Navigating around the world (of Warcraft)

World of Warcraft (WoW) is bigger than Jesus, in fact, it’s bigger than The Beatles. It’s a game I personally have over 350 days played on. I love WoW. It pisses me off, the developers are trying their best to ruin it, and the general WoW playerbase is probably the worst collection of dipshits this side of a Limp Bizkit reunion concert. But, despite those glaring problems, it is quite simply the greatest game ever created.

For the uninitiated, WoW is a role playing game that exists completely online with thousands of other players in a persistent world. Basically, what this means is that you pick a race (Human, Orc, Gnome, Elf, etc) and then a class (Mage, Rogue, Warrior, etc) and you start off as a lowly level 1 dude with 1 or two abilities. The level cap currently is 70, soon to be raised to level 80 in the next expansion and they will be adding a new class, the Death Knight. So you run around with your one spell, you get a quest to kill some wolves or other runts, and you do your duty to Azeroth. You start leveling up very quickly, and with each even numbered level you get new abilities, making you more powerful. Then you add in getting better armor, weapons, taking up trade skills and creating your own powerful stuff… well, you get the picture. After about 10 levels it has already taken over your life, you just don’t know it yet. When you break plans with real life friends to enter a 25 man raid instance, you start to get an inkling of what this game has done to your mind.

But I’m certainly not condemning it. In most ways WoW is better than real life. Like, for instance, my characters are rich! I have lots of gold! I also have more friends in the game than I do outside of it, but of course not to the same level of friendship. But you meet A LOT of people, and they are part of the fabric that makes the game great.

Squidoo has more freaking lenses about World of Warcraft than you can shake a stick at. Do you want to make gold, fast? Want to learn the inner workings of the warlock class? Or maybe you are a rogue and you want need help leveling your lock picking? Or maybe your character is a miner, which is the toughest of all the gathering skills to level, and you need some help.

Basically, what i am saying is that if you like WoW, go to Squidoo, they have so much freaking crap on this game that it’s unreal.

I have many, many issues with where WoW is headed, but my hopes for the expansion are still high. Someday soon I will write an editorial type bitchfest on the problems with the game. But now is not the time for that. Here is to hoping that Wrath of the Lich King is a success.

Kicking it old school and getting kicked out of school

For some people, and I am not one of them, gaming begins and ends in the 80s and early 90s. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of these video games as I grew up. I remember being about 8 years old and my father bringing me into his work to make money to buy the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I played the first Super Mario Brothers, and only Super Mario Brothers, for about a year straight. It was amazing.

I can’t say that I am immune to nostalgia, because I do get bit by it every once in a while, but what I generally find is that those games are a lot better in my memories than they are actually being played, today, in 2008. But everyone’s mileage varies, like I can throw in any of the old Mario games and still get great joy out of them. But, a game like Madden 93, which I thought was the greatest sports game ever, just seems silly when you try to play it now. But good game play is good game play, and there are certainly a number of games out there worth your time.

Squidoo is very much a capitalist society, there are many people who make a lot of money there, treating it as a sort of Ebay where they can peddle their wares, or get a cut of stuff sold from their pages through Amazon.com (and others). One such member, who goes by the name of Classicvideogamesplus has created a lens dedicated to selling old school games.

Well, let me somewhat rephrase that. Yes, the page is filled with games he is selling, but the page is also about his love for all things old school. It’s a great stop just to take a trip down memory lane, take a gander at some tittles you may have completely forgotten about. Everything he is doing is done with love for something he enjoys.

But, Squidoo is also a very nice place to find some, um how do I say it, shady… yes, shady info into the world of video games.

Want to play on Xbox Live for free? Check this lens out. Or this one! Want to play old school games for free online in what may or may not be completely legal? Go here. And then go here! Or, lastly, want to download and burn 1000s of PS2 games? Go here, but only as a backup, of course, because you don’t want to break the law.

