November 2009

What is happening to all the rogue blogs? This week the best rogue blog for hard technical information in the rogue blogosphere, One Rogues Journey, was pulled. Zaltu has decided to call it quits on not just his blog but the game itself. This led me to check out all the other rogue blogs out there to see what the current blog situation is. And it’s not very good. If we go down my own blogroll on the right hand side of my home page you start to get an idea.

And Two Rogues, a blog that I have always enjoyed had its last post back in July. That post is somewhat ironically titled, ‘Not Dead Yet.’ Well he may not be dead but he sure hasn’t stirred in a while.

Ravenholdt Manor is one of the few still being consistantly updated. A lot of Dariaia’s posts are about factions and famous rogues in the game, but with the dearth of information on rogues for the last month or so it’s commendable that this blog is still being so regularly updated. A rare victory as we shall see.

Forever a Noob is also being regularly updated, so good on ya bro for shining the torch in a sea of darkness.

Gone Rogue is gone. The link now connects to some strange site in another language whose safety I cannot guarantee. So don’t click on it and it’s coming down from tomorrow on my list. I was not aware of this until just now. A pity for this to happen as I liked that blog.

Ninja Chimp retired from both blogging and the game back in September. I was sad to see this one go.

As stated above, One rogue’s journey has reached its final destination. Zaltu was the source for quick and easy access to first-rate rogue technical information. This is a great loss, no doubt about it.

Rogue Rogue is, along with One rogues journey, one of the best rogue blogs out there for technical analysis. So far in November he has made only one post. Things are not looking good here either.

Slice & Dice is still flying the flag, but even Sam has been hard pressed to find much to write about this month. Keep at it brother!

That’s it for rogue blogs on my links. Over at Twisted Nether the rogue blogs listed are mostly either inactive, deleted or dying a slow death. It’s well known that Parry! Dodge! Spin! was last updated almost a year ago. Lets face it, there aren’t many of us left. Apparently in the comments for Zaltu’s farewell post, my own blog has died. This is news to me. I am still here. I might have made a few posts this month bemoaning the state of the game, but I am still here. Here I am. This is me waving my hand frantically.

So why is the current number of active rogue blogs small enough to be counted on one hand? I think that the game could be in trouble. I have said this very month that things are not that great in the game, as I have said that I am not happy with the direction that it is going in or with decisions taken by Blizzard recently. Check out this post from WoW insider from yesterday. The topic is, ‘When will you Quit WoW?’ There are over 250 comments, which is a huge amount, the majority of which state that they already have quit or will do so soon. Many reasons are given, but it seems that players are broadly dis-satisfied with the game. They are logging on because they feel that they have to, or they log off because they are bored.

The thing that interests me the most with this post is the number of ex-players posting a comment in it, players who quit the game some time ago. They state that they regularly check sites such as WoW Insider to keep themselves updated, informed, or to just get their WoW fix. This tells me that they did not want to leave the game, they want to keep going with WoW. But the state of the game is so dire that they are just not able to, and they are reduced to quitting playing and then checking online sites so as they still feel part of the community.

Another frequently cited motive for players staying in the game longer than they wish to is their guild or social network within the game. They do not want to play the game any longer but they are unable to leave as they dread abandoning the friends that they have built up during their online stay. This is the great strength of a good MMO: the ability to keep people playing far longer than they normally would based on their in-game social network. And WoW has the strongest player community out there. Is this factor artificially prolonging a game that would otherwise have fallen by the wayside? It could very well be. But with the dramatic fall in rogue blogs, perhaps this social “guilt-trip” is not as strong as it once was or maybe it is not strong enough to overcome the games negative points, perceived or not.

Bloggers are a vital part of an online community, they reflect its state of health. Age of Conan, which I am currently trying out, has an incredibly poor blogging community. The most recent podcast I can find for Conan was last updated in October 2008. I listened to that last episode. The host used the word, ‘disappointing’, about 4356 times. This is an apt word to use when considering Zaltu packing up shop and the state of the game at this time: disappointing. I hope that the state of the game can change for the better, that great players and bloggers like Zaltu will come back. I do not wish the game to decline in this way, nor to gloat over it from some lofty perch. But I will call out failings that I see. And I hope myself to keep flag waving for some more time to come.

