I was absolutely addicted to The Diablo Series until probably 2005 or so. This may not have been the first fantasy video game, nor was it the first multiplayer game, but it was certainly the first game to successfully combine very dark subject matter with a very urgent plot and what I believe to this day was probably some of the best mood-setting music ever put to use in a video game. The randomization of the maps, combined with a max character level of 99, a bunch of different classes, and infinite item stats made the game playable for well .. I got about 7 good years out of the series.

It wasn’t even a lack of replayability that killed Diablo II either, what it came down to was screen resolution. The first game had a max resolution of 640×480, the second one -only several years after release and the release of the expansion- finally maxed out at 800×600. That was pretty good for the year 2000, but by 2005 very few monitors were running resolution that small, and certainly no gamers were using them. That, at least in my mind, is what killed the game. It pushed me off to try Guild Wars at any rate, and it seems the majority of the Diablo II community also sought different games to fill the void.

Then, as all Diablo II players know, while we were eagerly awaiting the release of Diablo III, there was a highly publicized resignation party at Blizzard North that basically amounted to everyone who had ever worked on the Diablo franchise was gone. Some of them went on to form Flagship Studios, which I was counting on to carry the torch of the Diablo franchise, but the group fucked up in a big way in my opinion. How did they fuck up? Hellgate:London.

I want to be clear that I don’t think the game Hellgate:London was a fuckup, instead I think everything surrounding the games publicity and release absolutely doomed it to fail. I had been following the group at Flagship since they left Blizzard and I was eager to see what new titles they were going to put out. They were talented without a doubt, and I am sure that the entire Diablo community would have been eager to see what they released. The problem with Hellgate was that no one, not even the fansite community, was quite sure what to make of it. It looked like a futuristic, sci-fi, first person shooter, but was trying to incorporate the fantasy elements from a dungeons and dragons type world. Rather than bringing together fans of the FPS and fantasy it seemed to alienate them both. That is how I perceive it at any rate. But that wasn’t even the real problem. The real problem was that they rushed the game to release by Halloween 2007 despite the fact that the interface was clunky as hell and there were tons of bugs. And with, as near as I can tell, zero advertising. Why they rushed it to release at that point probably comes down to money; not having a product for a few years can scare off your investors, but unfortunately pushing out a shoddy product will scare off your clients.

Flagship had also been working on a game called Mythos at the time which never made it to release before the company folded. This is why I think Hellgate:London was such a bad idea. These guys were legends for the characters, bestiary and lore of the Diablo series, but rather than embrace that and play into it by trying to release a game that was similar to it, they tried to play away from it. Perhaps they just wanted to show that they weren’t a one-trick pony, but, as I’m sure they discovered, fantasy nerds are fiercely loyal to the genre.

I continued to check back on the Mythos website over the next couple of years as I toiled away playing World of Warcraft, always hoping to see it nearing release. Instead the site just started throwing a not found error a couple years back and I more or less gave up on it. Gave up until yesterday when I happened to type Mythos in my address bar and was taken to a site where a Mythos game is going to be release by Red Bana -a name I remember for infecting some of my old pc’s with malware. This, I was sure, wasn’t the work of the Flagship crew, so I started looking around to see what became of them. I finally found them at Runic Games, having just released a game called Torchlight, which I immediately downloaded.

This is the game they should have released in 2007. The game is much like the first Diablo, being set in a single town with a dungeon beneath that you must quest and fight to the bottom of. The gameplay is quite similar to Diablo, and the skill and attribute point system is also quite similar. There are three playable classes to the game currently, which as I’m sure you could guess are a strong man archetype, a nimble, ranged attack archetype, and a pure casting archetype. There are four different difficulty levels -though only three are really playable since the easiest could probably be completed by a developmentally challenged two year old. There is even a Hardcore setting (death is forever) although since the game is strictly played offline it hardly matters since you could just restore a saved game from before he died and he would live on. At any rate, this game has kept my attention for the past couple of days, and with a sticker price of only $19.95 and a download size of only 411mb (10 minutes on high speed) I suggest that you Go buy it if you haven’t done so already. There is also a two hour free trial if you aren’t sold by the following screenshots (click through to see them in much higher resolution):

Wow Screens

One of the things that I noticed while trudging through every page I have ever written was that I made a lot of posts about games. I suppose that makes sense, as I do spend way too much time playing them. What I found odd, though, was that while I have spent more time playing World of Warcraft than all the other games combined, I have posted less about it than any other game. I have 11 posts about Guild Wars but only 6 that even mention Warcraft. I mean seriously, I have 8 posts that mention Roller Coaster Tycoon FFS, and I barely played that game at all.

