rather with teaming up with avatars that appear female and trying to find out if they really are. Unlikely as it might seem, some ladies out there are doing the same thing. Some lady gamers are not offended by flirting while gaming, if you can do it with some style and can have something interesting to say. What is offensive are things like (a) being so focused on flirting that you play badly and get the object of your interest’s avatar killed  — no one likes to see their avatar die because someone they are playing with was not bothering to attack, defend, or heal, (b) crude overtures that make the lady in question feel depersonalized into a mere sex object, and (c) harassing her to reply so much that the lady you are trying to woo cannot accomplish what she came to the game to do, such as finish a quest or whatever.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not condemning flirting in-game. I have fallen in love by doing exactly that. But try to remember a few things. First, many guys create female avatars because, well, we like to look at female-shaped bodies. So that hot-looking lady you are coming on to might be a guy laughing his rear off. Second, think about ages. Some parents let their kids play their accounts. You could end up chatting up a sub-teenager who is flattered by the attention until their parent sits down beside them and freaks out. Third, as in real life, be prepared to take rejection in stride. Some ladies do not need more males in their life; some dismiss overtures routinely, knowing that men genuinely interested in them will be patient and persistent.
3. The Overachiever.  In this mode I have been so into doing and levelling that I have no time to respond to others who need advice or help or just want to say hello. I have probably missed out on friendships or loves by being so type-A at times like these. It is easy to get into the “stupid noobs!” mentality and refuse to help newcomers because it will take time I could be using to level up. Later I might feel guilty and remember that we all begin as noobs whether we like to admit it or not. But when I am the Overachiever I can almost get road rage when someone kills the NPC I needed to turn a quest in to, or when people tie me up with invites or questions. Okay, sometimes we all have time to help, and sometimes we really want some time for ourselves. The key is knowing how to balance so we don’t get stuck in an attitude rut.
4. The Restarter.  In nearly all online games, your avatar will move up from each level to the next level quickly at first (to avoid discouraging new players) but then you levelling slows down as each level takes exponentially longer because more XP is needed to reach the next level. So often I create a new avatar, play up six to ten levels, then lose interest and start over with a new avatar. The result of this is a lot of avatars I may never play again, avatars that are cases of arrested development. Heroes, warriors, wizards all stuck at level 7 or 8, languishing on the server as I create new characters to regain that fast-leveling play mode. Actually, it’s even worse that that. Since I tend to form solid power set preferences in each game, I can end up creating not just a lot of avatars, but a lot of avatars that resemble each other. For example, in City of Heroes I fell in love with fire+radiation corrupters on the Villain faction. I like to throw fireballs, but I also prefer to be able to heal myself. COH defenders (healers) can heal themselves, but, strangely, while they can shoot ice, energy, dark blasts, and so on, they cannot be fire blasters. That one power set is denied them. But Corrupters can be fire blasters and have their secondary power set be Radiation Emission, which include Radiant Aura, a self-heal, and Radiation Infection, which weakens enemies, making it easier to solo your Fire/Rad corrupter. So, pretty soon I saw I had over twenty fire/rad corrupters….all under level 20. Sigh. It still happens  from time to time. I have even deleted fire/rad corrupters to make new ones so I can start over. Oh well. (My first level 50 in COH was a rad/rad defender.)
5. The Crafter.  In many games you can “make” things to make yolur avatars more powerful or faster. My main Warlock in World of Warcraft is an enchanter/tailor, and I was delighted to discover that this meant he could create his own flying carpet to fly around the higher level zones on. it is quieter than winged mounts like griffins (no wings beating to distract you) and you stand on it instead of sit, and it goes straight up fast. And of course my main Warrior is a miner/blacksmith so he made is own swords from ore he mined. Crafting is a fun thing if you are in the mood. Sure, you could just go to a vendor or the auction house and buy a sword…but it is often more fun to know you are using a weapon you “made” rather than bought. The same applies to other types of crafting where you can make potions, armor, and so on. (In City of Heroes you can make Enhancements that are slotted into powers to make them more accurate, powerful, faster-recharging, and so on).  Yes, crafting is fun. But sometimes it can also become obsessive. I have often spent entire evenings obtaining the ingredients to make one sword, one robe, or one device, when i could have been questing, leveling, and socializing with guildies. It often seems like the key ingredients you need to make really good weapon, piece of armor, or whatever turn out to be rare drops, that is, things you can only get by killing particular monsters or bosses. SO there I am, killing giant tarantulas in the Arathi Highlands in order to get Spider Silk to make a pair or Spidersilk Boots. It is not a quest, it might not even help my tailor level because I am way higher than the spiders so i am not getting any XP at all. BUT my lower mage or shaman or priest wants those darn Spidersilk Boots so here I am killing level 33 spiders with my level 74 warlock again. Arrgh. yes, crafting can become obsessive to the point where it derails my progress. Am I the only one? My gnome mage simply had to have his own Flying Machine. So here is my Death Knight out in the Outland farming Fel Iron again. Fammit! Maybe I do need to get a life (who said that?).
6. The Jackass of All Trades.  In most online games character variety is encouraged by giving you many different ways to develop your avatar. For example, in City of Heroes you might want your Blaster to focus on accuracy and damage, but your Defender focusses on healing and recharging quickly. In World of Warcraft your mage can specialize in Fire, Frost, or Arcane abilities. Your Warlock might specialize in powers that use minions, or forgo some of those options to put more power into your Damage Over Time attacks. But it is tempting sometimes for me to refuse to specialize: to, instead, try to make a character that has a little of everything: a jackass of all trades and master of none. That way i feel like I am keeping my options open. Unfortunately, this rarely results in a strong avatar. It might be hard to decide on your specialization, but it is worth the effort, because while your toon may not be able to do everything (and none can, of course), you can become very good at one or two things. Okay, so your healer doesn’t do much damage — but he has become a great healer, something any team with half a brain will appreciate. Okay, maybe your shadow priest isn’t that good as a healer — but he is hell on wheels for dealing damage to enemies. I know it is hypocritical of me to say this, given the JOATs I have made in the past…but get a grip and go ahead and specialize. You will be glad you did later. And if for some reason you are not happy with how your avatar turned out, do not despair. Most games allow you to change your mind later and redesign your avatar. In City of Heroes this is called a Respec and you can earn it by staying in the game (veteran rewards) or by completing certain “Task Force” quest chains. In World of Warcraft you can “forget” your talent tree choices and get those talent points back to re-choose your specializations (but it will cost you some gold, and it costs more if you do it more than once).
Let’s face it, these online games and virtual worlds give us new ways to obsess and get stuck in behavior and attitude ruts. But that’s okay, because they are “only” games. It is an ongoing learning experience. Don’t be afraid of obsessing. Just try to step back and look at what you are  doing once in a while. The mystic Krishnamurti once wrote something to the effect that all you have to do is observe what you are doing, and you will find yourself naturally making changes if you do not like what you see. Try new things. If you see you are getting repetitive, try something else. –MRK
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Lessons Learned: Further Adventures in Wizard101

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Hello again. Yes, I’m still playing that “family game” Wizard101. If you aren’t, too bad — because you are missing out on one the best games to come out in recent years. My main Fire wizard is now level 29 and close to finishing Krokotopia and moving on to the next world — Marleybone. My other wizards are much lower, like 10, 12, 14, and so on…but a couple of them are also in Krokotopia now.

