Well, it’s time to do some online gaming.

I knew G+ would be good for this when I first saw Hangouts, but they made them better, and I played in one of Corvus’ Bhaloidam demos (which funded, yay!).   I was busy doing two of the free Stanford classes, as well as running a bi-weekly D&D game. One of those things had to go, and thankfully the classes ended a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to do, and my own time commitment to things.   Basically, I’ve got a couple of things warring within me: Let’s to a bunch of small one-shots of uncommon systems vs. let’s run something familiar, perhaps a module, and just enjoy the process of playing.

Both of these have their advantages.  I’d love to get away from D&D and typical gaming, and try some new things.  A lot of those things are weird, and probably wouldn’t have a lot of staying power, but that’s okay. On the other hand, running a good module well can open up a lot of opportunities for roleplay and lets me focus on making it fun and roleplaying instead of planning dungeons, to schedule.

So I’m going to split the difference a bit.  I’ve got two time slots for every month — basically the Sunday afternoons (EST) that we don’t run our regular pen and paper D&D game.  I’ve got two one-shot modules. One is for Pathfinder which is not quite D&D but for whom there are rich modules that play to my strengths as a game master.  The other is a Dresden Files module with pre-generated characters and situation.

Both of these would be a good introductions to the systems, and let me and the players get a feel for how to do things on Hangouts.  If, after playing them, we want to do a full on DFRPG or Pathfinder, we’ll do that if there’s a commitment to do it.  If not, then perhaps we’ll try some other stuff.

The first game, which will be running the Pathfinder Module “We Be Goblins” (where players play as those disgusting and hilarious eponymous creatures), I’ll run on Sunday January 8th at 1:00pm EST.   The second, a Dresden Files RPG Casefile called “Evil Acts” which is chest-deep (relatively powerful) one-shot adventure at the intersection of mystery, the supernatural, and a theater production of The Tempest.  That one I will run two weeks later, on January 22nd at 1:00pm EST.

Please comment here on this post, or greet me on twitter or G+ where this post is linked if you are interested.  You will need a G+ account, and a microphone to play (a camera would be a bonus, but not required).  If you have interest, but these times aren’t great, still let me know, and I’ll add you to my not pen and paper circle on G+ so you’ll know what’s going on and what is upcoming.

You won’t need rules for these games.  Pathfinder has free basic rules online, and I have a cheatsheet for DFRPG.   I’ve got 4 slots open for the Pathfinder one-shot (a longer running game could accommodate more) and have up to 6 slots open for DFRPG.  Observers will be welcome once we fill the slots.

I don’t completely remember my first gaming experience.  I know it was one of the few at my friend Blair’s house, before his father — a Southern Baptist minister — decided what we were doing was demonic (So we switched to Traveller when we were at Blair’s).  I do remember that my red-box human cleric died, and Blair handed me another character, “Belwe” a cleric with perhaps the lowest Intelligence I’ve ever played.Belwe went on to horribly ruin his relationship with his god, when he failed to capture the sould of what I believe was the lich in Tomb of Horrors.  Still, something about that: making up stuff that you could do, rolling dice, the bit of sadistic glee of the youth minister who ran the games was fun.  The morals of the time meant we switched to Traveller fairly quickly, but I picked up a red box set, then the AD&D books, along with Traveller, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, DC Heroes and Champions.

I was, to put it mildly, completely hooked.

I was also a tinkerer.  D&D wasn’t quite right — why were demi-humans capped in level? Traveller had too many different types of guns.  Champions’ point-buy character creation was too easy to manipulate, and so on.

So I went on the search for the perfect gaming system, even as I kept playing D&D and Traveller.  Generic systems interested me, GURPS tried to hard to allow all genres all the time, and FUDGE required a lot of setup work and had problems with advancement. FATE (which is based on FUDGE) answered helped with a lot of that, but you still needed skill lists for the players, for whatever setting you decided to settle on.

Even so, I was changing as a gamer. I cared less and less about the system, and how it simulated the world, and more and more about having fun and telling good stories.  I started writing more and more, and telling tales became more important.

I started looking at narrativist games.  These games tied the mechanics of their systems heavily into the story world and the character motivations.  They were limited in scope — you always play an amnesiac in A Penny for My Thoughts; you always play a horrible minion in My Life With Master.  These games vary, but in general they get player buy in to the setting by tying character, mechanics and setting tightly together.

