LOTRO Skirmishes: Too much fun!

Scrrenshot Lord of the Rings Online, riding through the Lonelands.

The road goes ever on and on… Medieval travel simulator: Only moderately fun. Slaying wave after wave of goblins, on the other hand…

I’ve written on a review of the Lord of the Rings Online game as a whole, but seriously it would be too long even by my standards. The game is 12 years old this spring and has a number of commercially sold expansions as well as a number of smaller, free expansions. The level cap was 50 when the game was new, now it is 120, and most of the game between those takes place in areas that did not even exist when the game was new. So you can read online reviews of the game and then of each of the expansions if you have the patience, I guess.

Due to this layered, growing nature of the game, the learning curve is not steep but very, very long. The expansions don’t only include new geographical areas and monsters of an adequate level to fight, but also new features. The Rohan expansion, for instance, has a lot of horse-related stuff, as you might expect. Some of that can be used in later expansions, but some only within Rohan. Well, I haven’t gotten to Rohan yet, and now I am not sure I ever will.

The game is quite pleasant to play, it has an atmosphere of inherent goodness and heroism that I haven’t felt since City of Heroes. It may seem strange to compare two games from so different genres, but they do share some of that longing for a more heroic world. The player base reflects this to some extent. I get the impression that many of the players are “marriage material” (not for me, obviously, and most of the female characters are played by males anyway) but in the sense of being playful yet serious, patient and unafraid of commitment. Well, you better not be afraid of commitment because this game will take many moons if not years to complete. Pretty sure Frodo got to Mordor faster than I will. If at all.

“The road goes ever on and on” is a famous Tolkien quote, and that is certainly also true for this game. I have jokingly called it a “Medieval travel simulator”. It gets somewhat better at level 20 when you can learn riding for free and buy a horse in-game for in-game silver. Before level 20, or if you are a free-player without subscription, you have to buy the riding skill for a small sum of real money. You can also buy substantially more expensive riding speed upgrades. I probably would, if not for the skirmishes.

SKIRMISHES!

At level 20, you can go to one of the skirmish camps that exist near major centers. Normally at that age you would be in or near Breeland, so I went to the camp just outside the South Gate of Bree town. There I talked to the Skirmish Captain and went through the two tutorial missions.

Skirmishes are repeatable, instanced missions. Instanced means there is only you and your fellowship (team) if any. Nobody else will compete with you or help you. Well, except for one helper, your Soldier.

Soldiers are basically what gamers call “pets”, artificially intelligent companions that assist you in battles. There are several classes of soldiers, but you can only have one at a time. If you are squishy, you can have a soldier that tanks for you, attracting the attention of the enemy and keeping them occupied (within reason) so you can do damage from a distance. If you are a more sturdy type, you can use an archer to help whittle them down faster. The archer is also able to pull some of the opponents off you if you are surrounded. There is also a “sage” (basically a mage, but officially those don’t exist in LOTR) who can deal elemental damage at a distance, fulfilling a similar role as the archer. If you are a pure damage dealer but not very sturdy, perhaps you should get a herbalist who can heal you while you fight. Since they can also heal themselves, they too can pull some of the enemies off you and keep them occupied till you are ready to take them down, just don’t wait too long.

There are already two “pet classes” in the game: The Lore-Master is a squishy user of elemental magic, which again is not called magic but lore because Tolkien only had a handful of wizards and they were not really humans at all, more like angels in disguise. Anyway, the LM can use an animal to assist him in battle. The Captain has a human companion. The companion also has an aura that can slightly heal you, or make you slightly sturdier, or slightly increased your damage. But he will also directly assist you in battle, although he is just a commoner, not as good a fighter as you are.

Well, the good news for my Captain is that you can have both a Solider and your original banner-bearer, so now I go into battle with a team of three, even when soloing! The Soldier (in my case an Archer) is actually fairly competent, to the point of not attacking a certain type of enemy that will have secondary effects when attacked. (Which is more than I could say for myself the first times.)

TOO MUCH FUN!

When I say “too much fun”, I mean it half jokingly, half seriously. Noticed how I called LOTRO a “medieval travel simulator”? That is not really a compliment, not in the long run. The road (or other terrain) tends to not go straight, so you have to steer all the time, either your character or your horse, so you can’t even banter with your online friends (if any) or just look around on the varied landscape as you travel.

