I think my brain be about to explode

I’ve talked about the KDWB morning show we’ve got here in the Twin Cities in past posts.

When you’re on the way in to work, it’s nice if you’re listening to crazy people to distract you. At least, sometimes.

This last week, crazy acquired a whole new meaning.

I’m not going to ruin it for you. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to hear the hilarious segment on your own, if you choose. I’ll link how to get there towards the bottom of the post.

A brief setup of just what this is I’m begging you to listen to.

KDWB does this thing they call “War of the Roses“. They encourage people who suspect their significant other is cheating on them to call in and give them the cell phone number, and explain why they’re so suspicious.

Then, the show calls up this subject’s cell, pretends to be from the subject’s cell phone company, and in exchange for answering a quick 3 question survey, they’ll mail a dozen ‘romantic long stemmed roses’ to anyone the subject wants.

Obviously, the point is to see who the person will choose to send the roses to, all the while having the suspicious person on the line ready to break in abrubtly and go psycho on ’em, and the other person can get all defensive, and a relationship implodes live on the air for all of us to enjoy.

There cannot ever be a good result from this, as, even if the subject under investigation chooses to give the roses to the right person, as the morning show crew will still take delight in letting the subject know that they weren’t trusted by their significant other, and so now the subject typically goes on the attack and the caller becomes the defensive one, and you get to listen to it all boomerang around.

And yet, week after week, people still call in wanting to be on War of the Roses.

It would be amazing if it wasn’t so depressing.

Typically, I don’t enjoy the segment on the show. This isn’t my kind of drama. But this week, this week was different. It was veeeery different.

This last week, KDWB had a War of the Roses segment with a caller named Denice. The original show went on the air Thursday, January 20th, and it was epic. But then there was a follow up with Denice that I listened to on Friday, January 21st, an update on what happened after the whole thing blew up on Thursday, and that took the entire event way past epic and earned it a coveted spot as a legendary event.

I invite you to go to the Dave Ryan in the Morning show on KDWB’s podcast/download page, and scroll down the page to the sidebar showing War of the Roses clips.

I implore you to listen to the War of the Roses: Denice segment dated Thursday, January 20th, and then, once you’ve wiped the tears of laughter from your eyes, listen to the War of the Roses: Denice Update segment immediately afterwards.

I know it’s a pain to follow links, but I’m telling you; listening to these two clips will be well worth your time.

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Last Chance for the Girl Genius contest!

Today is the last day to get those Girl Genius inspired mad science entries in to me!

Confused? Check out the contest announcement here for more details.

So far I’ve had three entries… three really good entries, mind you, but you’ve certainly still got a good chance to show off your ingenuity or creativity.

Good luck!

The (Un)Holy Trinity

Bearwall!

Thanks go to the MMO Melting Pot for clueing me in on a kerfluffle in progress around the blogosphere. I tend to miss these things, as I’m an old, out of the loop kind of Bear. 

From what Rebecca said, Tobold wrote a post recently that has inspired other people to write their own posts, either in support or condemnation.

There’s always some kind of drama in the blogosphere, so I’m not too sure what this particular kerfluffle is really all about. (I do love that word, I think kerfluffle shall be my word of the day. Not to be confused with the word ‘fluffer’, which, as we all know, is someone who heaps praise on the writers of WoW Insider in the hopes of being linked to. Right? That *is* what a fluffer is, right? Hold on, let me just check the urban dictionary… whoops! Oh, really? Wow, okay, moving on…. ya know, on second thought, that really is a fairly apt, oh never mind…) 

Umm, right, the kerfluffle. As far as I understand it from the Noisy Rogue’s post, the big to-do is something about Tobold saying that DPS only get to have their selfish fun because other responsible people step up and do the nasty, undesirable jobs of tanking and healing. Furthermore, if DPS want to be socially responsible, then they have a duty to step up there and take a turn as the tank or healer their own selves, whether they like it or not.