As previously mentioned, I have logged more than 2400 hours of play time in WoW on my Horde characters alone. Were I to add the time played on Alliance characters that number would nearly double.  That is way more time than I have ever devoted to a game. Even Diablo II, which I played the hell out of, couldn’t hold a candle to that number. Not that I am necessarily proud of that, just that I found it odd that with all the time I have spent playing it I didn’t post about it more often.

The game can immerse me so completely that often I will sit down to play for an hour and the next thing I know the day is gone. At least it used to be that way. They have been changing the gameplay so rapidly over the last couple of years that all the parts of the game that used to take up so much time (traveling at low levels, professions, leveling new characters) has been reduced drastically. Rather obviously they are trying to expand their fanbase to include the more casual gamer, but making it so easy has really taken a lot of the fun out of it. I have 6 level 80 characters at this point, and each new character I level goes exponentially faster than the previous ones. Part of that is just knowing the game mechanics and quests, but a lot of it is just the big nerf bat that Blizzard has been hitting the game with.

Prior to the release of Wrath of the Lich King I only had two characters at max level. Those two characters consumed hundreds of hours of my time as I leveled their professions and ran 10 and 25 man raids to try to get the very best gear in the game. Of course at that time the difference between the gear you could get in the raids and the gear you could acquire otherwise was enormous. If you were walking around on a Warrior with the mace that dropped in Serpentshrine Caverns, people would notice. I got whispered dozens of times by people just drooling over it. Now the gear that you get from the top end raids is only marginally better than the gear that you can get with badges acquired through running 5 man dungeons. Why waste all that time and frustration trying to get items that are barely better than the ones they are just giving away? It seems so pointless.

I’m sure I’m not done with the game at this point, but it does get tiresome doing the same thing over and over again. As I said, I have 6 Horde characters at level 80, with another at 65, one at 62, one at 30 and another at 14. Once I get them all to 80, I will have one of every class at 80, and then what? I don’t think I have it in me to run all the 25 man raids anymore, and even if I did I am never home at the hours when most people run them. So I just keep leveling my alts with no real plan for what is going to happen once I have them all to max.

This all brings me to why I decided to write this post in the first place. It had been a while since I came home from work -usually around 2am on Monday and Tuesday- and just played a character through the lower level zones. Perhaps since it had been so long, I was able to see the game with different eyes. The artwork in the game really is pretty amazing (at least it was for when it came out), and I absolutely love the world when it is very late at night, just before the moon disappears and the sun comes back out. I have taken many, many screenshots during this late night/early morning time, and currently they are set to cycle as my desktop background. Here I decided to share a few of my favorites (click on them for 1280×800, the resolution I currently play in. They stretch well to 1680×1050):

Even if I don’t enjoy playing as much as I used to, I still love the screenshots. I especially like the top left one (shot off the cost of Shadowprey Village in Desolace) and the bottom right one (shot overlooking Spirit Rise in Thunder Bluff).

The world of OMFG get a life man!

World of Warcraft has become a time vampire of epic proportions for me. It seems that no matter how good I become at the characters, or how much gear I get to drop, there is always something else to do. Maybe it’s working on getting my reputation to exalted with some faction; maybe it’s getting my trade skills to maximum level; maybe it’s leveling my fishing skill… And when you find yourself fishing in a game, I’m pretty sure that is a warning sign (unless it is actually a fishing game, but that is probably a completely different warning sign all on its own).

I have been getting bored with the game of late. Having not played at all for a week while I was on vacation, I found that it was dreadfully boring when I tried to play it once we got back. I have run a couple of raids since we have been back, but the thought of day to day questing and reputation grinding just isn’t appealing anymore -at least not right now. The Wrath of the Lich King expansion added 10 levels and a lot of new dungeons, but the levels went fast, and the dungeons are old news by now.