In contrast, with Skirmishes you warp straight from wherever you are (not limited to the skirmish camp!) and you are at the start of the skirmish instance. From here on, it does not take long before you fight groups of enemies, either because they are attacking you or because you are attacking them. (There are basically two types of Skirmishes, either defending an area against invaders or take it back from invaders.)  There are only brief pauses between the attacks, often not even that, while if you are attacking you can do so at your own pace (but there will often be counterattacks right afterwards.)

So if you prefer slaying goblins over travelling with your eyes on the road, Skirmishes are suddenly a lot more attractive than the usual quests.

If your character is not too well balanced and you could need a companion to round you out, Skirmishes are also a lot more attractive.

If you want to level up rapidly, Skirmishes are also more attractive.

If you want to rapidly get improved weapons and armor, you can buy those for “marks”, a currency of Skirmishes, and you get a generous helping of marks for each Skirmish. The best gear you can buy for marks exceeds the rewards you get for ordinary quests, at least at the level I am (early twenties).

In addition you can use marks to give yourself or your soldier bonuses that only work inside skirmishes: Attack bonuses, defense bonuses, and healing bonuses. These boosts won’t work in ordinary encounters outside of Skirmishes, so going back to normal quests will feel like being nerfed (made weaker).

Oh, and while the Skirmishes are indeed repeatable, the enemies vary between a number of types, especially the lieutenants (mini-bosses for each cluster of enemies). This and the length of each Skirmish makes it more varied than in Asian games like Kritika Online and Closers, where the missions are shorter and repeat exactly. Oh, and you get rewards for eliminating a certain number of those lieutenants, as well as for defeating X number of various monster types. Some of these “deeds” are rewarded with LOTRO Points, which you otherwise would have to buy for money. You can get these rewards by questing in the relevant zones outside of Skirmishes, but it takes longer and requires more traveling.

In short, Skirmishes are easier, more fun, and more rewarding  than the rest of the game. Well, at least the rest of the game so far. Is that really a good idea when you have made an elaborate, huge game world filled with varied content?

I love repetitive games

So maybe this is just me. Maybe most players get bored after playing the same Skirmish five times, even with somewhat different opponents. I kind of hope so, because there is so much to see in this game, so much content you lose out on if you just level past it. But it is just terribly tempting to do another Skirmish instead of riding along the trade roads looking for metal outcroppings to mine for metalsmithing or branches to bring back for woodworking, or archaeological relics to craft scrolls of lore.  I enjoy the crafting in this game, but not as much as the Skirmishes.

And that’s why I call this feature “too much fun”, because it is hard to pull myself away from it. Well, relatively hard. I am not a hardcore gamer, luckily. It is more like I play these skirmishes instead of the rest of the game, and instead of The Sims 3. It is not like I take days off from work to play, or play till dawn. (Well, in late May that might happen if I’m still around, because then there are like two hours of night, but you know what I mean.)

But in the game, I mean. One does not simply walk into Mordor. One gets distracted by Skirmishes.

No sex please, we’re writing

(Today’s title is a pun on the (British) comedy “No Sex Please, We’re British”. Which, incidentally, I have not seen, but it is probably not too bad, being British.)

The story I am writing for this year’s JulNoWriMo is extremely chaste. There is nothing in it that I can imagine would activate the gonads of any remotely sane human, and I think the chance is very low with the insane as well.

Therefore, I can only assume that some completely unrelated influence (like the Norwegian summer?) is whipping up my sex drive. Not that it can do much good or harm to the world, since I have settled into a comfortably celibate lifestyle. It would surely take weeks if not months of preparation to change that.

For my poor characters, however, the world is in a great deal more flux. They and their universe live inside my mind, and when my mind is shaken (or even stirred), they are the ones likely to pay the price. So, my writing is more or less on hold until the compass needle of my mind stabilizes again, or at least stops spinning wildly. It should only take a couple days. Usually a couple extra hours of sleep will help with the problem. Details not really available, beyond the fact that dream sleep (REM) increases over the course of the night.

Many years of writing experience has taught me to NOT get my poor characters mixed up in my hormones. Besides, I have bought and paid for books where the author seems to have failed this rule, and it was not a pretty sight.

Happy birthday to me!

I guess I did change

I guess I did change this year. And that makes me happy. But I will be happier if I change more, I am sure.

I did, in fact, have a happy birthday. But then again virtually all my days have been happy for years and years now. For a while this worried me, as I was thinking I would have to suffer in the afterlife for being happier than I deserved in this life.