The internet is an interesting place, a place where we need to create our own moral codes. So far Squidoo has allowed users to decide for themselves what they find right or wrong. Personally, I don’t have a problem playing emulated games, because you can’t buy them new anymore anyway, so even if i was to buy a “real” copy somewhere, it would be used, and the money wouldn’t be going to the company anyway. The PS2 games, though, are in a pretty extreme grey area for me. It’s a little bit too soon to feel comfortable doing that. For me at least.

There are also a number of lenses dedicated to hacking certain games, that’s something I don’t condone and won’t be promoting. Well, I don’t condone hacking online games, to get an advantage over other humans. If it’s just a single player thing and you want to mess with it I have no issues with that.

But search around Squidoo, you might be surprised what legit stuff you find, and some guys creeping out of shadows whispering “Hey, kid, come here, I have some candy for ya.”

Also, I wanted to give a quick shout out to my friends over at DemandSatisfaction.net. They, like myself, are sick of how uninformative the pop culture press has become, and how stuck on silly arbitrary things the masses have become (like, say, how a 7.9 rated game is soooooo much worse than a 8.0 rated game). They are doing it differently, with words. WORDS! Kudos to them, I hope the site takes off.

Age of Conan: Further impressions and a very early and probably unfair WoW Comparison

Age of Conan has caused me extreme sadness. Not many games have been able to bum me out, but AoC has definitely done it. It has proven to me that my computer has finally reached “over the hill” which is basically the game giving me a bill for $800 and saying “pay it or you are washing the dishes, bitch.”

For a while I just could not get a playable frame rate. I am sitting at or just slightly above all of the minimum system requirements, so I wasn’t expecting the world, but the second night of release it was just a damn slideshow. After hours of messing with settings in game, cleaning up my computer out of game, and praying to internet Jesus I was able to get the game to be playable and look decent enough. It still hiccups a lot, and every time it does part of my soul dies, and I shed a single tear for my old, haggard computer, but the game plays well enough.

*Some very low level quest spoilers ahead*

So, once I had it all running again I took my level 5 guy that had just made it to the first town and started going about town and running quests for people. At first the questing system is good, really good, I mean at level 5 you are doing much more complex stuff than you are at level 5 in a game like WoW, and the story line is already epic. So I started following this one quest line that dealt with a resistance to the overbearing guards of the city. I was like ‘alright suckers, I’m already in the thick of this crap!’ and it sent me to an inn to talk to a very, very large breasted girl. She then gave me the option to turn it to night time, which basically makes the game a solo instance for you. So I did that, and I followed this whole string of quests which unraveled how corrupt the city has become, who is pulling the strings, what type of crazy magic they are using to do it, and I used my rogue-ish powers to stop it all. At one point I even blew up a volcano to take out a gaggle of troops, and I had to run down the mountain as it was blowing chunks all over the place. It was awesome.

*end very low level quest spoilers*

The combat is getting better and better as I level, which I guess is obvious to anyone who has played an MMO. If you look at what you can do in WoW at level 5 and compare it to level 20, then to level 70, you find that it grows and changes and fleshes itself out much better. I am happy to say the same is happening with Conan. It’s still all about using real time attacks against your opponents ever shifting defenses, but you get more combos and actual skills you can use to augment just the direction based attacks. It’s very fun and completely satisfying.

Now onto my way too early to do and unfair to both game comparison!

Technical issues – The edge goes to WoW here by a long shot. WoW isn’t perfect, and there are still lag issues and servers crashing and whatnot like 3 years after launch, but AoC is very unstable right now. The server didn’t go down at all while I played for hours last night, but you can tell they have a lot of work to do to make this a more stable game. But such is life playing an MMO at launch. And as far as that goes, it’s launch is just as stable as WoW’s was.