In doing so, through the character and mechanics, it invest the player in the story.  In most of these games, players can frame scenes or decide how they work out.  In some the GM is very limited in what she can do, to allow for more player freedom and involvement in the story.

None of these systems were perfect, but they were often perfect microcosms.  Instead of one big perfect game, you had many that were perfect within their scope.  The problem is, you have a fun game, and you say “Anyone want to play amnesiacs, or people who don’t sleep, or…” whatever, but it’s not quite what everyone wants to do.  So you play a bit more D&D.

And that is where we get to Bhaloidam.

The first time I saw someone play Bhaloidam (long before it was called that) was at PAX.  Corvus and I were friends from online — I’d been following his blog for some time, and we’d been talking on IRC for a while.  Meeting him (and a bunch of other people) was one of my main reasons to go to PAX.  Another, not wholly unrelated, was to see and play Bhaloidam.

I watched as Corvus ran the players (three folks I didn’t recognize nor remember) through what sounded like a fairly typical RPG scenario.  They were homeless teens, being trained or taunted by a Fagin type character.  This was a battle, and I watched as they rolled dice, and moved around the board. One of the players said, “I’m going to knock him into the trashcan.”

“No, no,” Corvus said.  “Roll the dice first, then tell me what happened.”

And I thought hmmm.

The dice were rolled, and it went very well for the player.  “Now,” Corvus said, “You can do something else if you want, because the dice is more than you need than to just attack him.”  He went on to describe the mechanical aspects, which involved moving the Fagin character behind a trashcan or something, and improving the overall lot of the part in creative ways.

Players already have some investment in their characters.  Some expand that to an investment in the story being told.  By letting these player say what happened, to tell the story that makes their characters heroes (or whatever they want them to be), Bhaloidam was leveraging that investment into investment in the story.  Like narrativist games, the storytelling balance shifts a bit from the GM to the players, and everyone gets more involved.

My turn to try out the game came a few hours later.with several of my closer online friends: Dierdre Kiai, Travis Megill, and Max Battcher.  “We’re doing something different, if you don’t mind,” Corvus said.

“Go for it,” I said.  Different is good. If I wanted to fight enemies, I have a bookcase full of D&D books.

He then went on to describe to me what has become known as the Kiai-Megill variant.  I had a slip of paper with a secret, a suspicion and a short background written on it.  I had one of the character boards, and quickly placed my token on it, describing my character.  (Or it was done for me — I’ve done it several times since, and it’s pretty straightforward, and probably even easier with actual tokens in your hand than on a spreadsheet).

In this version, which Corvus writes about recently, and which Travis described closer to the time we played, we didn’t move about a board.  We could talk, when it was our turn (and we could adjust when that was).  As our Ego was spilt (as we lost health, so to speak), we could be pushed to reveal some of our secrets, suspicions or other information.  The whole thing was just us talking, but it felt balanced, nuanced and yet mechanically played just like the earlier group who was fighting.

Most of narrativist games today do that by tying everything to the setting, but Corvus has found a good way to do that without tying to setting, so we can collectively tell any story we can imagine. I’m pretty sure that Bhaloidam is my next step along the way of searching for that perfect game.  I’ve backed the Kickstarter, and so can you.

If there had never been another Elder Scrolls game, Arena would have been forgotten, or fondly remembered by a few gamers but largely ignored today.  Perhaps there would have been a bad third-person console game made from the license a few years ago, and then nothing else.  Instead the parts of Arena that are interesting today aren’t the main gameplay elements, but the rich, fertile soil of everything else that surrounds and feels almost extraneous to the actual play of the game.

The brick which hold Arena together is dungeon crawling.  You find a dungeon (either by wandering there yourself, or by following the very bare-bones plot), you enter and kill monsters and gather treasure, balancing treasure against what you can physically carry (which seemed both a maximum number of items as well as a maximum weight of items — the latter affected by your strength statistic).  You level up, which gets you more health, mana and stamina and makes you better at fighting; more importantly the equipment you find makes the biggest difference.  You get to the bottom of the dungeon — and if you’re on a quest — get the Maguffin of Awesomeness, and get out and move on to the next thing… which is also a dungeon crawl.

Each dungeon is a set of 2D levels filled with monsters, some optional some not.  There are a lot of ways to deal with them: melee, bows, magic spells.  Be invisible, or use passwall to undo the maze of the dungeon, if you can.  Each ends in a riddle more appropriate for a modern westerner, but not completely out of place (unlike the one in Swords of Xeen that asked my who the captain of the Enterprise-D was).

