LoTR – real world pics

I meant to post this a few weeks ago, 10 years after I took a trip to New Zealand and managed to visit a few movie locations. I forgot until today and was reminded because some friends posted other pics on Facebook as a #TBT.

A little over 10 years ago, in Nov 2004, I had the chance to travel to New Zealand with two friends. It was a great trip overall, with tons of great memories.

We started planning the trip months in advance, and being an enormous Lord of the Rings fan, I bought the Lord of the Rings Guidebook with the hope I’d get a chance to get a tour in somewhere. I definitely wanted to do it, but I was also touring with my friends and knew that we might not have full agreement or even have time to squeeze it in.

To sum it up, I got a chance to spend an afternoon in Wellington looking for various locations, and later in Queenstown, got to take a “Lord of the Rings” tour. At the time, I wasn’t even playing any MMOs; I had stopped Asheron’s Call nearly 2 years earlier, and had yet to start Guild Wars (I think its release was still a few months away). WoW hadn’t even been released, but that was just days away – in fact it released while I was touring. I visited some friends in New Zealand who showed me the game during the first week it was out, but I didn’t wind up trying it until summer 2007, when I also picked up LoTRO.

Anyway, here are some Lord of the Rings related pics I took while I was there 10 years ago.

Reaching for the Ring

Reaching for the Ring

Nazgûl path

Nazgûl path

This spot on path in a park in Wellington, as far as I could determine given my GPS accuracy, etc. is where the hobbits hid from the Nazgûl. Basically just off the path served as the location. I had a tough time navigating to the “exact” location due to bouncy GPS readings, and unfortunately is was getting late so I had to hurry to beat sundown.

Tour Vehicles

Tour Vehicles

Later outside Queenstown, I took a guided tour to various shooting locations. I rode in the Arwen jeep and this was a tour where I knew more than the guide about the lore of the movies. :)

Ford of Bruinen

Ford of Bruinen

This unassuming river (stream…) served as the Ford of Bruinen for the movies. One thing to keep in mind is the amount of post-processing done in a modern movie. According to the guide and the book, principal shooting was done here, and later various digital effects added (foreground, background, etc) so it doesn’t resemble the final product in the movie. Which is good because I didn’t want to be swept away by Elrond invoking the power of Vilya.

Gladden Fields

Gladden Fields

Here is where Isildur was ambushed by Orcs and lost the Ring into a river.

We also saw some mountains that appeared as various background shots, as well as the formation that was used for the Argonath. That one was interesting in that much like the Ford of Bruinen, the filming location was digitally edited to add in the Pillars of the Kings monuments.

Anyway, it was a great vacation in general, and for me in particular the Lord of the Rings tour was a highlight. If I return to New Zealand, I’d like to take other ones. Queenstown alone had ~3 location tours (of which I only had time to take one). The North island had some filming locations too: Lake Taupo and surroundings (Mount Doom and Mordor) as well as Matamata (Hobbiton set); I was fortunate to have some time in Wellington to see some of the film locations in that area but didn’t get to tour Weta Studios. Now there might be a few newer things to see because of the Hobbit trilogy – I see there is a new Hobbit Guidebook!

Maybe I’ll get a chance to return and if so, I will definitely make a point to take more LoTR/Hobbit tours. ;)

Hope you enjoyed the pics!

WoW – Best and Worst

Best

WoW continues to be mostly fun – the good/great part is grouping with friends and doing some dungeons/instances – the 5 man variety. One night 3 of us level 100s were on, a rogue, monk (me), and warrior, so we grouped up and queued for random instances. Since we had a tank, our queues pop really quick (within a minute or two) which is awesome. Later, my rogue friend and I queued and it took about ~30 mins to get in as 2 DPS, which also isn’t too bad really. Still, having a healer or tank to queue with is a major advantage.

We ended up in Skyreach (and later, Skyreach again):

Skyreach

Skyreach

I know it’s just executing a rotation against AI but I think Blizzard does a good job with the artwork/design and boss fights. They are fun and most bosses have some quirky mechanic you have to deal with. So far the typical “don’t stand in the fire” applies, but there are some other ones that involve hiding being objects, fighting various adds, blocking a light beam while fighting, enraging and stampeding in some random direction, etc. These mechanics add some variety and contribute a bit more complexity than just wailing away at a mob with high health… but overall the feeling of teamwork to defeat the boss is plain fun. Watching the boss wind up their big attack is also entertaining, as long as you also remember to react.