The biggest contributing factor for my distaste for it at the moment is the bloated badge system that they have going right now. You use these badges to upgrade your gear, and prior to WotLK there was only one type of badge: the Badge of Justice. Just collect however many you need (items cost between 15 and 150 badges) and trade them in. Right now there are three separate types of badges: Emblems of Conquest, Valor, and Heroism. There are 3 separate vendors that sell items for each respective emblem, and each emblem can only be acquired by running very specific dungeons or raids. So if you run normal 5-man dungeons you can only get one type of emblem, that can only be traded for very specific items. If you want the better quality items, or something for a different item slot -a ring for example- you have to run 25-man raids. And of course the best items (newly released with the Ulduar patch) can only be acquired by doing 25-man Ulduar, which can only be done once per week. Blizzard seems to have realized how cumbersome and annoying the current system is and are scrapping it completely with the next patch, making all emblems from all dungeons and raids the same -which can then be traded in for other emblems if you need to fill other equipment slots. Once that happens I may start taking some more pulls at the giant slot machine that is WoW, but for now I just find it annoying.

This morning, just for fun, I logged on and took some screenshots of each of my characters to do a cast of characters here. So here we go.

This is my Priest. Since the WotLK update made dual-specs possible, I haven’t been referring to her as a Holy Priest, but that is my specialty. Which is a nice way of saying that I kind of suck at Shadow. I have never really played her as Shadow, not even for leveling, and do so now only when it is necessary in raids. She was my first Horde character, with a time played of 35 days, 1 hour and 10 minutes. She is probably the easiest for me to play. Of course as a healer you do get the majority of the blame for any deaths in the raid, regardless of how the death came about: Say a Tank accidentally pulls 3 groups and the party wipes, that is the healer’s fault. A Rogue forgets to stealth when he tries to sap a mob and pulls while you are drinking thus wiping the party, again, your fault. A Mob Mind Controls you for 15 seconds and no one in the party attacks that mob, so the group goes for 15 seconds without a heal and wipes… Yep, your fault. Even so, a good healer can be tough to find, so if you play the class well (hell, if you just don’t outright suck) you can easily find a group for pretty much anything you want. Prior to this recent step back from the game I had been playing her a lot again, after not paying her much attention since WotLK came out.

This is my Warrior (the name sounds like bullseye, so the mobs know who to attack). He is my second Horde character, with a time played of 26 days, 5 hours, 53 minutes. I haven’t bothered to dual-spec him, since I have only ever played him as protection, and have no intention of playing him otherwise. I created him when I was a member of a guild who just didn’t have enough tanks. I was able to get him to max level in about 7 days (time played, not calendar days) which was my fastest by far at the time. He was a main tank to be envied back before WorLK came out. I dispensed with the classic stamina is king mentality and instead built him on avoidance. Just before WotLK came out I had built him up to an impressive 60% avoidance (dodge/parry((through gear, socketing and enchantments))) so that only 40% of attacks even made it far enough to roll for damage. Though my health was low for the class, I didn’t get hit often, and as such most healers I played with loved me for not taxing their mana pools. Since WotLK, the Death Knight and Paladin have become kings of tanking, capable of more or less instantly getting threat on every target in a group. Because the Warrior still can’t do that (it takes several seconds to get them all) they have really been relegated to dps/offtank duty, and I just don’t play him that way. Aside from leveling him and getting him a base level of gear, he has been on a shelf since the expansion.

My Mage, time played: 17 days, 21 hours, 3 minutes. One of my first WoW characters was an ally Mage that I named Nukenheimer (I was going to name him Oppenheimer, but I didn’t think many people would know who that was), and he was a lot of fun to play. I made this Mage when I got tired of getting killed by Alliance on my Holy Priest and Prot Warrior. I did a lot of PvP on my Ally Mage and had gotten fairly good at it, so I kept this guy wherever my Warrior or Priest were leveling/questing to get some retaliation on people who would attack those relatively defenseless classes. Since the release of WotLK I have been in a guild that didn’t need me to play my healer or tank, so the Mage is the one that normally raids with them (the only one that makes it into groups for new content and progression). Unfortunately it isn’t the one that I really like to play. As I say, I loved to PvP with him, but I get tired of doing instances and raids. He does great damage, but it is so dependent on mana that I am often sitting in the back drinking while everyone else has already moved on to the next fight. There are so many silence and interrupt spells on the new raid bosses that I am often just standing around waiting for a dispel. Once dispelled, I often only get 2/3 of the way through the next cast before I am silenced again. Frustrating. A fun class to play for sure, but one needs a break from the mana-dependent dps and endless silencing from time to time.