The levels are hard, often brutal and were what ultimately crushed my desire to keep playing.  There wasn’t anything amazing about them — they were just hard, and it wasn’t getting better.  This is possibly due — at least in part — to my getting one of the best non-magical swords in the game in the first or second dungeon.  With no improvement, things just kept getting harder and harder and more frustrating.  Eventually I got tired of hammering my head against these bricks, but they weren’t the most interesting thing, anyway.

The mortar which holds these bricks together is the world of Tamriel itself.  It’s a huge world — the largest of any of the TES games, Arena covers all the provinces of the Empire — the worlds of Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim are all contained within it. The different provinces are here, the playable races where they are from, the cities.  You can go to Daggerfall and Wayrest; Mournhold and Ebonheart.   The cities are populated by (largely) the race from that province, and you can talk to them about work; or where there’s a nearby temple, inn, shop or mages guild; or even about who they are and what they do (I met a disproportionate number of butchers).

The inns are there for rest and side quests — the majority of which were about taking someone from one location in the city to another, or typical fetch quests.  These paid cash — more as you leveled — that would help you buy or repair your equipment, get more potions and spells.  In my play through the main quest, I rarely bought equipment — that early good sword kept me from needing it, and my chosen class prohibited most armor, but I did repair my main weapon several times (this took days of game time, passed in an inn). The Mages guild has a spellmaker that wasn’t very different than the one in Oblivion, and sold potions which were pretty necessary for navigating the dungeons.

All of this is evocative of the later games, and the forms are there — if refined and made more complex (or simpler, in some cases).  It hit me when I was in Hammerfell, which I think is the province of the first staff piece/maguffin retrieval quest.  It was the names of the Inns, and my knowledge of the Redguards (I enjoyed the game Redguard enough that I paid more attention to them in later games, and to Sentinel in Daggerfall when I replayed it years ago).   I can’t quite place specifics, but the names felt right for what I knew of those people.  Swords and ships and desert, and a refugee people — it was there.  Maybe it was in the minds of some BethSoft people back then, or maybe they looked through all these names and worked into the subconscious of the writers.

I like to think that it’s the latter, and that all this grew naturally from the early seed that is Arena.  From what I know about the Warp in the West (which I’ll discuss more in my Daggerfall article), I think that’s the case.  Without all that later germination, though, this game would just be hard — some part of it would be fun, as it the difficulty and newness of it (new to me, anyway) was quite fun.

But mostly, for me, it was tourism.  Going to places I had been before, in the future of the game (Daggerfall and Wayrest). Places I couldn’t quite go yet (Skyrim).  Looking back on just how much raw materials were there to make the next game — both the richness and the flaws of Elder Scrolls are here in Arena.  I’ll talk more about that in my Daggerfall posts, because I think exemplifies all the best and worst of the Elder Scrolls.




For a moment, something breaks me out of what I’m doing, and I realize that I’m leaning forward, chewing on my upper lip. My right hand is glued to my mouse and my left on the ever-popular WASD keys, which I spent half an hour mapping. On the screen is a horribly pixellated dungeon.  My BattleMage, Zhenette is there, on the first level of Fang Lair.  She’s there to retrieve the first part of the Staff of Chaos, but is resting for a moment, after defeating her first wight.

I’d been following the “right-hand rule”, after the first two extremely large dungeons of Arena, I’d given up on searching the whole thing. Right-hand rule would get me to most of it, and I’d be leaving laden down with treasure, leaving behind quite a lot — and hopefully by now I knew what things to leave behind.

The wight had little treasure, but the two battlemages who showed up while I was resting had armor I could wear.  I hadn’t so much forgotten to buy armor in the last town as run out of money on spells.  I nearly died in the last dungeon because I’d been diseased by some ghouls. Then I accidentally saved over my “safe” savegame, and was just screwed.  I hadn’t found the part of the interface which told me I was diseased, so I thought I was fine, until I tried to travel back, my quest done.

And on the way back I died, and then I died again, when I tried for somewhere closer.  I drank all my potions, not sure what they were, and the last one — of course — was a cure disease potion.  I took the scroll the Queen wanted to her, and she showed me the way to Fang Lair.