The 2nd time we went into Skyreach, our healer was a Mistweaver monk – the first one I’ve seen in Draenor. I’ve had Paladin, Druid, and Priest healers, but no Shaman or Monk until now. Well, still no Shaman because we got a monk. It went well, which is encouraging since that means I can be a decent/ok and hopefully good healer and provide some flexibility when it comes to doing instances.

And heck, a lot of the reason my decision to play a monk, paladin, or druid came down to the flexibility of multiple roles – those 3 classes are able to serve all the roles. So perhaps this weekend I’ll look into Mistweaving on Suldrun, and practice in the Proving Grounds instance. Eventually I’ll try healing for a guild group which should be less demanding than an average random group.

Worst

WoW also continues to be just terrible, as far as open world PvP. This about sums it up:

Ganked

Ganked

Earlier while questing on my level 33 druid, a level 42 or maybe 44 warrior attacked me. They used their root/charge skill but I was able to hit escape via Displacer Beast and Prowl (teleport/speed buff plus stealth, for those not familiar with druids in WoW). I found a safe spot and watched while stealthed; after a few minutes the enemy mounted up and rode away. Gankers are bullies that seek easy fights, they are lazy and don’t want a challenge.

However, having stealth and situational awareness is not a guarantee. Around 15 mins later the gank occurred, from a stealthed level 100 rogue. I can’t really do much when an attack that I never saw coming kills me in one hit. I can understand wanting some variety away from dungeons and questing, but I personally cannot imagine being so bored that killing other players with zero risk is in any way entertaining. I suppose that’s why I don’t skulk around ganking lowbies because if I’m ever at that point, I’d just log off and do something else. I think I’ll keep track of ganks or good escapes just to highlight what passes as gameplay for some folks.

The ganking further cements my opinion that open world PvP – in a themepark as Eri pointed out – is pretty much the worst design in MMOs.

To be clear, what I find absolutely awful about open world PvP: ganking. The one-shot-kills are horrifically poor game mechanics. At a lesser level of terrible is all the other stuff: the non-balance between classes, the gear and level differences, etc.

Somewhere in between

I’ve noticed a stratification among my various friends the play, already, mere weeks into the expansion. That stratification is all gear based. I’m not used to playing a game with such obvious gear discrepancies so what probably isn’t a big deal to the long-term players is very noticeable to me.

Basically, due to days off and/or other commitments, one group of friends has been able to play more. As it happens, one friend is behind leveling (and gear), I’m in the middle, and two friends are way ahead. One of the ones ahead is a tank, so he’s got an easy time with the instance finder (short queue times), and another was just able to get a lot of hours in so as a result she’s essentially maxed out until raiding starts.

On the one hand this is cool, part of the fun is the loot-upgrade design. One the other, we can’t group anymore for instances as there is a low/high limit on gear/level before entering an instance. Oof!

It makes sense – somebody overpowered would destroy all the mobs while somebody underpowered would get destroyed (or not effectively heal or tank for the group). But the side effect is that my friends are split and we can’t group for instances/dungeons at the moment.

What would be really cool is if everything scaled – mobs and player level/gear – so that a group could enter and tackle the content at the intended level of difficulty. This would mean boosting the gear/level of lower/under leveled players (temporary boost that only exists in the instance) and nerfing the gear/level of higher/over leveled players (again, just while in the instance).

LoTRO provides something along those lines for solo players trying to catch up in the storyline – the Heroic Inspiration buff you can get if you enter (some?) storyline groups quests as a soloer. As I recall, the quest giver has two options – regular group option, or solo with buff option. So it isn’t quite what I mean since the buff applies to make a soloer stronger (like a small fellowship I suppose!) rather than even out a group that enters.

Anyway, such a system does not exist in WoW and we’ll be separated for a while, especially with holidays and vacations coming up.

GW2 – Quick Session

I hadn’t logged into GW2 in a bit so I decided to adventure on my ranger a bit.

I didn’t have much time so the original plan was to work my way into Timberline Falls towards the next step in my Living Story. Glyneth is level 74 and the quest lists at level 70 so I figured it was about time.

But while examining the map, I noticed that I had “lost” map completion on two zones: Lions Arch and Plains of Ashford. I was missing two quests in the Plains of Ashford, and one point of interest in Lions Arch. I’m sure this was because they were added in some update since I finished off the zones.

So that became my new goal. I wandered in the Plains of Ashford for a while, participated in a dynamic event or two – – actually I jumped in the initial portion, defending a base. The next step was escort some engineers, and the final part was defend the mortars.

It’s fun in that somebody else probably decided to do it, knowing it could be tough with one human player and NPC defenders. But then I showed up and helped out; by the time we were at the mortar defense we were 3 or 4 players strong and had a much easier time.

