Yes, the blog lives. Technically, at least. Life gets busy and complicated, but when it eases up a bit or a topic strikes my fancy… well here you are.

On the heels of the announcement of WoW’s Wrath of the Lich King Classic, a number of recent posts have taken up the topic of WoW’s dungeon finder due to be added to the Classic version of the game. Wilhelm has some thoughts here, Rohan has a good post here, and a series of interesting somewhat related posts from Bhagpuss and Shintar, got me thinking.

We’re not playing WoW at the moment, but readers of TAGN will know that our little group of ageing adventurers have returned to Valheim after setting WoW Classic aside and exploring a few other games– New World and Lost Ark specifically. Part of what propelled us back to Valheim, for me at least, was the loss of a sense of place, of “worldliness”. I’ve been down this road before.

One day all this will be yours? No, not the curtains.

I play these games to be removed from this crazy world to spend some time immersed in that crazy world. Experiences are what I take away from these games and exploring and adventuring in a virtual world to me should be a unique experience– even if that experience is potentially very similar to that of another player’s– the pathway, choices and timeline are my own.

The recents posts weighing in on the WoW Classic Dungeon Finder debate, damage meters and dps rotations (and or the demise of “support class” play) struck a chord. These games have evolved from being a world to explore to largely being a single “story” line to experience, largely at the exclusion of all other kinds of gameplay.

I’d add a big third item to Rohan’s two ideas about Dungeon Finder– Dungeon Finder destroyed the “world” of WoW. In the guise of solving the group formation problem, a whole host of changes ensued which led to many of the issues Shintar and Bhagpuss discuss. The advent of the DF feels like it was perhaps the first big obvious manifestation of a new and shifting philosophy of game design.

As Wilhelm discussed, DF required that instance related quests were now placed within the instance itself rather than the instance run being the culmination of a world-based narrative quest line. I always trot out the Van Cleef/Deadmines story line from WoW Classic being the epitome of the before times.

A trot across the Northern Bree Fields

The “world” became irrelevant and needlessly time consuming. As the bar for accessing and experiencing content was reduced to logging in and clicking the LFD button, world questing and travel went out the window. With instanced content being simultaneously the easiest content to access and the repository for the best gear needed to progress to the, er, next best gear, an endless cycle of class and dungeon content revision and optimization ensued. The DF made adventures like this unnecessary.

The success of the new bite sized instance based experience depended on channeling players into set roles to feed into the DF to provide a predictable, homogeneous and optimized experience. Rotations, damage meters, gear score, “cleave” runs, etc. all grew out of this fundamental shift.

Likewise, the primacy of effectively lobby based instanced content in these and only these roles effectively killed off any other modes of game play. Crowd control? No longer needed. Stealth? Hardly. Unique “builds”? Need not apply. Specialized group buffs or other “support” activities? That went out with high buttoned greaves. Gear score too low? Pass. DPS checks? Yup. Fast travel to any and all points? Check. Don’t even get me started on “phasing”…

Kamagua Sunset

And all of these changes, some incremental, some more earth shaking, took us from somewhere close to the 1999 Everquest virtual world experience to something much more like Lost Ark’s fixed character archetypes, linear maps and story lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Lost Ark for what it was, and before that, our re-exploration of Diablo II. But what those experiences didn’t offer was an individualized character that I could relate to and take into a world to create experiences for that character. Fewer or no choices, no individuality, One True Way to gear and play.

To me, that cascade of detrimental changes fundamentally started with the DF whose original mission was to solve a quality of life problem– how to facilitate group formation for instanced content. Very soon after that, the tail began wagging the dog and my how much wagging there has been.

If the difficulty of forming dungeon groups was the problem, the DF wasn’t the only solution. WoW certainly could have taken other tacks tried in other games. Scaling dungeon difficulty to group size or other indicia of “power” (i.e., gear score, level, etc.) could have been one way. LOTRO essentially went this route.

