Confessions of an MMO Tourist

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My vacation into the virtual lands of MMO’s began with Asheron’s Call in 1999. Playing with friends in a persistent world had a certain novelty to it. Granted, the release of Diablo II the following year quickly put my stay in Dereth on hold. Not one to limit myself to one game, I “toured” multiple MMO’s up until World of Warcraft’s (WoW) launch in 2004. Multiple MMO’s huh? Take a look at this virtual itinerary:

  • Ultima Online (1 month)
  • Everquest (1 month)
  • Final Fantasy XI (1 month)
  • The Sims Online Beta (a few days)
  • Asheron’s Call 2 (a few months)

The release of Asheron’s Call 2, in 2002, marked the first time I had set up a base camp in an MMO since the original Asheron’s Call in 1999. My stay in AC 2 did not last long, however, the group of friends that I was playing with ended up quitting the game. For the first time in years, I was no longer traversing the virtual landscapes. A whole year would go by before I would once again venture forth.

  • Saga of Ryzom Beta
  • World of Warcraft

In 2004, the perfect storm came together in the form of the Warcraft universe becoming an MMO.

Blizzard + Warcraft + MMO = WIN!

Blizzard games have been a staple of my PC gaming diet for years. Warcraft II, Starcraft, Diablo, and Diablo II were go-to games for me and my friends.

Sidenote: How many of you remember playing the original Diablo with a modem? I remember many late nights, on my Macintosh, spent listening to the pinging/ ponging modem language as I hooked up to battle.net. Good times. Haunting music. No option to run!

World of Warcraft came out the year that I went away to college. The game quickly became a way to communicate/ game with friends three states away. WoW had a darkside, however, one that almost cost me my love in the summer of 2005.

Guild Wars launched the following year (2005). Though technically not an MMO, Guild Wars provided a few alternative to WoW. Unfortunately, the beta period for this game all but killed the game for me (there are only so many times you can create a character, level, and then have it deleted). So I went back to WoW until things came to a head with my real life. Decisions had to be made.

Girlfriend or WoW?

Girlfriend of course! She won.

Girlfriend now wife.

I have played many MMO’s since WoW.

  • Dungeon Runners.
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Warhammer Online
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online

So many hours poured into games I never plan on returning to again. Reminds me of books left half read, tossed under a bed. In the end, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the different worlds that I have explored. Each has offered a different experience that the game previous could not provide.

2009 marked the year I returned to Azeroth with my wife’s blessing. In playing, I have found that World of Warcraft does not have the same pull it once did. So I left the game once more to try:

  • Maple Story
  • Guild Wars (again!)
  • Lord of the Rings Online (again!)

As you can see, I am an MMO tourist with a passport full of stamps. If 2009 has been any indication as to my less than monogamous gaming habits, 2010 is sure to be a busy year.

(Used as a resource for this article http://biobreak.wordpress.com/mmo-timeline/)

(1/26/16 Update: Reader Kevin Woodberry emailed me and asked that I link to his guide as a further resource. Check it out: Guide to Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games.)

Return to War?

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Warhammer Online Logo

Warhammer Online seemed poised to be the next big “WoW Killer”. Believing the hype, I bought my copy of the game and was quickly immersed into a world constantly at war. I was hooked. The ability to effortlessly join a Scenario, unlike the time needed to simply que for Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft, was a true innovation. However, Scenarios were greatly influenced by the game world population (ie lack of players playing equaled longer que times) which eventually began to kill the game. No longer in the spotlight as a potential “WoW Killer”, Warhammer Online now has the ability to refine itself in semi-obscurity.

Recently, the Warhammer Herald (10/14) had 2 interesting bits of information regarding Warhammer Online‘s 1.3.2 patch.

1. The Apprenticeship System:

The new Apprenticeship system allows players of differing Ranks to play together, whether battling it out in RvR, or aiding your Realm’s war effort in quests and Public Quests. Just click on another player’s portrait in the group or Warband window and choose the “Make Apprentice” option, and that player will be scaled up to your Rank, no matter how much lower of a Rank they are. Check the patch notes for full details on this exciting new system.

2. New Player Guilds:

New players will automatically be placed in a ‘new player guild’, one for each Realm, to facilitate communication among those new to the game, or those who are rolling up an alt character, and to make finding a group a bit easier. The guilds are called the ‘The Forces of Order’ and the ‘The Forces of Destruction’.