After that I had a tough time locating the new quests. I visited “blank” areas on the map, but as it turned out the two I missed were tucked into the upper left corner, where I didn’t think there was enough room. From the position these 2 new quests were in, they must have been added for new players since they would come across them almost immediately after stepping out of the city as a new Charr.

The point of interest in LA was easy to find as it was on my map in the middle of the water. After a quick dive, I got it.

I had already received the cartographer awards for these two zones, so I didn’t re-get them. I just got back to 100% so my mapping OCD can relax. ;)

Running out of time, I map traveled close to Timberline Falls and closed out viewing a vista. GW2 is pretty fun and relaxing and is a great fit when I just have ~30-45 mins to play.

Timberline Falls Vista

Timberline Falls Vista

Open world PvP

Massively ran a 3 part SoapBox series on why MMOs should abandon raiding. The 3rd part of the series contains links to the first 2 parts.

It’s an interesting read… the main argument comes down to resource utilization and what percentage of the player base takes part.

There is a great quote in the 3rd article about open world PvP:

Raids as a staple in MMOs are, ultimately, just like open PvP: They were something that seemed necessary for a while, something some people liked and a lot of others disliked… and they ultimately are holding the genre back.

And this I heartily agree with.

The kind of PvP I enjoy is battlegrounds style: separate zone, limited numbers, maybe even some objective like CtF. Guild Wars had the best implementation in their Alliance Battles: fairly balanced small numbers (12 on 12) where the fighting occurs in a separate zone. Guild Wars 2’s PvP is more zerg-like since the number aren’t necessarily checked. Plus, GW lets you create a PvP-only character so level and gearing is a non-issue. GW2 up-levels you as well (I think – I’ve only gone into WvW on a level 80).

Even WoW’s battlegrounds are fun – the major downside is the level restrictions are quite large (a decade, at least it was the last time I went in). LoTRO’s PvP is also OK, but since the two sides are totally different and there isn’t any number balancing it can be fairly lopsided.

All of the above PvP implementations (both Guild Wars games, WoW battlegrounds, LoTRO Ettenmoors) are in a separate zone, so when you are in the mood to PvP, go there and get your fill.

But in open world PvP, I’m not sure what the design actually selects for. Between level differences, class differences, gear differences, and possible numerical advantages (lets say outnumbering your target 2 to 1 or more), I’m not sure what comes about from open world PvP other than attracting opportunists and gankers, basically the scumbags of the MMO community.

I’ve seen the argument made that that PvP worlds produce better PvE players. But I don’t see how. What I’ve learned is that being outleveled is a disadvantaged, being outnumbered is a disadvantage, not grinding the same gear quality is a disadvantage, being in the middle of fighting PvE content and being jumped is a disadvantage, and that ranged attackers have a significant advantage in starting fights and running away if things don’t go well for them. None of which helps me in any particular way. Besides, correlation is not causation and it could simply be players “better” at MMO-type games also like PvP, not that playing on an open world PvP server makes them better (where “better” boils down to more progression down end-game content).

Now a RL confession is… I’m older than your average gamer. I’m well into my 4th decade and creeping up on my 5th. ;) My reflexes aren’t as razor shaped as they… well they probably weren’t ever razor sharp haha. I can play the content well enough but against another person, I react slower, especially initially. If it takes me an extra 0.1 seconds to interrupt or use some critical defensive skill, that might be something I can’t recover from. Imagine I were attacked by my clone except a Horde (enemy faction) version and we both execute the same rotation and skills. Except I am late on a handful of them by a tenth of a second. Yeah.

It’s times like this where I like EVE’s gameplay. It certainly isn’t “twitch” and is more about your planning in advance what modules you fit to your ship. And if someone else does attack you there are multiple avenues for responding: coming back in another ship (basically the MMO equivalent of changing classes), or putting a bounty on them (no real analog in other MMO’s). I also like that EVE lets you stealth (i.e. fit a cloak module) on basically any ship. Granted some cloaking modules will have major drawbacks, like a movement penalty, but many times it is handy to be invisible while gathering intel. In WoW, only a few classes can stealth (rogues and druids as far as I know) and otherwise you can make a potion to do it for 18 seconds… bleh.

EVE – quick errands

It’s been a while since I played – I forgot to reset my planetary interaction last week. Oh well.

Aurora is nearing 32 million skill points, so her Xi clone wouldn’t be good for much longer. Thus I swapped into the Buzzard and started the scan procedure for hisec, in order to get to a station and run these errands.

