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

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Look at Avination

By Baron DeSantis

Second Life entered my own real life after having seen a television 'techie' show that mentioned it. I created an account, just out of interest, and then began a journey that is still ongoing after nearly 8 years. Much has changed since those early days, the graphics have improved as has the ability to build almost anything you can imagine. My rather dull ‘avi’ has turned into something resembling an actual person. Prices and costs too have changed. No longer do we need a ‘premium account’ to own land and many other things. The terms and conditions have changed almost as much, mostly slid in through the back door. Has anyone actually read ALL the hundreds of pages that the full TaC’s and ToS  entail? I’ll be honest…. I  read about half before my brain dissolved into a gray mush.

Nowadays, rival services have sprouted up so I was intrigued as to how a few would compare to my beloved SL. After a conversation in-world with a friend, I chose to try out Avination. Once having completed a very quick and simple ‘joining procedure’ I entered this new domain. Immediately I felt at home, the controls and graphics were the same using my installed Firestorm Phoenix viewer and so off I went to explore. At the ‘landing point’ there are a number of signs to help orientate you, but if you're from SL you can turn right and click on one that takes you to the main welcome area.

 My main interest was in land prices and the value of your ‘buck’ so after teleporting to an available sim, I was amazed at the difference in both the cost and what you got for your money. Land is sold/rented in the same sizes but the prim allowances are far higher. The sim I was on for example was your standard 65536 square meters but cost less than US$60/month with a prim allowance of a staggering 45,000. Compare that to the same size in SL and it proves the difference in value, a homestead for example allows a paltry 3750  prims fo 7850L$. Now, the currency used in-world at Avination is different, called the C$ and appears more expensive to buy if comparing straight forward amounts. 2000 C$ = 5.98 US$ or £3.88 Sterling. The same amount in Linden Dollars would cost 5.52 US$/£3.58 Sterling (Rates at time of visit). Not a huge difference I agree, more on money later.

As I was comparing this information I received an IM from a guy called Chad. At first I thought he was a salesman for the land, which he was, but he did not go into a sales pitch at all. In fact he was welcoming me to Avination and offered to show me around. Gratefully I accepted and within minutes was given a lovely house to live in FREE for two weeks. That was a bonus I suppose to all the great information that Chad was able to share. This article does not permit me to tell you everything we talked about, much of which was minor chit chat, but the main points I’ll tell you about.

Chad joined Avination, from Second Life, three years ago and “never looked back.” As I did, he found people far friendlier to ‘newbies’ than SL now seems to be and a great deal cheaper to ‘live in.’ Although Avination will run on the viewer I was using, there has been some ‘glitches’ when uploading files so he recommended I download the dedicated viewer instead. Yes, it is possible to get an ‘allowance’ of 10K C$ to transfer certain files, such as textures and yes you can have the same avatar name as SL if you wish. Within SL there are terminals all over the grid where you can arrange all the required ‘transfer details’. You can also transfer Linden Dollars to your Avination account at an exchange rate of approx.. 1000L$ to 800C$. Chad also shared some notecards detailing, in full, how to arrange the ‘allowance’ and avi name (For a copy ask me in-world at SL via a notecard and I’ll send on to you).

It appears that not only is there a mass, and I do mean a massive amount, of free useful (and funny) items available for the newcomer, but there are online advisers 24/7. Called “A-team,” these advisers will help you with any problem you may have and regular meetings are held in-world to discuss/inform about issues or upcoming events. The longest Chad ever had to wait for a problem to be resolved was 24 hours…. compare that to sending in a ticket to Linden Labs!

What had started as a quick ‘compare’ visit lasted over two hours, in which not only did I gain a place to live, some free stuff but most importantly I gained a wealth of really useful information and made a new friend. More on the differences between SL & Avination next time.