Graphics – On my system WoW looks better. On a good system, AoC destroys WoW. WoW mostly gets by with art direction, because the underlying engine isn’t all that impressive anymore, but the artists and world designers at Blizzard really know how to make the most of what they have. The world design and art direction in AoC is also very high, but on a low end system like mine the graphics are just very, very uneven. There are some super low res textures, popup, things like that. But again, that’s because my computer sucks ass. I set everything to high just to see how it looked and I was completely floored. I am also impressed with the world they have created. I mean, if I am climbing up a giant volcano around level 8 what the heck am I going to be doing at level 80? I’m excited about the future. But for now I can run wow at 1900×1200 or some crap like that, and get 60fps… and I run Conan at 1280x700something and I get 20fps and lots of stutters, so WoW is the winner.

Combat – Combat is what the AoC developers really focused on to set it a part from other MMOs and I am happy to say that it does deliver like they promised. With everything playing out in real time, and having actual real time defenses that you can shift as you play (and as does the mobs you fight) it ends up being a much more complex experience than a game like WoW which is all auto target, auto attack, no worries about aiming or a player being able to physically move out of the way of an attack. The combat system in AoC is deep and fun and very skill oriented, which should make PvP exciting.

PvP! – Well, I haven’t done any in AoC yet, I am on a PvP server but it doesn’t kick in until level 20 when you get off of Noob Island. But, I have done a ton of WoW PVP and right now I just feel like it is in a very bad state. Arenas are very imbalanced and value class makeup over skill, and offer easy rewards even for losing. Battlegrounds have been all but forgotten and don’t have the same intensity they once did. And world PVP has gone the way of the Dodo, even with Blizzard trying to add PVP objectives in each new zone they make. The promise of what AoC’s PvP holds should put it over the top. They have battlegrounds just like WoW, and world PvP is rampant because of the fact that there are more lower levels running around (just like the heyday of WoW world PVP) and also there are very important keeps and such to conquer in zones, and from what I read they are highly contested, unlike similar objectives that WoW has thrown in. And then at the end game guilds get to build their own keeps, and other guilds can try to seize them from you, bringing siege weapons to take down walls. It sounds amazing. But as of now I can’t comment on how it all works.

Questing/Leveling/Instancing – AoC already blows WoW out of the water here. It levels faster than WoW does, which keeps the carrot on a stick much closer to your nose, which I guess is good and bad, but so far it’s been mostly good. I can’t believe how much my character has improved in just a short time. Likewise, I am leveling a new guy in WoW right now and even with their buffs and vast internet guides to make leveling quicker, I am still finding it painfully slow.

I guess the real reason for that is the questing system. When I was doing that quest line last night in the spoilers paragraph I stopped caring about my leveling or getting ahead and I was just sucked into this really awesome and epic story line. But, when I came out of it a few hours later, I had gained like 5 levels, so not only was the story great, but the xp was great, and I got nice rewards and I was much more powerful in the end. I have more tools to fight multiple mobs (something AoC is about, in WoW its all about crowd control and some AOE, in AoC it’s all about fighting many guys at once and laying waste to all of them, even your basic weapon swings are AOE in the sense that anything near them gets hit also, you don’t just lock on to a target).

Solo instances are awesome, it’s something people have been begging for in WoW since launch and something blizzard has said time and time again won’t be happening because of balancing issues and blah blah blah. But what they fail to recognize is the story telling ability that this opens up. Like, for instance, say there is a farm building outside of town in the normal zone. If you start a quest that makes a solo instance, you can make a quest where that farm building is being burned to the ground and you have to run in and save the people inside (this isn’t an actual quest, btw, it’s just a general idea of what they are able to pull off without getting into spoilers). In a non instanced world you can’t do stuff like that, because it would make no sense. Solo instances = better story telling, and blizzard better copy it or they are going to be left in the dust on the story telling front.

I haven’t done any 6 man instances yet, so I can’t comment on them.