Some of my readers have asked if I have any advice on how to level in this game, and even though I am sure there are plenty of grandmasters out there, people many levels above me, who know more about the game, I am getting fairly familiar with the lower levels, so I will risk sounding stupid to them and pass on some of what I have learned.

Question 1. What School should I pick for my wizard?

Plenty of players will tell you that their school of magic is the best. But each school has its own strengths and weaknesses. Let me go over some of them for you. Currently I have 6 alts, the max allowed, so I have one of each school, except Storm. I had a Storm, but got tired of fizzling (Storm spells are only 70% accurate) so I deleted that toon and made a Balance wizard to replace it.

The best answer I can give is: make one of everything and try them out like I did. Different people like different schools. There is NO one uber-school, despite what the professors and players will tell you. it would be crazy to design a game like that– no one would want to play the weaker schools. The game is as balanced as the designers can make it. Every school has advantages and disadvantages. Every type of wizard does well against some kinds of enemies and not so well against other kinds. That’s why it is a good idea to team up with wizards from different schools when you go questing.

Fire  Advantage: has lots of damage-over-time spells (DOTs) that you can cast and then spend your next few rounds of combat setting up defenses, buffing other players, healing, and so on. Disadvantage: attack spells are only 75% accurate, which means you will fizzle a lot. Less health than Ice wizards.  Compensate by wearing gear which boosts your max health, so you can survive more damage when you fizzle.

Ice  Advantage: lots of immediate damage spells. And Ice wizards have the most hit points, meaning they can take more damage before they are defeated. Disadvantage: most spells are 80%.  Better accuracy than Storm or Fire, but not as good as Life. But maybe a little more damage than Life.

Life  Advantages: (1) best spells for healing yourself and other players. (2) attack spells are 90% so you will not fizzle nearly as often as other school wizards. Disadvantages: (1) attack spells do less damage than spells from other schools (2) emphasis on healing means you get fewer attack spells than other schools. You may find yourself dealt a hand with only heals and no attacks…when you really need to attack.  Compensate by drawing attack treasure cards when you need to, and when you can. (3) sure it feels good to help a low-health team mate, but the down side is that they will expect you to bail them out and not bother to heal themselves. This might mean you spend a lot of time healing friends and less time hurting the enemy.

Death Advantages: Many Death spells deal damage to your enemy and then give some of back to you as health. Not as good as a real heal spell, but it helps…and you do damage at the same time, which a heal spell doesn’t. Disadvantage: when you fizzle, you get neither damage to foes or heal to yourself. And you are more vulnerable to Life attacks, whcih will do extra damage to you.

Myth Advantage: you get to summon minions that will cast spells (even spells you don’t have). The troll minion you summon will step into a sigil like a human team mate, and he might cast Cyclops on your enemy even if you do not have Cyclops in your deck. Also, enemies may attack him instead of you, saving you from being hurt. Disadvantages: minion summon spells take up slots in your spell deck and in your hands dealt, so you have less room for attack spells. And if you are on a team of 4 players, there is no room in the combat circle for a summoned minion, so that spell is then useless. People will grumble if you fight the Kraken and summon a troll minion, so that you take up two of the slots against the Kraken boss….because this means a real human will have to wait until next time — and the Kraken is usually crowded with players.

Storm Advantage: Highest damage spells means more bang for the buck (pip). Disadvantage: Spells are only 70% — the lowest hit rate in the game. Storm spells fizzle a lot, which is why I love fighting against storm bosses. Lots of time it saves my butt when the boss and his minion BOTH fizzle in a round when I am low and can’t heal yet. But to be fair, when Storm spells do not fizzle they usually do more  damage than other spells of the same level, so perhaps in the long run it all evens out.

Balance The teacher for this school claims it is “more advanced” and more powerful than the others. Hmm. Maybe. Advantages: you get unique spells no other school has. Most schools have immediate-damage and DOT spells. But balance has spells that (1) let you give your pips to a team mate so they can use a higher attack spell (2) let you sacrifice a minion to get health or pips (3) boost your chance of getting a Power Pip, and so on.  Disadvantages: (1) having an assortment of odds and ends spells means you get less of any one kind, like attacks. (2) the Balance Tree is in Krokotopia, not in Wizard City/Ravenwood, so you cannot talk to him and get recipes for crafting Balance treasure cards until you finish the starting quests and unlock the next world.

Question 2: What’s the fastest way to level?

I will have to annoy you again by saying there is no “correct” way to level. Different people play in different ways. Some people cannot stand all the running around and talking to quest-givers so they ignore quests and just stroll around fighting whatever they run into. Other people will only fight the exact enemies they need to finish a quest. Personally, I do a mixture of both. Having to go back and turn in every quest is a pain. But doing it means you get the XP from the fighting PLUS a burst of XP at the end when you turn in the quest. But sometimes I feel cranky and just want to go out and kill something without a lot of yakking, so I do.

The problem with not questing, of course, is that you will level by killing monsters and clearing the streets, but you will not unlock any new areas to go to. If you never want to pay for Wizard101, you can stay in Wizard City and kill the bosses and minions over and over and you will (eventually) get up to any level you want. But it will take a long time because (1) each level takes more and more XP to reach, and (2) only fighting lower level monsters means you only get a little XP out of each battle.

My personal method is to do all the quests (except when I am cranky), but to also kill stuff on the way to an objective. Sometimes it is hard to avoid getting grabbed into a combat circle if you are not really careful about staying on sidewalks, etc.

Having said that, there ARE some things you can do to make the levelling go faster:

A. Get a Mount  Having a broomstick, a horse, or a pair of wings makes you move 40% faster. So you get where you are going quicker, and save time. Walking will get you there, of course, eventually. But walking takes longer, giving you more time to get distracted, more of a chance to get grabbed into an accidental combat on the way, and more time for team mates to decide they are bored and want to go watch TV. If you cannot afford a permanent mount, you can get 1-day and 7-day mounts. If you don’t have the gold or crowns to spend on mounts, you can often get them by fighting bosses. The Kraken, a big creature-from-the-purple-lagoon boss in Triton Ave, is in the FREE area of the game and he drops 1-day horses, broomsticks, and wings. Not every time you kill him, of course. But if you hang around and fight him over and over you have a good chance of getting some kind of temporary mount. then you go and make the most of it while you have it….and come back tomorrow to get another one.