Westfall is my favorite zone of all time. I love its athestics. It reminds me of where I grew up, as it bears striking similarities to the countryside surrounding Perth, Western Australia. The sun-burnt fields, the delicious combinations of colours in browns, reds and yellows that contrasts with the big blue sky. The shoreline in Westfall is the perfect place to watch the sun rise or set, the pastel of accompanying colours is often brilliant to behold. The keep at Sentinal Hill rises up in the distance like a lonely beacon, and being placed squarely in the middle of the zone, it makes questing easier. The inn is no great shakes, possibly the most forgettable inn in the entire game. I feel that the inn could have been made one of the most interesting of all, filled with refugees from the troubles all over the farming community. But still, one little thing to nitpick is not that much after all.

Westfall is home to a wonderful rogue quest, Klavens Tower, which teaches you poisons and gets you the recipe for Thistle Tea. What a great quest. You have to scope out the tower, pickpocket one of the nasty looking undead roaming around it, stealth your way in past the guards, stealth up the stairs using sap judiciously here and there, take on the elite at the top and then loot the chest. But oh noes! The chest was trapped with a nasty poison, thus sending you on another quest. This was the first time playing a rogue that I really felt like a rogue. A sneaky, nasty, tricky little bastard. It was great.

But most importantly, Westfall is the location for the Deadmines, my first ever instance. I discovered this with some real life freinds by accident. We didn’t know anything about running instances, about what was required, tanks and all that stuff, nothing known at all. We found the entrance in Moonbrook and made our way carefully in. The deeper we delved the more we knew that we were in over our heads, but we couldn’t stop exploring as it was so interesting. Then finally we stumbled on the swirly instance entrance. What the hell was this? Do we go in? Obviously we went in, and even more obviously we didn’t get very far that time. But we came back after doing our homework and we eventually overcame the deadmines and Van Cleef.

The fact that tier 9 rogue gear is named after Van Cleef just goes to show how cool this whole place is. And what about the Westfall Saber, currently the best rogue off hand sword in the game. They named it after my favourite zone, man I want this sword. My kingdom for this sword! I would never disenchant thee …

OK, so I imagine that some of you will complain about Westfall. That the boars have no livers and the murlocks no eyes, etc etc. But early WoW crappy gameplay aside, this zone just takes my breath away. I only recently discovered the little farm where paladins have a class quest defending it from all manner of baddies. Small surprises tucked behind every corner.

Recently I have been feeling frustrated with WoW. But today I went and sat on the shoreline in Westfall for a while. The waves curled lazilly on the beach, the gulls cried above my heads, the wind touched the tops of fading grain. It’s moments like these when you realise that WoW is a pretty special place.

Stack up compared to what, you may ask. Stack up compared to Age of Conan, which I have decided to play for a month to give it a fair shot. And because I am desperate. Mr T stacks up pretty bloody badly, if you want to know. Mr T is the subject of a new 5 year anniversary Blizzard commercial, which has resulted in the Mr T mohawk hand grenade. You throw the grenade at a bunch of players and they all get a Mr T mohawk haircut. And night elf ears, but hey, it can’t be perfect, right? I mean, night elf ears on a Tauran are a small price to pay for this awesomeness, am i right am i right? Where do you get these Mr T grenades? Oh, just outside each factions starting zone.

So lets think about this for a second; you’re a brand new player to WoW, like I am to Age of Conan, you roll an orc warlock, because that’s what you want, something evil and bad and mean and fantasy for fucks sake, and you walk outside the orc starting zone and you bump into a Mr T night elf selling Mr T mohawk grenades …

It’s pretty ridiculous.

This is what it has come to. It began with the gnome flying mount helicopter, people got their knickers in a knot over that one. Then there was the chopper motor bike mount. We’ve got the murlock space marine pet, kung fu panda bears, and now this, freaking Mr T in game. There is an art to treading the line between fantasy and popular culture and I think that Blizzard has tripped over that line, rolled down a steep embankment and dropped over a cliff. And we’re the ones screaming all the way to the bottom.

And it has taken Age of Conan to bring this home for me. For all its faults, and there are lots, at the end of the day you’re not going to bump into a murlock toting a ray gun in this game. It is high fantasy as it was meant to be, gritty, dirty, grim seriousness and with lots of boobs. And that’s what fantasy fiction and role playing games have always been about and if you don’t belive me look at a Frank Frazetta art piece and tell me that I’m wrong. Don’t believe me?

<img src="
” alt=”Real fantasy with boobies.” />

I can post more of them if you want.

And this is the big thing that Age of Conan has going for it. It’s like a MMO that has been transcribed from a Frazetta art collection. It feels like fantasy. Is it for everyone? No, I’m sure that it’s not, in so much of the fact that original fantasy RPG’s, novels and art were not for the general population either. But that is what WoW is trying to do, fantasy role-playing for the general population, and to keep the general population interested you need to come out with things like ray guns and Mr T mohawks.