I waited a bit, I was getting better at fighting, both leveling and the actual physical skill of fighting — the Elder Scrolls games, particularly the early ones — make this a more visceral, first person experience.  Arena doesn’t have skills like the later games, so it’s your stats, and your mousing that decide how well you hit.

So, I bought some spells, both cure disease, and some fire resistance since I’d heard Fang Lair had lava pits, and that tapped me out.  But finally I was ready.

I was mastering the dugeon pretty well, and it looked like there was this small section that I hadn’t explored.  It was to the left, but things were good.  So I delved into a mineshaft, and headed north.  I popped out in the small room, and something was pelting me with a spell I’d never seen.  And I was suddenly out of spell points and there was a wight in my way.

Heart pumping I swung my sword, heartened that it even worked — I wasn’t sure it would.  Eventually it died or went away (no body I could see), and I was nearly dead.  There were enough spell points for a healing spell, so I cast it, saved my game and rested to recover.  The two battlemages I mentioned showed up, and I killed them quickly.  Looting their body, I finally got some leather armor that I could wear. I healed again, and rested again. That rest was interrupted by ghouls, who promptly diseased me.

At least I had  my spell.  I tried to cast the spell, and it didn’t work — I’d neglected to see how many spell points it cost to cast; I was low on spell points, so if I rested again I might have enough.  I had a save, sure, but that was before I got the armor.  I rested again, and that’s when I realized I was leaning forward, anxious, wondering if this was going to work.

I so rarely have this experience in new games. I think it’s because I trust them.  They’re going to make sure I make it to the end.  There’s probably three ways to solve any problem, just in case, and you can’t ever really screw yourself.  TES: Arena makes no such promises (and neither did Daggerfall or Morrowind; once I got bitten by a rat in Vvardenfell, and I couldn’t move, nor would I ever be able to again.  Load a save, and carry better spells/potions next time were my only options).

Later, after defeating the wights and returning to my right-hand path, I was leaning back, my feet propped up on an old speaker.  I’m confident again, and doing well: the spell had worked, and I wasn’t diseased, and I’d rested fully so I was full health.  Nothing was beating me.  I climbed out of the mineshaft, and four minotaurs surrounded me.  My feet found the floor and I leaned forward.

This might be a hard battle.

A few months ago, I started a campaign with my Shattered Earth setting.  It was the product of some soul-searching about what makes a game fun for me as a GM, and what makes a game fun for the particular players that I have. As such, the setting is quite different than anything I’ve done before, and the restrictions I’ve put on myself have led for some interesting storytelling.  One thing that appeals to me is that I don’t see just one story here, or one campaign.  There’s more than I can do in this setting than a single game, and that makes me happy.

Constraints are wonderful things, and lead to a burst of creativity.  For SE, I had a few important constraints: I invited a lot of people, from all over, all of whom have fairly conflicting schedules. It was originally going to be an online game (and I could still do this in the future).  It would be easy for someone to be at one session, then never again for weeks when they’d show up for another session.  One of our players who has been regular since she showed up will be dropping in and out, I suspect, as her work schedule changes.

To accommodate this, I made two changes to the way I normally run things.  First, I calculate experience for everyone who was there on a per player basis, then I reward that to everyone.  It means everyone is always the same level, so those who can’t show up don’t fall behind.  To reward the players who are there, and for extraordinary play, I’ve added faction tokens, which can be turned in for favors from factions, or for a bonus for dealing with the faction.

I don’t have concrete mechanics for this yet, but the tokens represent influence with a faction, and that’s not always spent.  I’ll probably require that the players relinquish a token for something big and extraordinary, but that the total represents how the group gets along with them.  It hasn’t been used a lot yet, but we’re still in an introductory part of the adventure, where I’m putting things into play.

The other important thing is that whatever I run has to be done the day we start it.  There can be threads that carry over (and there are a lot of those right now).  But no stopping in the middle of a dungeon, or in the middle of the mystery of the week.  (I reserve the right to have a multi-session murder mystery sometime.)  This way there’s no hand-waving about where a character came from or went to in the middle of the dungeon.

In fact this requirement has largely done away with the large dungeon crawl, which I’ve come to realize is one of the things I have the least patience with as a GM.  They are fun to draw and set up, but they’re a bit of a bore to get through.  There’s no spontaneity to a dungeon — it’s all drawn there on your paper, and while you have plans that surely get wrecked by the party, often that’s not the case.