Quickie notes:

Avination is based in Germany but uses the Second Life system of time so no scary time comparisons to get used to.  Although much fewer users than SL, this is bound to grow rapidly, so don’t lose heart at thinking there are not enough folk about as this is a great chance to start fresh, but knowing how and what to do without the original ‘mistakes’ we all made when starting on SL.

Simple to arrange transfer of SL name, or create a new one using the well known ‘make own first name and pick a surname’ system.

Land is cheaper to buy/rent with much higher prim allowances.

Extremely ‘newbie’ friendly.

In-world help 24/7.

Many familiar names for businesses etc. There is no Avination version of Market Place as they believe it is better for people to actually visit stores in-world and thus build a rapport with each other and make for a more personal experience.. I agree on that point, though can be a bit frustrating at first.

Controls are almost identical to that of SL and many are easier to use. (if using the specific Avination viewer  recommended).

Now would be a great time to ‘get into the ground floor’ for buying a sim or creating a business base as things will only get busier.

Baron "Baz" DeSantis

Friday, October 24, 2014

Game Review: Archeage

By Nydia Tungsten & Brandi Streusel Tungsten

Part One

At first, I was very leery of the game, ArcheAge by Trion Worlds. I looked at the trailers and still had that bad taste in my mouth from League of Legends. But my friend, Ranchan, assured me it wasn’t anything like League of Legends, that these trailers actually portrayed the game as it was. So, I went ahead and created a Firran character in the game (Cat people…yes furry). They have three other races to choose from as well: Elves, Nuians and Harani. They are split into two factions (WoW flashback) with two races on each side

   You start out in a small village with small quest that will let you level up fast, but what you see in the village, and almost every other village you visit has blue glowing tables to help with your crafting. They are kind of like WoW, but these crafting benches go into more detail than I have seen in any other MMO.
There is a lot of crafting involved in a lot of missions, and a lot of ways for you to earn in-game money: From an outside comment, “as a game with strong sandbox influence, the majority of the content in game is generated by players. ArcheAge features 21 different crafting professions that help to fill the world with everything from potions and weapons to warships and houses.”

There is the Labor Point system, LP for short, which I think is very unique in the MMO industry. This is how they explain it:

“Labor Points” Almost every craft based, non quest action costs labor points to perform. The cost can be as small as 1-2 points for small things like picking flowers and as large a several dozen for more advanced actions like building. Labor Points are gained/refilled over time. A non-premium user will gain 5 points per 5 minutes of play and 0 points per 5 minutes while offline. A premium member will gain 10 points every 5 minutes and 5 points every 5 minutes while offline. The System is rounding up for example something cost 10 Labor Points and your Veteran Rank which gives 5% Labor Point reduce it still cost 10 Labor Points to craft.

There are the classes you can choose from and you get three of them as you progress, so you can choose from any of the ten classes in the game for a unique combination that suits you.  There are even arrows at your feet to help guide you along to your active quests, some people will say these are being held by the hand, but I disagree. It is up to you to interpret where you are and the routes you take, going in straight lines everywhere is not an option here.  The story line I am following is very well written and voiced. The writers should try writing for movies because I have found myself disappointed that the story line would pause until I reached the next milestone of it.

   The Graphics are from “CryEngine 3”. Look for yourself:

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 ( )

This is the official trailer to the game and so far it is holding very true to my expectations through that video. I am only a level 16, so far, as I haven’t been able to play a lot of it but I expect good things of it. You can even have your own land to place a garden for growing your own crops and animals for quests as well as a house or even a castle. This ability is only available for paid patrons of the game, but there are plenty of public garden spaces to use as well. The only catch is other players can harvest after your things have been mature for 24 hours.

Now we come to the only problems I have found with the game and it IS the fact that it is an open world. There are only certain areas you can own land and those have filled up fast already. So the likelihood of you actually getting to build a house are very slim The homes that are there are bunched VERY close together and making them a very unattractive option. Your only option is to find a hidden area, grow what you need and hope you get back to it before someone destroys it or steals it. I have had two friends who have their “hidden” gardens raided.