My Death Knight, time played: 9 days, 20 hours, 48 minutes. Death Knights were the new class in the expansion, and when it was initially released they were comically overpowered. One could go into any dungeon or raid wearing only common items and do more damage than any other class in full epic gear. I had to get me some of that! I leveled this guy in a hurry too (easy to do since they start at level 55). I didn’t really have the intention of playing him when I created him, and that is how it has become. Several changes to the talent trees have taken him from comically overpowered to merely ridiculously overpowered. I take him out to collect herbs for potions and elixirs since the Allys tend to leave him alone, but I never really enjoyed playing him. To this day I couldn’t tell you the name of more than 2 of his skills since all you have to do is mash all the buttons to do great dps. He is fun to play in battlegrounds, but in the end it almost feels like cheating. I haven’t ever really raided with him and I probably never will.

(That’s right, Epic Fail) My Rogue, time played: 11 days, 12 hours, 32 minutes. I had an Ally Rogue, and I loved the class. When I got sick of the aforementioned problems with the Mage, I made a Horde Rogue. This one is a lot of fun to play because there are so many skills. You can’t just 1 button your way to good dps, nor can you just mash all the buttons. Good dps requires a good skill rotation and keeping a number of buffs active on yourself, while keeping debuffs active on mobs. Always deadly in PvP and against single mobs, the Rogue was given an updated AoE skill for multiple mobs in dungeons and raids. There is probably no class hated as much as the Rogue, mostly for their ability to kill players (or NPC’s) without the other guy being able to cast a single spell. The problem is that there are a lot of really, really bad players who have Rogues. I named him Ehpikfaal for the humor of it, but have come to realize that when you create a character that already has a bad reputation, giving him such a name will keep you out of most groups. So you see him on the right there doing what he does most of the time; sitting around town waiting to get into a group for a dungeon. Even so if I had to pick only 1 character to play going forward it would be the Rogue. Great dps and a lot of fun both PvP and raiding.

My Warlock, time played: 18 hours 39 minutes. It was in an episode of American Dad that I heard one of the kids call his relative “Uncle Bad Touch” and I liked it so much that I made a Warlock with that name (had to leave out 1 character because it was too long). Included here only because I like the name. I also have an Ally Warlock and I was never able to level either of them. This class bores me to tears. The play goes like this (at least for leveling): Your minion tanks the mobs, you cast a couple curses on them, then stand around and wait for them to die. You can’t really use and direct damage spells since they are so costly in mana, and they aren’t necessary anyway (at low level) since everything dies so quickly from your curses. I think I would really like this character at max level, once you are able to dispense with your minion and start doing some direct damage spells, but I simply get too bored trying to level him. Uncle Bad Touch has a macro that I run around town casting on people that reads something like this: “…Psst, hey (character name)…” “Would you like some candy?” “UncleBadTouch beckons (character name) to follow” “I have some in my panel van parked behind the Inn in Brill.” I laugh every time I use the macro, though the people I use it on rarely find it as funny as I do.

So this morning I was logging onto the characters to see how long I have spent playing the game and I made the foolish decision to total it up. Counting only the characters you see here (which ignores all Alliance players, of which I have 2 at level 70 and 5 others between level 40 and 70) I have 99 days, 8 hours into playing. Mind you that is actual game time, so we are talking about 2384 hours spent playing. Is that disturbing or what?

At any rate, I may find myself enjoying it again once they make the changes to the badge system, but for now I am getting really burned out on it. But after 2400 hours, can you blame me?

How I spend the better part of my life

I have always been a gamer. When Atari hit the shelves back in the early 80’s, or when it hit our television set to be more specific, I was absolutely hooked. I was intrigued especially by the game Adventure. The game wasn’t much to look at, and seems beyond horribly cheesy by today’s standards, but back in the day that was my first experience with honest-to-gosh action/adventure games. My fascination with Adventure would actually go on to influence my console purchases over the next decade or so.

I must have been about 14 or so when we got our first Nintendo. There were several games that came along with it (I believe we bought the system with games at a yard sale), one of which was The Legend of Zelda. I was an instant addict. Here was an adventure game that was far more expansive than my previous experience in the genre, and there were actual graphics and gameplay! Many times I stayed up overnight playing that game, forever trying to save the princess.

There were a couple of other games for the Nintendo that caught my fancy for a time back then. Faxanadu is the first one that leaps to mind. That stands out in memory as the only adventure type game that I was never able to complete. This may have been because I never actually owned the game, so my play was limited to the 24 hours I could get it from the video store back then.