B. Get Your Potions Filled  At lower levels you get one pale purple bottle next to your health and mana indicators in the lower left corner of the screen. You can fill this bottle by playing mini-games at the fairground in Commons, or by paying gold to the potion lady there. When you are not in a fight, you can click on the filled bottle (you can tell it is filled bcause it is standing straight up and has a cork in it) and it immediately refills your health and mana to their maximums. Then it is empty, of course. The advantage to doing this (when you remember to fill it and remember to use it) is that it saves you from having to chase after health and mana sprites or from going back to a non-combat area like the Commons to let your health slooowly refill. Not having to do those things to refill your health and mana means you can go on to your next fight and not waste time. Thus, you finish quests faster and level faster.

C. DO the Special Class Quests!

Every school has its own special quests that you get at certain levels. You can ignore or decline these quests and go on playing without them, but that is just stupid.  Because they give you special rewards, usually spells that are NOT on the list of trainable spells for your school.  Here’s a simple example.  Moolinda Wu tells your Life wizard to go talk to Blossom, the Life tree. Argh, who wants to go talk to a tree, when I could be fighting? Answer: You do! The tree sends you to a bridge, you play a note on your flute…and you get the Unicorn spell. It only heals  you for 275 points of damage, but here is something Ambrose forgot to mention in the Tutorial: it heals your entire team! When you pull Unicorn it heals the one-slot, then the 2-slot, then the 3-slot, then the 4-slot (if they are occupied). This will make you pretty popular with people fighting the Kraken. You don’t have to target it, since it heals everyone. Now aren’t you glad you took 30 seconds to go talk to that tree?

All of the schools have these special quests. My main is a Fire wizard. I had to go and get a frozen fire gem in the Krokosphinx. And it was a major pain, because first I had to finish the quests in the Pyramid of the Sun so that I could even get to the krokosphinx. But the reward was my Heck Hound spell, a cool damage-over time spell that works with any number of pips — the more pips you have when you cast it, the more damage it does over time. People call it the Evil Puppy, because it starts as a pair of cute blue eyes and a panting sound coming out of a little doghouse. Then BAM! and the doghouse explodes, a giant Heck Hound appears, shakes pieces of burning wood off itself, and breathes fire at the enemy. One of my favorite spells.  And if I had ignored the quest I would have walked right by the frozen gems and not been able to get one to turn in. So I’m glad I accepted and completed that quest. DO NOT skip your school-specific quests!

D. DO All of prospector Zeke’s Collection Quests

In Wizard City, it’s finding the little Smiths. In Krokotopia, it’s finding the beetles. In Grizzleheim, it’s finding the little yardbirds. These are quests you can do at the same time as the more serious quests, since the critters you are looking for are spread out, all over the place in each world, and you run into a lot of them while doing other quests. Some are tricky to find, but get them all. Because these quests reward you with Training Points! if you don’t do them, you will get less spells from the secondary schools.

E. Mark Your Spot  It took me a little while to learn this, but in Wizard101 you can mark a position ( need some mana to do this) and then teleport back to that position later. The mark button is on the right side of your compass in the lower right of the screen. There is also an icon on the left of the compass that takes you back to the hub of your current world (for the starting world Wizard City this takes you back to the Commons). The trick to using these is to plan ahead. If after doing a quest you have to report back to someone in your current area or near it, such as someone in Firecat Alley or Triton Ave, then when they give you the quest you mark the spot while you are standing next to them. Then as soon as the game tells you that you have completed the quest, you click on the “go to marked spot” icon and blip! you are standing in front of the quest giver ready to turn it in for your reward.

Another tip! if the quest giver is Ambrose or a teacher in one of the schools in Ravenwood or someone in the Commons, then don’t bother to mark the spot when you get the quest. If you know that the next quest you get will be somewhere else, then mark THAT spot. When you finish the quest, use the button that takes you to the Commons, turn in the quest, then hit the go-to-marked-spot icon. Bam! You are at your next quest location already.

Question 3: What is the best gear to get?

The best gear for you depends on (a) your school and (b) your personal play style. If you are Fire wizard who does not have as much health as an Ice wizard, you probably want a robe, hat, and shoes that boost your maximum health. Personally, that’s what my main has: health gear. You could also get resistance gear that will lower the damage you take from some kinds of spells. I’m not smart enough yet to know exactly what kind of enemies i will be facing, so I go for health gear so I have as many hit points as necessary. Or you could go for damage gear that increases the damage deal by certain spells. that way you kill off the enemies quicker and take less damage. Personally, I do not see a lot of damage increase from damage gear at low levels, so I go for health gear. So far it’s working.

You can buy gear or get it from drops when you defeat enemies. And here is where I repeat my earlier advice: make a lot of different school wizards. Why? Because often you get a drop that would be great for an Ice wizard, except you are playing a Fire wizard. If you only have one character in the game, this means all you can do with the “ice school ONLY” robe you just got is to sell it for a few gold. but what if you had a Fire wizard and an Ice wizard? When the Fire wizard gets a robe drop that is best for Ice, he can teleport back to his dorm room or house (there is a house icon next to your compass for that) and go to his bank open it, hit the Backpack tab at the top, go to the Robe section, click the ice robe and click the Move To Shared Bank button on the left. Now that ice robe is in a Shared section of your bank. Now you log out of the Fire wizard, log into your Ice wizard, go to his bank, go to the Shared Bank section, find the ice robe, click on it, then click the Move To Backpack button. Voila! Now your Ice wizard has that neat robe that your Fire Wizard got in a fight.

The point of all this: if you have only one wizard, you will get drops of gear not that good for him and just sell them. If you have several different wizards, each of them will get stuff they don’t want — that one of the others will want. And thanks to the Shared bank on your account, they can all dump their drops into the Shared area and each one can take out the stuff they need.

Here’s a personal example: in Krokotopia my main Fire wizard defeated a Krok boss and got a Nerini staff that gives Life school spell cards. But my Fire wizard already has a hammer that works better for him and gives Fire spell cards. So he passed the life staff to my life wizard. My life wizard is only 13, so he cannot use this 20+ staff yet. But he will, and it cost him nothing.

Question 4: What should I get for my Seconday School?

In addition to your main school of magic, you can (and should) train spells from other schools. The spells in your main school are free to train at verious levels; the secondary school spells cost you training points, which you get every few levels or can earn by doing special quests like Zeke’s quests.

You should always have secondary school spells, for three reasons. (1) they give you things you cannot get from from your own school. Everyone should complete the Fairy quests in Unicorn Way, because the last rewards is a self-heal Life spell that you won’t get from your Fire school teacher. (2) Having more than one kind of attack spell is extremely helpful when you fight someone who is resistant to your own school’s attack spells. For example, a lot of the Kroks in the Sun Pyramid are Fire casters. This means they are also automatically resistant to my Fire wizard’s attack spells. If I hit them with a Fire school spell, it does less damage than it should. Not good. So what do I do? I hit them with a Life or a Death school spell, which they are not resistant to. (3) learning spells from other schools saves you the expense of buying other-school Treasure card. All of my wizards have Life as their secondary school, because Life attack spells are 90% accurate and fizzle less often. Well, all of them except for my Life wizard who has Death for his secondary school so he can attack and heal himself at the same time.

