Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gaming News: WoW Tokens, Star Wars Galaxies Jedi Hunt Idea, and Antilia No Longer an MMO

By Bixyl Shuftan

While the Newser and Second Life blogs have covered lots of events in Second Life, there's been no shortage of things going on with some of the games we like.

"World of Warcraft" has continued to develop, with a new Blackrock Dungeon. But what's gotten more chatter is the release of something new: the WoW token. The tokens are intended as "an in-game item that allows players to simply and securely exchange gold and game time between each other." In other words, an alternative to buying WoW gold from third party services, which has always been against the rules and could get players suspended or banned.

WoW tokens are purchased from the ingame store for $20 US dollars ($25 Australian Dollars), up to a total of ten over a 30 day period. They can then be sold on the auction house for gold. Once bought from the auction house, they can be redeemed for 30 days of game time.

The tokens were first up for sale on April 6. They were initially valued at the Auction House for 30,000 gold. Demand caused the price to rise for the first few hours. Then the value plummeted to 22,405 gold, a drop of more then 25%. People wondered if it would continue, but the slide halted, going through smaller rises and declines. There was a limit to the number of tokens which could be purchased from the Auction House, but Blizzard soon raised it.

Sources: PC Gamer, Blizzard,

For fans of Star Wars, the MMO aimed at them is "The Old Republic." Before that, there was "Star Wars Galaxies," which was released in 2003 and continued to December 2011. Among those involved in the design was Ralph Koster. In his blog, he recently talked about one of the challenges in the game: jedi characters. Jedi have access to all kinds of powers, but the trouble is "by comparison, everyone else sucks." There was also another issue, in the time perios of the movies, the Empire was hunting down anyone with the potential to be one. So Ralph had a "crazy idea." If people wanted to have the potential to be a Jedi, let them, but there would be a catch. 

You see, the moment you used Force powers within view of anything or anyone Imperial, or indeed any player, they could report you to the Empire. To Darth Vader’s Death Squadron in fact. And that generated someone to come after you. After first, just lowly Stormtroopers. Eventually, cooler characters, such as some of the bounty hunters like IG-88. Eventually, really cool ones like Boba Fett or fan favorite Mara Jade.

These would be brutal fights. Odds are you’d just die. So hiding and training very carefully would be essential. But it wouldn’t matter, of course. As you advanced, your powers would get “noisier” and cooler. You wouldn’t be able to resist using Force Lightning in a crowd, or equipping your lightsaber in view of some Imperials. And eventually, after Boba Fett and Mara Jade and everyone else had failed, well, that would be when Darth Vader himself bestirred himself to take care of the little problem.

And you would die. It would be rigged.

And you didn't just die. You'd have to start over with a new Level 1 character, as the old was was permanently dead, aka "permadeath."

Another idea was how these players would develop their Jedi powers, what Koster called "security through obscurity." When created, a different set of actions was determined for what it would take for them to progress. Anyone could become a Jedi, but how to become one would be less than clear. The intention was to limit the number of players whom would actually finish these quests to become a Jedi, making them rare but powerful, like they were in the stories.

But as it turned out, neither plan left the drawing board. The idea of  "permadeath" made the designers nervous, and there just wasn't enough time. The game was to be released in June 2003, and so they just didn't have the time to develop this idea.

Hat Tip: Hamlet Au

A few readers have mentioned Antilia, a fantasy MMO in development with all furred races. Despite some Kickstarters, efforts to raise cash to help develop the game have been less than successful. So after some years of the game still in alpha, the team has decided to bite the bullet. It was announced that they will not be making the game an MORPG, at least for now.

"We've come to the conclusion that we really want to get something out there with Antillia. What we're going to have to do to make that happen is find a way to make the project simpler. ... The easiest way to do that is to cut out the massive multiplayer online portion." (video link)

The good news, there will still be a multiplayer option. And they haven't completely given up on the idea of an MMO. They'll just have to wait until they have the money, and resources, to develop Antilia to that.

Source: Antilia 

Bixyl Shuftan

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Raglan Shire to Close InWorldz Location

By Bixyl Shuftan

Among the groups in Second Life that made a presence in the InWorldz grid was Raglan Shire, it's most noted community of fans of tiny avatars or "tinies." In June 2010, they got a sim in the virtual world and built what they called the Great Tree. For five years, the place stood, called an example of what could be done with InWorldz. Then on April 9 came some sad news from Zayn Till, the founder of Raglan.

This afternoon I logged in to Inworldz to make the announcement that Raglan Shire IW is going to be closed. The sim will remain on the grid for another 5 weeks & then be shut down (May 15th-ish). This will give everyone enough time to take up any no - copy items or builds (or anything really) if necessary.

While very sad, the sim really hasn't been utilized & I'd rather not continue to accept donations just to make tier if this is the case. I have nothing but respect for the Inworldz grid. The founders & ppl behind the scene make Inworldz fantastic. They deserve a big thank you for all the hard work they did for us. Especially in the beginning. They are the best.

Special thank-you's as well to Etheria, Oceanoz, Liandras, Teal, Caleb & all the folken who helped bring the tree to life as well as maintain it. You are all amazing. It was glorious.

On the InWorldz forum, he posted the following.

