Thursday, October 24, 2013

Music Review - Two Steps From Hell

We interrupt our usual MMO reviews to bring you the following special report:

Everyone should know about these men.

Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix are the men behind some of the best music of our generation - and you never even knew. No, I’m not talking about Miley Cyrus’s producers or Justin Bieber’s songwriters. Honestly?  Please.

I’m talking about the most overlooked music (except to all you other audiophiles out there) that everyone hears. Movie trailer and soundtrack music. Yes, this is a genre of music. One of the best, in my opinion, and these two absolutely own it. Think about the best action/adventure/thriller movie trailers you’ve seen in the past, say, three years. The Avengers, Skyfall, Prometheus, Brave, Lincoln (both the tribute and vampire version), Avatar, Star Trek, Narnia, Transformers… the list goes on. You can view the list of moves here.

The duo got together in 2006 with the intent to create compelling, original music for movie trailers. Due to their success, and by popular demand, they released four albums in 2010 showcasing the work they’d done. I was introduced to them by my husband when he showed me this YouTube video EpicMusicVn created matching epic music to scenes from video games and movies. Not all of the music is from Two Steps From Hell, but they have a distinct sound that should be easy to pick out.

The next day, like most obsessive music lovers, I went directly to Amazon and purchased the Skyworld CD (which came with an instant mp3 download, w00t!) and put the entire 22 track album on loop for the rest of my work day.

Skyworld is a little bit different from the other three albums, but it was the one with the songs I enjoyed most from the YouTube video. I subsequently purchased Invincible (also with instant mp3 download; I love you, and was not disappointed.

Each song is like listening to a two- to four-minute story, enriched with emotion, suspense, romance, and action. Some of the tracks have hauntingly beautiful vocals, and the range of instruments (whether real or electronic) is fantastic.

Seriously, go check them out. To me, Skyworld is 22 bits of musical heaven.
My name is Introvert. I’m not Anti-Social or Shy, but they are my close friends. I enjoy being alone. I feel the most energized, creative, and happy this way.

Most don’t understand me. Extrovert is always chatting, laughing, and smiling. He says, “C’mon, Introvert! Loosen up!” I’m not frightened like Shy, or nervous like Anxious, or even avoidant like Anti-Social. I’m just… me.

I like conversation. Sit with me and Content in a quiet coffee shop and talk about travel, music, literature, or art. Ask me where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Ask me what I think. I like hiking and exploring with Adventurous, and enjoy watching the sun rise or set with Peaceful.

Don’t take me to the club with Partier. I can’t help but see all the details, consider all the smells, and feel all the loud bass beats. I have to decipher and analyze everything around me. It’s just my nature, and it’s exhausting.

When you “hang out” with me, don’t be bothered by silence. For me, it’s as natural as sound. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. It doesn’t mean I’m bored, it means I’m comfortable enough to be around you without the need to make meaningless small talk. Otherwise, I’d just walk away.

Don’t rush me. I spend a lot of time thinking. I think about what to say, what to do, how to do it, which one to buy, what to wear, why one is better or worse, short term benefits, long term goals, costs, bills, and a dozen other things all before breakfast. I may be quiet...

but my mind is not.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Marvel: Heroes - MMORPG

MMOs are my Kryptonite. I hesitate to play console games anymore, and a first person shooter will entertain me for roughly 30 seconds if it's any good. It's just not my cup of tea; however, make a PC game with a level-up system and I'll play it.

Marvel: Heroes. A little different from your typical MMO, but if you played Diablo 3, you'll feel right at home. The two games share quite a few features, which isn't surprising. David Brevik, Diablo creator and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, is one of the masterminds behind Marvel: Heroes. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay, controls, and basic in-game features are similar. Let me break it down for you.

Here's a list of what the two games share:

Pre-designed character selection.
When you start the game, there are certain characters you can play as. You pick the superhero to use, such as The Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman, etc. There really isn't any customization, though you can purchase (or find) costumes for each character. The starting heroes are Hawkeye, Storm, Thing, Scarlet Witch, and Daredevil. I played through the intro stage as Storm, but subsequently dropped $10 to purchase Ms. Marvel from the online store. I have not regretted this once.

After completing the intro level with your first character, you're given a random token to unlock one of the other four started heroes. I unlocked Daredevil, but have yet to use him.

Some characters have yet to be implemented. A list of all playable characters is here.

Ever-changing World Maps
This is both a pro and a con in my opinion. On the plus side, every play-through will be slightly different, and each zone has the potential to spawn new side portals (remember the random caves in D3? Same idea. tougher monsters, treasure chests, etc). This helps keep the maps fresh and give you the opportunity to visit all the side portals without having to wait until you get a new character to that particular zone.