I won’t bother to open the local chat tab because of all the spamming that goes on with offers to “Buy gold here! We have the best gold prices @wepromisewewon’!” Those spammers spoil many of a MMO and they rip people off. Other free MMO’s have found a way to keep the rampant spam off their servers and I hope Trion Worlds will do the same soon.

    In my play through, you can see me create my avatar. One of the drawbacks to me is with the eyes…. They provide very little selection and I would like to see them expand on that. This is my first time play through. Give it a look and let me know what you think:

If you would like to try it for yourself:

 And a few more videos you might enjoy:

Part Two

Okay, I have been playing it for a few weeks now and discovered a few more things about the game. They have a court system where you can be on the jury. At first, you may think this may be a good thing by keeping the griefers on the straight and narrow. Well, it doesn’t seem to work. This system actually encourages griefers because it is the only way the players can become “Pirates”, so they grief more players on a larger scale and get rewarded for it.

While this is technically a free to play game, some of the quests you are given require you to grow items to complete them. The only way to grow what you need is to own land, which you can only do if you are a paying account. There are free, public gardens, but you are limited to what you can grow there.

If you are a player that doesn’t really enjoy PvP games and are hoping to stay safe in non PvP areas….sorry, there are none. Enemy factions can roam freely over all the continents, let alone part of the quest lines will send you into one so you need to go in order to finish the quest that will allow you to build a bigger farm.

  So, you see, there are many draw backs, and there have been times I just wanted to scream in frustration. But it’s beauty of graphics and physics keeps dragging me back. So, in the overall scope of things, I will have to give it a reluctant thumbs up and recommend you to look it over and decide for yourself if it is something you will enjoy.

As always, until next time,  GOOD GAMING TO YOU!

Nydia Tungsten

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


By Wesley Regenbogen

If you were a teenager in real life in the 90s,you probably learned to work with MS-DOS and you had a few programs and games that you liked. With the Windows environment coming out back then, the MS-DOS era was almost done and in most cases you weren’t able to run those programs and games again. The more new versions of Windows came, the less of a chance that you were able to run those programs and games. With Windows 7, 8.1 and the upcoming Windows 10 ( which will be released at the end of 2015, probably ) you don’t have a MS-DOS command-line.
But don’t be afraid, DOSBOX is a program that allows you to run these programs and games like you used to do in MS-DOS. You can download the program at and install it. The current version, at the moment of writing this, is 0.74. The installation process is painless ( meaning : easy ) and you can use it directly.
Where do you download old games to use within DOSBOX ?
So, you are probably wondering, “Ok, so you got a program to use old programs and games with? But where do I get the games from, then?”
Well, I found a good website for that. It’s called “Best Old” and you can find it at At the top of the site, you will find letters and if you click them, you get a list with games that are supported by DOSBOX. But, if you already know the game you are looking for, you can use the “search box” under the “Info” section of the site. You can also search games by category, under the “Games” section.
Should you encounter a problem, you can post it on their support forum as well, just click the “Best Old Games Support Forum” button.
Oh yes, I’m going to explain how to run and install programs and games later, but if you download games from the site, they are always in a .zip file format, you need to have a program to unzip them, like 7-Zip or WinZip or similar programs.
How to run a program or game under DOSBOX ?
So, you just downloaded a game on the website and you downloaded the zip file and unzipped it with 7-Zip or a similar program. You need to extract it in a directory like C:\DOSGAMES or a similar directory. You can close down the unzipping program. 
Then you click on the “Dosbox v0.74” icon on your desktop. The program opens up and you see a DOSBOX window appear with the “Z:\” in the command-line. You need to follow the instructions below to mount the directory you created earlier ( without the quote signs ) :
At the “Z:\” command-line you need to type the following to mount the drive and directory:
You get this message in the command-line :
Drive C is mounted as a local directory c:\dosgames”
You can use the command “dir/p” to view the contents of the directory.
To go to the directory of the games that you downloaded earlier, you need to type in the following :
Then you go to the directory itself.
Then you need to type the command to run the game, that’s different from game to game, of course.
Some games need to be installed first.
You then need to run the SETUP or INSTALL command to run the setup.
In my opinion, this program is very well and runs smoothly. This is a great program and the site mentioned is one of the best sites to find old games and download them.
Wesley Regenbogen