It is quite sad for me as well & I can appreciate the questions and everything regarding the closing of the Sim and the end of the Great Tree. In a nutshell, The sim really hasn't been used as I had hoped it would be. This has always been about growing and moving forward as a community. The last few years it has felt like a lonely museum with the occasional visitor or activity. This is probably my fault for not being involved the last few years. For those that did try to have interesting things to do on the sim you have my thanks.

I have always felt in any world, that if growth and moving forward ever came to a standstill that I would no longer be interested in carrying it forward.

I would like to be clear that the Tree was a collaborative work of incredibly talented people. The first 4 months was a flurry of activity as Etheria, Oceanoz, Dagmar, Teal and myself tirelessly worked to construct the tree with help from Inworldz residents and the founders. If you want to thank anyone for all the hard work, thank these people as they/you are the ones that deserve it.

I am glad folks appreciated the build and what we tried to accomplish and my best to the Founders of Inworldz who have always been nothing but kind and helpful.

In Second Life, I ran into Zayn, and he and I talked about the matter, "I just was talking to someone. This is pretty much what I wrote them: The sim was intended as a place of social gathering and activity but somewhere along the way became a lonely empty place with only the occasional visitor. It was never supposed to be a mall with only the odd activity/event every few months if that.

"In the nearly 5 years I kept this sim on the Inworldz grid, I watched as the initial concurrent log ins which started at around 125 when I purchased the sim in June of 2010 grow to about 275 log ins concurrently at the current date.

"That's just not growth.

"As reference, Second Life which has been dwindling, still has concurrent log ins between 35,000 & 60,000 at any given time although I am no fan of Linden Lab. For me it is about moving forward and growing as people and as a community. I have always said if I felt that it is no longer growing and is merely lingering, that I would no longer be interested in carrying it forward.

"This has  happened in InWorldz, and may be happening in SL Raglan Shire. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder that nothing should be taken for granted."

Going on, he added, "I'm pretty wordy, but yeah, been down, really loved that tree. ... actually hoping the closing of Raglan Shire in InWorldz may give folks an idea that things never should be taken for granted." I asked, "Were there any notable events that took place there?" He answered, "Some, but much too far and in between. IW is so small in comparison to SL. not a lot of folks. It generated a lot of interest the first few years. 2 years ago IW named it Sim of the year. But really, people & activities were to far and few in between. Plus a lot of folks that did kinda embrace what we do were doing it all off sim, so I  thought it was time."

I asked, "Has interest fallen off since the content creator controversy died down?" "In InWorldz?" Zayn answered, "There's just no real growth sadly. Five years ago, concurrent logins were around 125. It was not unusual for Raglan to have more then half the entire grid population on the sim the first year or two during concets and stuff. Five years later, concurrent logins are around 250ish."

And so, InWorldz will soon be losing one of it's favorite sims.

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

(Click here if the video fails to play)

Bixyl Shuftan

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Game Review - Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

By Nydia Tungsten and Brandi Streusel Tungsten

This game starts off darker than any game I have ever played before. You get to see your wife and child sacrificed by getting their throats cut right before your eyes, then yours is cut as well after the first bloody battle at the gate, then each mission is one bloody fight after another. I have recorded the opening and first mission.
WARNING! : These videos is graphic and not to be viewed by young gamers!
This is the opening of the game. Like I said before, this is the darkest I have ever played.
This is the play through to just after the first mission. I die twice in it.
One of the interesting twist about this game is if you have friends that play it and they are killed, you are given the option to avenge them on YOUR game. My friends that play have probably got a lot of practice avenging me.
You have plenty of zones with plenty of missions in each one and with a wide variety of side mission to play through. Then you have the DLC's as well. There is a LOT of action, a LOT of blood and a LOT of dark memories to go along with them. We even get to meet the one that murmurs, “My Precious”. Yes, you get to meet Galum and interact with him throughout the story line as you try and find memory pieces. The elf that is stuck within you can remember how to break your curse and free both of you.
As you progress through the missions, you will have to take down and kill certain main NPC's. As you kill them, you gain in power, but if they kill YOU, then THEY are the ones that will gain in strength. So plan your battles carefully and remember to RUN if you need to, or you will get swarmed over in a hurry.
This game is for a more mature audience and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of 17 due to the graphic nature of the game. My son is in the Army and I would still rather he avoided this one until he is 30 just because of the darkness of the opening. I know that isn't reasonable for everyone and wouldn't expect it to be. And no, I would not enforce that on him, just giving the tenderer of souls a warning. But for all you black hearted buggers, you'll ferkin LOVE it! (snickers)
Once it played past the opening, I started to enjoy the game a bit. I am not one to shy away from a violent game, and I gave it my best shot. Even though I have played it a few times, it is not one of my favorite games, but not the worst in my library.
So, for its “keep your heart racing” action, I give it a big thumbs up!
And for the way it messes with your emotions right out of the gate, I will have to give it a big thumbs up for the story line. The writers draw you into the story immediately with this. I know I am not consistent, but I am honest about it.
So for most of you, I would recommend this game. It has a lot of action and requires some puzzle solving skills as well. But if blood and violence isn't your style, even if you are a fan of the stories and movies, you should avoid this one.
So a mixed recommendation, but an honest one, and until next time,
 Nydia Tungsten

Friday, January 23, 2015

Game Review: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

by Nydia Tungsten & Brandi Streusel

Let’s start this out honestly, “I LOVE the Borderlands series.” With that in mind, let’s just say I was not disappointed in one of latest chapters they released. I did a couple of play through from introduction to getting to your operating area. As in Borderlands 2, you meet characters from the previous games, but the twist with this one is you can play as those characters in this one.
 Here are the links from the play through. I would recommend trying the Youtube links first unless they get blocked for third party content in your part of the world (the music from the game), a pet peeve of mine and I will save it for another rant for another time.