First, lets talk about the Apprenticeship System. Currently in World of Warcraft, I have gotten to a point to where I am 20 levels behind a good friend that I play with. 20 levels! This ends up causing my friend to help me level while he gains zero experience points. The two of us have no problem with this arrangement but why make someone waste their game time? Final Fantasy XI already uses a “Level Sync” system that allows players of different levels to party together at a matched level. The Apprenticeship System addition to Warhammer Online is a victory dance for everyone! Now if only World of Warcraft would employ a similar system…

Moving along.

Forcing new players to automatically be placed in a “new player guild” is a stroke of genius on Mythic’s part. I would call this “forced community”. Reminds me of freshmen orientation in college. After saying goodbye to mom and dad, suddenly you are forced to “make friends” with others in an attempt at survival. Time will tell how Warhammer Online players react to this forced match up, but I think its a good thing.

Do you currently play Warhammer Online? If so, how have these changes impacted the game? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Forget Signet

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The routine is generally the same: get online, talk to peers, decide where to fight, decide what jobs to level, and then go. But, my little Taru-taru white mage has a small routine before heading out to fight mobs with her party. She visits her mog house to make sure she has her white mage gear and then empties as much junk from her gobbie bag as she can so she can hold items won during battle. She leaves her mog house and meets the rest of her party at the rendezvous point. From there the journey begins and they are off to beat the bad guys! But there’s one important thing she often forgets to do: get Signet.

Historically, a signet ring was used by royalty to imprint their royal seal on laws and decrees. The signet represented allegiance, authority, and authenticity. Similarly, adventurers in Final Fantasy XI receive signet from their home country and use it to gain more conquest points for their nation. These points improve the overall welfare of their country. They also allow adventurers to buy useful gear. Without signet, though, my Taru-Taru ends up out in the battlefield without the ability to heal as quickly or retain TP. (no, not that kind of tp – the kind that builds up your weapon skill power.) Unfortunately, the signet wears and generally needs to be renewed every day. There are guards positioned at many locations across the world of Vana’diel that are always able to refresh the signet when asked.

This concept of signet got me to thinking about my own real life. I have my routine of getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and grabbing my lunch. But, when I head out to face the day, I’m often met with challenges that my deodorant just won’t fight for me. I need more than a physical readiness. I need a reminder of my allegiance, a proof of legitimacy to my life, and the confidence that God is in absolute authority over this crazy world.

How much better would my day be if, before I stepped out the door, I took a little bit of time to remember the One to whom I belong? If I stop and remember that God is sovereign, the troubles that I meet during the day really won’t be as hard as I usually make them out to be. Instead of fighting my own battles alone, He is there beside me holding my hand. His signet would remind me that He is there. He will overcome evil with good. Still harder to believe, He cares about my life and loves me. If His signet is on my heart, of whom do I have to be afraid? I can go out and face the dangers sporting the same stout heart of a level 57 white mage. The truly good news is that this courage is real.

Here is your reminder today: “Don’t forget signet!”

.: Colossians 3:23 :.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Final Fantasy XI Online

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Final Fantasy Online Logo

FF Info Box

Storyline:
In Final Fantasy XI, a player begins by choosing his/her character for the online fictional world of Vana’diel. They pick a race, gender, basic look, nationality, and name. Throughout the game, players may choose different jobs for their characters. The most obvious objective to the game is to level up any given job. These jobs include – but are not limited to – warrior, thief, summoner, assorted mages, and even dancers. Players gain experience points from battles with mobs (computer-played monsters of all sorts), and with each level attained, the amount of experience points to the next level increases.

Aside from leveling their jobs, characters take part in missions to attain rank with the nations of Vana’diel and quests to attain fame among the non-player characters (NPCs) of Vana’diel. This is where one would find a storyline to the game. There are many storylines that follow each mission and quest; some are extensive, but others are as simple as finding and returning an item dropped by a monster in some given desert. Rewards for quests often include special items or gil (Vana’diel currency), and are even required to gain upper levels for each job. Expansion packs include other objectives such as Besieged, Assault, and even traveling to the past. Overall, the basic idea is that each character can run around the world of Vana’diel as an explorer and adventurer, finding friends, fighting foes, and gaining glory.

The game does not necessarily have an ending, although the highest level attainable is level 75 for each of the twenty jobs. Expansion packs come out to add more areas to the vast world map, more jobs, more quests, and more missions. Important to note, game play depends greatly on each players experience with other real-life characters. Other real-life characters one finds to fight beside may change gameplay drastically. FFXI is a game created to encourage and even necessitate social networking.

