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Archive for October, 2011

Winging It

I’ve noted before that I love flying in World of Warcraft.  So much so that threats to flight bother me more than the bugaboo of the week, the apparently shark-allied Pandaran pandas.

Just to make my quirky heavy Explorer position a bit clearer, it’s instructive to look at how I’ve spent my time since acquiring Cold Weather Flight, which allowed my Tauren Druid to fly pretty much anywhere in the overworld.

95% of my play time since then has been in the air.

I take a lot of screenshots.  Let’s call it an occupational hazard, working on art in the game industry as I do.  I like to see what’s out there.  I think I have about 8,000 screenshots of WoW over about 1 year of play total (spread out over almost 5 years).

Then again, I also take a lot of photos in the real world.  My children call them “daddy dork” photos, where I take shots purely for texture or lighting reference.  I’ve taken about 400 real world photos this month (I love digital cameras), and half of them have been “daddy dork” photos.  Someday I’ll collect them all and offer them on CD or something like Mayang does.

I’ve not played much since I ran out of game time in March (F2P/Starter Thumpin experiment aside, of course), but recently, Blizzard offered me 14 free days to come look around.  They really wanted me to look at the new Firelands content.

So naturally, I tried to get the best screenshots of Gilneas that I could.

Y’see, I ran into this excellent “Gilneas Time Capsule” article a while back, and I wanted to get some shots of the place with a character who can fly.  Worgen can get the best shots of Duskhaven (since it is destroyed as you progress through the area, and Horde characters never see it intact), but not from the air.  I love to get aerial shots to really get a sense of the scope of the cities and world features of the game.  There are also some things and views that you’ll just never get from the ground.

I’m taking advantage of some quirks of the phasing system in WoW.  There’s this dramatic story of the Forsaken invasion of Gilneas that drives low level Forsaken and Worgen questing, but it’s told in phases with the world changing here and there as you progress.  If you ignore the Forsaken Front quests, and just fly into the city itself, the city is completely empty (and so is pretty much anything past the Greymane Wall).  It’s pretty much a ghost town, so you can get great shots of the terrain and town.  Oddly enough, you can even fly into Greymane Manor and take some high angle shots of the interior.

So I’ve been exploring Gilneas.  I’m still deciding where else I want to get shots of while I still have access.  There’s a world out there, I want to see it.

…and yes, I’d totally do the same thing in real life if I could fly (OK, and if I had the time).  I’d take a camera and fill up a few memory cards every few days.

Anyway, here are some of my Gilneas shots, and a couple of real world photos, just for fun.  This is a great time of year for tree photos.

Gilneas Greymane Mansion

Gilneas City

Gilneas Sub

Gilneas Sub Interior

Greymane Mansion Interior

Gilneas Meeting Tree

Fall Colors

Tree Variety

Leaf Spectrum

Provo Canyon

Multigrain on the Cob

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First the links:

MMO Melting Pot’s roundup (which includes a lot of other excellent articles, the following are just what caught my eye)

Elder Game on perfecting game design (instead of expanding it)

Panda reactions in the TAGN household (and an interesting generational divide)

Wolfshead called it?

The Grumpy Elf is… happy?

…and then there’s my reaction:

Pandaren don’t bother me any more than the other silly anthropomorphic races in the game.  I think there are more furries than human-like humanoids.  So, sure, why not more?  Beyond that, the game has never been all that serious.  Haris Pilton and Wowpo can coexist.

Monks?  Sure, why not.  I won’t play one.  I played without auto-attack in Allods Online, and I just didn’t like it.  I do like that Monks are full hybrids, though, able to fill any trinity role.  I’m not surprised they went that way.

Pokemon-ish minipet battles?  Seems like a silly thing to dev spend time on, but maybe it will work out for them.  I did love Pokemon back in the day when I had tons of free time, so it’s not like I’m opposed to it.  I’m just not in that “time rich” bracket any more, so it won’t do much for me.

Talent tree amputation is a little strange, but hey, if it results in a system where players can respec talents on the fly for free, that’s a step closer to what I’d like anyway (full respec on the fly, all the way down to class choice), so I’ll call that a cup half full.

No, all the big controversial stuff doesn’t matter much to me.  The part that bugs me far more than I expected is a little throwaway line:

“No flying until max level”

Yeah… I’m hoping that’s only in Pandaren territory.  If it’s worldwide, well… color me displeased.  Really displeased.  Flight is a marvelous tool for exploration, and I don’t want to have to buy the latest expansion to access flight.  I know, I know, some have argued that flight trivializes ground-based content, and there’s some truth to that.  Thing is, flight is freedom, flight is exploration.  Losing those don’t sit well with me.