Not my game.

” … Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”

[que awesome music with big drums: Bom! Bom-Bom Bom!]

I have always loved the Conan novels. I first discovered them as a tormented 13 year old. I read the lot, all of them, every single one. I love the films, even the crappy second one. It might be shit, but it’s Conan! And then they released a MMO based on all of this. You could ride by Conan’s side!

The other week there was a free seven day trial of the game. This usually means that things are going bad fast, but I thought that I would give it a shot. After 37 hours of downloads later, I was good to go. A shame that I had to go to work by that stage. So I got home and logged on. You can only play a human, so I chose a human. A Ranger. I would slay my foes from a distance. And this works very well, until said foe gets to within a few feet of you and then you’re seriously screwed. Lets get right to the heart of it; the graphics are awesome. They are much, much better than WoW. But unfortunately, graphics alone do not a gameplay make. I was having a weird time the first few hours playing this game. It was really, really good. So good in fact that I thought that I had definitely found a replacement for WoW. The starting area was sensational; the first NPC you run into that wants to hang out with you is a scantilly clad hooker. What could be better than that? Lucky that I was playing a male character, I suppose.

Things began to get a little confusing, however. First off, the combat system. Your enemies put up shields of varying strength, so you hit them where their shields are weakest. Fine, but … where are my shields? Do I have any? I never found that out. Next, new combat moves. They were never introduced, they just sort of appeared, and sometimes you could miss them. And you had to press bizarre key combinations in order to activate each one, that I could never remember. I had them written down on a sheet of paper so that for most of a fight i was not even looking at the screen. Then I read on a Conan forum that you could just keybind them. So if you can keybind them then why …? oh, never mind.

I was in the starting zone and there was a lot of story. I was a slave, washed up on shore and had to fight this and that, and it was really well done. Then I got to a town and there was night and day zones. In night zones I could run around by myself following my own personal lore progression, a nice touch. During the day you were thrown in with all the other players. And here is where it started to suck. I had chosen a RP/PvP realm. I wanted to have the full expereince. Now, I know what a PvP realm is, you kill anyone of the other faction. But here’s the thing in Conan, there are no fucking factions. So anyone can kill you at any time for no reason at all as soon as you step out of the town. And they do. A lot. So much for role-playing. But I am dumbfounded at their decision to not have factions. This is just nuts. Hell, maybe there are factions, but i can’t see any, everyone just looks the same – busty women with swords. Am I the only person playing a male toon in here??

I spent time on Conan help boards as I went along. None of it made any sense. They have copied 90% of the WoW interface. It’s almost all the same. So why not just copy 100% and be done with it? Would sure be easier than making the sideways movement buttons S and F or whatever the hell they are. But the worst thing by far, the biggest heachache-inducing pound-your-face-into-the-keyboard-in-abject-frustration factor of them all are the action bars. They suck. You die, you come back to life … and your bars that were horizontal before are now vertical. Or they’ve disppeared. Where have they gone? I don’t know, hey look, what if I die again and come back will they be there? Yes! Oh great, then I’ve solved that one. I can get action bars, I can expand them, I can even move them around. But bind a key to a spell on an action bar, can I do that? After hours of experimenting and toiling around the internets trying to find a solution, I gave up. Maybe it’s there, I’m sure that you can, but the thing is, even for an experienced MMO player it’s impossible to find. So my gameplay devolved to me being a clicker. And I really hate clicking.

So with all the clicking and mindless ganking, is the game any good? It could well be, I’m not sure. It was hard to tell as I spent most of my time either being ganked or scouring the internets trying to work out how the fuck you unlock commands, and them my seven days were up. It’s like they copied all the WoW layout but left out the most usefull and important bits. Which is like designing a woman, Weird Science style and forgetting to put on the tits. Which is ironic, as running around the town, all you get in this game are big busty women being played by awful teenage male gankers.

Would I be willing to pay the money for a 30 day account, reroll on a PvE server and give it another shot? If anyone can help me out with the action bars I might.

I stumbled across a wonderful blog today, GROGNARDIA, which is a blog about old school table-top gaming. The role-playing games from the seventies on which Warcraft eventually spun off from. As I too played these games in their original forms, this blog is of great interest to me. My favorite world setting in D&D was the World of Greyhawk, and on searching this blog I stumbled across a review of it. It brought back a lot of memories, and I continued to search through the site to see what other old-school goodies I could uncover. I found a lot of them, but the one which brought back the most memories was the review of Ravenloft.