Well, as usual lately, this post has gone on far too long. Thank you to anyone who actually read all the way to the end. Next time I’ll talk more about strategy. Till then, I gotta catch up on my levelling. See you in the Spiral! –MRK

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Playing Your Cards Right: Wizard101

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Wizard101Hello again.  Some of my game servers are down for maintenance, so I thought I should write about a game I stumbled on that has an entirely different flavor of online gaming. It is called Wizard101, and although I realize that many may ridicule me for playing what they consider a “kid’s game”, the fact of the matter is that this game has just this week passed the 10 million player mark that took World of Warcraft several years to achieve. And a lot of those people playing Wizard101 are adults…so many of them, that by popular demand, the game’s creators had to add a less-filtered chat method for 18+ players.

It is perfectly true that the Austin-based KingsIsle Entertainment admits that the game was originally designed to appeal to players aged 8 to 14. BUT this game, which launched in September 2008, has hooked a lot of parents too, because you can play it as simple “zap the monsters” or in a much more cerebral strategy-based methodology. After six months it had 2 million players. A year after its debut it had 5 million. And now, over 10 million. They must be doing something right, don’t you think?

I believe my story is similar to that of many of the adult players. My girlfriend and I both play WoW; she has been in WoW since the beta test and I joined a few years later after putting in time playing City of Heroes. Unlike me, my girlfriend has a 8 year old daughter who can be quite attention-demanding when mom is home from a day’s work and wants to relax after dinner by questing in Warcraft. When she heard about Wizard101, she thought it would be a perfect way to keep the youngling busy and out of our hair so we could get our quests done.

Yeah, that was the plan. But her daughter was soon burbling with excitement urging that we simply had to try this game she was playing, because it was so “awesome”. And my girlfriend  and I thought, arrgh, it’s a “family game” (meaning it’s one of those kiddie games, not a serious MMO), but then again, it will make her happy to be able to share the experience and of course it will be so empowering for the tyke to be able to be the expert for a change while the adults have to be noobs. So we created accounts and made a couple of avatars.

The first difference between Wizard101 and WoW is that the protagonists are all young student wizards. There is no melee class, no ranged Hunters or whatnot. I only say this so you will understand when my discussion seems to leave out familiar MMO terms like the tank and so on. When you create a new wizard, they belong to one of seven schools of magic: Ice, Fire, Storm, Life, Myth, Death, and Balance. Each of the seven types of wizard specializes in different tactics and abilities: Life wizards are the best healers, Fire wizards do damage over time. Death wizards steal life force to damage their enemies and heal themselves a litte at the same time, and so on. This is the first difference between this game and others of the genre: instead of magic-users, warriors, priests, hunters, etc. you simply have different types of wizards.

Wizard101That is only the first of several differences. Instead of free-form, run-around-and-whack-or-blast fighting like in most online games, the fighting in Wizard101 all takes place in a structured context of ritual combat, sort of like the pistols-at-20-paces dueling you see in old books and films. This transforms the entire game mechanics. It’s not about who is better with their keyboard and mouse, like in Warcraft a lot of the time. In fact, it is more like a game of chess or a game of cards. The game is much like collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering where what card you play at the right time determines success or failure. This makes the game both more kid-friendly (because hand-eye coordination is not as big a deal) AND more adult-appealing (because thinking ahead and strategy can pay off). 

Let’s say your wizard encounters a monster in the middle of a street (the game has a fully perspective 3D virtual world like Warcraft and City of Heroes) and the fight is on. There is no sniping from a distance. A clearly-drawn circle of combat appears right there in the middle of the street and you and your enemy step into little circles called sigils inside the large circle. Then you take turns casting spells at each other until one of you is defeated. No one leaves the circle of combat unless (a) one side has been defeated, or (b) you click the FLEE button and chicken out (er, I mean, you make a strategic retreat).

Ho hum, you might say. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Wrong! Almost every spell that you can cast has its own animation sequence, something to watch. The magic energy of the spells is embodied, often as temporary creatures that do the attacking. For example, Firecat conjures up an orange kitty that breathes fire at your opponent or pounces on him in a blaze of flames. Storm Shark creates a blue pool of water filling the circle, and a shark leaps out and comes down on your enemy with its jaws open. Chomp! Kraken summons a purple reptile/fish humanoid who reaches up into a storm cloud and grabs a thunderbolt and hurls it at the target. And many if not most of these animations have several possible versions, so they are not simply time-after-time repeats. It’s pretty hard for any fight in Wizard101 to play out exactly the same way. Often other players hang around to watch, knowing they might see something they have not seen before.

Okay, by now you have probably guessed the punchline, the ironic twist. My girlfriend and I started playing to humor her daughter and have something to do together as a virtual family, as I am sure many parents do in Wizard101 (in fact, I can remember a player shouting “get out of my Dad’s way!”). But we quickly became entranced by the quality of the graphics and absorbed into the game. And believe me, that’s pretty amazing, at least for my girlfriend, because she is usually a melee fighter in Warcraft; she prefers whacking enemies with a sword or axe, whereas I do like being a caster myself. So seeing her becoming quickly addicted to this student wizard game was something to see indeed.

What makes the game so addicting to teenagers and adults, I suspect, is a combination of two things: gambling and strategy.

Okay, in WoW sometimes your spell or sword misses. but that’s not what I mean. In WoW your attack and healing powers are always available (although they may take a little time to recharge after each use). So when I am playing my Warlock I can elect to fire off a shadowbolt or toss a DOT (damage-over-time) spell pretty much whenever I like.

It’s not that way at all in Wizard101.  Your wizard avatar has a spell deck consisting of regular and “treasure” spell cards. Each round of fighting (and the ritual combat can go on for many rounds before one side is defeated) you are dealt a hand of cards — that is, you have displayed for selection a subset of your available spells. They are never all available at any given time. So you have to quickly decide how to make best use of this selection — which one to cast. You click on the chosen spell card and then on your target. If you are on a team with up to 4 of you facing up to 4 humanoids or monsters (four circle positions for each side; must have at least one-vs-one to proceed), then everyone has to pick a spell or decide to pass for that round. It is rather like a card game where everyone gets to play a card going around the table.

At the bottom of the screen you can see what spells your team mates are choosing — and which targets they are selecting. You can change your choice if you want to, say, ensure that both of you attack the third enemy. After everyone has chosen for the round, it plays out and you watch and see the results as an animated spell battle: good guy #1 tries to cast a spell, then good guy #2, then good guy #3, then #4. Then bad enemy #1, enemy #2, and so on, unless one of the enemies was defeated by one of the previously cast spells.