As with a lot of the stories with the Borderlands series, this one has a lot of tongue in cheek humor to give it a bit of a lighter side to make it more enjoyable to play. You will hear a few examples in the play-throughs. Like the rest of my reviews, I will not go too in depth with the story line because it's always better to find out on your own.

The game play is smooth, like we have come to expect from the Borderlands games and no big changes in the UI like between the first and second games. So everything is there where you know it is to be.
But there are a few, in this story you can play as Clap Trap, and if you watch the links, they even made THAT funny just trying to choose him.

I will also show you the beginning with Athena here:

You will notice there are some interactions specifically designed for each character you play, which I feel gives it more depth and making it more enjoyable to play. It is important to note that since the second one was banned in Australia, the third one was MADE there. I don't know if this was some type of peace offering from Gearbox and 2K Game or not, but you can see and hear the Ozzy side of the production as soon as you get to your operations site and meet the first of your mission givers “Jannie” that they refer to as a “Black marketeer with a heart of gold.”
I WILL put a warning on this review; IF you are offended by sexual innuendo, inter-organic relationships and/or same sex partnerships...prepare to get butt hurt. There are no sexual or visual references in video form what so ever. So, if you read this and start to want the game for pervy reasons, sorry to disappoint, but I know just the thought is enough to push some people over the edge to a bible thumping fury and I can say “It's just a game, get over yourself”

I have one character up to level 30 and I play it with my son and youngest daughter. We all love it, so with that in mind and if you remember what I said in the beginning, it should be no surprise that I am giving this two thumbs up and a high recommendation to play.

Buy it twice and share it with a close friend. Play with each other and not just play with yourself.
Until next time...GOOD GAMING TO YOU!!

 Nydia Tungsten

Editor's Note. Of the humor, a couple of lines of dialouge include, "everything's just fine. Just, uh, one of the CL4P-TP units tried to french kiss a light socket, Sir." and "Your busy? That's cool, I'll just bleed over here internally for a while. Don't mind me, I'm just the guy who hired you." And then there are some of the objectives, such as when Jack asks, "Kill that a**hole," the objective "Kill That A**hole" pops up.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gaming Review: A Look At Eve Online

By Bixyl Shuftan

Eve Online is not a new Multiplayer Online Game, but has been around since 2003, slightly older than Second Life and a year older than World of Warcraft. Unlike some other MMOs, it was able to stay somewhat in the gamming public eye as unlike most it's a science-fiction space game. It has made news time to time due to the money and time some players are willing to invest in the larger ships, in addition when one of the US personel who died in an attack on a diplomatic building happened to be not just a player but one of the top men in one of the game's factions.

Eve Online has once been described as "Second Life's Evil Twin," and not without reason. Every ship beyond the newcomer vessels players use was made by other players. Unlike the more cooperative culture that predominates the virtual world in which people are not supposed to bother one another, what would be called "griefing" by SLers is often rewarded in Eve. Although some areas are protected by local security forces, some are places where anyone is fair game to anyone else's guns. And those whom venture in such places are subject to being blown apart and the surviving parts and cargo plundered. But it's not just for resources some commit such acts for. Aparently there's a concept that one called "yummy tears," players taking joy at the misery of others. For other gamers, they would just simply prefer fewer rules rather than worry about being banned for an activity they didn't know was wrong.

Players band together in groups, the largest ones being corporations. And often these corporations band together in temporary alliances. And when they fight, the result can be battles involving hundreds, even over a thousand players. No other game can boast this kind of Player Versus Player combat! Probably the most noteworthy battle took place a year ago on January 25, 2013, which saw the destruction of 90 Titan ships alone, a gargantuan vessel needing $7600 US Dollars worth of game currency to build.

Although the fleets of ships created by these corporations can be quite a force, nothing is certain. Espianoge and backstabbing is always a possibility, and corporations have been done in because a trusted member turned out to be a mole whom once in the right place at the right time was able to transfer all or a great deal of the financial and material assets to an enemy.

With this in mind, perhaps an older gamer like myself who knew no one in the game would have been wiser to look elsewhere. but When an opportunity came to give it a try for a month for a fraction of the usual price, I was willing to give it a chance. So I downloaded it and gave it a try. And if it was worth playing, maybe I'd keep on by paying the monthly fee ($15 to $12 a month, or 10 to 7.50 Pounds) depending on how much time you pay for).

The plot of the game is that far in the future, humanity came across a wormhole that led to another part of the Milky Way galaxy. Thousands settled on the other side in what came to be known as New Eden. Then the wormhole collapsed and society on the other side fell into a dark age and high technology forgotten. Thousands of years later, the humans on several of these worlds would discover space travel again, and eventually form five interstellar states, four of which are playable.