Yeah, I paraphrased mightily, tongue firmly in cheek. What I did was take a perfectly innocent quote, and read into it with the utmost of paranoia and suspicion, looking between the lines, above and below the lines, behind the lines, and coming up with my own damn lines as well. My version sounds kinda BS, doesn’t it? But that’s what some people seem to have read into it before they teed off.

Right up front, I want you to know that I don’t really care what all the drama is about, or what Tobold was really trying to say, or whatever. He knows what he was trying to say, and I’ve been on the blogging front long enough to know that while I always know what I meant to say in a post, that doesn’t always translate into the words on the screen. Did he mean whatever it was in the way it’s been taken? Only he knows, and only he knows whether he’s satisfied that he got his point across or not. Plus, you know, maybe he’s right.

I like to tank. I love to tank. That is the part of the game I have always loved the most. And, that is the part of the game of World of Warcraft I do not currently do at all, because I will only tank for people I know, and enjoy playing with. If I were playing on Horde side, there are folks there I like playing with and I would tank for them if they so desired. I’ve been focused on Alliance side since the expansion released, though, so I haven’t. I will not tank for strangers, not because it’s hard, but because every time I’ve tried there is a person that is a rude little obnoxious asshat… and I refer you to my comment above about being an old kind of Bear. Life is simply too short and too precious to me to waste my time dealing with punks, so I don’t.

That being said… Tobold has a valid point that since the current system has fewer tanks and healers looking for groups than there are DPS, it provides a good source of conversation on why… or, better yet in my opinion, a constructive discussion on what could be done differently, if anything at all?

I’m planning on taking a crack on speculating on ways it could be changed. Not for WoW, but for another MMO design looking to try a different approach to what is ‘known and accepted’.

As I like to say, even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually have an idea worth something. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Whatever else you care to say about it, Tobold clearly wrote a successful post, because here I am writing a post inspired by it. Sorta.

I’m really more inspired by the central idea behind it all; the relationships between tank, DPS and healer, and what can be done about it. 

For any of my readers that have played MMOs in the past, the dynamic is a familiar one; challenges are designed to be too difficult for any one player to complete on their own. A group is needed for victory. The challenge typically has villains that do too much damage for someone who is not a healer to live through, does too powerful a single attack for anyone not a tank to survive even with a healer, and has too high a health for anyone not a DPS provider to burn down before the juice that keeps those heals going runs out.

So, roles are decreed; a tank to survive the big hits and keep the big bad’s attention; a healer to keep the tank alive through all the damage, and a DPS (or more) to do enough damage to defeat the big bad before the healer’s mojo runs out.

Thus, the unholy trinity upon which so much of our MMO group gaming is based.

Where we often see a disconnect, is that our MMO play experience is not IN a constant group. It is a combination of solo play with just occasional group situations.

When playing solo, most encounters are designed favoring a playstyle that delivers high damage output in a very short period of time, burning down individual bad guys quickly to move on to the next one. Thus, the most common and friendliest playstyle for solo players, by design, is the DPS role.

This means that, also by design, in order for a tank or healer to rise in the game, someone has to step outside of what they already know and are familiar with, the DPS playstyle, and take on a brand new role they know nothing about and have no previous experience in.

What is even more intimidating, often they have to do this in front of a live studio audience, who may have varying degrees of experience on how to play themselves… along with varying levels of civility, patience and compassion. 

And the final catch – while you can stack on more DPS players, as many as you’d like to increase the groups’ damage output, the overall success or failure of the entire group often rests on the shoulders of the tank and the healer. If the tank fails to hold the attention of the big bads or the healer fails to heal the people who need it as fast as they need it, then the DPS players or healer, who BY DESIGN are far squishier, will fall. Generally, once players start dying, the group will fail. Nobody likes to lose, and strangers can be downright vicious and cast blame far and wide when it happens.

Is it any wonder that, no matter how fun you try to make the healing or tanking roles, there shall always be people who refuse to try it? For fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of letting other people down, fear of ridicule, fear of something unknown, fear of the expressed rage of others at a loss, fear of the consequences of not being prepared enough or ‘good’ enough.

Is there a problem with this system, or is it fine as is? Does it maybe just need some tweaks?