So you see, each round is like the opening of a chess game. Ah, good, my spell weakened bad guy #2, so that the next wizard’s spell finished him off. Oh no! Bad guys #3 and #4 both attacked me, seriously lowering my health. I better heal myself next round or get my team mate to heal me! And so on. You might think it would be a drag, waiting for a 4×4 fight to play out each round, let alone the entire sequence of rounds until one side wins. But it isn’t. It is enthralling, because the animations are high quality and randomness means you are never quite sure what will happen most of the time. Because spells can fizzle (fail to work). Which means you might survive a dangerous situation if both of your enemies fizzle so that nothing hits you. Conversely, you might find yourself cursing your luck when your own spell fizzles, leaving you behind in the damage-dealing and worried about surviving.

Each spell has its own defined accuracy. Shielding spells are usually 100% meaning they never fizzle. Attack spells are usually only 90% or even lower. Theoretically, a 70% spell should function correctly seven times out of ten, which sounds like good odds — until it fizzles twice in a row. Remember, flipping a coin has a 50% chance of coming up heads and 50% chance of coming up tails….but it is still possible to flip three heads in a row. All the probability guarantees is what the ratio will come out to in a large number of coin flips. For a small number of coin tosses you might see any combination. Similarly, in any duel in Wizard101 the only spellls you are completely sure of are the 100% spells like the shields and some of the heals. The rest is up to chance. This gives the game what I call its “gambler appeal”. You might be on a roll and defeat a stronger enemy sometimes. Or you might crap out and fall to a monster (or another player, in PvP) who happened to have better luck. In a way, this is a good reminder to all of us that in real life sometimes the little guy wins — and sometimes the bully loses.

The other half of the gameplay’s appeal is what I call the strategy factor. As a duel proceeds, each caster receives Power Points (also called “pips“). You get one per round. And spells require 0,1,2,3,4,5, and so on pips (and mana) to cast. Running out of mana is a real drag here, — almost none of your spells will work without it. Don’t.

Let’s take a typical battle in the lowest zone called Wizard City. I am battling a skeletal warrior (who casts spells just like all of the enemies do). We step into our places. The fight begins. This time, I get to go first (not always!).

Each of us gets one pip and the system deals me a hand of spell cards from my spell deck. I have one pip, so I cannot cast any of my high-damage spells yet, because they require more than one pip. I have an important decision to make, based on which of my cards came up. Do I cast a low-damage one-pip spell? Unless I get very lucky, it will probably not do enough damage to wipe out the skeleton, so he will get a chance to hit me with a spell. Or do I pass, wait for the next hand and next pip, so that I can hopefully cast a more powerful spell? There are other options too. I may be able to cast a ward (which reduces incoming damage) or a charm (which increases outgoing damage) or an aura (does damage over time, or healing over time). Believe me, “family” game or not, there can be complexity here.

Ok, so I select a spell by clicking on the card in the hand dealt to me, then clicking on a target — the skeleton. The spell will either work, or fizzle. All spells have a success rate expressed as a percentage. Attack spells in the Life wizard school, for example, do less damage than other schools but are usually 90% spells meaning they tend to fizzle only 1 time out of 10. Of course, this is all driven by random number generators, so just as you can roll three sevens in a row with a pair of dice, you might fizzle several times in a row sometimes. So I choose Imp, a 90% Life attack spell which (this time) does not fizzle, and summons a small green imp in the air who throws some kind of magical energy at the skeleton, hitting for 85 damage. The skeleton, which started out with 150 hit points/health, is now reduced to 65 but he is still alive. Now he gets a turn to cast at me. Enemy spells can also fizzle, of course, which gives a reprieve if your health is low. But his spell hits me for 90 damage. Now I am getting annoyed, so I pass for acouple of rounds, building up pips, and then I choose Sunbird, which is born in a blaze of fire and swoops down on the skeleton for 315 damage this time, far more than his current health. End of skeleton. The combat circle fades away, leaving me in the middle of the street (or room) doing a victory dance.

When you are joined by other wizards the combat gets more complicated. At the bottom of the screen you can see what spells they are choosing, and what target they have selected. This gives you the chance to attack the same target to try to wipe it out so you face fewer incoming attacks next round, or select a different target to try to get more than one of the enemies…or you can help fellow wizards by casting wards to protext them, charms to boost their damage, or heals to prevent them from being wiped out.

What I am getting at here is that there are many levels you can play this game at. You can just blast away, which is what the younger kids tend to do, selecting the first attack spell likely to succeed and just going for it. Or you can get more strategic and set up more powerful spells or pave the way to more damage with charms, etc. The card-based ritual combat seems like it would be stilted and tedious compared to the rough-and-tumble of games like World of Warcraft…but it isn’t. The luck of the draw in getting good cards dealt from your spell deck, combined with the success ratios and random chance of hitting with each spell, combined with the fact that you never know what attack spell the enemy will launch each round, combined with the cumulative effects from your team mates’ spells, all these add up to combat which is unique, suspenseful and addictive.

The game has lavishly detailed scenery and multiple worlds. Five different worlds so far, and a sixth world is scheduled to open this Fall. And it has several quite nice touches:

(1) FREE PLAY! Yes, Warcraft and City of Heroes will let you play for free — for a week or 10 days or so. But Wizard101 will let you play for free forever — just not the whole game. Without ever paying a cent you can play in several zones in the first world, Wizard City. Granted, it can get annoying when you get a quest that you cannot complete because it is in a non-free area you cannot enter. But even then, you can avoid subscribing. Wizard101 lets you unlock specific areas permanently by paying a small one-time fee per area. Then those areas can be played, forever, free. This means that your whole family can experience Wizard101 without paying anything unless you decide to. The download is free and the initial zone play is free. Of course, they are counting on you to get addicted, as I did, and sign up for a subscription. But you can try it out alone or with your kids without any recurring billing, ever — until you agree to pay.

(2) FREE SERVER MOVES! You can move your character from server (realm) to server with the click of a menu, as opposed to some games that force you to stay on one server — or pay for character moves to a different server. In Wizard101, if your server is full or crowded, you can call up a list of the realms and move to a less crowded one any time you want — for free. And move back later, for free.

(3) PERSONAL SPACE. All characters (including free accounts) come with a personal dorm room that you can furnish with items acquired in combat or bought from shops with game gold acquired in combat. If you earn enough gold you can buy your own personal house. I got the starter house for 8000 gold, which features its own floating island in the sky, its own World Gate that lets me teleport to any of the three worlds I have unlocked so far, and its own flowing creek, copse of trees, and a little sandy beach. There are larger houses and school-themed houses (such as the Fire house, the Ice house etc.) you can buy if you want to shell out money for crowns, the game’s second currency. But you can get your own house for a mere 8000 gold. It took me a few days to earn it, and then I had to level some more because you cannot move out of your dorm room and into your house until you are level 15.