UI – The AoC UI is an absolute disaster, and I really hope there are huge upgrades coming in patch 1.1. It’s big, you can’t move stuff around, it just generally sucks ass. AoC does not allow much in the way of modding, which is something I am actually happy about because that way the designers can design the game around what’s actually in the game, not the cheating mods that they know everyone is using. But, at the same time, if they aren’t gonna allow us to mod it, they need to make their own stuff perfect, and it is far from it at this point. Much work is needed here, while WoW’s default UI is incredibly robust at this point. WoW wins this by a landslide.

Economy – Sorry, i can’t really speak on it yet. Crafting doesn’t even start until level 30 or 40. There is a robust AH though, but I have no use for it at this point. I assume it will be fine, and then infested with gold sellers, just like WoW… but, yeah, I can’t say for sure yet.

Community – The same. General chat in WoW is filled with idiots bitching about wow or talking about inane BS. General chat in AoC is filled with idiots bitching about WoW also. It’s the same effing chat! Ugh. The AoC forums are also filled with the same level of crying and bitching and lack of technical understanding that the WoW forums have become famous for. This category is a wash, they both suck. But, one Squidoo lensmaker has taken it upon herself to make a nice community and place for info, and while it’s just starting off this should become a great place for Conan related info, and meeting other mature players.

In the end WoW is definitely a tighter, more put together game. That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, as AoC just launched and has many technical hurdles to overcome. But AoC holds much more promise than WoW. If things keep unraveling and moving forward like they have thus far I feel like AoC is going to be a better game than WoW and The Burning Crusade expansion. The ball is now in Blizzard’s court to make their next expansion Wrath of the Lich King better. I hope they can, because I love Blizzard and I love WoW… and in the end I love better games, so rooting against them making a better game is kinda silly. But, for now, I think AoC, a few technical hurdles aside, is a more compelling experience. At least at the very early stage I am at with it.

*EDIT*

My first PVP kill, the poor bastard would probably feel worse if he knew I did it at like 7 frames per second.

Needle in a Haystack

With the advent of online gaming going from little known tech geek nirvana to full fledged industry juggernaut over the past 20 or so years, it’s created it’s own digital wild west. Just about all online games are anything goes type affairs, including blatant racism, sexism, homophobia or any other act that anonymous users can muster up in some lame attempt at being an internet tough guy.

It’s not really limited to specific genres either, hell, even playing Hot Shots Golf you will find people that are just assholes for the sake of being assholes. And beyond player to player interaction, you also get the fun of people who will do anything to cheat the system, work out systems with friends to climb the ranks, or people who just have total disregard for the rules of the game and their purpose is to basically just break the game play.

The place this happens the most, I think because of it’s very nature, is in sports games. Take any random football for instance… the vast majority of the people you play have no regard for how the game of football is played. They will abuse glitches, they will run offenses that work in the game but would never work in real life (Like dropping back 30 yards with your QB buying you enough time for the AI to completely break down and finding yourself open receivers).

This type of play seems to be common place in Madden 08, and in fact it seems like EA supports it as all their Madden Tourneys are just cheese fests. A bunch of hardcore gamers who are looking to beat each other in a video game, not a game of football.

I don’t really have a problem with this. I mean, personally, I like to play a fair, sim based game of football. But with this being the wild west you take the good with the bad. The bad being that if you play random idiots you will play something barely resembling the game. The good being that there are other folks out there that share the same passion for a solid game of sim football.

One such place is Xbox Live Sports Leagues. These guys have gone above and beyond to create a community where playing the game as it was designed to be played is the order of the day, and they are even adding to the games by giving users in their community the chance to add further to the game by hosting leagues and tools that the games themselves have given us yet.

So while it sucks that most every game you get into is going to be filled with jerks, there are some great underground communities that help you filter all of that out. I plan on featuring more of these in the future. But check out XLSL and get yourself ready for Madden 09.

Age of Conan – First Impressions

I am a huge fan of MMOs. You can buy me 100 Xbox 360 games and I won’t get the playtime out of them that I will from one good MMO. World of Warcraft had me by the balls, literally and figuratively. I’ve dumped more time into that game than I’ve spent, well, doing more important things.