Friday, October 3, 2014

Game Review: Star Trek Online

By Bixyl Shuftan

Even if you know next to nothing about science-fiction, chances are you've heard about "Star Trek." Taking place in a future time, humans of a long since united Earth along with alien comrades "explore strange new worlds and new civilizations." Since the original show aired in the 1960s, there have been numerous additional telivision series and movies, in addition to books and comics, as it's popularity has grown. And of course there have been games. And more recently, a Multiplayer Online Game based on Star Trek has appeared: Star Trek Online.

Development of Star Trek Online started with the company Perpetual Entertainment in about 2004. But in 2008 they went bankrupt and sold the rights to Cryptic Studios, the makers of the MMO "City of Heroes," which then took over working on the game. Some friends of mine heard about the game sometime around this period of development, saying an alpha version was supposedly playtested at a sci-fi convention. But the game had a lot of problems, notably players had to team up for missions, and when someone had to leave, that left his/her friends unable to finish what they were doing. Even the Trekkers didn't like the game, I was told.

What to do about this problem? Cryptic's designers soon had a solution: make all the players ship captains. Beginning players do a series of missions on foot, eventually ending up in charge of a small ship. Once in charge of a vessel, the player controls its movement, weaponry, and other actions in the game's starship setting. This dual game play of both playing as a character and to "play as a starship" distinguishes Star Trek Online from other MMOs. As players progress in levels, and rank, they work their way up to larger ships.

The setting of the game is that about three decades have passed since the time in which the last of the "Next Generation" movies ("Nemesis") took place. Relations between the Federation and Klingon Empire have deteriorated and the two are once again at war. Meanwhile, a supernova has destroyed Romulus, the homeworld of the Romulans and the capital of their empire. The result are the Romulans spliting into two factions, the Romulan Empire under the old Imperial government, and the Romulan Republic, which favors peace with the Federation and Klingons and doing away with their culture of secrecy from other interstellar societies.

It used to be all players had to start with Federation characters, Klingons available only after players had progressed a number of levels. Now from the start you can play as either, a Romulan, or have a character from each. Players can play up to three characters without paying extra. Federation characters can be human, Vulcan, Andorian, or a number of well-known and not so well known races from within its borders, as well as Ferengi whom presumably some have left their home to become Federation citizens. Klingon characters can play Klingons of course, and a few races under the Empire's dominion, including the reptilian Gorn and the Orions. Romulan background characters are limited to just Romulans. For a real currency purchase, Federation players can have a Caitian (feline), Trill (joined), or Klingon character. Klingon players have the option of a Ferasan (a feline race that possibly might be the Kzinti from the Animated Series under another name) or Trill, and Romulans a Reman (a subject race of the Romulan Empire). All factions are open to having a liberated Borg character (think Seven of Nine) with a real currency purchase as well. You can have either a tactical (fighting and strategy skills), engineering, or science background. Each has it's own perks in the game.

Begining Federation players start out as graduates from the Academy at the top of their class, assigned to be on the fast track to command and made second in command on a ship of cadets under an experienced captain for a training cruise. But disaster strikes, and the Captain is taken by hostiles. Should the player pull through, his character ends up promoted and given official command.

Klingon players start out as a promising warrior who's risen up to the third in command on a Bird of Prey transporting a captured Federation spy. But the ship is attacked on the way, and events result in the player taking command and resuming the mission to take the spy to the Klingon homeworld for questioning. But this isn't the last you hear about the spy, and trying to track him down results in a long quest chain that leads to the character meeting two of the characters from "The Next Generation."