(4) CONVENIENT TELEPORT SYSTEM. You can teleport to your friends or fellow group members, whether thery are in their own houses or on the streets or in combat, as long as they are not in a zone you have not unlocked for your account. Thus can be a handy way to quest, because it saves you time you would have spent running down monster-infested streets. If your friend is in combat and you teleport to them, you automatically join the combat circle. You can teleport to your friend’s dorm room or house, and they can teleport to yours. You can also block teleports to you if you want some privacy. There is an Options menu that lets you block friend requests (sometimes it seems every toon I meet wants to be on my friends list), block teleports, block trade requests, and so on. You can turn the blocking on and off whenever you want. And you can mark your current position, teleport back to the starting area of whatever world you are on (or your house or dorm room)  to sell, replenish health and mana, etc., and then teleport back to your Marked position. Very handy. Although I do love the immersive scenery of Warcraft, sometimes I do tire of long treks out to where the action is.

(5) PETS. The game has a complex pet system. Pets can be bought, can be acquired though completing quests or defeating monsters, or can be procreated. Pets begin as eggs which hatch into creatures that can be equipped to follow you around or returned to your backpack when you want to avoid distractions. Through training, pets grow up from Baby to Teen to Adult to Ancient to Epic, eventually acquiring abilities that can aid you in combat. Some of them give spell cards as well. And for a fee, you can hatch new pets. If you have two Adult pets you can take them to the hatchery, pay a fee, and get a new egg which will hatch into something looking like one of its parents. For example, if you have an adult dragon and a adult cyclops, the egg will hatch into either a dragon or a cyclops. If you only have one adult pet, you can find another wizard with an adult pet and the two of you can go to the hatchery — and in this case two eggs are created, so you each get a new pet. Although the pets always look like only one of their “parents”, their traits will be a mixture of the two, giving a huge assortment of possible trait combinations. Holy genetics, Batman! You can sell pets back if you have too many, and you can move them from one alt to another via your Shared Bank. So if my Fire Wizard gets a Myth Sprite he doesnt want, he can throw it into his Shared Bank and then I can switch to my Myth Wizard and dip into the shared bank and grab the pet for my other toon.

(6) MOUNTS. Mounts like horses and wings and flying brooms let you move around 40% faster. Some monsters, like the Kraken in Wizard City (a free area) drop temporary mounts, like a horse or a pair of wings, that last for 24 hours. You can also buy 1-day, 7-day, or permanent mounts. And unlike Warcraft, which won’t let you buy a horse until you are level 20, Wizard101 will let you use mounts at any level. You can ride a horse, a broomstick, a flying dragon, a tiger, a lion, or whatever. All you need is the luck to get the free mount from a monster, or the gold (or crowns) to buy it from a shop. Long before I gave in and subscribed, I was getting 1-day horses and wings from defeating the Kraken over and over. And that brings me to my next feature.

(7) REPEATABLE BOSSES and DUNGEONS. Defeating the Kraken (sort of a Creature from the Purple Lagoon) is the end of one quest chain. But once you have fought the Kraken, you can fight him again any time you want. You just step on the teleporter that takes you to his little arena island, and if he is not there already he respawns immediately. All of the bosses are like that. You usually have to do a preliminary quest to unlock the door to the boss, but once you unlock it, it stays unlocked. And since the bosses drop better items (like mounts, sometimes) there are good reasons for fighting them over and over. At first any boss might be tough to take on by yourself (since they are designed for multiple players), but since you level up and they don’t, eventually you will find that you can solo them if you want to.

I guess I have yakked too long about Wizard101. By now you may think they are paying me to say all these things (they aren’t, but I wish they were, heh, I could use the money). No doubt I will eventually become jaded and bored with this wonderful game, and look for fresh entertainment and inspiration. But for now, this is my favorite game. Sure, you have to deal with a lot of kids running around the zones. Sure, you might feel a little uncomfortable being addressed as “child” by kind old lady NPCs and as “young wizard” by the quest-givers. But so what? It’s a game. Get in touch with your inner child and try it out. If you have problems, your kid might be able to advise you. Or vice versa. Either way you might be surprised at the quality of what KingsIsle has produced. I know I was — and still am. –MRK

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Playing the Game (part three)

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

hypercube Those of you who are old pros at gaming may find little of use in this post, for it is written for the benefit of less experienced people. For I do love gaming, and because of this I have the desire to share this variety of virtual experience with others, and in particular I am seeking, among other things, to alleviate the frustration many experience when attempting to become gamers. Gaming is a complex undertaking, and those of us who have embraced it as one of our major activities often take for granted all the details we have mastered, and we forget that, to a newcomer, all this jargon, all these dos and don’ts, all this methodology and lore can easily overwhelm and tax the patience and stamina of someone trying to come to grips with it all for the first time.

Face it; we all begin as noobs. The term derives from “newbies”. Originally it merely meant someone new to a computer network or online system of any kind. Just as the human being comes into the world unable to walk, unable to speak, to dress itself, or to find its own food, newcomers to any system find themselves both frustrated by simple details and frustrating to their more experienced associates, who find the slowness, irritability, and cluelessness of newcomers both vexing and amusing. For an easy example, what do you say to someone who demands to know why, in the name of Hollerith, do you have to click a button that says “Start” in order to shut down Windows? The simple answer, of course, is that the Start button on the Windows taskbar is the “start” of a collection of menus, one option of which is “Turn Off Computer”. To a newcomer, it seems ridiculous terminology, the idea of clicking a Start button in order to get to a menu selection that stops it. But we all get used to it and stop noticing how weird it sounds….until we have to explain it to someone new to it.

When a person logs into their very first online game, they are often unable to move. How many of you remember the first videogames, as large as refridgerators, with their fairly intuitive joysticks that you simply pushed in the direction you wanted Mario to move? In online games they refer casually to WASD control, expecting newcomers to understand by magic that pressing the A key moves them to the left, the D to the right, and so on. (This is where I, as a left-handed mouser, have the advantage, as I discussed earlier. I use the inverted-T arrow keys, which seem more intuitive to me.)

Even more frustrating than not being able to move is not being able to communicate. How do you ask for help when you cannot send messages to other players? All online games now feature a chat interface reminiscent of the ancient BBS systems, but you have to know how to get the box you type into to come up on the screen. And even after you learn how to do that, you are hampered by your own level of mastery of the QWERTY keyboard layout. In my own case I never learned to “touch-type” as we used to call it (now it is simply called keyboarding), so writing these words to you, I have to look down at the keyboard as I rapidly peck at the keys. And when you learn how to use the in-game text chat of World of Warcraft, slow as text chat is, you might think some of the players are telepathic, because they can fight and somehow communicate at the same time. This is not magic — it is because they are wearing headsets with microphones and using TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, Yahoo Instant Messenger with voice, Skype, or some similiar application that transmits human voice across the internet so that they can talk hands-free and let their fingers do the walking all over their enemies. And of course they are always suprised to meet someone who tries to game without a headset. To them (to us), it is as if you were trying to play basketball without shoes.