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In news which should come as a shock to absolutely nobody, apparently Star Wars The Old Republic, the new Bioware MMO, is pretty much World of Warcraft with a different coat of paint and voiceovers.  Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a great article up thisaway:

Hands On The Old Republic, Part One

The part that sticks out to me is the notion that SWTOR’s “kill ten rats” quests are different because we somehow care about what is happening.  (Have you ever noticed that the argument is almost always “it’s different this time”, and how uncomfortably close that is to the rationale for going back to an abusive relationship?)  To which my natural question is:

When did you stop caring about what happened in your old MMO?

Y’see, there are quests in WoW that have emotional resonance.  It’s just that the second time through, the effect is diminished.  …and when you get tired of the same old mechanical aspects of the kill and fetch quests.  Then there’s the whole gear-loot scheme that pretty much short-circuits the motivation for questing.  “Yeah, yeah, sure, old man, I’ll go fetch the remains of your lost family by slaughtering owlbears and digging through their remains for a while, but what’s in it for me?

Long story short, I suspect that the quests in SWTOR feel different pretty much only because they are new.  Let’s see how they feel on your third Jedi alt, or after 200 hours of play.  Let’s see how emotionally involving it is to down that raid boss for the fifteenth time because he just won’t drop your wristguards.  At some point, the honeymoon wears off and you realize you’re mechanically doing the same thing you’ve always done.  The emotional resonance wears off because you see behind the curtain.

Window dressing really can go a long ways to selling something, it’s true.  It’s just that there has to be more to a game than the trappings.

I should note that this doesn’t mean that SWTOR won’t be fun, rather, I’m just noting that there’s not a lot there to be terribly excited about, at least mechanically.  It’s more of the same.  That’s not bad either, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Edited to add:

Bah.  Turns out that a couple of the dice models need a bit more tweaking to work with the 3D printing process.  The walls were too thin.  That means prices changed a bit as I thickened up the walls.  Sorry! 

I’ve done a little more digging in the Shapeways system, and found that I overlooked an element of the cost of models.  There’s a handling fee per model, which means that if you wanted a set of the dice I made, buying them one by one incurs a whole set of handling costs.  Bleh.  So, by condensing the set to a single “model”, I was able to reduce the cost of getting a whole set by more than half.  They can still be costly in metals (3D printing always is), but now you can get a set of six for just over $10 in the cheapest (pretty durable) White, Strong Flexible plastic material.  The set of seven (with the special extra D10 “decader” die) or the full set of 10 (with the D24, D30 and alternate D4) are just a few dollars more.  That’s not much more than you’d pay for a set of gaming dice from Chessex, really.  OK, OK, mine are hollow to save on costs, and you’d need to ink them or paint them to really make them exciting if you’re going with the boring old plastic like me, but what hobbyist gamer doesn’t have some paints around?  (Yes, I’d love to get them in the bronzed steel, but I’m still stingy.)

Six set

Six Set

Seven set

Seven Set

Ten set

Ten Set

Me, I’m going to get the full set of ten in black plastic and drybrush them with some nice bronze paint.  That should about get the effect I’m looking for.  Sorry I didn’t think of this earlier!  A set of these should be a lot more affordable now.  Less than a month’s sub to most MMOs, as it happens…

…and yes, this means I’ll offer individual Zomblobs! eventually, but probably package them together in sets as well for cost reasons.  I’m very curious to see if I can be competitive with a starter set of something like WarHammer or WarMachine.  Then if I can get my ruleset in order and offer it as a free PDF (or a printed manual someday), well… I’d love to have myself a little cottage industry build around this sort of thing.

Edited to add:

I also just added a couple of D6 sets, perfect for several games including some tabletop miniature games.

Batch of 3 D6 dice

3D6

Batch of 6 D6 dice

6D6

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The grand experiment continues.

I now have a full set of what I’m calling Gearpunk dice in my Shapeways storefront, Tish Tosh Tesh Toys.  There are some visual inconsistencies between the models, mostly in the nongear corners, because of the polyhedral shapes underlying the dice, but overall, I’m happy with how things turned out.  Maybe someday I’ll do a 2.0 version of them, but for now, I’m releasing these into the wild.  I’ll see about getting a set of them on my own and getting some real photographs of them as soon as I can.  In the meantime, this is what the Shapeways renders look like.