Mercenaries could have been another. Need two more to fill out your party? Hire a merc. Everquest and other games have taken that approach. Either of those alternatives wouldn’t have done any true “violence” to the core idea of an explorable world in which instanced content serves a role to move story forward and provide for progression.

When I look back at the games I’ve spent the most time in over the years (or had the most affinity for), the ones that I have stuck with for the longest– WoW, LOTRO, Everquest, Minecraft, and to a lesser extent, Valheim all have (or had at the time I was playing them) a true sense of place, of worldliness.

Icebergs Ho!

I have memories of those places and experiences as if I had visited them and spent time there. These are entirely unlike the memories I have of reading a novel or watching a film. For that matter, even the experiences of separate characters in those worlds have their own unique recollections.

Are there any virtual worlds left to explore and experience any more? For the time being, I’m entirely content with the sense of place and worldliness I’m finding again in Valheim.

On April 1st, We Ride.

Holidays in online games… I usually rely on Wilhelm to keep track of these sorts of things. Some love them, some hate them. For me it definitely depends on the game, the holiday and how inspired the developers decided to be.

What I wasn’t expecting was Zwift to get into the spirit of things. I like me some whimsy too, so huffing and puffing around London on my Big Wheel was just the thing I needed to break up my day.

Wonderfully wobbly back wheels, but sadly no handbrake for those bootleg U turns of our youth. Nicely done, Zwift.

Continue reading On April 1st, We Ride.

A Year in Lockdown — Part II

A series of long, non-gaming posts. Mostly to just document this extraordinary time. Part I is here.

Life in the Bunker

Continuing from last time– During the spring while the supply chain was stabilizing somewhat– at least it seemed like we weren’t likely to starve in the near term, much of everything else remained in a state of precariousness.

On the work front, management’s initial denialism from January and February was overtaken by the events of lockdown. I make the distinction here between leadership and management. We had plenty of the latter and scant little of the former.

Fortunately, when the lockdowns began rolling out county by county (and thereby potentially impacting our offices and all of the employees differently depending on where they lived), our former leader was recruited back to a temporary position of de facto leadership to help guide our organization through these existentially dangerous straits. A little demonstration of leadership in a crisis goes a long way. Particularly one that remained clear eyed, rooted in factual reality, capable of communicating and cognizant of the fact that human beings were involved in the process.

We found ourselves with a business, far from “essential,” with about two thirds of its employees unable to work. The pandemic and lockdown prevented all but the most rudimentary activities in our offices, and most couldn’t do their work remotely in any case. Temporary layoffs were the order of the day.

The rest of us were desperately trying to work for our customers whose lives and businesses were thrown into chaos as well. It wasn’t even clear how any of our customers were going to survive the disruption (and frankly, whether we were ever going to get paid, and thus whether we would survive in any recognizable form).

Continue reading A Year in Lockdown — Part II

A Year in Lockdown–Part I

A series of long, non-gaming posts. Mostly to just document this extraordinary time.

The Gathering Gloom

It was just about a one year ago when the world here changed. The COVID stay-at-home/shelter-in-place, call it what you will measures began rolling out just about one year ago now, catching many flat footed.

I live and work in Northern California just outside the Bay Area. About a year ago, the Bay Area counties announced their lockdown and surrounding areas were rapidly moving in that direction too. We were expecting something any moment.

We had been following the developing situation for weeks with increasing trepidation. While up north Seattle was becoming a local hotspot, transportation and network connections were distributing COVID globally in now fairly obvious ways, but at the time in ways that certainly didn’t seem direct. From abroad to an elder care home in Seattle seemed pretty indirect and frankly terrifying. There was no good news. Only bad news and worse news.

Continue reading A Year in Lockdown–Part I

Troll Magnet

Fortunately, I’m wearing all metal…

Ever had one of those days? I guess technically in Valheim, every day is one of those days which is sort of the point I guess. Working from home during lockdown has at least one advantage lately and that is being able to duck into Valheim at lunchtime and potter around a bit.