Instead, what I’ve been doing is borrowed form 4E, where I design encounters.  Those encounters are connected by plot, or a hallway, or whatever. I can make that up that day, out of several plans, and in response to the party.  I can say, “I like that” when someone says something at the table, and change the plot to make that work.  (Sometimes I forget to say “I like that”, but it does happen fairly often.)

A recent article I read talked about making combat go faster, and after timing it the author realized that he as GM was the main time sync, and had gone about trying to fix it.  I thought about that, and for the last couple game sessions, I’ve written all the stats for the main monster groups on a 3×5 card, and pre-rolled initiative in the upper right corner.  The players all have a card too, with their init on it, and I just work through the stack.

The only thing that doesn’t work well is HP counting as the NPC isn’t on a card in front of me when the player attacks, but otherwise it goes much faster.  I only had to consult the rule books twice on our session on Saturday. Once was because I thought I’d written something down on the card wrong (I hadn’t, but I could have been neater) and I don’t remember what the other was about, unfortunately.

The other thing he talked about was having a self-made GM Screen with the rules you need on it.  I don’t use a screen, but I did print out the rules on object damage, since that was a key to the adventure and something I was rusty on.  All in all, we ran 6 combat sessions (one, particularly the last one was incredibly short), but we’ve normally only been able to do 2. I was worried about time, and we were done right on time for dinner, which made me happy.

No one was frustrated, including me, and things went well.  I plan to keep working with this system,expanding on it as I go.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Avencast is an action RPG by ClockStone Software, an Austrian game development company.  I’d never heard of it, until I saw it on Steam, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it either.  I’ve found that a lot of Action RPGs, like this one, don’t make a big splash within my user community.

In Avencast you play as a student in a school of mages, just coming of age when the whole place is attacked by demons.  The rest of the game is spent fighting demons and possessed apprentices and masters, doing quests for the few survivors and trying to stop the demon invasion.  The story itself isn’t bad for a gaming story, but it’s primarily an excuse for all the fighting. One of the story arcs ends on a comedic note right before the final big battle, which feels a bit off to me, but again, story isn’t this games’ strong point.

In fact the story is pretty much what you’d expect, nothing fancy.  This game does take risks though, and that’s worth talking about.

Most of the action RPGs I’ve played are based on the Diablo click-to-slay model.  A power or attack is mapped to each of the mouse buttons (with a quick keypress to swap those things around) and you click on monsters to kill them, and click on things to pick them up, and so forth. It’s a mouse oriented game, with either a fixed camera, or one which floats over the shoulder of your hero, or something simple like that.  Torchlight uses the same interface, with the button bar at the bottom mapped to hotkeys (aka the World of Warcraft interface model).

Avencast is nothing like this at all.

Instead, the system is more based on that of fighting games, where you push a sequence of keys (left, up, down) and then a mouse button (left for melee attack, right for ranged) in order to cast a spell.  The spell then goes off based on it’s area of affect — some summon monsters or add buffs, some have a cone or line based on your facing and the placement of your mouse.  I played as a ranged character, so the melee method may be more click-to-kill, since you’d probably click directly on the enemy you want to attack, but ranged required some aiming, and thought about the shape of the spell.

The key combinations were frustrating, and since you were pressing your movement keys, the combination of facing, and movement to cast spells made things awkward.  A guide suggested some alternate keymappings, and I was able to map the 1-8 keys to 8 spells — I needed more of that, but I could then put 8 spells up on the screen so I could see their combos, and that got me through the game.

It was an interesting experiment, I think, and it somewhat worked.  Although I realized to myself how much I made it into the Blizzard style interface that is becoming common, in large part, I think, because it works. Having to do fighter-combo type spells while being in a third person viewpoint was a bit awkward at first, but 12 hours or so into the game it became easier — by then I’d largely settled into the spells and types of spells I’d be casting, though, and had seen most kinds of monsters and had strategies for fighting them.

Overall (on Easy) it took me 16 hours to play it (thanks Steam for counting), and while I might have a more refined thought about the game if I played a bit on melee, there’s nothing there to call me back to it.

There are things which are annoyances today — not everything that was clickable (the various things which are containers in the world don’t glow or highlight when moused over, so I’m sure I missed much of them).  The overall experience was a bit grind-y, as the only reason to go to some areas was to kill more monsters (and since they don’t respawn this is necessary to level).