Gearpunk Dice

It’s been fun making these, and if nothing else, it’s good 3DS Max practice.  Ditto for the rings, inspired by Big Bear Butt a little while ago thisaway.

Slim Signet

Big Signet

Oh, and yes, I’ll still be working on Zomblob! miniatures, I will just be using Blender, so there’s a learning curve I need to master first.  I don’t like Blender, but it’s free, so I can’t argue with that.  I’m looking at this as a small indie startup art/game shop, and I just don’t have thousands of dollars to pour into software.

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Note to self and other game designers: the Pentagonal Icositetrahedron is not really suitable as a die.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagonal_icositetrahedron

So naturally, I designed one before recognizing that simple fact.  (Protip: Don’t design when sleep deprived.)

http://www.shapeways.com/model/354819/

Gearwork D24

It doesn’t have flat opposing faces, so when it’s at rest, there’s no “top” face to read off, just a triplet of faces.  So yeah… Tesh dice design failure #1.  Maybe there’s a game mechanic where you’d need 3 values from a D24… so let’s call that a design challenge, maybe.  Except, they wouldn’t be three random values, since the same face it’s lying on at rest will always give the same three values.

…I’m not seeing a way out of this.

Oh, well.  I’ll use the gearface tech on other suitable polyhedra.  And there are some fun ones out there…

Edited to add:

Ah, that’s better.  This one will actually work as a die!  It’s now for sale, too!

DGear24

DGear24, ready to go.  I recommend the bronze version, of course, but you can make it in pretty much anything.

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Just a few scattered thoughts and an announcement.

First and foremost, I now have a shopfront over at Shapeways.

Tish Tosh Tesh Toys

This is where I will be offering miniatures for games I’m designing as well as a smattering of other widgets and wodgets.  Yes, I’m making Zomblobs! into a tabletop game that maybe someday will be digital, but it won’t be the only miniatures game that I do (yes, there’s another IP I have in mind, I’ll dig into it once I nail down the Zomblobs! and get it out in the wild).  It will mean codifying some rules into dice rolls and the like (a convenient excuse to design dice, by the way), but that’s just a fun design challenge.  Presently in the shop, I just have some rings I’ve designed as a response to Big Bear Butt’s article over thisaway.

What to Get the Geek That Has Everything

I’ve been meaning to set up a Shapeways shop for a long time, and it seemed like a good time.  I still need to finish illustrating my mother’s book, but that’s close, so I’m trying to find ways to be productive and maybe earn a little coin.  It beats playing games all the time when there are bills to pay.

A few other things online caught my eye of late:

Doodling is good for your brain, apparently.  Seems right to me, but then, I’m an incurable doodler.  Even if I weren’t an artist (I planned on a career in the sciences at one point), I’d still doodle all the time.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.

I also consider this to be doodling, albeit origami-inspired… this is where bad Magic the Gathering cards go to die in my office.  My coworkers play a lot of Magic, and some of the cards are just… bad.  As in, “don’t play with them because it might give you a bad impression of the otherwise excellent game” bad.  So, we may as well do something useful with them, right?  (Yes, that’s my computer, and yes, I made this.  It took a few minutes here and there over about 3 weeks.  Apologies for the phone camera shot, it’s all I had at the moment.)

MTG Menger Sponge

Questing and flow… I tend to think that the problem of losing track of what you’re doing while questing in an MMO task hub is that you have a lot of threads going at once, and that the quests aren’t really linked in any obvious way in your quest log.  I wonder what a better log might do; better record keeping and ways to review what you did before and how it connects would be one way to make quests and narrative work better.

Tangentially, I always find it hard to jump back into Final Fantasy XII after a week or month away.  I don’t always remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, and the game only gives me the barest direction of where to go.  I think a “last time on your adventure…” intro bit (optional, of course, maybe just text tucked away in a log with convenient wiki-like links to key players), like we see in serial TV, in a log would go a long way to making it all feel cohesive.  These games are so big and the narrative occasionally so byzantine (or would that be Gordian?) that a pocket primer of what we’re actually doing might be a useful thing.  Even in a linear game like FFXIII, time away can diffuse the narrative.

There’s a minor storm brewing about gear and the acquisition thereof that the MMO Melting Pot has been keeping tabs on.