I was 16 at this point, and had just started working. When I decided to buy a console of my own, Zelda and Faxanadu would influence my decision a great deal. In an odd twist however, they would actually lead me away from the Nintendo platform.

A teenage gamer is a pretty shallow creature, and I was of that group. My friends were based more on their machines and game selection than their character or even whether I actually liked them. The next generation of consoles was just hitting the market, the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were in competition for my paycheck and in due diligence, I made it my mission to play every title I could on both systems before making a purchase.

I chose the Sega. I made that choice for basically two reasons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun and Shadowrun. Warriors of the Eternal Sun carried on my love for the fantasy genre. It was the next similar to Zelda, but with better graphics, a better interface, all the things that influence my game purchases today. Shadowrun was completely different. This was my first experience with a more Sci-Fi type fantasy. I absolutely loved this game, but was never able to get involved in any other games from this genre (although I am still anxiously anticipating the release of Hellgate:London, just to see if the fire still burns).

When I moved to Arizona, I came without a console. The Playstation was released a couple of years after I got here, and I bought one of those as soon as I could. This would be my first experience with Final Fantasy, and it would last for many releases thereafter. There were many, many other similar games for the playstation platform. While I remember Suikoden and Vandal Hearts as being a couple other favorites, I also remember that they were just the ones I happened to grab out of dozens of similarly themed games.

When my wife and I got our first PC, I was still playing games on the playstation. As a result of that, she spent a lot of time playing games on the PC. She started playing a game called Diablo. While I played it in bits and pieces, I was never able to get as involved in it as she was -what with my neverending quest to save my girlfriend awaiting me on the playstation. However intrigued I may have been by the initial Diablo game, I was still a console gamer.

Sometime in the year 2000, my wife made mention that she would really like to get a new game for the PC. It was Diablo II. Being the loving husband, I bought the game for her. Our PC was so ancient at the time though that I often had to tweak a lot of settings to make games run, so I wanted to install it and make sure it was playable before she made it home from work that day. That was what I would really consider the precise moment that my gaming went from a pass time to an (unhealthy?) obsession. I just stepped out of the little village to make sure everything was loading correctly, make sure the machine wouldn’t freeze up, etc. Hours passed. It was with reluctance that I let her play it when she got home later that day.

I bought a laptop computer later that year, as well as another copy of Diablo II. That way we could both play it at the same time. When the Lord of Destruction expansion was released, we got two copies, on the day they were released. When we moved from our studio apartment to an actual house, we set up a room for the PC, but I mostly played on the laptop so that I could watch TV with her in the living room.

I continued playing Diablo II: Lord of Destruction well after she had given it up. And would probably still be playing it were it not for a chance click-through on an ad at the website. “E3 for everyone!” it said. A demo weekend of a new game called Guild Wars. We both enjoyed that game so much that by the time of its release, we had a second computer set up in the “office”. We would go on to get headsets to communicate with other people in the game and eventually buy multiple accounts..each..

The simplicity of Guild Wars would lead to it falling out of favor in our house. Character level max was only 20, so it was possible to take a character from creation to max level in a day (if helped) and with a limited amount of gear and skills, your character was no different than anyone else’s. With one patch they started offering titles for certain goals. Protector of Tyria, for instance, was available to those who had completed all missions and bonuses on the Tyrian continent. This was what we did to keep ourselves playing the game after having completed it on multiple characters.

Then Guild Wars made a huge mistake. They were going to implement difficulty levels. You would have to complete all the missions and bonuses on Hard to get a title. So we would have to go back and replay every mission to get the title. This pissed off the wife something fierce. In fact I think it was on that very day that she downloaded World of Warcraft.

With multiple characters, multiple professions, and 70 character levels, this one takes a while to get through. I don’t remember exactly when we started playing it, but we have been playing it ever since leaving Guild Wars. 1 person from our old guild made the switch with us, and it has been a lot of fun bringing up our new characters from lowly n00bs -especially so after having had all the elite gear that Guild Wars had to offer.

So that is where I have been all this time, and where I will likely be going as soon as I hit publish on this post. While I have made it to level 70 with one character, I have others at 53, 51, 46, 35 & 15 that I still need to play. Plus even the highest level one (a mage named Nukenheimer ((I wanted to name him Oppenheimer but didn’t think anyone would know who that was))) hasn’t maxed his professions yet.

And once I have completed all the goals I have in this game, I am sure that there will be another to take its place.