After creating an account, one chooses how one's avatar looks. This is currently a cosmetic feature that does not affect gameplay, as players interact only in messages and group chats, besides acting upon each others ships. After that, one is directed to fly one's pod to their first ship, where an AI will begin helping the new pilot learn basic techniques. After that, the player is contacted by five people from five different fields, business, combat, advanced combat, industry, and exploration. These people offer some begining missions with gear and sometimes ships, in addition to credits for rewards.

Although ships can be flown manually, most players usually just point and click, giving the ship commands and let the automatic pilot turn the ship. One can't be damaged just by bumping into another object, so no worries about scraping space stations, asteroids, or other ships. Maybe it was just the quirks of my system, but lag seemed to be less of a problem then on some other games, including Star trek Online. I was never disconnected. Although the scenery was limited to space scenes, the ones I saw were done very well, with good use of lighting to produce picturesque scenes of stars and nebulae.

One of the features in Eve is Skills, the knowledge your character has to perform certain actions and operate certain pieces of equipment, such as repairs and operating certain types of weapons. Without certain skills, you will not be able to operate the equipment they need, or the actions required by them. They are learned in real-life, and progress continues even when the player is not logged on. They are either bought from the market or awarded for completing a mission. But just because you get a skill book doesn't mean you can start learning it. Sometimes you need the prerequisite skill. to learn certain skills.

When trying out these first newcomer missions just after the AI training, I soon began running into trouble. First a cargo bay expansion I needed to do one mission couldn't be installed because I lacked to particular skill to install it. Frustrated, I went to another that required me to scout an area. But I couldn't complete the mission without finishing off a pirate, and I found my weapon was somehow useless! I had the idea of buying another on the market. But as it turned out, I lacked the required skill to use it. Being blocked from doing all of the second group of newcomer quests, well, my desire to play any longer was pretty much killed for the day.

I talked to a few others whom had played the game in the past, and was persuaded to give it another go. One had to tell me that it wasn't enough to just carry the ammunition, like one could carry probes when one had a probe launcher, but one had to click and drag it to over your weapon. I was also told not all of the skills I would be needed would be rewarded from quests, but would have to be bought from the Marketplace and then learned. Fortunately one can queue a number of skills to be learned later, up to fifty, so one can still be learning when not playing for a few days.

Since then, I've continued to make slow progress, running more missions for rewards. I've also made contact with one other player from Second Life, so it seems I won't be alone here after all. Another friend told me she had also given it a try, but also lost interest quickly due to it's steep learning curve. Another told me this wasn't a game that one could just play for fun for a month, but that it was one a player could spend months trying to figure out, "it's a lifetime game."

One told me even in the safe areas piracy can be a problem as there are some willing to make "suicide attacks" on ships in which the pilot seems to be Away From Keyboard, such as mining vessels in an asteroid belt, if they think the rewards from the debris to be recovered later outweigh the police forces quickly arriving on the scene and blowing them up. While there was a way to turn the tables, she requested that her technique not be published in case she goes back to pirate raiding.

I'll be continuing to play the game for the remainder of the free month at least. So my verdict on the game, it has a higher learning curve than other space games such as Star Trek Online, so it requires more patience to figure out. On the other hand, there seemed to be less of a problem with lag. While one doesn't have to be a "gaming god" whom enjoys blowing people up "for the luz" to play, one has to take precautions when going into zero security areas or risk getting blown up. If you're a casual gamer whom would rather spend just a little time learning the ropes and going in alone, you' may want to skip the wild world of Eve Online. But there are devoted players whom have spent years there, amassing wealth and power, so there is the possibility of gaining some powerful allies.If you already know people here, even better. So if you don't mind taking a little time to get the hang of the game, who doesn't mind the lack of rules, and you already have friends playing the game here, you may want to consider at least giving the free trial period a try.

Links: Wikipedia, , "Eve Online Beginners Guide (Youtube)"

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ten Years of World of Warcraft

By Bixyl Shuftan

This November, the most popular of Multiplayer Online Games celebrated it's tenth anniversary. It was November 2004 in which Blizzard Entertainment launched "World of Warcraft." Ten years and five expansions later, the game is still going strong.

Blizzard did not invent the Massive Online Roleplaying Game, or MORPG. The first one to achieve a hundred thousand players was Ultima Online in 1997. A couple years later, Everquest would come on the scene, which was the leading MORPG in the early 2000s, with 450,000 subscribers in September 2003. This was what Blizzard Entertainment wasup against when they were developing it's own based on it's "Warcraft" series of real-time strategy games from the 1990s and early 2000s, the last one Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne released only a year before. According to PC Gamer writer Leif Johnson, most of the development team thought they would get somewhere around 350,000 subscribers.

Imagine the surprise when they sold 240,000 copies of the game on their first day, and the numbers kept climbing. By October 2010, the game had a whopping twelve million subscribers. They weren't just the leaders of the MORPG market, they dominated it to the point that people always thought of them whenever these kinds of games were brought up. While other MMOs were continued to be developed, many were little more than clones of their far more successful competitor. People talked about who would develop the "WoW Killer," but it eventually was accepted they would be around for a very long time.

So why has World of Warcraft succeeded so well, beyond all other MORPGs? For one thing, there was the detail of the world. The forests of Ashenvale are richly detailed, with beautiful music in the background. Enter the Orcish city of Ogrimar, and you see a savage looking place with tough guards and the player hearing sounds of war drums beating. Each place was done with detail with music in the background. One could easily entertain oneself just exploring around (and get a few experience points for it).