I think one fundamental issue that could stand to be addressed is how tanking and healing are roles that do not come into play in an MMO until it’s time for a group. Until that first group, there is never a time when tanking or healing are a valid, fun, successful playstyle.

If, through some combination of changing classes or encounters, the healing or tanking playstyles became both fun AND equally as effective as DPS to play solo, then I think you would see more people getting skilled in using them, and thus have a lot more confidence in those roles going into a group.

Tanking as a viable solo playstyle has already been done before, and people loved it. People who play World of Warcraft are already familiar with the concept of the person who levels as a tank, usually as a Paladin.

Why? Because Paladins, once upon a time, had both good survivability AND self-healing abilities, and although their damage output was lower than standard DPS classes, they could damage multiple bad guys at the same time. A leveling Paladin tank would just gather up lots of bad guys, and by damaging them all at the same time, burn them down slowly but as a big group. Yes it took them a long time for the fight to finally end, but overall, they killed enough extra enemies that it all kinda evened out. 

Even at the time, it wasn’t a very consistent way to level. The biggest reason being, you need areas your level that have lots of enemies close enough together that you can gather up a group. With single target fights being the norm for soloing DPS players, you didn’t see that kind of arrangement at every level of the game.

How could you make leveling as a tank a more attractive solo option? By placing more bad guys in an area that can be gathered up, and have those opportunities at every level of progression. Also, you could encourage it by increasing the ratio of physical bad guy to stationary spell casting bad guys. This would let you gather up lots of bad guys that will dutifully chase you around, but leave you one or two spellcasters that will let you practise silencing/line of sight pull techniques on them.

So, sure, you could modify your game world a little bit to accomodate the player wanting to level as a tank. Keep the enemies spread out enough for single target DPS style players to move through without being swarmed all the time, but have enough of them just close enough to each other that a leveling tank could gather a bunch up without too much trouble, in every zone they adventure in.

That is a game adjustment that would help encourage more leveling tanks, and in the process remove some of the fear from new tanks joining a group for the first time.

But what about healing?

How do you set things up so that healing is a valid playstyle?

I think one way to address that issue is to eliminate healing as a seperate role. Incorporate it into the management all players have to handle for themselves.

I’ll get back to that point in a minute, and let you build up your anger in the meantime over the very suggestion, by getting back to tanking. 🙂

I think another change that I’d love to see done is that tanking should be an option every class should have.

Let’s look at World of Warcraft for some examples of what I’m talking about.

During the Burning Crusade expansion, a lot of players took pride in finding ways to perform as a tank with classes that were traditionally DPS only.

The most famous of these was the Rogue class, which has the option to activate abilities that increase their chance to Dodge incoming attacks very successfully, for a short duration of time.

The challenge for these Rogue players was in arranging encounters so that they could get all the killing done before the duration of the especially high Dodge wore off. The tanking also usually required gear chosen for it’s very high Dodge boosting stats.

There have been many players who, of their own initiative, tried to force a DPS class into tanking, and succeeded. How much more successful would it be if the designer of the game gave them intentional tools to do that tanking properly?

What’s the biggest role of the tank? Is it to survive incoming damage? No, because a Mage with Ice Block can do that as well for a brief period of time, and so can a Hunter with Feign Death.

The main duty of the tank is to keep the attention of all of the big bads on him, and off of the rest of the group. Only after that is health important.

If a player can keep all of the big bads on him alone, AND survive the fight, that player has accompished the role of a tank.

So, two aspects of the tank to duplicate amongst the classes; a way to hold the attention of bad guys, and a way to survive that attention.

Anyone who has played World of Warcraft for any length of time around a Paladin tank knows that, even when fully specced as a tank, sometimes a Paladin would just be utterly unable to hold the attention of the bad guys. As soon as people started shooting, the bad guys would go running wild.

Why? The Paladin has a special ability that they can choose to turn on or off called Righteous Fury. The sole function of Righteous Fury is to make everything a Paladin does cause increased Threat. Heals, damage, anything that any character could do that would normally cause Threat (the effect that gets the attention of a bad guy) would have the value of that Threat significantly enhanced. Enhanced high enough to normally overshadow anyone else in the group.