Reading the books of Ryuho Okawa convinced me logically that some happiness is a natural result of making the right choices (even if, in my case, there was a lot of help to make me do so). I don’t simply take this on faith, there was a solid body of reasoning that I could check for myself. My heart agrees with it as well.

On the other hand, reading about the lives of saints has shown me that some of my more superficial joy is indeed misguided and needs to wither and die. This refers to enjoyment I get from worldly entertainment, such as computer games, and from allowed sense pleasures such as delicate food. For the inner, deeper happiness to increase, my “center of gravity” needs to move further inward. So hopefully my 54th year will be marked by this. I am not made of saint material, really, so who knows how much progress there will be, if any. But that is the direction in which I am looking.

My experience from the past (and I have a lot of past, now!) is that as my center of gravity moves inward, certain parts of my life start to wither and die naturally, without  a lot of whining like when one slaughters a pig. It is more like when you look at old trees, you see they no longer have the lowest branches, which younger trees have, and the lower branches that remain are sometimes already dead, otherwise rather bare and seemingly bound for death. But new branches are growing higher up. It is a natural process. It is something similar here, I think.  I just passed by the stacks of comics that I still have left (having gotten rid of large heaps of these each time I moved) and I was like, what are these doing here? So that is good.  I don’t go around think “Oh noes, I have to give up my comics or God will punish me in Hell!” – in fact, I have bought a few digital ones this fall and winter – but the emotional attachment has been fading for years and still does. I have other interests now.

So that makes me happy. It would be sad if nothing happened and I just stayed the same, even if it was a cheerful same. It is better that I grow a little each year, even if it means some branches close to the earth are withering and dying.

Google+ revisited

Despite the prominent + sign, this picture was actually taken in spring. And not everyone on Google+ is a pervert. Not quite.

Actually, I have visited Google+ every day since first I wrote about it. In fact, I suspect I have visited it way too much. But we’ll get back to that. My world may be revolving around me, but yours is not. So, Google+: Dead or alive?

If you were to believe a widely quoted article by Chitika Insights, Google+ lost 60% of its traffic in just a couple days. Of course, this was right after they had gained 120% in a couple days, namely the days after they opened from invitation to open beta. If you have ever joined the open beta of anything – such as one of the many online games – you will be about as surprised by this as by the bright circular thing that rises from the eastern horizon in the morning.

Chitika has a good reason to try to understate the rapid growth of Google+ (the fastest of any social media so far). It is in the business of advising advertisers. Google does not show ads on the Google+ pages (unlike Facebook, Chitika’s favorite). And when Google shows ads, it has its own system and does not require or appreciate any help from Chitika. So there is definitely a bias here.

That said, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the crowd who rushed into Google+ without an invitation. They did not come into a noisy common room, but rather an almost empty corridor with locked doors on all sides, except for the exit.

Google+ comes with ready-made provisions for limited sharing. It encourages you to sort your contacts into circles the first thing you do, and while the posting default is still “public”, that only lasts until you actually post something to one (or more) of your circles. This then becomes the new default when you post again.

The higher security level has attracted early adopters who are not your average Facebook user. Minorities, activists, perverts and liberals (but I repeat myself) make up the overwhelming majority of the people I see on Google+. Admittedly, this is probably because I am the kind of person these people include in their circles. But it is certainly a difference from Facebook. Actually, some of the people are the same, but the content is still quite different and rather less restrained.

This goes some way to explain why so much of the Google+ traffic is not public.

Of course, those who have nothing to hide (and want to show it) can do so in Google+ as well, posting whatever they want in public. But there is no particular reason for them to move there if they already use Facebook, unless they have the level of self-awareness to suspect that not everyone is interested in every detail of their very normal life.

Of course, if you really want to share everything with the world, you could make your own blog instead. But then you would not have the illusion that all your friends read it…

Once you’re inside, however, Google seems to be much more active than Facebook or Twitter. Part of it is that people can write as long entries as they want, and generally they are quite a bit longer than “status updates”.  While there are no nested comments, you can alert a specific person by placing a + (or alternatively @) right in front of their name. They will then be notified – if their setting allows it – that you have addressed them directly. This seems to encourage some people to write back and forth at great length, adding to the traffic.

Sharing av media, from music to animated pictures and YouTube clips, is done directly in the stream. No clicking on links named bit.ly and which you have no idea where they go. But all these things also add up. These days there is, unfortunately, a flood of reposts about the various “Occupy [town center]” demonstrations in America. Unfortunately, while Google+ now support clickable #tags, you can’t use them to hide all posts in that category, only to see more of them.