So, needless to say, I was excited about Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. World of Warcraft has held my attention for a long, long time… in fact I finally decided to take some time off from it and I lasted a few months but in the last few weeks I jumped back in. But my friend Steve kept talking to me about Age of Conan and about how awesome it was going to be and I didn’t want to hear it because all MMOs begin and end with WoW. But about 2 days ago I caught the bug, it was close enough to launch (Late Monday in the USA) for me to finally give in.

Installing the game is not pretty. Well, it tricks you into thinking it is. There are two discs, how long can that take? Two hours, I found out.

And then it needs to patch, of course, which started as the slowest download I’ve had since I lived with my parents in the late 90s and had 56k. I looked into the problem and found a solution though, about 4 hours into the patch, that made it quicker*.

So anyway, that ends my story of woe. Or whoa. I got into the game, with my barely meeting the minimum requirement PC and it looked like a slide show. There was no FPS number I could give you, it literally was “here is a picture of here” and then because of whatever buttons I pressed in the interim about 5 seconds later it was “well, now you are here, and this is a picture of it.” Unplayable didn’t even begin to explain it.

So i went through the graphics settings, and tried this or that. I finally found something that looked OK enough, and played well enough, and I was on my way. The first thing that you notice, and it’s the game’s selling point, is that the combat is very different than any MMO you have ever played. It is literally in real time, when you hit slash left it slashes left. Of course if uses global cooldowns like other games, but it has this great system of where you can stack defense and where you can use offense on the fly against that defense. In short, FlipFlap can put his defense on the right side predicting that is where the swing is coming in, but if Mort (Bluesteel server, btw, hint hint) goes left where this is no defense he gets bigger chunks of damage. Right now I find it hard to manage, but right now I am level 5, everything is hard to manage.

When I can get the game to be playable (and again, my PC barely hits the min reqs) it really shines. Combat is 90% of any MMO, and AoC does it the best. But I also don’t want to short change the story I have seen so far. It is very intense, and it plays out much more cinematicly than any other MMO on the market. The game has solo instances for chirstsake, with some challenge but the main reason is to continue a story line. This is another place if pulls away from WoW. WoW better copy this.

I don’t want to go nuts right now, I am only five levels into an 80 level MMO. It may get a lot worse from here. In fact one of the zones is complete bugged and is swallowing players. But just the touch of AoC I have seen has me excited about the future, and sad that my computer can’t handle it. Anyone have a spare $600 for me to make a new machine?

Want a more in depth look at Age of Conan. Click this. And then go to that.

*If you are patching AoC just nuke your virus protection, even if you don’t think you need to. I read over and over in the forums about how that fixes it and the whole time I am thinking “I have had mine completely disabled for three years!!!1!” Well, that didn’t matter. It took me 4 hours to get 100mb of the 600mb patch. I uninstalled Norton and I got the last 500mb in about 15 minutes.

Wii Mania (for the rest of you)

Right off the bat I am going to have to admit to not being a huge fan of the Nintendo Wii. I bought one around launch, and it was really fun for like two weeks, and then I didn’t touch it again until Paper Mario came out which was fun, but didn’t do anything particularly Wii-ish. It could have easily been a Game Cube game.

I feel like the machine is a gimmick, they created a not very powerful but cheaply produced box and attached motion sensing controls. The controls are neat, I’ll give them that, but it just isn’t enough for me. I see video games turning into an art form, another vessel to tell great stories. The Wii scoffs at this idea, and it’s games are mostly just simple gimmicky control based fun. And it is fun, but they aren’t looking to create character based games that have stories to tell.

But the numbers do not lie. In April the Wii sold a whopping 714k units. Second place in home consoles was the Xbox 360 with 188k and the PS3 with 187k. So you can combine those two and just pass the halfway point to what the Wii sold. The Wii is just on fire right now. It’s tapped into that iPod “I don’t even know what this is but I need to have it” sales area, and Nintendo is laughing all the way to the bank.