All right, so you are a noob, for now. We all were, at one time. But you don’t have to stay one. Yes, there are a lot of extra details that your friends or the helpful young salesman at Best Buy neglected to mention. There is random, haphazard gaming, casual gaming, and serious gaming. If you want to game well, then you will have to go through some of the same learning experiences we all did. And probably make most of the same mistakes we all made. But you have to learn from those mistakes, and learn quickly, or your friends will find teaming with you painful at best.

Oookay, you have bought your first online game and signed up for access…or maybe you are still in the free-trial period, trying to decide if you want to commit the time and money to this enterprise. You probably want to know how you can get through the learning curve as fast as possible, so that you will not be left in there soloing because no one wants to team up with you. Let’s talk about some of the things that will help you do this.

First, get a computer with a decent graphics card. All of these games require a separate GPU or (graphics processing unit) to take the heavy calculations off the back of your computer’s CPU so it won’t slow to a crawl (crawl = dead in online games). Someday all computers will comes with heavy-duty graphics cards plugged into their motherboards, but for now you might be suprised how many computers are still being sold with inferior hardware. You have to have this. Stop complaining . You wouldn’t expect to drive a car without a motor, or fly a plane without wings, so how can you play a graphic-intensive online game without a 3D graphics accelerator? Just get it.

Second, get a headset with a microphone. Yes, you could do this with one of those came-with-the-computer stick microphones (or the built-in mikes on some laptops) and the speakers that either plug into your computer or are built in. Luckily, just about all computers now come with sound, since people play music and watch DVDs on them. So yes, you could survive without a headset. But headsets are not that expensive, compared to the price of a decent computer. And with a headset you can (a) muffle outside sounds so that you concentrate on the game and (b) play without everyone around you hearing what your guildies are saying in the heat of combat.

Third, get the largest screen you can manage, within reason. These games are immersive, and you feel more in the game when it occupies a significant fraction of your visual field, instead of being compressed into a tiny screen you are peering at.

Fourth, (okay I’ll stop using numbers now) and this is the hardest part, do your best to explain to your friends, lover, spouse, whatever, that when you are gaming it is not cool to tap you on the shoulder or yell “hey, look at this!” I lost a girlfriend partly because she did not or could not understand this point. Being interrupted in the middle of a boss fight when you are the tank or healer can get your whole team killed. People who are not gamers often do not seem to understand that it is not only you that they are inconveniencing. They just don’t get the fact that those swordsmen and sorcerers on the screen are being controlled by real people who tend to get, like, really annoyed when their avatars all die horribly because someone (and we all know who it was) was not focussed, was not  paying attention. Gaming has split up marriages, it is a fact. The best way to avoid screwing up your love life if you are a gamer is to get your Significant Other into gaming too. Spread the addiction, so they won’t think you need counseling. And if, god help you, you are unequally yoked to a non-gamer, then you will have to find ways to spend quality time with him or her when you are not gaming, so they won’t feel neglected and resentful.

Okay, you have a decent computer and screen and headset and you are about to go questing. Now what? The next thing you need is in the game, and it’s a simple but very important thing: room in your inventory. In all good MMORPGS your character has an inventory (sometimes called a bag or backpack) that you carry things in. In WoW, in fact, it is several bags. Before you head out on a quest you need to empty out your inventory, so that when you kill stuff and receive new items (drops) you will have room to carry them back with you. Otherwise you will have to destroy something you are carrying when that cool sword or wand gets dropped by the boss so that you can pick it up. So sell the stuff you don’t really need to an in-game vendor, or shove it into your in-game bank (which most have now) to make room for the gear and crafting materials (often called reagents, a term borrowed from chemistry, where it refers to ingredients) you are going to acquire while you are out roaming about in the virtual wilderness or the dungeons.

We have already covered the basics of team composition and the duties of each kind of team member. Oh, yes, it is perfectly possible in most games to roam around by yourself, in peace and quiet, operating at your own pace. But usually you will get more done if you are on a team with others. And running an instance or dungeon by yourself is asking for trouble unless you are a real pro. So get on a team. Join a guild. Treat these total strangers as if they are important friends…because they just might come to be. Tell them what you need and find out what they need. Finding yourself a place in a good team makes a big difference in almost any game…in all worlds.

You are out there and questing, and you get a call of nature. Do NOT get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of a fight. Take care of such things before you get into a battle. Let your team mates know you will be right back. A simple “brb bio” is considered cooler than saying or typing “be right back, i gotta go sit on the toilet” (bio is short for biological i.e., “I have to go take care of something my biological body in the Real World needs”). Okay, sometimes you cannot avoid an unannounced interruption. The stove has caught on fire, the baby is crying, the pizza you ordered  has just arrived and there is no one else to answer the door, and so on. If that happens, apologize when you get back to your keyboard or headset, even if you do not feel guilty. Do it anyway. It is good manners, and shows your team mates that you have not forgotten them, that you have not deserted them. Most likely they will respond with a “np” for “no problem”. They need to know you will not leave them hanging without a good reason.

Now you have the technology, you’ve set aside the time, you’ve found a team and your place in it, and you’re on a roll. Your bags are empty except for the few things you really need to take along like healing potions. One more thing you need to leave behind: your ego. And one thing you need to take along with you is a sense of humor. If you have any empathy at all, it can be hard to see your own avatar die…but unless you are really amazing, it is likely. You will make mistakes. You didn’t see the three Defias behind that boulder. You didn’t realize there were two bosses in that group. You hit the wrong key and moved forward when you meant to move sideways and agrroed a whole boss group that the team wasn’t ready for. Now your team mates are ghosts running back to their bodies and tempers are likely to be a little heated. If it was your mistake, apologize as fast as you can. One of the worst things to encounter on a quest is a member who screws up and won’t admit it. You apology may be grudgingly accepted, but a little residual irritation is better than the team falling apart or the team leader kicking you from the team because he thinks you are  jerk. And if someone else managed to screw up and get you killed, or couldn’t heal you fast enough, or couldn’t distract the boss from hammering you, and they apologize, then let it go and move on. No one is perfect and eventually everyone will screw up.

Virtual life is no more perfect than real life. Sometimes you get the pony…and sometimes you get what the pony left you. There will be good times and not as good times. But the quest goes on. The relationships go on. There will always be another day, another fight. –MRK

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Playing the Game (Part two)

Monday, June 14th, 2010

hypercube Okay, you have made an avatar in a MMORPG and you are on a team. Now what?

You need to stick to things that (a) you can succeed at, and (b) everyone on the team will enjoy, or at least not be bored at.  If what you are doing does not satisfy these two criteria, you will get your avatars killed and/or lose team members when they quit the team to go do their own thing.

There are basically three kinds of team activities you can pursue.  The first is farming materials. You can move around gathering materials like herbs or ore that your members need for crafting, and protect them from wild animals or enemies who might attack and interrupt them. This is fairly simple and not too risky.