But first, I checked the corporate bookmarks and it looked like there was a pair of current entries: the N110 to hisec and the K162 back home. I decided to give them a try since it would save me 5-10 minutes and maybe even more.

After a quick d-scan to make sure nothing unusual was around, I took a risk and jumped 0 km to the N110. And it was there, so I passed through and found myself in Jouvulen (which I already knew from the K162 bookmark info). This meant the closest trade hub was good old Jita.

Well, it isn’t too bad unless there is some “Burn Jita” event going on ;).

Once in Jita, with a nice eventless trip, I docked up and did a bit of shopping: various skills and a clone upgrade. My skill queue is a mix of missiles, electronic warfare, logistics, and drones and it is lengthy as well – 295 days. I’m sure 2 months from now I’ll juggle stuff around, adding and subtracting skills, so what is there right now will change drastically.

WoW – My Garrison

Suldrun is level 98 now, with a Level 2 Garrison and various level 2 buildings.

So far, I am enjoying running the Garrison. It generates 30 mins to 1 hour of stuff to do each day, and provides me some tangible benefits.

Daily Resources

Daily Resources

It produces resources, so pick them up after logging in.

Follower Missions

Follower Missions

Then I’ll wander into my town hall and check on any completed missions (that I sent my followers on). The mission rewards are typically experience (for the followers), gold, garrison resources, or sometimes items – but I haven’t completed one of those yet out of two I’ve tried. The first one I failed because I misunderstood the mission obstacle – I didn’t send followers that could counter all the obstacles. Doh! The second one I failed due to bad luck – I had countered the obstacles, but due to the level of the challenge versus the level of my followers, there was just a 67%, and I was not lucky that time.

Alchemy Lab

Alchemy Lab

I swing by my alchemy lab and sometimes a follower I assigned produces an extra item for me to pick up. While I do appreciate the items that Bruna Swiftstone generates, I might take her off alchemy duty because she’s my only follower (right now) that can counter Minion Swarms and I need her available for missions. Plus she needs to level up!

Herb Garden

Herb Garden

After that I’ll go outside the wall to the herb garden, pick up any previous work orders, and harvest whatever is there. Sometimes a single enemy spawns so I’ll have a quick fight. The garden is nice because Suldrun is an alchemist/herbalist, so I can use what I harvest to skill up. I’ll check with the gardener and send in some work orders if I have enough Draenic Seeds.

I’ll then zip over to the excavation, pick up any previous work orders, and descend into the mine and harvest all the available ore. Even though Suldrun isn’t a miner, I can mine the nodes that appear in the excavation. I’m assuming that non-herbalists can similarly pick from the herb garden. I’ve had a single mob spawn here as well, so sometimes there is a quick fight too. Once outside, I’ll check with the foreman and send in work orders if I have enough Draenic Stone.

Fishing

Fishing

Sometimes I fish but not always. It is kinda dull and the only reason I do it is for cooking, which isn’t too exciting BUT cooking provides huge benefits via food that heals giant amounts of health/mana. I did one daily quest about getting fish eggs, and wondered what to do with the leftover meat. I looked through the Draenic cooking section and saw that I could make food that healed 170K health over 20 seconds (?!) so I tossed out all the meals I made skilling up in Pandaria and made a bunch of the new foods which are hugely better. But of course they need to be because the level cap in MoP was 90 and now it is 100. Anyway, what was even nicer is I received more recipes while my cooking skill climbed.

I also have my own Bank, Lunarfall Inn, and Dwarven Bunker (various building options I chose). Like everyone else, I have my own flight master.

My Garrison

My Garrison

And then when I’m ready, I’ll fly off to a quest hub and work on various quests or the storyline more. Before logging off, I’ll check available missions and send followers out on any that look good.

I like this system a lot since it provides some useful benefits.

I can fiddle around a bit and essentially gather several resources in the garrison instance in peace – I also gather while questing but the garrison is a nice supplement. Sending followers off on mission is a little mini-game that scores me some gold once in a while, more or less trades garrison resources for gold. Or, gets me bonus garrison resources… the typical mission just gets experience for the followers I sent on it.

I can fish and cook right near the fish shack, and on a PvP world it is handy having food around – after some fights I need to heal up and it isn’t too wise to wait for natural regen or blow all your energy casting healing spells.

There is still plenty of player interaction – I keep chat open and a steady stream of messages scroll by. That of course is a minor issue given I have several RL friends playing so chat with friends, guild chat, and queueing for instances provides plenty of player interaction even tucked away in my garrison instance.