Parties for battles can be up to six players, and alliances have up to twelve. These large groups gain better experience points for battles, draw better skill chains, and are overall safer. Playing in groups cuts down on the time needed to gain experience points and allows characters to fight tougher mobs.

Economy:
To accommodate the number of players who play FFXI, Square Enix has created many different Worlds – each being a copy of Vana’diel. Thus, each world has its own economy. Financially speaking, there are three main groups of people for each world.

The first group is the wealthy. They are usually players who have played the game long enough and often enough to gain quite a fortune of gil – Vana’diel currency. These players normally have high level jobs and tend to help new players (newbies, or “noobs”) get access to high level areas or battle enemies for missions. Being generous with their time, some also become generous in their giving of gil. They may even loan or gift costly items to new players.

The second group is the moochers. The moochers are often new players. Noobs normally receive a little slack for needing extra help. A high level character who wanders around begging for an item or money, however, is disdainfully frowned upon. These players are thankfully rare. Since FFXI is geared toward social networking, the players who can at least pull their own weight are the ones who gain friends willing to help them out in a time of need.

This brings us to the group of… everyone else. Players use what works, and what works is earning money. Each person has his own pace for making gil, depending on how often they play. Those who don’t mooch and who don’t get rich playing 24/7 have to make gil as they go.

There are a number of ways to make gil. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people find ways to get around the rules. Players must earn gil in Vana’diel, but there are ways players can buy gil with real life currency. (Buying gil, however, is considered cheating, and one can be banned from the game for doing so.) Four common ways of making a living in Vana’diel include farming, crafting, completing quests, and my personal favorite – teleporting.

The term farming is actually used in two different ways in FFXI. “Farming” can refer to fighting bunches of mobs simply to attain items to sell for profit. Most mobs will drop items after they are defeated. The most common items dropped are crystals that correspond to elements – fire, water, light, etc. Other items could be rabbit skins, bat fangs, flowers, or goblin armor. The list of items in Vana’diel seems endless, and thus also is the list of items bought and sold at the auction house.

Players can sell their items to other players through the auction house and receive the majority of the profits. There are 4 main auction houses. Counters to access them are located in cities. The auction house, however, has its limits. It requires a fee to put anything out for sale and has a 7 item limit. Thus, players also use their personal bazaar to sell items. The bazaar is regulated by the player and is limited only in as far as inventory space. Anyone who walks by a player’s character can buy from items the player lists in his/her bazaar. The advantage here for the auction house is that players do not have to be present or even online to sell at auction house, unlike the bazaar. Sometimes items sold in bazaars are left up for a price as high as 99,999,999 gil. This ludicrous amount is actually meant to imply that the item is up for trade.

Farming, in the literal sense, is growing plants in one’s “mog house,” or home. This type of farming requires pots, seeds, and crystals. All those items can be gained at the local auction house and, with the exception of pots, can be dropped by mobs. Farming takes time because it takes a few real life days for one’s plants to grow. Once they are ready for harvesting, they usually produce batches of other items that can be sold or used in crafting.

Crafting is another way of making money. Crafting is actually a way of creating items by “synthing” items together with crystals to create better items. Some areas of crafting are clothcraft, leathercraft, alchemy, cooking, woodworking, and goldsmithing. There are recipes for synthing that one can look up on FFXI websites telling what items are required to synth together to create another. These recipes also list what items can be broken into. For instance, a Yagudo bead necklace can be broken down into 3 grass threads. One necklace can also be combined with a lightning crystal to become a copper ingot. Crafting helps not only in creating more items to sell, but also in upgrading armor and producing food items that help characters battle.

One small source of income in FFXI is from missions and quests that award gil when completed. These small earnings, however, are not enough on which to rely. The same goes for gil earned from fighting mobs – the money left behind in a battle is usually too pitiful to bring back and use to buy upgraded weapons.

Lastly, teleporting is a quick and easy way to make money. The downside is that it can only be done by white mages who have earned the scrolls to learn the teleporting spells. A white mage is eligible to receive the scrolls starting after level 36. There are 9 areas to which a white mage can teleport his/her party. In cities, teleports to these areas are shouted for, and the white mage usually earns a few thousand gil for the service. This practice is sometimes known as tele-taxiing. Although quick and easy, there must also be a demand for the teleports. Tele-taxiing may include wandering around cities without any clients at all. Also, white mages must sometimes be quick enough to beat other white mages to take up the offer. A similar spell to teleports is available for black mages. It is called Warp II and warps the payer to his home point. Although less common, black mages still can make a little gil off of this simple service.