Ravenloft was released in 1983 and was a game module. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, game modules were pre-designed adventures which the Dungeon Master, (referee), could use to base a gaming session on. Ravenloft was a classic vampire adventure in a gothic setting. It had several revolutionary features for its time, such as the 3-D maps, the tarot cards to decide which way the adventure would unfold and others. But reading James Maliszewski’s review and the comments after it, I became aware of another aspect of which had slipped past me.

Ravenloft changed the direction in which D&D had been heading. Just a little thing to have missed, I suppose. In short, it introduced a pre-packaged story to the equation, but even more importantly it made the story and the NPC’s bigger and more important than the players themselves. It began the adventure driven story kind of play that still dominates to this day as opposed to the old-school or “Vanilla D&D” of open sand-box style gaming. The sand-box style gaming was, in effect, that you made it up as you went along using the broad outline of the game to keep everything in place. This required a lot of imagination and skill on the part of the players and GM but it had a lot more rewards than just being a pawn in a story or bigger game sort of thing. The GM, in particular, had to be very skilled. He made up the entire world that you played in, the people, the countries, the demographics, the religions, the politics, everything that you can think of. And the players became a part of this.
The new story-driven game killed old school D&D but it can be argued that it saved it as well. Because this new direction opened the game up to a much wider audience, the player who wanted to be spoon-fed a lot more. It probably wasn’t a conscious decision on the part of the company making the game, but it happened and D&D flourished as a result. Now DM’s did not have to be as skilled – they could open a new module and have the whole adventure there ready for them to play through with the players. The game was now a tool-kit and more importantly, you were constrained if the tools were flawed. This in turn led on to the utter abomination that was Dragonlance. And that was when I stopped playing.

World of Warcraft is at the same point now. It has passed through its Vanilla period and become more popular based on specific and conscious decisions from Blizzard, that make perfect sense, and as a result they now have 12 million players. But, much like D&D back in the day, players are now spoon fed the parts of the game that were the biggest challenge in the beginning, with epic items being just one glaring example of this. WoW, like D&D before it, has had to leave its original player-base behind to grow and survive. When D&D left us behind we moved to the very early computer fantasy games, such as Hack and Bards Tale. Now the computer gaming world is the mainstream and as such it leaves gamers such as myself feeling unsatisfied.

So the question is, what is the new direction? Where can we go now to get that challenge back once again?

When MMORG bloggers mention the game Farmville, they usually couple it with an adjective, the usual ones being “stupid” and “pointless”. And who I am I to disagree? It sounds not only stupid and pointless, it sounds utterly fucking ridiculous into the bargain. Stories such as people setting their alarm clocks to wake up at 1 in the monring so they can fertalize their raspberry crop. I can tell you right now that if I have to set my alarm to do that there is only one thing that I would be fertalizing …

And then there are all the stupid messages that crop up on facebook as a result of this. Things like, “Sad-fucking-Sally has just had a black sheep wander into her farm. It’s lonely due to the fact that it is black and unlike the other sheep …”

Sounds slightly racial to me, but then again, what the hell do I know? And what the hell do I care about your stupid black sheep? Butcher it and make a nice yummy lamb cassarole but do not bother me with this shit. Ok, yes, I play WoW, but do you hear me announcing to the world that I have just looted a new-beaut sword plus 777 of death? No, you don’t, cause I refuse to get invloved with the abomination that is Twitter, that’s why.

So us MMORG bloggers like to take the piss out of Farmville. Aren’t we all clever, heh? Yep, I sure do feel clever putting those sad schumcks down who play that game that is free …

Farmville is a revolution in the world of MMORG. This is going to change everything as we know it, just in the way that Facebook did. Before Facebook, spending time on personal computers was mostly for nerds. You would get beaten up by the cool guys at school, and the hot chicks would not look at you for all the botox in the world. But Facebook changed all that. Well, okay so you still get beaten up by the cool guys and the hot chicks still won’t look at you, but now they’re all on personal computers as well! It’s not only cool to be on the internet now, you’re a loser if you’re not. So why is Farmville a revolution? Well, there was still one bastion of being a fucking loser on the internet and that was playing games like World of Warcraft. And the biggest put-down that could be thrown at you was that you were a loser who was wasting his time in your basement playing a dumb game. But now the cool kids have caught up with us and have realised that actually, playing these games in your basement is kind of fun.

