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Several years ago I was addicted to online gaming, in particular Ragnarok Online, PristonTale, and FlyFF. But then one came along that would blow my socks off. No, it wasn’t the all consuming and powerful World of Warcraft, it was a beast of a completely different nature. By tugging on my childhood heartstrings, by going back to my best loved film trilogy, Lord of the Rings Online exploded onto my screen. Like a bad romance, I knew it would be doomed from the start. The only problem is I didn’t want to ever believe it would get as bad as it did.

The honeymoon period was incredible. My favourite go-to race, Elves, were present, but with more customisation than I thought would be possible. Elf? From Rivendell or Lorien? Oh back up there, pointy ears, you can choose from four origins. No two characters would ever be the exact same, and I relished in this. My most beloved character was Kisa, a lore-master, human. With short hair, freckles, little flicked up nose, and a huge bear at her side, she was the absolute bee’s knees in my eyes. Kisa trained to be a Scholar; a crafting vocation where you find broken pots, pitchers, urns, and collect ancient texts, tablets, then transform the knowledge into battle scrolls, or other useful buffs, dyes and paints. I was addicted. I remember shouting to my boyfriend at the time, ‘I can’t do that right now, I’m hunting for pot!’ I dread to think what the neighbours thought.

But years went by and I lost my touch with LotRO. I forgot about Kisa, the bear, the pot. My addiction had subsided and I had moved on to a different game. It wasn’t until six months ago I returned to the land of the free. And that is exactly why I didn’t want to go back; it had become free-to-play. If you have played online games, you’ll understand why I didn’t want to go to a dumbed down version of a once beloved game. My memories of the game, if I go back would it be as good? I was to find out.

I missed migration. I completely missed the opportunity to save my account. I tried signing in, but nothing happened. Once I got in to contact with Turbine, I realised it wasn’t there any more. Kisa, the bear, gone. My gold, my items, everything, lost forever. Well, there was only one thing left to do! Start again! I don’t mind doing that since I was so in love with the game. But I underestimated just how much it had changed from vanilla to free-to-play. I’m sure it’s just a few tweaks. I was oh so wrong.

It was like stepping out of a bubble onto an alien planet you once belonged to in a past life. There was something familiar about the place but everything was wrong. Very wrong. I convinced myself to pay for one month, this month, to see if I can rekindle my love for the game. Creating my character, another lore-master, took mere minutes. I knew what I wanted, I knew where I wanted her to go, and how to play. And yes, I wanted her to be a Scholar. It started out fine, I remembered what the keys did like it was only yesterday I had stopped. I played for two days straight. It wasn’t until the second day I stumbled back upon the housing market. Yes, in the game you can own your very own house. I decided to scope out a little village to see what the houses were like. Sure I couldn’t afford any, but it’s window shopping. I have never been so depressed while window shopping.

The houses were empty, cold shells of their former glory. Banners of battles won waved in the gardens of homes of other players. But you couldn’t gain access. The most common reason? Players didn’t pay upkeep on their homes any more. How do you pay upkeep? By playing. House after house, none of them let me look around. I walked around this ghost town, thinking it was the only village to be like this. I was wrong. Village after village, house after house, it dawned on me; I’m the only one here. I began to panic, what about my crafting?

I only craft to make insane amounts of money to fund my expeditions to farm for extremely rare loot (I’m the biggest treasure hunter ever). I checked my mail box and sure enough; full. Not full of money, full of the ingredients I had put up for sale. None of it sold. I was truly alone.

I remember the early days when a great number of people played, when the Shire was full of dwarves, men, elves, all helping each other, going off on adventures, banding together in fellowships. There was a soul to Bree, where people with flutes, lutes, clarinets and drums would come together and play their music, turning modern classics into acoustic gems. None of it remained. As I walk the roads of Middle Earth, I feel alone. Not even killing goblins lifts my spirits. One month is all I’ll need. One month is all I can take, before the four walls close in on me and I start talking to my shadow for lack of online contact.

Whatever happened to LotRO? Whatever happened to the merry players? Is it just my server? Or have the black gates finally closed on this once loved mmorpg?