Romulan players start out as residents of a colony world made up of refugees from the chaos that followed the destruction of their homeworld twenty years earlier. Since then, they've gotten along without help from the Imperial government, and are content with doing without them. But just as they're throwing a party to celebrate, they come under attack by some strange aliens aided by the Imperial government's secret force, the Tal-shiar. The player has to fight them, and with the help of an old Romular Warbird parked in orbit gets some of the poplace to escape. The player and his crew end up meeting with D'Tan, the leader of the Romulan Republic whom enlists them to join his cause. Subequent missions involve the player helping to find a world for the Republic to establish itself and getting recognition and aid from the Federation and Klingons, whom at first think they might be some kind of trick by the Imperials. Success however comes at a price. Then Romulan players need to make a choice, will they have the Federation or the Klingons as an ally? Choosing one means access to their ships and some missions.

In carrying out their missions, players will have to do them out both on foot as either alone or the leader of an away team (character or ground mode), or out in space using the ship from the bridge (space mode). For instance, a mission may require the player to destroy a force of attacking ships in ship mode by manuvering the ship and using it's beam and torpedos to destroy (or cripple) them, steering the ship to keep one's strongest shields between they and the enemy. Then the player has to go in character mode to beam over an away team to a nearby planet or space station to deal with attackers whom have beamed down, as well as fix any damage done by them. Enemies destroyed, both in space mode and character mode, leave behind pickups, such as weapons, batteries, and parts. Ships and players, as well as members of the players bridge crew, need to be outfitted with weapons and shields/armor in addition to other fixtures to be more effective in battle. Players and Bridge Crews/away team members also have skills that are useful in fights and can be raised with experience points. Promitions lead to the acquiring of more skills, and able to use better weapons and shields/armor. From certain missions, players earn Dilithium ore, which when refined can be used to purchase special gear and ships.

Besides the missions, players can also get in line for PvP battles, in addition to PvE Fleet Actions in which up to 20 players can take part for a common goal such as beating an invasion fleet. There's also one feature unavailable on most other MORPGs, missions designed by other players. From The Foundry, players can access and play out missions made by others, a unique feature to the game, and can rate them once finished.

As one advances in level, players also advance in rank. At Level 3, players rise to Lieutenant. At Level 10, Federation and Klingon characters rise to Lieutenant Commander, Romulans to Centurion. At Level 20, Federation and Klingons rise to Commander, Romulans to Subcommander. At Level 30, Federation and Klingons achieve the rank of Captain, with Romulans becoming Commander rank. At Level 40, Federation players are promoted to Rear Admiral, Klingons Brigadier Generals, and Romulans Subadmirals. Players get more promotions every five ranks up to Level 60 for Fleet Admirals for Federation and Romulan players, Dahar Master for Klingons. With the rise in ranks comes accessibility to higher tiers of starship, where one can get larger and more powerful vessels, up to Tier Five for the admiral ranks. There's a variety of ships available, such as Federation Lieutenants being offered a choice between an escort vessel with an emphasis on combat, a science vessel that does well with researching and versitile in supporting other vessels, or an all-purpose light cruiser designed to perform multiple roles fairly well. Your character and your bridge crew have skills than can help out in space combat.

There's a kind of crafting system which one can research and develop then build items, presumably one that gets a boost if you're in a science ship. There's also a Duty Officer Assignment screen in which officers of your crew other than the bridge crew can be used to perform various assignments that can take from half an hour to over a day. Completing them can earn experience points and other rewards. Catastrophic failures can lead to the officer developing negative personality traits, or even it's removal.

There are guilds players can join, each with guild banks. Like many other MMOs, there's an exchange where players can buy and sell goods to and from other players. There's also Tribble Breeding, which can be a fun little distraction.

Star Trek Online is Free to Play, but some options are open only if you want to spend a little money, such as wanting to play as a Caitain character. These microtransactions require the use of ZEN credits from the company behind the game, Cryptic Studios. Besides ships and gear, one can use them to buy outfits for one's character, redesign the bridge, get pets, and more.