Final Fantasy Online

Accessibility
FFXI requires players to cooperate in order to level. Going out into the wilderness to fight mobs can be dangerous, and there is great need to have a party of up to 6 people. Better experience points are gained through parties. Bigger parties – particularly parties made of jobs that work well with one another – can vanquish bigger foes. So how does one go about finding a party to play with? Here are a few tips.

Many people form parties from groups of people within a linkshell. A linkshell is something like a chat room set up within the FFXI game. In game play, players can type/talk in 5 ways: directly to one other player, within party, within a linkshell, out loud to anyone within the immediate area, or shout out to everyone in the larger area. The linkshell itself is an item obtained in the game. The creator and leader of a linkshell has the ability to give out other linkshells to other platers. Linkshells can be equipped and unequipped at will. One may have more than one linkshell, but only one linkshell can be equipped at one time.

Linkshell groups are created sometimes by language or by level, depending on the creator’s choice in whom he/she gives the linkshells. Mostly, linkshells begin with a group of friends and grow to add more people met in the game. Linkshells are also known to make appointments for completing missions together.

Another way to get into a party is simply to shout for one. “Party? Can I have it? WHM34/BLM17” simply gives the hearers the job and level. Sometimes other parties look for specific jobs near their levels to complete their party.

Generally speaking, players in FFXI are glad to find other players with whom they can play. The game’s design encourages cooperation; no players can fight eachother or pick on another. There is one way to fight player vs. player, but it is voluntary. People who play the game tend to help eachother rather than bring eachother down. When a player is KO-ed out in the boonies, there’s often another player nearby willing to come and raise them back to life again. Higher level characters walking through easy areas give cures to noobs who are complete strangers. They may not even speak the same language, but the healer gains points for skill-ups and the stranger is safe. They both win! This advantage is what makes FFXI a truly friendly game.

On the downside, because there has to always be a downside, there are annoying people in the world of Vana’diel just as there are annoying people in the real world. Some players have rather foul mouths, bad attitudes, and dirty minds which they somehow feel lead to share. Some of these may be in the same linkshell that you joined. Some players seem to enjoy shouting out profanities for all to hear. The good news is that when these players do cross boundaries, there are GMs to handle them. GMs are Game Masters who have the authority and power to suspend or even expel players from FFXI. I personally have never needed to call a GM.

Worldview
There seems to be no mention of God in FFXI, but there are some references to a goddess named Altana that many npcs in Vana’diel refer to when speaking. “Altana help us” is a phrase mentioned more than once. The job called summoner calls on other avatars to come help fight battles. This job could have its roots in polytheism or animism. The crystals that are infused with energy reveal a leaning towards new age or eastern mysticism. There is a plot line about a ghost, which probably has some, perhaps unconscious, comments on an afterlife of some sort. Although these examples are not Christian, and even could be seen as anti-Christian, they are not forced upon the players. One could completely overlook them if desired because they are part of the plots that go with missions and quests and other extras that are not required for leveling a character. The overall attitude of FFXI, however, cannot be overlooked.

The overall worldview of FFXI would be that the world of Vana’diel has existed for many years, there are deities, people need help from deities, and that fighting for honor and goodness are desirable. The world of Vana’diel seems to breed adventurers (heros) who are willing to help others and enjoy life. There are many celebrations held for players during certain times of the year and encourages friendship. What drives the kingdoms in Vana’diel are love, honor, glory, respect, friendship, and community.

For real life characters, the overall attitude in gameplay will vary. It seems that many people ignore real life when playing the game. Some people talk about their real life, but others just play without really holding valuable conversation. This difference is probably mostly due to personality and situation, but it seems some zombies do exist in FFXI. However, many people are friendly without mentioning their real lives. They talk about the game, where to go for quests, how far they have for levels, or how long they’ve spent waiting on drops from mobs. People seem to play the game for linkshell friends, for entertainment, to fill their time, or for the addiction to the game. What seems to drive the world the players create for themselves is leveling, making gil, and time.

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Level of Impact

On the Level of Impact scale, I give FFXI a rating of High. FFXI takes a lot of time to play and usually presents at least a mild addiction. As players come across other players, they are certainly to gain opinions about other people and about life. Although high in impact, the impact can be either positive or negative, depending on what the player makes of the FFXI experience. As in real life, one must chose his friends wisely. The social networking can be a very positive impact on a player’s life that will help him/her learn to be more cooperative. Considering addiction, each person has the power to overcome if they so chose. As in real life, players have to consider daily what is truly important.