It’s a “I’m the tank now, dog” button, and Paladins that forgot to activate it would find themselves quickly ignored as the DPS players, with their higher damage output, attacked the bad guys.

My suggestion is, why not offer all players an “I’m the tank now, dog” ability? Something they can activate that intentionally boosts the Threat value of everything they do.

But go beyond that. That same ability could incorporate a multiplier to the player’s health, providing the boosted life that tanks often need. It could also turn on a ranged Taunt ability, something that only a player with the “I’m the tank now, dog” ability active could use. (You know, to prevent those accidental taunt tag teaming). And of course, with ITTND on, there would have to be a downside, or people would run with it on all the time. So, as soon as it goes on, your Threat output may go up by 400%, but your damage output would be reduced by 400%. You are holding attention and surviving, not being a one man death machine. Boom, instant higher threat, higher survivability, and a reason not to use it when you want to do lots of damage. Sure, you could level using it… you’d just need to grab up 4 or more enemies to kill at one time to make up for your reduced damage output.

But there is more to being a tank than threat and health. There is also having a unique way to feel like you’re tough to bring down.

World of Warcraft has shown us that it is possible to have tanks designed around something other than shields and plate armor. Rogues have long effectively survived some nasty stuff using their long cooldown abilities. Remove or reduce some of those long cooldowns, and give them a threat increaser, and they’re a ready made tank.

Druids had their high armor value to reduce all incoming (physical) damage. Warriors and Paladins had their Defensive Stances, Shields and Swords to Block and Parry.

Hunters have a pet they can send in, in their stead. That never has worked very well for consistent group situations, mainly because there are limits to how powerful the pets are designed to become for fear of PvP balance issues. Having a toggle for a tanking mode that dramatically reduces damage output while increasing threat output and health/armor would go a long way to changing that, especially if the Hunter could use their Misdirect to their pet as a Taunt. How fun would that be? A long distance tank, seeing when their pet lost aggro and taunting the mobs back to the pet? It can already be done with Intimidation, and traps help control enemies very well. Hunters are just so close to being tanks, they can taste it. 

With these examples, it’s easy to see that if this was the direction a design team wanted to go, it could happen. 

There are so very many things that could be tweaked a little bit to every existing class in WoW to accomplish the goal of giving an option to perform the tanking role; hold the attention of all the bad guys, and survive incoming damage.

As long as damage output was drastically reduced while tanking, and the focus was put on generating high threat instead, it wouldn’t even be a destabilizing influence on most PvP situations, especially if you could only change into that tanking mode while out of combat.

But what about the healing role? I hope you held onto your anger and are ready to unleash it on me now 🙂

Why not remove dedicated healers entirely and put the responsibility of self-healing squarely on the shoulders of each player?

Again going back to an existing example, currently the Rogue class in WoW has a very interesting experiment going on. Recently a new spell was added, giving Rogues a heal over time capability. Recuperate is a new Rogue finishing move, giving the player the option to choose to use combo points on a self-healing “Heal over Time” spell instead of on increased damage or on speed boosts.

Similarly, Paladins with their new Holy Power combo point system can use those points on an instant cast heal spell called Word of Glory.

With some modifications, such a system of self-healing choices, sacrificing damage output in exchange for self-healing at various rates, could be used to replace the traditional healing class entirely. After all, how much damage is taken, who takes it, and at what rate is directly controlled by the game design team.

But the only way it could work would be if the dedicated healing classes were no longer an option, and every class had valid ways to choose to either heal themselves OR do damage/generate threat.

If you give just a few classes the ability to self-heal, and keep the dedicated healing classes, you’ll quickly run into what Rogues are seeing now; changes to the effectiveness of Recuperate as the designers try to find a ‘sweet spot’ that let’s it be helpful while the Rogue is alone, but isn’t too powerful when there is a healer nearby during a raid.