According to the game’s wiki, Avencast’s engine was written by the founder of ClockStone, and he had several people working with him, none of whom had any previous experience in game design.  This sufficiently explains the rough edges of the game to me, and those are largely why I probably won’t play it again

I am glad my alphabetical playthrough forced me to do it, as this game had an interesting idea or two in it.  It was just buried under some learning curves and rough edges that were frustrating.


I blame Steam.  Or maybe GoG.com

Either way, it’s useful to have someone to blame.

I went a long time with a substandard PC, and played a lot of PS2 and Xbox games.  I joined GameFly and got games that way and other ways. I had been a sort-of PC gamer, and I became a console gamer.  The origins of this blog (on my poor dead computer SarahBellum) were in writing about console games — with the knowledge that the games I most loved were PC ones.   Despite this, when Oblivion came out, I didn’t have a PC that could run it. Nor Neverwinter Nights 2, or the Witcher. (One must note that this PC ran World of Warcraft just fine, thankyouverymuch).

I started doing some game reviews for other sites, and Tam and I decided I needed a slightly better computer (it was time for both of us).  I got a nice video card, enough memory, and (eventually) a copy of Windows 7.  The stagnation in monitor resolution has meant that video cards didn’t change enough to matter, and while I’ve had this computer for some time, it runs pretty much every PC game just fine.

And that’s when Steam came around.  My first game? Audiosurf — thanks to Ben Abraham and several other friends.  It was free, or nearly so one day, so I downloaded it — and the steam client it required.  Things were stable for a while, and Steam started having sales. GoG started adding older games I’d never properly played.  But it was mainly Steam that did it.  Their Christmas sale in 2009 ballooned my game list.  Again in the summer of 2010 and in the winter (although, since a lot of what was on sale was their back catalog, and I’ve bought most of that…it didn’t balloon so much last Christmas).  I’m sure there will be another sale this summer.

But, here’s the thing, many of these games are big and complicated, they take time to play and effort to stay focused with, and there are a lot of them, all sort of vying for attention.  Half the time I just play SpaceChem, or Cogs, or go to Kongregate for a small amuse-bouche game.  Kat bugs me about it when I tell her “so and so game is on sale today for just FOUR DOLLARS.”  She says, “How many of those games have you even downloaded [ed: most of them]?  How many of them have you played? [ed: almost most of them]  For any length of time?”  She adds the last because she knows what a pedant I am.  And the answer? Not even close to almost most of them.

There are several indie games on there, bought as packs or through the Humble Indie Bundle, but there are a ton of my favorite kind of game: the RPG.  A ton of them that I never played, or never got very far in or just couldn’t tackle.  They are the very model of the sort of big, complicated game I don’t try to play on a whim some night.  I need some sort of motivation, a plan or a procedure to decide what I’m going to do.  Something to keep me on one game, to keep that cacophony of games crying out to be played a bit quieter (or less distracting).

The answer that I’ve chosen is to play them alphabetically.

In fact, I’ve already started.  I finished up the very first Steam RPG on my list yesterday: Avencast. I’ll write a bit about it tomorrow.  Some games I’m not sure if they are RPGs or not, some games have sequels.  For the former problem, I’m going to try to be inclusive. For the latter, I’m giving myself an alphabetical exemption to the sequels.  I’ll intersperse them among other games as I get to them.  [Gothic is the worse offendoer — and for those who say I should have started with Arcania — Gothic 4, I can only say it makes more sense to play that after Gothic 3. I don’t intend to be foolishly consistent.]

The other other thing that I considered is that I have a lot of games (and thus, RPGs) which are not Steam games.  I have the whole Might and Magic series through GoG.com, as well as Arcanum [Which really, really should have been first.]  I’ll post the list soon, as I compile it, and I’ll fill back in as I add more games. It’ll help break up the Ds, Gs, and Ms with their Dragons and Dungeons and Gothics and Mights.

I won’t be replaying anything I finished completely (with the possible exception of M&M: Swords of Xeen), and there are a few games I don’t want to play (like the M&M’s 1-3).  There are a few games I don’t have yet, but probably want: Witcher 2, Skyrim [no probably about it], Avadon and Frayed Knights.  Din’s Curse sounds interesting, as do some other games — but I’m going to try to limit these as the goal is to play what I have.  You haven’t seen the list,yet, but there’s a good chance I won’t be done before Diablo III is out.