There's also a plot and story behind the game as well. Although the original "Warcraft" had a fairly simple story of Orcs trying to conquer humans, by the time "World of Warcraft" came around, it had changed to become more complex and interesting. The Orcs had attacked because they'd become tainted from demon blood that eventually they were able to overcome. So are the Orcs sorry? Not really because they'd had to spend time in internment camps, plus some outright enslaved under the humans. Both races have a history that means an uneasy relationship at best (not unlike some peoples in real life), which has lead to the world being essentially divided between the Alliance and Horde (which those who remember the Cold War can relate to). While some races are of the classic Fantasy variety, others are unique to the game or have special tweaks. While trolls are sometimes enemies to clobber in games, in World of Warcraft you can play one. The Forsaken allowed players to take on the role of a tragic hero, died and brought back as undead, reviled by their former humans and distrusted by their allies.

The way gameplay was designed helped it catch on as well. From the very start, players could take on quests to help level, and get little perks such as a little coin and a piece of gear as a reward instead of just grind, grind, grind. World of Warcraft also introduced talents and talent trees, giving players a choice about what direction they'd like their character to take, then ask they progressed in level giving them a choice of perks. Then there were the instances, which allowed a set team of players to take on a dungeon in which everyone got a share of the loot. Raids allowed players to take on tougher dungeons for even better loot.

Character classes had some interesting perks. Priests had mind control spells that could temporarily possess an NPC and make it attack others. Druids could take on several different animal forms, each having different qualities such as bears for hitpoints or "tanking," and big cats for damage-dealing. Hunters could tame animals and use them to attack NPCs, distracting it while the hunter fired at it from a distance.

The world was not a small one, but quite large. Getting around on foot could take a while. Fortunately there were locations one could rent a flying mount to speedily fly to a location, or get a ship or zeppelin. When a player reached level 40, they could get a mount. What kind one could get depended on your character's race: wolves for Orcs, horses for humans, etc. at the maximum level of 60, one could get a faster mount.

Crafting was also an option. Players could choose two profession skills, crafting, resource gathering, or one of each: blacksmithing, alchemy, leatherworking, herb gathering, mining, and skinning. There were herbs and ores at various spots on the map, as well as skinners being able to get hides from certain killed animals. Players could make armor, or potions which either healed, gave magical energy, or gave a small bonus. They could use the goods themselves, hand to friends, or sell in the auction house along with loot they picked off dead enemies. Wearing an item would bind it to you, so after that it could only be sold to NPCs, usually for less money. There were skill levels, which one improved through doing them. The higher the skill, the better ores herbs, or leather one could gather, or better goods one could make. But the more often something was made, the less of a chance it had to raise your skill level until there came a point that particular good wouldn't raise it at all.

If clobbering monsters wasn't enough, there was the option of fighting other players. There were Player vs Player battlegrounds one could go to, join a team of your faction, and fight the opposition. There was the "capture the flag" of Warsong Gulch, the scramble for resource locations in Arathi Basin, and the charge to take the enemy camp and clobber the general in Alteric Valley. Players were awarded with marks that could be used to purchase special goods, armor and weapons, and mounts. On occasion there were speciial events, often coinciding with real-life holidays such as Children's Week, All Hallows, and the Winter Festival. Players could do activities appearing only at the event's time of the year. And on every anniversary of the game in November, active players got a little gift of some kind. For it's tenth for instance, they got a pet dog made of living lava, a "Molten Corgi" (a play on the "Molten Core" dungeon name).

There was also an element of humor. Characters had dance animations, a specific one for each race, male and female. They could also tell one of several jokes and flirts, a specific group for each race, male and female. Some examples are, "Do you ever feel like you're not in charge of your own destiny, like ... you're being controlled by some invisible hand?" "I don't mind the gnomes, but I'm always worried about tripping over one." "Ugh, I hate Thunder Bluff! You can't find a good burger anywhere." "I dabbled in gold farming, but I couldn't get the coins to sprout." They also sprinkled the world of their game with occasional pop culture references, such as a mechanical "Robot Chicken" in the town of Booty Bay, A girl at the Shimmering Flats racetrack named "Daisy" wearing shorts (or "Daisy Dukes"), the Stormwind Archeology trainer is named "Harrison Jones," a reference to actor Harrison Ford's famous character "Indiana Jones," the character John J. Keshan is a dead ringer for "Rambo," quest chain and all, and many, many others.

The result was a game with no shortage of things to do, exploring, questing, resource gathering, and team player versus player fights. Through design, story plot, and perhaps a little luck, Blizzard's team had made an MORPG that would take the gaming world by storm, getting numbers far beyond Everquest, Runescape, and other competing games of it's early days. The games that stood out were in different settings, such as the space combat "Eve Online," the sci-fi "Star Wars Galaxies," and the superhero "Champions Online." Or they didn't required subscriptions and adopted a free to play model such as Rifts.

The game has made it's way into popular culture as well. There were cartoons showing people playing the game (often hopelessly addicted). Comedians poked fun at it. Youtube showed numerous short films of both players playing the game, as well as short cartoons and films about it or poking fun about it. There were even movies, or machinima, made using World of Warcraft to play out the scenes. National and World news made stories about it's success, as well as looking at it's players. They showed both the dark side, stories of addiction, and the positive, such as people who met on the game and ended up falling in love and getting married.