And of course having that 2nd hearthstone is extremely convenient!

I realize that my garrison is essentially a clone of every other player’s garrison; the differences being what buildings they choose and the upgrade level of those buildings. There aren’t decoration options available, which I know many players enjoy. But while I had fun decorating my house in LoTRO, I don’t really use it except for the extra storage. And to listen to the awesome background music I have playing when I’m there ;). But I visit so rarely I forget I have a house so it is good thing I pay the upkeep fee 3+ months in advance.

What the WoW garrison lacks in customization it makes up for in usefulness. It provides a few mins of easy tinkering before getting ready to quest out in Draenor. It’s a nice feature and Blizzard can really some cool stuff to its mechanics in future expansions.

WoW – early Draenor

I haven’t blogged much about gaming, because I’m too busy playing and having fun instead.

Draenor

I was having fun in Pandaria, maybe I’m the only person playing that enjoyed it or something. Granted, the Pandaren race didn’t excite me, but I do very much enjoy the class that they brought in with them (the monk) and the zones and music. So pretty much most everything except the physical appearance of the Pandaren, which I realize is a personal preference.

I finished up all the quests I could find in Jade Forest and moved into other zones, but WoD released so I jumped into that as soon as I could. It started with a quest line that lead to my initial garrison… but I’m sure you knew that because everybody has talked about it.

My Garrison

My Garrison

I’ve finished off Shadowmoon Valley and started in Gorgorond; there are 4-5 other Draenor zones I haven’t been to at all. And eventually I’d like to go back and see the rest of Pandaria even if I’m overleveled for it. Maybe I’ll work my way backwards through the expansions and arrive at vanilla WoW areas. ;)

Garrison

So far I am enjoying the garrison mechanics. I’ve upgraded to a Level 2 garrison, and have an alchemy lab, dwarven bunker, storage, and inn. I’ve tried out alchemy work order, as well as mined in the excavation just outside. I started the fish quest and am midway, and notice there is an herbalist as well, with a grayed out exclamation point (quest marker) – so that’s something I’m not yet eligible for.

As an aside: it would be awesome if I could name that future garden “Suldrun’s Garden” after the book I took the name from. :)

Dungeons

I’ve queued up for 2 Draenor dungeons so far: Bloodmaul Slag Mines and Iron Docks. Both were mostly with guildies and fun to do. The loot is good too but we’re not in gearing up mode right now; I just like the grouping plus the gold and experience is really worthwhile.

I enjoy Blizzard’s sly humor and pop culture references:

Croman the Barbarian

Croman the Barbarian

Quests

I’ve noticed that certain tough boss-type monsters in the open world – I’ve seen the playerbase refer to them as elites and also as rares – aren’t tapped/tagged by a single player. Meaning, you can join in while somebody else is fighting, help out, and get credit for the kill too. That’s really cool and promotes light teaming here and there.

If nobody is around I’ll give it a shot, but keep my Touch of Death skill handy. That one lets me kill a target of less health than me (there is a modification to where it works on a raid boss if the boss is less than 10% health) so I’ll fight, heal myself, and keep an eye on when my enemy dips under that threshold.

Boost

The level 90 boost is an excellent idea, IMHO. It lets somebody like me actually play with others that have max level chars. The timing was good too, I had a few weeks before the expansion went live so I could play a class for a while to see if I liked it, then boost and have some time at the old level ceiling to quest (earn money) and acclimate to new skills I gained.

If the boost didn’t exist, then either my friends would have to be willing to level yet another char, or I’d just pretty much be solo while coming up the ranks. I tried that before and it didn’t work, leading to my first unsub. I don’t mind mostly soloing while leveling, but being left out of grouping when you have RL friends also playing is tough – even though it is nobody’s fault really. I was too low level to join them, they were too powerful to join me, so the two options were: (me) level like crazy to catch up, or (them) start another char to level with me.

GW2 has a nice solution with the down-leveling mechanic… maybe Blizzard could think about implementing something like that. But GW2 was always that way from the start; I can imagine many WoW players wouldn’t want to downlevel the char they’ve played to a high level. Or who knows, maybe they would.

WoW take 3

What’s different for me this time around is I have 3 real life friends also playing AND I have one high level character that can join them. So I’ll quest a bit, and when we have critical mass (including other guildies as not everybody overlaps their play) we’ll do a dungeon which is great variety and lots of fun.

I do plan to level another char as a secondary goal, but I can’t say enough how the level 90 boost really made the difference for me.

Anyway, just a bunch of random thoughts from a level 95 monk.