While there are some things that some players may have a problem with, as some commented the ground and ship modes made it feel like two different games. Or players may feel that some races aren't shown right, such as the Caitians in the game having plantigrade rather than digigrade feet. But all and all, I can only consider this a great game and something Trek fans with PCs (sorry, no Apple OS version) should consider playing. So far I've gotten three characters, one from each faction, to over level 25, and have had plenty of fun doing so. Some "Delta Rising" missions involved characters from the "Voyager" crew, such as Lt. Commander (now Rear Admiral) Tuvac. Some missions involved a bit of time travel, interacting with characters from the Original Series.

Oh, under one faction's quest before you get to Level 25, you will witness one character from one of the TV series meeting his end (No, it's not Wesley Crusher).

So "Live Long and Prosper" and enjoy this (almost) free MMO.

Bixy Shuftan

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Game Review: League of Legends

By Nydia Tungsten & Brandi Tungsten

    I found out about this game through my daughter’s boyfriend, so I Googled it and took a look at some of the trailers of the game. When I saw the trailers, the graphics, the action, I was TOTALLY blown away, so I downloaded it. I was excitedly unable to believe a game like this was free to play. I watched even more trailers as I waited, getting more and more excited!

   Here is what I saw:

     After seeing them, I couldn’t wait. I was almost drooling with anticipation to create one of those majestic characters that I had seen  (I loved the Neko), but instead of the game I was looking forward to, (sighs) I got this…. (may take a few minutes to load for some).

Now, I am not saying it is a bad game, (even though the tutorial leads you by the hand and speaks to you like one would to a toddler away from it’s mother for the first time) it is probably a great game for those that like the 3-D side scroller type of game. But, I am not one of those, and after seeing the trailers and getting this, I feel like RIOT games LIED to me…..offered me candy then shoved castor oil into my mouth ( I am being nice here, Bix ). To say I was disappointed would be like referring to Jaws as a guppy.

    Now, I try to keep my personal opinions to a minimum as I review any game, I truly try and give it a fair chance no matter the genre, but after the blatant misdirection of RIOT with their trailers, I cannot in all honesty give this game a fair review. As I am writing this, I am going so far as to uninstall it and vowing to never touch it again and SERIOUSLY even giving thought to not try anything from RIOT again, ever! I absolutely HATE bait and switch and I feel that is what they are trying to pull with this game.

    If you like the 3-D side scroller’s, you may thoroughly enjoy this game, but with this bitter taste in my mouth, I cannot, nor will I ever play it again. But, I will recommend you try it for yourself but don’t believe the trailers.

    Normally, I would either give the game a thumbs up or down at this point, but I won’t. Instead, I will give the game makers a “Finger up” and recommend they straighten up and fly right.

So until next time, GOOD GAMING TO YOU!

Nydia Tungsten

Monday, September 15, 2014

Microsoft in Negotiations to Buy Minecraft

 By Bixyl Shuftan

Four years since it appeared on the computer scene, "Minecraft" is likely to change hands from the small independant company Mojang to the corporate giant Microsoft. Reports from and other sources state that Microsoft is prepared to spend as much as 2 billion dollars to buy the game. The sources have asked not to be named, and stated the deal could be concluded this week. Microsoft and Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, have declined comment.

If true, this would be the first multi-million dollar deal made by Microsoft's current CEO. But they would also be getting an icon of the computer gaming industry, one that has gone from beyond the computer screen to popular culture. More than 54 million people have bought copies of the game, from sign-ups on the Mojang website to versions of the game on sale for the Playstation 4 and Microsoft's X-Box. It has become the third best selling game of all time. But it's not just the games people have been buying. Fans have been putting down money to buy Minecraft-inspired jackets, hoodies, hats, bedsheets and pillows, even plush dolls (insert huggable creeper plushie), in addition to Minecraft-themed Lego brick toys. One can see why the company created by Bill Gates is willing to spend $37 per user.