Sometimes what the players did caught the design team, and everyone else, completely by surprise. Early in the game's history, the designers had a monster high level monster "infect" players fighting it with a "disease" that caused characters an amount of damage over time, one that could be passed on to others nearby. Blizzard never expected some players to respond by heading to populated areas, such as the banks and auction houses of capital towns. There they passed on the infection, causing low level players to die almost instantly. Soon they were littered with the skeletons of deceased characters. Instead of being a disaster for the game, people reacted with fascination instead. There was even a serious scientific study about the incident, the investigators wondering if this was how real people would react in a real plague.

Blizzard didn't just rest on it's laurels. They kept making small updates, and eventually in 2007 they released an expansion: "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade." A new world was opened up to the highest level players at the time, Outland, and two new player races were made available: Draeani for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde. There were also flying mounts available for those who reached the new maximum level of 70. There were new dungeons and new player versus player battlegrounds. There was also a plot that fit in with the game's story, both the Alliance and Horde taking on new allies and taking the fight with a mutual enemy back to their base of operations. For the Horde, there was also encountering Orcs that had remained uncorrupted from "The Curse," leading to a rather dramatic scene with the Warcheif. Players could now sail through the skies on personal mounts wherever they wanted to. Sales, and membership levels climbed, 2.4 million copies of the game being sold on the release day alone. Later on, seperate patches would allow players two additional challenges, taking on a fortified city of trolls hostile to both Horde and Alliance, and the former leader of the Blood Elves whom had returned not to help them but to subjugate them.

In 2008, Blizzard released it's second expansion for the game: "Wrath of the Lich King." Here, the characters had a chance to fight the undead minions of Arathas the most feared of Azeroth's villains. As a character, he had a developed background, both a prince and a paladin. But the decisions he made while fighting the undead Scourge eventually resulted in him becoming what he once fought, a death knight, then the Lich King, killing his father and his kingdom, and destroying many former allies. Players had a new continent, Northrend to adventure on. There was also a new class, the death knight, which gave players a chance to play a fallen hero on the path to redemption. In a patch released on December 2009 came the "Fall of the Lich King" raid, in which players could take part in putting an end to the great villain's rein. More players continued to sign up, and by October 2010, the game was at it's peak in subscription numbers with twelve million.

Unfortunately "Wrath" had given Blizzard a problem in addition to it's opportunity. After you've beaten the gaming world's greatest villain, what's left? Blizzard's response was the third expansion, "Cataclysm," which quite literally rewrote the face of their gaming world. In "Cata" as gamers sometimes called it, "Deathwing the Destroyer," a huge evil dragon, reappears after a period of hiding, resulting in numerous earthquakes, avalanches, floods, and volcanic activity across the two main continents. Blizzard took the opportunity to both change the landscape as well as update the quests. And so the first two continents were brought several years into the future.

Instead of a new continent, there were several new zones, one under the ocean, one under the earth, and some scattered across areas once inaccessible to players such as Mount Hyjai. Two new races were made available for players, the Worgen for the Alliance and the Goblins for the Horde. In the plot, both were from areas among the most affected by Deathwing's appearance, and forced to choose a side in the Azerothian conflict, which was heating up as the Horde's Shamanistic Warchief Thrall stepped down to personally help put down the evil dragon and Garosh Hellscream took his place. Hellscream, whom first appeared in "Crusade" and was the leader of one of the Horde forces in "Wrath," saw little need to negotiate for what could be taken by force, and was more eager for battle with the humans, whom he despised, and their allies.

The appearance of the bestial-looking Worgen drew cheers from some gamers who felt it was now "cool" to be an Alliance player. They had previously seen the Alliance races as a little too mundane, made of up in the words of one "Humans, tree-huggers (elves), and short guys (dwarves and gnomes)," while the nonhuman races of the Horde were much more different. So some players whom had either passed up Alliance characters or gave them no more than a short look out of curiosity began playing then as its werewolves (writer's note: this was the time when I saw most of my Second Life friends playing World of Warcraft).

Players could now level to rank 85. Some character classes that were closed to certain races were open to a few more, such as druids for trolls, hunters for undead, and Paladins for Tauren. More dungeons and PvP battlegrounds were introduced. The Archeology skill was introduced, giving players a chance to learn some tidbits about the world's history, and dig up an occasional interesting toy or powerful piece of equipment. Also introduced was the "Darkmoon Faire," which gave players a chance to boost some profession skills a little.

Despite the new content however, subscriptions soon began to drop. Although the release of the expansion in December 2010 boosted numbers that had sagged to 11.4 million back to 12 million, they soon began to drop again. By the time of the "Hour of Twilight" patch released in November 2011 in which players could take part in the final confrontation with Deathwing, numbers had fallen to just over ten million. By August 2012, numbers had dropped further to 9.4 million. Different people had different explanations as to why numbers were falling. Gamepro for instance simultaneously called "Cataclysm" "much improved in terms of its overall design," and "not quite as impressive as previous designs." PC Gamer felt as a villain Deathwing just didn't have the appeal Arthis did, lacking the tragic background and being so larger than life due to his sheer size.