To be honest, Google+ feels kind of crowded and beside the point for me now. I have made a couple small circles with people I really want to read, and go through these more often. The main stream, as it were, is only visited when I don’t feel like I have anything better to do.

One way that Google+ is more like Twitter than Facebook: You can follow people without them following you back. Of course, you are likely to only see their public posts, if any. But it fits me. The people I want to read are not necessarily those who want to read me. I feel a little like the comedian who said he would never join a club that admitted people like him. Well, apart from the comedian part. I probably feel a lot less like a comedian than people would believe…

 

A day without rain!

 

I mean it literally, the sun was back today. But if you are looking for the melody by Enya, I have that in my record collection too.

Because of heavy rain, I did not get to take any long walks at all yesterday, and only half an hour the day before. It looks like that was enough for my body to completely fill up my glycogen reserves, if that really is what happens. My pulse was ridiculously low, touching on 60 when sitting in front of my computer at home and even at work. (There is an app for that! Really! Well, on Android at least.)

Of course, pulse is very individual. But even for me, the envy of health personnel for some reason, 60 is usually my resting pulse, when lying flat on my back and not even thinking. Although once or twice I have seen it down to 55. I am a tiny bit more active than that at work, I like to think!

An hour and three quarters of walking fixed that. But it took its sweet time. As soon as I was over the top of the hill, my heart went back to “walking across the kitchen floor” mode. It was kind of funny.  It took about an hour and a half of rapid walking before my body grudgingly admitted that maybe I was being serious. In all those 105 minutes I spent just over 950 calories, so it was pretty relaxed. But it was the best I could do without actually running.

City of Heroes Freedom is out, the free-to-play version of my favorite online game. I may write a little about it in the future, if any. Tried the start of the game and it has become even more user-friendly, I would say.  But I’m just not so into those things now as I used to be.

Salongfähig

The German word “salongfähig” is well known here in Norway, with a meaning vaguely similar to “politically correct”. It literally means something that fits in a salon, a place where cultivated people gather to talk.

However, in Norwegian the word “salong” is also used about a set of living room furniture, and the heart of this is the sofa. (We do not have a word for “couch” in Norwegian, only sofa and divan.  The Arab word “sofa” is used almost interchangeably with the Persian word “divan”, although there seems to be a vague consensus that divans are better suited for napping in and sofas better suited for just sitting.  Sofa seems to be winning and may remain the only word in use. Divan has been retreating internationally as well, from what I read.)

The lack of a proper Germanic word for these things is no doubt due to the fact that our ancestors were quite austere. Some variant of the word “bench” is quite common in Germanic languages. In Norwegian it is called “benk”, but sitting on them is no longer comfortable enough for our skinny rumps.

The other mandatory part of the “salong” is of course a couple matching living room chairs. I believe it has been possible to buy more than two, but in today’s small families that is probably rare.

The third and final component is the low living room table, “salongbord” in Norwegian. It is used to put coffee cups on while drinking coffee in the living room, as Norwegians like to do.  But I bought this set used, and there was no table with it, for reasons unknown. This suits me well, as I don’t drink coffee. I would probably just have covered it with magazines anyway, or even computers.  This time, I intend to have no big computers in the living room, only laptops at most.

Instead, I would like to sit reasonably near the wood stove with a good book. I find that my home office, completely crowded with computers, is not so conductive to reading books, since it puts me in a computer frame of mind just by entering. Wood stove and living room furniture seems a more suitable environment.

Whether that will be enough to lure me away from the computers is another matter.

IKEA has just this week opened a shop outside Kristiansand, and people are swarming the place. As a result of many people buying new furniture, you can get great used furniture cheaply.  Today’s very durable purchase set me back about NOK 1000, or $175, but well over half of this was fuel for my friend’s van. He lives in the province east of this one, but came all the way to pick me up, help me buy the furniture, drive it home and help me carry it. So he certainly deserved it.

In all fairness, it was his idea too.  He is the only person who occasionally visits me anyway, but it was probably not for his own sake. He is used to austerity, as an old-fashioned Christian he spends much of his time in prayer and fasting, not to mention celibacy, and hard work to earn his own money and give to those in need. So he probably does not mind the hard folding chair that was all I had before. But if he thinks I should become a little more “salongfähig” in this regard, I don’t see it as a great loss, even though I personally live more like a porcupine than a human socially speaking.

And at least it let me write a diary entry that humans can actually understand. I hope.