I’ll post the list soon, and we can discuss what’s missing — and why.  I’d be interested to hear what folks have to say.  I’m playing Arcanum now, and will have a post about Avencast up in a few days.



There are a lot of people who really want to be published authors.  They’ll do just about anything to be one, and that opens them up to scam artists and other people who desire to take advantage of them.  There are people who pose as literary agents, taking fees from authors to represent them, when in actuality they’re supposed to get points on your book. There are contests that make you sign over your rights to the work, and may not even pay out prizes.  There’s a whole page on SFWA about scams for authors, because the draw there: to be published, to see your name on paper is so strong, it makes people stupid for the chance.

Here’s the thing: if you’re good enough to get published, people will pay you.  That’s how it works: an author writes, and they get paid.  If you’re not good enough to get published, then the scams won’t do anything but lose you money.

Simply put: You should get paid for your work.



QA testing is one of the hardest jobs in IT.  It’s a difficult thing in the first place.  Then add to that fact that if you do that job, you have to go to those egotistical programmers and tell them that yes, again, their code is broken.  The messenger gets shot a lot.  I know, I’m an egotistical programmer.

(I’ve worked in manufacturing environments too, and nobody likes the QC people there, either. It’s their job to find mistakes, and nobody likes being told they make mistakes.)

But smart programmers (even egotistical ones) recognize that QA people make their code, their product better.  The difference between an MMO in beta, and that MMO at launch is QA. And that’s important.

So, like writers, QA people should be paid for their jobs.  But the thing I know is this: some people want to be in the gaming industry so badly that they’ll do anything for it, even falling for scams like this.  Or crappy contests.

And yes, I know the two names behind those links are huge names in the gaming industry.  But QA is hard, important work.  It’s not fun, but it can be fulfilling.  And you should be paid to do the job, not pay the companies who are benefiting from your work.

Frankly I think these two are the same scams, targeting the same kind of people: earnest,passionate people with dreams.  And it makes me a sick.

Get paid for your work, you deserve it.


As I said yesterday, I abandoned doing the big rift events, and focused on leveling my character.  I killed 10 of those and 5 of that, and used this thing on that thing and fought the monster that popped out.  I died a couple of times, and leveled three or four times.  If you’ve ever been to Azeroth, you’ve seen what I’ve saw Sunday morning.

I wound up going to a city that was confusing to navigate, and got a bunch of quests, one of which was for another soul.  One of them was to pick up five pieces of paper that were strewn about the city.  Another was to talk to three people in the city.  Unfortunately it was a labyrinth, the map was confusing, and I found that I really didn’t care to do it.

There were PvP quests, and I’ve done those before, but in WAR it felt like that was what the game was about.  In Rift the story seems to be that the two sides are fighting because they can’t agree on how to fight the real enemy.  It seems like a stupid (if very human) reason to fight, so I had nothing invested in PvP (WoW feels much the same to me).  I was tired of killing monsters for random reasons and clicking on glowy things for NPCs. I was tired of that over a year ago when I quit WoW.

Rift’s advertising says “You’re not in Azeroth anymore.”  No, it’s not. It’s Azeroth’s clone.  The design document for Rift feels like “go play WoW and make the interface like that.” There are talent trees, called up by the same key as in WoW. The spells and combat feel the same, the quest are the same.  It’s another generic fantasy world.  So there’s no races called “orc” and “elf”: both sides in Rift can be sexy looking or ugly, although there’s that disturbing dark/light dichotomy that’s foolish.

The central conceit I got out of the newbie areas was a war between religious fundamentalists and scientific rebels.  Since the gods without a doubt exist, that’s intersting — and it’s dropped for the middle-level grinding.  That is just like everything you ever did in Azeroth, minus the public events.  They try to bring you into the lore, some of it is interesting, but it doesn’t feel tied into the central conceit of the game, so just feels disjointed.

And ultimately the problem with the game is this: it’s $45 plus a $15/mo subscription.  Guild Wars 2 which offers many of the same alternatives to WoW that Rift seems to has no subscription. Other games don’t sell their box at all. Even as I played the Rift Beta, I was thinking “In six months this game is going to be $7, just like Star Trek Online, or free like Champions.”  And the thing is, at least those games weren’t complete rips on WoW.

Let’s be honest: Rift is a beautiful game, it works well, I only had a couple of odd issues and one happened during a stress test of the server. It’s well polished, and fits right in its genre perfectly.  Thousands of excellent art and developer hours went into this game: and it shows.