In September 2012 came World of Warcraft's fourth expansion "The Mists of Pandaria." To begin with, the panda-like Pandaren were originally an April Fools joke on the game's official website. But the response from the players was cheers rather than jeers. So the Blizzard team introduced them as a playable race. But unlike others, these characters would start out as unaligned until near the end of their beginning quests in which they would choose a side. In the plotline, the continent of Pandaria had been hidden from the rest of Azeroth until mists surrounding it were suddenly lifted. And the warring factions landed on it's shores, looking for resources and allies. Further patches had the plotline show the Horde's warchief Hellscream becoming more ruthless, escalating the war with the Alliance and alienating his allies in the Horde. Eventually the other factions in the Horde rebel against him and join with the Alliance in toppling him.

In addition to the new race, there was a new class introduced: the monk. Pet Battles were also introduced, and the companion animals players collected over time were now more than just collectibles, but could be used for activities. Also introduced were scenarios in which three player teams cooperated in carrying out objectives. Often in an event in the game's history such as the destruction of Thermadore or thwarting the attempted assassination of Vo'jin by a minion of Hellscream. The talent trees were replaced with a tierd system, awarding players a talent about every 15 levels. The level cap was raised to 90. Top level players could farm food needed for cooking.

While subscriptions went up temporarily, again it didn't last. Once again, they began to fall. By June 2014, subscriptions had fallen to about 6.8 million players. While still far more than other MMOs, the game had a little more than half the numbers of it's peak. Different people had different explanations. Some thought WoW had softened the edge of the game a bit, calling the Pandaren too cartoonish and the Pet Battles too much like a kid's game of "Pokemon."  The idea of the "Sha," manefestations of negative energy, as enemies was also ridiculed. Hellscream's tyrannical ways in the plot was also dispiriting to some Horde players. Despite the showdown at the end, many players felt Pandaria was just too "Cheerful" compared to other expansions.

As the numbers plummeted, more people began to wonder if Blizzard had somehow lost it's edge. While no one was predicting the game to be shut down anytime soon, some thought the day would soon come that it would no longer dominate the MORPG field like it once did, but just had slightly higher numbers than the others, or even falling behind one or more of the competition. There were calls by some, such as Hamlet Au of New World Notes, that Blizzard needed to abandon it's "Pay to play" subscription model and adopt "Free to Play," in the words of one, "This is a dinosaur that refuses to die out."

With some predicting Blizzard's next expansion would either rejuvenate the game or witness it's slide into commonness, "Warlords of Draenor" came on the scene in November 2014. In the plotline, the former Horde tyrant Hellscream is about to be tried for war crimes, but is freed and sent back in time to Draenor to stop the demonic corruption of the Orcish clans. The result is an alternate timeline with Draenoe's orc clans united under Hellscream's "Iron Horde" and bent on conquest, not just Draenoe but Azeroth as well. Players join heroes of the Alliance and Horde in storming the portal, and setting up a base of operations to put a stop to Hellscream once and for all.

"Warlords" was in a way a return to the past for the players. They would be up against noted characters from the days of the "Warcraft" games preceding the MORPG. For this, players have a new world to fight on: Draenor, which is far different from the Outland of "Crusade." One big feature of the expansion is the player's Garrison, which serves as a center of operations. Players can recruit followers which can be sent on missions to gain experience, gold, and resources (making players quest-givers as well as takers). Player caps were raised to 100.

One feature was developed even before "Warlords" came on the scene: new character models. All races except for the Worgen, Goblins, and Pandaren have been given a graphical upgrade, looking sharper and more defined. The Darkmoon Faire was done away with. There was also a readjustment in the numbers of hitpoints and damage inflicted by higher level players and NPCs. A few player abilities were done away with to keep the game from being too complicated.

The immediate result surprised just about everyone, Blizzard included. Over three million additional people signed up for the game, and World of Warcraft was back to ten million subscribers. Clearly, there was still interest in the decade old MORPG, which also celebrated its tenth anniversary that month.

There have been other changes in the game over time. For instance in the original game, Hunters had to keep food in their inventory to feed their pets, otherwise it would become unhappy, and if unhappy for too long it would run away. Later things were changed so pets didn't run away even if unhappy. Then came more changes so players no longer had to feed their pets, unless they were badly hurt. Hunters also used to be able to wield melee weapons in addition to their ranged ones, but that feature was done away with. Rouges once had to mix their own poisons, by getting ingredients and flasks, with a poison-making level that was raised not unlike the alchemy skill. Later the poison making ability for rouges was done away with, replaced by vendors selling the completed poisons. Today, all but lower level rouges automatically carry some poisons, the variety depending on the level. And then there are the mounts. It used to take a player a long time to be able to get one, Level 40. Then the level required was lowered to 30. After while, it was lowered yet again to Level 20, with players about to get fast mounts at Level 40. the locations for items or actions needed for quests are now visible on the map instead of players having to figure them out themselves.

Some players feel these changes have left the game a shadow of it's former self, that it isn't as good as it used to be, players able to travel faster and finish quests faster. There have been bootlegged private servers which offer players the original World of Warcraft experience. But the game's performance speaks for itself.