Someday soon I am going to write a long diatribe about how the Wii and the 360/PS3 aren’t even competing, but this isn’t the time or place for it yet.

Wii mania has taken Squidoo by storm also. Thefluffanutta has many, many lenses, but one of his top (and always in the top 3 of the video game section) lenses is My Top Wii Game Reviews.

This page is an excellent resource for any Wii owners out there. It is filled with reviews of most of the major games out there, and other news and info related to this casual gamer leaning console. I had a chance to chat shortly with Da Fluffa, as I like to call him, and he said he has more in store including reviews of some more recent releases.

The Wii definitely skews to a different, less technical savvy audience than most video game systems, and as such it’s new to video game fans may feel at a loss when looking for info on the system. Reviews written by “professional” video game websites will not be written with you in mind. This is why Squidoo is amazing and Thefluffanutta has tapped into a huge void and filled it with some great info. He doesn’t get overly technical, he explains how each game is fun or not fun, what you can expect and gives you a clear picture on whether you should go spend your money on a certain game.

I plan on referencing this lens and Thefluffanutta personally on a lot of Wii related stuff, because he has it all covered. It’s from and for a casual perspective, for you to decide if your 4 year old daughter or 80 year old grandmother will enjoy the game. Big ups to him for filling a void that needs to be filled. And also doing it so I don’t have to. Because, really, just give me a controller and a couch, I don’t want to dance around with a wand and get “Wii-fit.”

Focus Shift TWO THOUSAND EIGHT!

Well friends, this blog has been a success on some levels, not so much a success on others. But the best thing about it has been participating with the Squidoo community. Also, going off on little (OK maybe not little) rants has been therapeutic and fun.

But the time has come for a change, the Heymonkeybrain experiment didn’t meet all expectations, and really I was just too all over the map. If you enjoy my writing it was probably fun, but it lacked focus.

As a Squidoo Champion, it’s time to shift focus in an effort of trying to have something that ties together much more succinctly. So, starting sometime soon, this blog is gonna get a redesign, and the focus will be on Squidoo Videogame Lenses. This is a very popular section of Squidoo at large, and I am as about a hardcore gamer as someone with a girlfriend that doesn’t live in his parent’s basement can be. I’ve put in literally over a year of my life in time played into World of Warcraft. I’ve led Clans in Socom and other shooters. I ran an online football league for NFL2k1, the first console football game to go online. I’m 31, the same age as home console videogames. I remember pong, I had an Atari and Intellivision, and just about every system from then until now.

So I have the street cred, and this blog needs a focus, so that’s where we are headed. I do understand that some of my readers have zero interest in videogames, and I do feel a bit of guilt about that… but it’s time for me to hone writing (and thinking) so this is where I’m going.

I plan on redesigning the site, so I can link news and stuff easier (the web address will stay the same, however). I’m no expert with wordpress, but it will be fun to tinker with all weekend. The stuff I have up now will not be deleted (or moved from current addresses) so if you like something I wrote about something you created, it should still be there in the end. And, there is nothing stopping me from trolling around HMB and throwing a spotlight on some off topic stuff. But it will be fewer and further between.

And in the interest of full disclosure, other than the Ron Paul nuts, my blog about GTA4 pulled in the most traffic by far of any of my posts. It’s not just all about traffic, but that was a signal to me that maybe it was something I was destined to do.

It’s gonna take me a few days to get this up off the ground, starting with the redesign, then the research (i’ve skimmed many a Squidoo videogame lens, but never categorizing them in my brain for this type of project). I also hope to ween my way into the SquidU community, and also grow my base from outside sources.

So, if you are a Squidoo Lensmaster that has some videogame related stuff that you would like featured, hit me up either with a comment or an email. Or just keep reading and your stuff may pop up on here.

Stay tuned, for those of us into this glorious hobby (lifestyle? obsession?) things should become a little bit more fun around here.