The second type of team activity is farming XP. You can rampage around killing enemies to acquire experience points to level up your character (plus snag whatever drops from the baddies when you scrag them).  The easiest way to do this is to attack loners, like single animals or baddies wandering about by themselves. Having the whole team attack them at once usually brings down a loner quickly and then you move on to the next one.

The third type of team activity is questing or farming bosses. Quests (or missions, in City of Heroes and Champions Online) usually involve fighting bosses also, so I lump these into one category. Bosses are monsters or humanoids with minions or henchmen supporting them. For example, you might be fighting a bunch of thieves who are minions for the head thief, their boss. A boss typically is stronger than his minions, may have extra powers or attacks to hit you with, and has more hit points or health, so it is often hard to take them down by yourself. Exceptionally strong enemies are called elites. Beware the elite bosses! They should be approached with caution.

Let’s say you have a complete team, with a tank, a healer, and one or two people to do DPS.  There is a group of minions around the corner or in the next room or part of the cave, and they have a boss with them. How do you proceed? Some people like to throw caution to the winds and just go for it. Doing this can get your entire team killed. There is an ugly word for gamers who behave that way. They are called noobs.

Okay, it’s a game, a recreational activity, and nobody likes being ordered, “do this, don’t do that” when they are trying to have fun. But try to remember that you are not alone. The team is supposed to work together for the good of all, not for the glory of one. Don’t be a Leroy Jenkins.

The first thing to do when confronting a group of minions and a boss is to note their disposition: are they spread out, or tightly bunched?

If they are spread out, often you can whittle the goup down to a manageable size by pulling. Pulling is basically trying to lure one of the minions away from the group. To do this, you select the one farthest from the others. That way you have the best chance of pulling only one, instead of bringing them all down on you. then you pull them away from the group and gang up on them to kill them quickly. Then if you can you repeat this procedure until the group is small enough to manage in the normal way. Correctly done, pulling takes a little longer but is safer than simply attacking a large group all at once. And safer means you don’t get killed and you can keep on going.

There are three types of pulling. the simplest is the aggro pull. In all online games similar to the ones I am discussing the bad guys and monsters will not notice and attack you until you get within a certain distance of them. This is commonly referred to as their aggro radius. Get inside it, and they go aggressive. The trick is to get inside one guy’s aggro radius but no one else’s, so that only he attacks you. Basically, you move toward the most-isolated enemy , just close enough to make them attack you, then you back off, pulling them after you and away from their fellow enemies. Done correctly, you get one of them — and only one — attacking so you can defeat them without worrying about the rest of the group.

The second kind of pull I called the ranged pull. If your group has people in it with ranged attacks (i.e., mages who can throw fireballs, or hunters that shoot arrows), then you pull the most-isolated enemy away by simply shooting them from a distance. Avoid any kind of attack that has AoE splash. (Area of Effect).  Some attacks will hit every enemy in a certain area. If you hit more than one, then you will pull more than one…or maybe the entire group. So be sure you use a ranged attack that hits only one target.

With both the aggro pull and the ranged pull, there is another consideration: the type of attack the enemy is known to use. If you try to pull an enemy who uses ranged attacks, like a guy with a bow or a sorcerer who throws bolts at you, then the pull might not work. They might see you, get angry, go aggressive….and then just stand there shooting at you. Naturally, this kind of defeats the purpose of the pull, which is to get them away from the group. So with both aggro pulling and ranged pulling, try to anger enemies who have to come after you, not enemies who can just shoot at you.

The third kind of pull I have only experienced in City of Heroes, and it is the most fun: Teleport Foe. In CoH you can learn the power to target an enemy and teleport them closer to you. This can be the best pull of all in that game, because it gives them literally no choice about coming toward you or not. And it works equally well on ranged as well as non-ranged attackers. Of course, it has the drawback that it can miss. And sometimes when it misses they notice you tried and get angry about it. Sometimes, however, even missing with it can have the effect of a successful aggro or ranged pull: they get angry and charge toward you…away from their group. Teleport Foe can also be used to do funny things, like teleporting the bad guy off the edge of a cliff, and watching him fall and get hurt. Always hilarous.

(By the way, these same pulling techniques can be used against your team. If a monster or baddie singles you out while you are teaming and attacks you from the side, do not chase them! They are trying to pull you away. Engage them where you are, or lead them into the team to get help finishing them off.)

Ok, let’s assume that either you have whittled the group down to a manageable size, or they are too tightly bunched to be able to pull some of them. Now what? First, of course, if you have a buffer ( a team member who can temporarily enhance other member abilities like strength, agility, and so on by casting helping spells or buffs ) then the buffer prepares as many of the team as possible by buffing them. Then:

1. The tank goes in and gets them all angry at him. That’s his job, to make them all attack him instead of you. Resist the urge to charge into the fray with the tank. He is doing his job; try to stick with your own if you are not the tank.

2. The healer concentrates on healing the tank, or others who get hurt. This helps the tank keep taking all the aggro without dying.

3. The DPS members (like mages and rogues and ranged attackers like hunters) do as much damage per second as they can to the baddies who are attacking the tank. This can be tricky…because if you hurt them enough you might distract them into forgetting about the tank and going after your DPS people instead.

If all goes well, the tank will hold the aggro, the healer will keep him and anyone else who gets attacked alive, and the DPS folks will help wipe out the group in short order. Some don’ts: (1) If you are the tank, try not to move out of the healing range of your healer, who will then have to follow you, possibly into danger. (2) If you are the healer, resist the urge to attack the baddies; it might pull them into attacking you and not the tank. Try also to resist the urge to chase after team members who retreat when they get hurt. If you follow them off to heal them, you are neglecting the tank, who is getting hit by multiple opponents. (3) If you are the DPS, resist the urge to chase off after baddies who try to run away. Concentrate on the ones hitting the tank.

When everyone does their job well the team is happy. the enemies are dead. People feel safe and powerful. This is a good time to let them know they are all appreciated. Let the healer know you are glad they kept you alive. Let the tank know he is brave and strong. Let the DPS people know they really hurt the bad guys. When a team is doing well, it is a good feeling. People don’t want to leave it. I have been on teams that played together for many long hours and formed lasting bonds. I have also been on teams where someone was selfish, or careless, or acted as if they were all alone and didn’t need to look out for the others. Some of those teams broke up after only one fight or mission.

If you find yourself on a bad team, there are only a couple of things you can do. (1) try to get the jerks to leave and replace them with better members by recruiting in a hurry before everyone gets discouraged, or (2) quit and find a better team. Personally I hate to quit a team, especially in the middle of a mission or quest. But sometimes it is necessary. Not only because you will find yourself suffering on a team where someone is acting like a noob. There is a second reason. If a person acts selfishly, or rashly, or neglects their duties, they are hurting or endagering their fellow team members. If they refuse to change their ways, then sometimes the best you can do is quit and let them go it alone, to send them a message. Everyone needs feedback. — MRK

Next: Part 3 —  hints and tips to make your questing more efficient.

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