On the down side, if you knew where a certain NPC was on your first play through, he's not guaranteed to be in that spot on the second (or third, or fourth) play through. Just because the entrance to the subway was on the north end of town when Scarlet Witch was there, doesn't mean it won't magically shift to the western part of town when Cable's looking for it. A little frustrating, of course.

3rd Person Click to Move
If you haven't played Diablo 3 (which for the life of me is the only other MMO I can think of right now that employs this kind of movement programming), this is the same idea behind any RTS (real-time strategy) game. Your character follows your mouse cursor and goes where you click. This took me a while to get used to with D3, but playing that made movement in Marvel: Heroes almost second nature.

Along the same lines, you have to choose your abilities carefully, as you can only hotkey up to six (four on your A, S, D, F keys, and one on each mouse button). You can learn as many as you have skill points for and switch them out when you want, except during combat. Because of this, I dumped all my skill points into the six I use consistently. KISS method at work, baby.

Leveling The Vendors
This made a lot of sense to me in Diablo 3, but not always the case in Marvel: Heroes. For example, in D3, you had two vendors that went with you to every major hub: the Blacksmith and the Jeweler. It makes sense for a blacksmith to level up and be able to make better armor and weapons. In Marvel, the two primary vendors are a scientist and an arms vendor. It makes sense for the scientist to level up and learn to make new and better enhancements to your gear. It doesn't make much sense for an arms dealer to level up, but I guess that's my opinion.

The enhancements to your armor/weapons are pretty sick. You can use it to add offensive and defensive bonuses, such as extra melee damage or better resistance to energy attacks, and even upgrade uncommon items to epic - stats included. It's definitely beneficial to level him up as quickly as possible.

Oh, and you can add visual flare to your characters' costumes as well. They're all cosmetic, but who DOESN'T want to run around with sparkles?

Now for some differences:

Open World
Outside of quest instances (specific places where you move the story along by fighting a boss or have an encounter), you'll see everyone else fighting random mobs wherever you are. I had an Iron Man 3 flashback when I saw five players (all Stark, of course) take on a group of Sentinals harassing NPC mutants. Diablo doesn't have this (you're either solo or in a group of up to four people), but almost every other MMO does. It's just a little strange to see so many players in one area when the character selection is limited, and customization is limited to what you're lucky enough to find or willing enough to buy.

The Iron Legion

Auction House
So far I haven't found/heard of an auction house in Marvel: Heroes. If anyone has, please let me know. It's a pretty standard component of MMOs, in my opinion, and so I hope there are plans to implement one at some point.

And... I guess that's it. If you enjoyed playing Diablo 3, but prefer super heroes to fantasy and modern (or futuristic) technology to the more rustic nature of bows and swords, I absolutely recommend this game. The developers are still tweaking and fixing various parts of it, but that's to be expected so soon after launch. Both melee and ranged heroes seem to be pretty balanced, and though the mobs seem relatively weak right now, they will probably get buffed once the heroes get balanced between themselves.

My Ms. Marvel is only level 23 and I'm still working through the story, so I haven't done any of the end-game dailies yet. As far as I know, there isn't anything that resembles a raid (like in World of Warcraft), but there is PvP. Again, haven't tried this, either. Maybe I'll write a follow up once I've reached max level and done the various dailies and/or PvP.

The X-men take on Magneto.

If you like MMOs, this game is pretty slick. I see a lot of potential in it, and I don't see myself getting bored any time soon. It's free to play, with the option of purchasing characters and costumes, although everything is available in-game if you have the patience and luck to wait for an unlock-token to drop. Marvel: Heroes definitely has my vote, so head on over to Steam, download it, and let me know how your favorite character plays.

Happy Sentinal hunting!

~ERP Princess

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to be a Successful PUG - In 5 Easy Steps!

PUG "Pick Up Group" 1. n. A group formed for the purpose of completing an encounter by inviting players which are not members of the same guild. 2. n. A player who is invited to a group and does not share any connections with the group.

This post is not meant for raid leaders looking for ways to whip their current groups into shape.  This post is intended for players who may or may not have a regular group with which they defeat encounters (or raids). This is also what you - as a member of your amazing, popular, and attractive guild - should consider to make you an asset and not just "that guy we bring because no one else is online right now." Or maybe you're cool with being that guy. Whatever.

#1 - Do I listen? Am I open to new ideas?