Farmville is going to make MMORG’s cool. Now I know that a great deal of people play MMORGs from WoW to EvE online to Second Life, but really they are a drop in the bucket in the total population of people who use Facebook for example. But now everyone on Facebook is apprently into this Farmville stupidity, (see what I did there?), and there is only one logical next step for this mass of new gamers to progress to: MMORGs.

I bet that Blizzard is watching this Farmville revolution very closely and if they’re not, they should be. Because these people could very well be the next huge market for MMORGs. If you can set your alarm to get up at 1am to farm raspberries, you can set it to farm the auction house as well. It’s just one more step on the slippery slope to your parents basement.

I logged on to WoW on Sunday morning around 11am. None of my guildies were on, there were a couple of people that I knew but Dalaran seemed strangely deserted, (everyone was probably off trying to work out how to purchase one of the new vanity pets …) I didn’t feel like doing any dailies, there obviously weren’t any raids going on, I don’t do battlegrounds so nothing happening there. So, what to do?

There wasn’t anything to do to be honest. And at that moment I realised that I hadn’t logged on to play a game and relax a bit. I had logged on because I felt that I had to. I got on my flying mount and flew a bit over Northrend. Maybe I’ll do some fishing, I thought. You know you’re bored when the best thing you can come up with is going fishing. Lets face it, there’s nothing much to do now. Oh sure, there’s heaps of things to do, Blizzard puts all this content in, whah whah whah. There was nothing to do. So I logged off.

More than that, I wasn’t having any fun. It felt like a chore. Am I paying however much it is that I pay per month to take out the garbage? Is that what it equates to? The common knowledge is that WoW begins at level 80. Oh yeah? Then why is it that so many players get to level 80, quickly gear up and then turn around and start leveling another alt again? This is what WoW has been feeling like to me for a while now. The game is being reduced to a series of instant gratification rushes. Like getting that turtle mount. I got a rush out of that. It was so hard to get. And then I had it and it was like … okaaaay. I now have a turtle mount. The rush didn’t last. It’s why I’ve never been hooked on achievements. You’re just always chasing that elusive goal. The Dalaran coin fishing achivement is a great example of this. You fish up all these coins, one after the other, and it gets harder and harder, until there’s only one coin for you to get, and you fish and you fish and all the other coins keep coming up that you’ve already got …

And then you get it.

That last coin.

And you get that flash on your screen, and the sound comes out, and you got it! You got the achivement!

… and then what? Well, that was great, yeah … guess I’ll just go and achieve something else now, try for that little rush again …

This is what the game amounts to now. Little hits of instant gratification. It has to be this way because the game has been systematically dumbed down for the masses. People who play these games are now the main-stream. But for the original WoW crowd, we were never the main-stream. I got my first computer in 1986 and do you think I told girls at school that? Computer games were our secret world. And they were hard, complex, challenging. They were magical.

WoW was magical when I first began playing. I can still remember my first time in Elwyn forest, coming into Goldshire. It was Dungeons & Dragons come to life. Westfall just blew me away. And then the Deadmines, and the gameplay. It was just one thing after another. I used to log off because I had to get some sleep. And when I woke up, before I had even opened my eyes, I was ready to jump back on again.

And now we can buy vanity pets for 10 bucks. And I’m surrounded by people who love them. I used to play games to get away from this. I’m a social guy, don’t get me wrong, I own a nightclub for fucks sake. But video games were my way to get away from the stupidity, from the dumbing down of regular life. And the ironic thing is that I’m now playing what seems to be the most dumbed down game of them all. And the really frustrating thing is that I love my rogue, I love how she plays, I love this game. But it’s gone in a different direction. It’s a victim of its own success. Whereas before it was for a group of people who had lived and breathed these games for years, now it’s on the same level as a facebook application that lets you farm strawberries. The thing that fucks me off the most about the vanity pets is summed up by Tom Chiltons interview on the Instance podcast this week. He said that they had to make the vanity pets so good, such a high level, because people were paying real money for them. Excuse me? I’ve been paying real money to play this game for years. Why didn’t you guys put the same effort into vanity pets before? You mean, to get the really good stuff we have to pay extra? Oh, that’s just awesome.

The funny thing is, nobody cares, at least not many anyway. But I feel that this moment in WoW’s history, when they brought out real money vanity pets, this is the moment when you will be able to look back and see that this was the tipping point. This was the moment when WoW jumped the shark.

Is Age of Conan any good? It’s probably crap, isn’t it.

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