It’s really too bad they decided to make a game just like WoW.  Because you don’t beat WoW by being WoW.

This is a bit of a spoiler for the newbie areas of Rift.  It’s also the strongest argument I can give for playing the game, so I feel justified.

Throughout the Defiant tutorial/newbie zone, you’re trying to fix the time machine that will send you back to before everything became unsalvageable.  It’s the best they can do, so when you’re ready you go up the promontory where the time machine sits, and talk to the person there who knows what is going on.  As he powers up the machine, a rift forms over it, and things start pouring out of it.

Or perhaps you climb the promontory to see one of your fellow defiants already there, fighting the things pouring out of the rift. A button flashes on your UI to “Join Public Group”  you do, and then you are in a group with that person, fighting.  You can fight and help without them, the quest is forced on you, and placed at the top of your tracker, so you always know what is going on.  At this point it’s the only thing on your list anyway.

You fight, and eventually one of the NPCs that was helping you fights the big bad of the game, Regulos, while you slip backward in time, to avert this future from ever happening.  It’s kind of epic and fun, and whoever happens on it can help, and they do.  I ran three characters through the Defiant starting zone, and once I started it and twice I helped.  One of those times I had to run it twice, because I didn’t quite have the flags properly set — it’s a beta, I’m sure they’ll make that clearer.

Eventually, you’re dumped into a wider area, where you see the twisting clouds with tentacles falling down that marks the existence of a rift.  You get a power that lets you go into one of them, and start the public/rift event which is associated with it.  I never did this, because there always seemed to be an event going on while I was in the area.

I did my first one on Thursday.  There were at least 50 people in the area, all of them working on different facets of the event — fighting invasions, protecting wardstones, and closing rifts. Taking part gets you some special currency “Planarite” which is used for quest turn-ins and purchasing specialty equipment — I never got enough to buy anything, so I can’t say what it is.  I know I could have gotten it, though.  Particularly during the beta and probably easily early in the game.

It’s easy to join a public group, and with so many people it became a raid (basically: a group of groups) and we all shared in what was going on, it seemed. Admittedly with so many people it was hard to tell what was going on.  The final boss wasn’t too complicated, as there was only one of him, but some of the skirmishes had 10-15 enemies, all of them moving around.  I was playing my warrior so it was hard to stay by whatever I was fighting.  Ranged DPS might have been easier.

I woke up really early Sunday morning — because I do, but also because I realized it would be quieter then, and I’d get to see something.  See,the problem with public events is that they’re great when an area is populated, but in general the only populated areas on a  mature MMO are the newbie area, and the top level areas.  The stuff in the middle (and by now I was getting into ‘middle’ territory) becomes a vast wasteland.  WAR had a real problem with that, not the least because WoW’s Lich King expansion siphoned off all their players, and made some of their public events impossible for solo players or small groups.

On Sunday there weren’t that many people in the zone, and the area I was trying to turn in regular quests was swarmed with elite monsters. I died twice just trying to see if I could find a healer.  I fought some, but it was beyond anything I could handle.  Now, someone started this quest, and they were probably off fighting it (they eventually won it) but they weren’t near me, and I was being overrun.  This seems like a bad plan to me.  Certainly there was no way I could solo or small group this (there were, in fact 3-4 other people around me in the same boat, dying with regularity).

Dying is just money, and not that much of it, really.  It’s the same in WoW (represented by broken equipment, Rift uses a different mechanism). It beats losing experience, like EQ did, but it’s annoying when random events invade places that are essentially ‘safe’.  And I get the feeling Rift is going to have a problem with this, once the server matures.  Guild Wars 2 has said they have a solution for that, I guess we’ll see when it comes out.  (GW2 has the advantage of not charging a monthly fee, but more about that tomorrow.)

The nice thing about public events are that they break up the monotony of killing 7 monsters, or picking up 7 things from the ground.  Believe me when I say I had a surfeit of those kinds of quests.  But they need to scale to the zone population, and be accessible to whomever is there. That may be true in Rift — maybe there were lots of high-level folks nearby, and not at my location.  On the other hand, though, this would be  great way to grief other players, starting events and then doing nothing until they’re lost.

Either way, I was ultimately left unsatisfied by these things, and concentrated on getting through the grist mill quests so that I could see something different.

The results of that, and my final thoughts about RIFT tomorrow.