Can you take direction from the raid leader, even if his strategy is different from what you're used to?  Players will devise many strategies for a fight, and no two are exactly the same. In my experience, the strategy I'm used to may seem like the only way to win, but when I run with a different group, their way works just as well.  You always have the capacity to learn.

#2 - Am I focused?  Am I responsive?

Say you can listen patiently to a new strategy.  Are you focused enough on the encounter to execute it?  Raid leaders don't want to bring players that constantly stand in fire or don't do their part of a fight mechanic. Are you supposed to CC1 something?  Are you supposed to activate a switch at a certain time?  Are you supposed to use a CD2 at a certain time?

Have you ever been in a PvP3 situation where the objective is to defend a base, or series of bases/flags/etc, and that one guy always goes off and does his own thing?  Don't be that guy.  Nobody likes that guy.  The situationally aware person gets invited back.

#3 - Am I technically competent?  Do I follow through?

Do you understand how to play your class?  This may seem like a silly question, but you'd be surprised how many people are unaware of, or simply ignore key parts of their selected class. Maybe you have a skill you don't  use every day, but damned if it isn't helpful on this ONE FIGHT so you better remember you have it.

Do you actually bring to the table what you claim you can?  Can you pull the dps4 you say you can? Can you take the hits you claim you can? Can you heal as well as you say you can? Follow through on your promises, and be up front with any weaknesses you may have. If you're honest, you stand a better chance of the group helping you rather than replacing you.

#4 - Do I encourage others?  Do I share information?

Are you a negative-ninny or a positive-patty? Gaming is all about having fun, and it's no fun having a party pooper in your group. Don't complain about failures; encourage others by helping them. If someone isn't sure where they should be standing, show them. If someone is a little loose in their dps rotation, help them tighten it up.  Share any information you have on strategy, dpsing, healing, tanking, whatever you know, but be sure to do it in a respectful way. Again - if you're pleasant, you're more likely stay rather than be replaced.

#5 - Do I follow the rules?  Do I resolve conflict cleanly?

This last step might be a little more for those already in steady raid groups, but still bears mentioning here. Always follow the rules during encounters. This goes for pre-raid preparation, during-raid execution and loot drops, and after-raid housekeeping. If you have a problem, wait until the raid is done and talk to an officer or the raid leader. Find a way to resolve the conflict without creating huge amounts of drama.  No one likes drama.  Drama is like that guy that goes off and does his own thing while standing in fire.

Hey, thanks for reading this far!  Guess what!  I have another gift for you.

If you understand and really take the above to heart, think about it when you're in your every-day life. It works there too.  Just like the team-building in my previous post. It works.  Now go be the impressive PUG you are and make momma proud.

-ERP Princess

1) CC - Crowd Control; incapacitating the target with an ability such as polymorph, sap, or stun.
2) CD - Cooldown; an ability with a longer-than-average time limit on its use such as once every 3, 5, or 10 minutes.
3) PvP - Player vs Player; an arena or battleground where players fight each other rather than computer-generated enemies.
4) dps - Damage per second; how much damage a character can do such as 65,000 dps.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Your Game, Your Team, Your Career: How Video Games Can Help You Professionally

I know what you’re thinking.  Video games are GAMES. They are an evil past time that makes children violent, makes boyfriends yell at their girlfriends, and make parents ignore their families! Maybe. You could also say the same for television, beer, poker nights, book clubs... you get the point.

What if I told you that there are redeeming qualities of video games outside of the typical “I’m bored so I’ll waste some time playing this” reason? Not only is it true, but I’m here to convince you that playing games can actually HELP you in your professional career and development.

I realize the realm of “games” is pretty broad, so I’m going to narrow it down to one particular kind: the MMO. MMO stands for “Massively Multi-player Online.” There are a few different kinds of MMOs, but I’m going to cover the one in which I have most experience.

My favorite is the MMORPG. The RPG part stands for “Role Playing Game.” The basic point of these games is simple: make a character, complete quests, level up. What makes these types of games popular is the connection you make as you level and build your character. You control her.  You want her to succeed.  You’re sad when she dies, even though you can revive her fairly easily. You like getting her better armor and weapons. You cheer when she levels up.  Many games follow this simple formula.  It’s pretty popular, so producers will probably be making these types of games for a while. Yay for me!

But wait, that’s not a team!  How does leveling up a character make you promotion-worthy? Get to the point, Princess, or I’m going back to looking at funny pictures of cats!

Simmer down, Skipper, I’m getting there.