And what goes on in Minecraft does not necessarily stay in Minecraft. Because of it's ability to be an outlet for creativity, some players have made some elaborate builds. Recently a Cody Littley built a one kilobite hard drive in the game that actually works.

That Minecraft's creator Markus Perrson would be willing to sell to Microsoft might be news to some people. In the past, he has been critical of the large computer corporation, saying of Microsoft about it's criticized Windows 8 computer operating system, "stop trying to ruin the PC ... I'd rather have Minecraft not run on Win 8 at all than to play along." But as time went on, his relationship with the company improved.

So how would being bought up by Microsoft affect Mojang? The company has kept up it's "Indie spirit, not collecting data on it's users and encouraging employees to interact with fans online." With Microsoft having a "much more controlled PR presence ... It would certainly be a test of a culture clash to mix the two."

And of course, how would the buyout affect the game, "There have been cases in the past of big corporations taking someone else's game and turning it into a huge money-flip just to see what they can make out of it. Gamers will naturally be worried about this." Minecraft became a hit not through an ad campaign, but by masses of players who loved the game, spreading it through word of mouth on youtube channels and computer buliten boards.

So would Microsoft suddenly start doing things like offering starter packs of resources to players for a little cash? *Probably* not as the company most likely realizes fans would be very wary of any attempts to tinker with the game for the sake of getting money. So perhaps the company would avoid messing with the dynamics of the game, but "continuing to keep the game as broad and accessible as possible," not pulling it from Playstation, and raising more revenue through licensing of the brand by partnering with media companies for cartoon shows, and of course more Minecraft-related products.

It's also probable that Mojang would continue to develop the game on it's own, being free to work on ideas to continue to improve it, "essentially a Microsoft-funded skunkworks labratory of small and wild game ideas." It's possible part of the company could be split off into "an indie publishing group" with "the money and means to find and fund indie game projects free from corporate bureaucracy and red tape."

But over time, a number of small companies, such as TheHive, HyPixel, have sprung up making money through for-profit servers and other means without any of it going back to the company. It would be a challenge for Microsoft to  work with this "accepted and important part of the Minecraft ecosystem," but it isn't unreasonable to expect the megacorporation to work out a way for them to keep on going as before in exchange for a share of the profits.

But as gamers from places such as Second Life have found, such best-case scenerios do not always come to pass, and instead you have companies making short-term moves on raking in the money. Mojang's current business model is basically the gamer spending $27 on Minecraft once, and then the company never makes a dime off them again. So there is the possibility of perks introduced into the game for small fees, even as Minecraft fanatics howl that the spirit of the game is being ruined. The Mojang team that developed the game could end up leaving when their contracts are up, and further development is done by one of Microsoft's internal teams, eventually making it feel not quite the same to it's fans.

Microsoft could also start pulling the game from rival platforms. No longer would the game be available on Playstation, Android, or Apple. Modifications to the game such as the popular "Feed the Beast" could also vanish as Microsoft demands that Minecraft be played only on it's own servers. Finally, there are the gamers building things such as "Star Wars" Star Destroyers, "My Little Pony" characters, and  more. It's possible Microsoft's legal team would be too skitish of lawsuits by other corporations, and start cracking down.

But as writer Justin Davis of put it, neither a best case scenerio or a worst case one is likely to be enacted in it's entirety, "the truth is that there is no way Microsoft spends billions to acquire a single game without an expectation and plan for making more money from that game. But if handled with plenty of care, paitence, and thoughtfulness, this added emphasis on money doesn't need to ruin Minecraft's open nature or it's continued indie appeal."

It's possible that the deal might be called off. After all Minecraft is still making a lot of money, and Persson has bickered with Microsoft in the past. So for now it's fans watch and wait, hoping that the creeper outside their door in the game is the only thing they have to worry about.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, IGN, Forbes, Polygon 

Bixyl Shuftan