As it turns out, I've read that the World of Warcraft design team might not that be as concerned about numbers as some might think. One writer talking to them came away with the conclusion they were concentrating not on how many would play but just trying to make a great game. "On a daily basis, nobody's spending a lot of time paying attention to subscriber numbers," one designer was quoted as saying.

From a personal point of view, I can't help but wonder if many of the current subscribers are not from the recent past. the majority of my Second Life friends, as well as my real life friends, no longer play the game. So perhaps many of current numbers are playing for the first time or played in the past and took a break for a few years. The people whom first talked me into playing are gone as well. I took a break myself for a while, I may do so again.

So what's the future of the game? Had the game dwindled down to numbers comparable to other MORPGs, it would still have a legacy as being the trendsetter of it's genere of games. But it didn't. Ten years after people first signed up for it, it still dominates the field, and with ten million gamers, it will almost certainly be a force in the gaming world for some time to come. It could very well be around in another ten years, by which time there will be people playing it whom weren't even born yet at it's beginings.

And the next expansion? So far Blizzard isn't talking. So in the meantime. we might as well go "For the Horde!" or "For the Alliance!" and go to whatever journey that guy with the yellow exclamation point over his head put us on.

Sources: WoWWikiPCGamer, SL Newser

Bixyl Shuftan.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Relay For Life Walk in InWorldz

Earlier this year in July, Second Life held it's Relay for Life Walk, the high point of it's RFL fundraising season. Shortly after the Relay in Second Life came to a close for the year, it began on the InWorldz grid. After a few months of various events, came it's own Relay for Life Walk on Saturday November 1.

The event lasted for about 12 hours, from 9AM to 9PM (SL and IW time), and took place across four sims, Tiny Steps For A Cure, Muse Island, InBiz, and Bllavio's Furniture. "Having Muse Island been a godsend to be able to host ... events without occuring sim cost." I was told. This was one more sim in area, than last year. There were a number of Relayers from Second Life there, such as Oldesoul Eldemar, Madonna Daehlie, Wildstar Beaumont, and Bain Finch.

Unlike the track around a carnival build last year, this Walk resembled it's Second Life counterpart more, though was a little different.  The track going around the various exhibits, or camps, was raised a bit off the ground, accessible through ramps or by flying/jumping on it.

Bain Finch took me to the places where two previous major RFL in IW took place, the Fashion For Life and Job Fair. Taking me to the Fashion For Life space station, Bain told me it had been built by Logan Willow and took over a month, "He's been a sponsor of Relay from day one. ... We were trying to get some of the larger InWorldz groups take part. We had the two biggest agencies come together for the show and the Tinies also had a fashion day to help showcase their unique fashion. ... We had 3 fashion days, One for the host agency InStylez, one for New York Modelling Agency and the Tiny got together with the Dinkies for a show."

The Job Fair was in a simpler build, in a skybox high above Muse Island, Bain saying, "This was a dual event with the fair and Art Auction." Of the Job Fair, "It's a way to help promote IWz groups, businesses, land owners,etc. and help bring new people into RFL and RFL to their efforts to reach new members."

"Between the art auction headed by Ferrator Montoya, the job fair by Jillian2000 Quintessa and the Fashion For Life by Raven Dulce they raise 1/4 of our fundraising. Sadly the Fashion For life was Raven's last show as real-life forced her to close InStylez down. Llike always real-life comes first, and that been a rule within RFL too."

Getting back down to the ground, Bain then took me to the Dr. Klatt Memorial. Dr Klatt was the man credited with starting the Relay for Life, "When we heard the news of his passing we decided to do something special. It was unveiled at the start of the Luminaria ceremony. ...  And thanks again to Ferrator Montoya and Cassie Eldemar and few others they made that from a rough concept Panza and I came up with. Te Memorial Gardens will also be renamed the Dr Klatt's Memorial Gardens."

"The other big story is Lady Cha," Bain went on, "At the end of last years Relay she found Relay and created this sim in something silly like two days. We came over and our jaws dropped. (Her) goal is to turn this sim into SL ACS Island for survivors and caregivers."

Bain did have some bad news, "but sadly, she been fighting her third turn by cancer's icy finger. We are all praying hard for her and she's on heck of a fighter. I don't think she knows how to give up. I hope some day soon, you can interview her. She's a lovely soul."

As it turned out, there was some debate about how long to make the Walk event, "I didn't know until IWz there 3 different plans, the normal 24 hours one, a 12 and an 18 hour one." They had decided on twelve hours due to the size of the track, "Sting had suggest only a 6 hour one, but we decided other wise from the get go."

Bain soon had to go, but I continued looking around for a bit. Looking at the leaves of one tree, I found that they were actually the images of human faces.

Night soon fell, my viewer remaining in region default mode, as I walked around the track.

 The largest build was a castle, standing about seventy meters off the ground, or about ninety above sea level.

After The Walk came to a close came some news. The total number of InWorldz dollars or "Izzies" came to a total of 2 million raised. This is more than twice the amount raised by this time last season.

While the event was smaller than Second Life's Relay Walk, it demonstrated the enthusiasm of it's participants, and showed despite that the Linden Lab Terms of Service controversy that boosted it's numbers in the past is over, InWorldz continues grow and demonstrate great builds, and events, can be done there as well.

Wildstar Beaumont took a number of pictures, which he posted on his Flickr:

RFL IW Track, RFL 2014 The Relay .

Bixyl Shuftan