Is It Actually Worth Gearing Up Any More?

Points-Based Loot, Difficulty and the Decline of WoW

I’ve only skimmed these, but I’ve written on difficulty before and even the “ease” of WoW, but as to gear, well, I really don’t like the lottery drop system.  Yes, grinding up currency via dungeoneering to buy special loot might seem like more of a chore than the lucky drop in the first run, but to my mind it’s more honest and easier to plan around.  If I’m going to care about gear (I usually don’t, I’m just sayin’), I want to be able to plan for it, not gamble.  The few pieces of loot I’ve tried to find to get the best gear for my level 20-capped Paladin in WoW’s Starter Edition are… frustrating.  One is a very rare drop from a rare spawn, and others are from dungeon bosses.  The randomness of achieving that goal undermine the desirability of doing so.  Getting these bits of gear wouldn’t be me achieving anything (I’ve already demonstrated mastery by beating the bad guys before), it’s not me learning anything new, it’s just me outlasting an evil Random Number Generator.  That’s not satisfying gaming in my book.

Gaming Addiction?  How about putting a face on it?  This is a great video from the Extra Credits guys:

Game Addiction Pt. 2

And I do try to avoid this sort of thing, but sometimes a financial/political post really just needs to be shared.  This is one of them:

OWS: Want to Turn the Tide?

It’s ultimately about math and how leverage and exponential functions are killing us, fueling political unrest.  We live in interesting times.  It will be interesting to see where things go, and just what sort of revolutions pop up.  Be prepared and pay attention.  Hopefully it’s a tempest in a teapot, but it doesn’t hurt to have food storage, water and emergency preparations ready to go.  Even if all the politics in the world suddenly turn really boring and inconsequential, nature can still break stuff and cause some trouble.

If nothing else, you should have enough for pancakes.  Everyone loves pancakes, right?

Star Wars Pancakes

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Apparently Facebook doesn’t like Tobold.  Google+ probably doesn’t like him either.  Zuckerberg thinks it has to do with integrity. I say it’s about revenue, and “integrity” is just a pretty facade to hide behind.  It’s harder to monetize a handle (yes, I wrote about this before, just in a different setting).

In a world where we still judge someone by what they look like instead of what they do, and where appeals to authority are more persuasive than logic, and prejudice fuels hate crimes, face value is a… flexible thing.  Identity is similarly flexible.  Choosing what face you present to the world seems to me to be something best left to the individual.  Until Wikileaks takes an interest in you, anyway, all in the name of “disclosure”, another pretty euphemism with delightfully Patriotic overtones to browbeat dissent.  Because really, only the bad guys have information to hide, right?

If nothing else, even the “circles” design of G+ stands as testament to letting the user control the flow of information, though their iteration of RealID doesn’t (link to an excellent article, by the way).  Certain conversations and information simply isn’t meant for everyone; even if it isn’t really sensitive and “private” (and not really belonging online anyway), different circles of acquaintances won’t care about everything the same way those in other circles will.  That said, G+ is about revenue as well, even though they talk a good game about trying to keep discourse civil because, hey, who can object to civility?  They market information.  The services need to be monetized somehow.  Of course your identity has value, and they will tap that as well as they can.  You can’t complain much about a scorpion, after all.  Maybe that’s “lazy nihilism” to recognize that fact, but I prefer to call it pragmatism.  Much like you can’t realistically expect a politician to refrain from lying (though they might call it “discretion”), you can’t expect a business to operate as a charity.  Charities operate just fine, but businesses are different things.  (Not that profit itself is a bad thing, to be sure.  There are good businesses out there.)

In the meantime, though, for those like Samuel Clemens, Lady Gaga or even J. K. Rowling, the best solution seems to be to avoid those channels where your choice in identity is ignored.  Certainly those of the faceless masses with petty prejudices won’t mind if you simply step out of the flow of society; you’re easier to ignore that way.

I’m idly curious about transgendered people… how do they fit in?  What about the girl with the obviously Muslim or Jewish name?  What about the guy who can’t seem to escape the melanin in his face?  What part does choice have to play in identity, and are some choices more approved than others?  It always seems to me that these social paragons have suspiciously squishy standards.  Massaging the message by silencing certain undesirables that don’t share your worldview is certainly the prerogative of an information broker, but that doesn’t say much about “integrity” in conversation.

But then, this never really was about integrity.  It’s about the value your face has, and who gets to control that value.

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