Leveling up is the basic part of an RPG, but what happens when we throw MMO in the front? This means you’re questing in a world with thousands of other people*. You can group up to finish difficult tasks, find help from someone who has already found a quest item, or even ask for advice on the best armor or weapons for your particular character.

Obviously this kind of interaction isn’t necessary, but it certainly does help if you’re new to a game. I’m glossing over concept of “trolls” because let’s face it: trolls aren’t just limited to video games. Trolls are everywhere.

The personal bonuses, in my opinion, come later on. In MMORPGs, there’s always a maximum level your character can reach.  When she does, a whole new world opens up for her. This, my friends, is called ENDGAME.

Endgame is a beautiful bubble of existence that allows players of maximum level to team up and complete harder challengers for prestige and better gear. This is where the skills come in. Twice a week, nine of my friends (whom I met through the game) and I group together to explore this world of Endgame. We enter an encounter, kill bosses (bad guys) and win loot (equipment). The catch is this:

We have to work together.

Endgame encounters (or raids) require a little extra effort. There’s the planning phase, where the fight is explained and a strategy is decided. The right types of characters have to be present and each player’s strengths and weaknesses have to be considered. It’s decided when certain individual abilities will be used to give the most benefit to the team.  There’s the execution phase, which usually takes a few tries (sometimes more... you’ve all been there), some strategy or positioning adjustments, and a lot of communication. Finally, there’s the win phase, wherein your group gets to see the fruits of its labor in the form of sweet loot and maybe an achievement for your character.

This is not unlike the workplace. Most people, at some point in their professional lives, work in groups or on teams. Everyone brings something different to the table, and part of the process is working off each person’s strengths and understanding weaknesses so it doesn’t bring you down. You’re all working towards a common goal. You all want the reward at the end.

Let’s dive a little farther.

As the title of this blog suggests, I primarily play World of Warcraft.  I’ve been playing for more years than I care to count, and so I have experience playing many different characters and roles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also had a variety of jobs in my life, ranging from working corn fields, line work at a box factory, fast food, retail, and clerical.  By no means have I had every occupational experience under the sun (or stars), but enough to make a point.

Imagine this: you’re a member of a regular raiding group, and you’re the tank - the one that gets the boss’s attention and keeps everyone else from getting killed.  You may have to interrupt something the boss tries to do or keep additional bad guys from hitting your teammates, but your job is pretty straightforward. While the boss is focused on you, your team is doing a slew of other things necessary to win. Some are healing you as you take the hits, keeping you and your team alive throughout the encounter. Some are activating environmental factors.  Some are busting all they have dealing damage to the boss directly. The point is, everyone has his own role to play, and you, as the tank with the boss’s attention, can’t play all ten characters at once. You depend on your team to do their individual jobs.

Now think of it this way: You’re a manager in an office. You report to the Big Guy In Charge and you have your team that reports directly to you.  You can’t do the work of ten people in your eight hour work day, and if you can, stop reading this post and tell your superiors that you need a raise. You depend on your underlings to do their jobs every day so your business runs smoothly. You may have a secretary that handles communications, a shipping/receiving clerk... you get the idea.

Let’s say you aren’t the tank. Let’s say you’re a healer. Your job is to use your spells and abilities to keep your team alive while it executes the encounter. One false step, and your tank is dead, the boss is running around killing everyone, and you ultimately lose. You may not be on the front line, but you better believe your job is important. In the office, you’re like the secretary. You perform your job so smoothly that your team may not notice until you’re absent. In the case of a raid, everyone dies.

What does this boil down to?  MMORPGs can help you gain or hone skills without you even realizing it.  Even the most hardcore gamer has to work together with a team in order to have success in Endgame. Even that introverted person that prefers to stay at home learns the benefits of a team. Each member is important, and in some cases, irreplaceable.

Next time your job gives you the opportunity to be on a team, think about it like a raid team. Get to know the people you work with on a daily basis.  While you develop a strategy to tackle whatever problem is placed in front of you, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your peers. Draw on the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses. Adjust your strategy if necessary. Communicate.  Then reap the rewards of a job well done.

-ERP Princess

*depending on the game. Some games have followings in the millions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So this happened.

So there I was, posting something snide on my sister's Facebook making fun of her wanting to start a blog about Paladins, when it hits me: I could write a blog. But what do I write about? I play WoW, but I don't stat crunch. I don't do hundreds of calculations to maximize every aspect of my druid. I raid. I PvP. I b*tch about loot drops in LFR. Pretty standard. So a blog?

"ERPing Azeroth: Covering All the Info No One Cares About"

It's a work in progress.