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It’s no huge surprise that I am a massive fan of the Mass Effect series. I think I’ve mentioned it enough times in previous posts! But as a fan girl of the series, winning the competition for N7 swag was the icing on the cake. I have been eyeing up an N7 hoody for at least a year. I keep going back to the store and stare at them all then decide ‘Maybe next payday.’ By that ┬átime I’ve forgotten and thus it loops. November 7th came along and it was N7Day; a celebration of 5 years of Mass Effect. I was all over it on Twitter and entered at least three competitions. Mass Effect fans came together and shared stories, memories and favourite moments like we were all gathered for a reunion and, in a way, we all were.

I should note of course BioWare wasn’t always my favourite studio. At first it was Lionhead Studios, creators of the ever popular and timeless Black & White games. When I was 12 years old I wrote to the studio asking for advice. I am not good at programming, I’m rubbish at art, but I love your studio and I write a lot, how would I break in to the industry? I never got a response. Even to this day it mildly annoys me that they never responded. Of course I realise they are all super busy and who has the time to respond to every e-mail they ever receive? But then BioWare came along and completely blew everything else out of the water.

I was introduced to Mass Effect 1 by my best friend Joe. I only played the first game in second year of University which was three years ago. I played it on the Xbox and found the controls easy to use. The story was so exciting, the characters had such depth to them I didn’t much care if I was talking to a Turian or Quarian, I just wanted to pummel Saren’s face off. Sovereign’s speech and the realisation that Saren had been indoctrinated, well it was heartbreaking. Wanting more, I demanded to play the next instalment. Mass Effect 2 upped the game. Suddenly Garrus was up for grabs (pun wholly intended), but was pushed back by a dying assassin who called me siha. I still can’t play through ME2 without romancing Thane! To finish this rollercoaster ride was the suicide mission… I have never been so tense about a game before in my life. I kept threatening Joe, ‘If anyone dies, I will kill you!’ He gave me tiny bits of advice as to who should do what and be in which team, and everyone came out of it alive. Even Miranda and Jacob. What? I’m allowed to have least favourites…

Of course I played Mass Effect 3 and loved it, and yes I was upset about the ending, let’s get that out of the way, but I have never cried so much at a video game or even a movie as I did at Mass Effect 3. As soon as I saw the hospital as a place you could visit I knew I’d be seeing deaths of loved ones; in particular my loved one, Thane. If we just forget the ending for a second here, the Mass Effect series had me by the heartstrings the entire way through. It was all thanks to the incredible teams at BioWare. Suddenly my respect for the company skyrocketed. How they were able to collect so many amazing writers, artists, programmers, and more, was just mind boggling to me. Of course I have no idea what goes in to making such ground breaking games, but it lit a spark of interest in me that now is burning brightly.

BioWare also benefits from an amazing community. I’m not talking about just the fans, by the way, I mean the community managers, and all other employees who regularly give talks, who engage with the fans on Twitter and other social media sites, etc. Suddenly I was able to ask the questions so readily ignored by Lionhead Studios. I was able to talk directly to actual employees of the company, and share my enthusiasm for their Mass Effect series. Not only did they listen but they responded. Having won an N7Day competition was like being rewarded for my devotion and appreciation. I know it may sound far fetched and a tad dramatic, but that’s truly how much I adore the company.

I know Mass Effect 4 is slowly emerging from the shadows, teasing fans to no end, but I can’t imagine BioWare would wreck their own series. I have a lot of faith in them and I believe, despite their ME3 ending mistake, they will learn from the little glitch and continue to deliver the games they are so famous for. I would love for a First Contact War film, fully CGI, taking a page from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I would also love a Mass Effect mmorpg, much like BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, set between the First Contact War and Shepard’s story, focussing on exploration and discovery in the ┬árich universe they have created. Let’s be able to play as a sassy Quarian or kick-ass Turian. Let’s explore space whilst being engaged in an enthralling storyline that can change depending on your choices. I always secretly hoped SW:TOR was a dry run for a Mass Effect mmo. Maybe it was, who knows?

Let’s wrap this huge post up. I have a couple of dream jobs and one would be working at BioWare. Heck, I don’t know what I could bring them that they don’t already have, but that’s why it’s called a dream job. Maybe I could be their small, quirky, loveable Dutch community assistant, or a marketing assistant. Everyone needs a cutesy Dutchy in their lives, BioWare could do with me… Okay, seriously now, I respect them as a company and I thoroughly enjoy their games (Dragon Age, you’re next on my list). They have given me a favourite game series that will stand the test of time no problem, and in return all I can give back is my thanks and appreciation for such a ground-breaking company.

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