Valheim, being Valheim, I know not to set my lunchtime ambitions too high. Something mundane is usually safe like gathering and replanting some wood or tinkering around with base improvements. Of late, I’ve been anticipating making a new and improved dock for a soon to be launched longboat now that we are comfortably in the iron age. Some surveying and head scratching needed to be done, so a lunchtime look around and think seemed just the thing.

Until a troll raid started that is. There’s always a troll. Or this time, two trolls.

There I was down at the dock site with a cart full of materials outside the wall, no food (I was only feet from the main base after all) when I here the noise and see the ominous screen warning “THE GROUND IS SHAKING”.

Trolls being trolls, they made a beeline for the just finished crafting building in the compound. Hearing that gut wrenching crunching sound, I left the cart where it was and sprinted up the hill to the backside of the base only to see the pallisade come down and a troll in the compound wailing on the roof.

Fortunately, it was daytime, I had arrows and I was able to aggro the troll and kite him out of the base. His friend came along, but I had to keep doubling back to make sure I kept him interested too. I kited him a good distance away, plinking and running until I finally had the first one down and then turned to number two.

With only one to dodge, that went smoothly. I returned to the carnage.

Well, with the compound cracked open, there was nothing to be done but start picking up the pieces. The court yard is the new hub for ore operations. Ore can carted in the gate and unloaded into a chest which protrudes through the wall next to the smelter. Likewise, there is a chest next to the charcoal kiln on the same wall, so loading and unloading is quick and easy and the workflow inside the crafting hall is quick and easy being able to transfer wood to kiln, then coal from kin to smelter or coal storage chest without having to move.

Likewise, one can feed ore from the ore box into the smelter, collect the iron bars and deposit them into the chest next to the forge without having to move. Elegant efficiency. Until trolls show up.

The boxes of wood, coal and iron ore being pretty full, when the trolls attacked, they went for the smelter and kiln destroying the holding chests which leaves a rather untidy mess to clean up. And because of the weights involved, there’s quite a bit of shifting of materiel to be done.

Well, that’s the way the palisade crumbles some days, so I became resigned that my lunch hour would not be engineering a new dock and lighthouse but rather repairing what I just finished building yesterday…

With all restored, I still had a few minutes to get back to the dock project. I must have been back down there all of two minutes when the SECOND TROLL RAID began…

Mrs. Potshot across the house heard me shout, “you’ve got to be kidding…” Back on troll patrol, I was better able to handle these guys and distract them before they got any real damage on the base.

Base defended, I logged off until just before dinner while I was waiting for the bread to finish. If there’s a second good thing about lockdown, its been the opportunity to rekindle my bread baking, but that’s another story entirely.

While the house was filling with that fresh bread smell, I finally got to work on the new dock. That’s the screen shot at the top of the post. The storms rolled in and the seas turned angry. Out at the end of the dock, mountainous rollers would sweep the end of the new pier while I was working away hoping that lightning strikes weren’t a thing in Valheim.

After running low on stone and with time short before dinner, I decided to hop on out to our Dieppe base– see Wilhelm’s blog for the story there– to retrieve some supplies of stone that we wouldn’t need there.

Through the portal I went, I filled myself up with stone when “THE GROUND BEGINS SHAKING” again… Of course this troll went straight to work on the palisade wall and guard tower. Unfortunately, he didn’t lose interest and the compound was breached. My third troll raid today…just as my oven timer went off…

What’s that in the road, a head?

Running low on arrows and stamina, bread hopefully not burning in the oven, timer incessantly chirping at me just out of reach, I gambled that I could defeat the raiding trolls before my bread burned and for once the gamble paid off. Trolls dispatched, bread out of the oven, it was time to rebuild the Dieppe base defenses before dinner.

Maybe this evening I’ll finally get to that dock.