Many challenges in MMOs like World of Warcraft right now are balanced around trying to find ways of keeping dedicated healing classes busy/occupied during a raid. Because the design is built around the trinity of tank/DPS/healer, then a healer has to be there. But, if there isn’t enough for the healer to do, the healer will be bored and not have fun. So encounters are intentionally designed with more kinds of damage, more things that need to be removed like Curses or Poisons, bigger spikes of sudden damage that may kill the tank instantly to keep you on your toes, a limited resource like Mana to manage so you have to stay aware of what’s going on at all times, all sorts of complexity just because there has to be a healer role, and that player has to be kept busy.

If you remove the dedicated healer role from the design equation, you remove the need to design encounters to intentionally tax healers to the edge all the time. You can cut back on the massive damage spikes, and force each player to be responsible for his or her own cleansing of curses, or of moving out of goo that causes damage, or of sacrificing damage output temporarily to regain some health when needed… or of choosing to push harder on damage, trusting in the defeat of the boss before they die.

You bring the responsibility back squarely on the shoulders of the players… and you also force them to use their judgment, with nobody but themselves to blame if they die, unless they pulled threat from the tank.

I know that World of Warcraft is far too developed and fine tuned to ever go in that kind of radical direction.

What I do hope is that someday we will see a game designer take a hard look at the unholy trinity, and decide to see what would happen if healing were the responsibility of each individual player, instead of just one or two in the group.

I also think it would be a lot of fun to see a game where leveling as a tank was an option for every class, and thus the question in any group would never be “who here can tank?”, but instead “which of us wants to tank this one?”

To misquote one of my favorite songs; “Glory be to God that there are no more of us, for one of us could tank it all alone…”

Say hello to Nightbear!

I know, I know, it’s cheesy, but I had a much easier time of coming up with a villain name than a hero.

I really wanted a Batman styled character for the hero side, and thus Nightbear was born. Take a look!

I love the fact that he’s got the Bear claws for his martial arts weapon right now.

The way it looks, there is a panel called ‘style’. And in this panel, every time you pick up loot, or buy a new weapon upgrade like I did, it adds that to the style list for each slot… and no matter what you have physically equipped, or even whether or not it’s in your inventory, you can choose whether or not to display that item.

So if you really, really loved those bear claws from level 3, but you got an upgrade with better stats… equip the upgrade, and set your style to still show the claws.

Brilliant!

Oh…. and my evil character’s name?

Why, he’s simply Unbearable.

I promise, last post about this tonight, double promise, pinky swear!

DC Universe Online – early surprises

No spoilers here on story, but I wanted to share a few things during character creation and the intro scenario that surprised me.

I’ve played other superhero MMOs before, so there are some expectations I had going in… and some hope in my heart that there’d be differences from what i saw before.

First, the classes.

There ain’t classes like you or I might expect classes.

People talk about Fire, or Ice, or Mental, and yes, those could be called classes. But really, when you think about your character, it breaks down more like this;

You pick a combat style, then you pick a basic power type, and then you add your movement style on top.

Your basic combat style is seperate from the additional things you will be able to do with powers. And both are different from the things you’ll be able to do with movement.

In combat styles, you can pick from a lot of choices. There is no special weighting given to any of them, so it might seem strange to see so many weapon variations in a superhero game. The truth is, Brawling is the most typical superhero fighting style in comics, and it’s a choice. But in comics, more rarely seen but still present are the sword swingers like Deathstroke, the staff users like Nightwing, the bow users like Green Arrow, the two gun fighters, etc etc. These styles are all present, and many, many more… but you shouldn’t feel that you must choose one over the others. each one is pretty cool, has it’s own leveling tree that branches with abilities you can pick and choose from, with BOTH melee and ranged options. So, if you are looking for a more typical fighting superhero, by all means take Brawling and enjoy. The style and graphics effects of Brawling are a lot of fun. All the options have been realized well.

In powers, you will probably feel dissapointed. There are only a handful; Fire, Ice, Mental, Sorcery, Nature, Gadgets. There might be one or two more, it’s not important. What is important, is you’re looking at that list and saying, “Wait a minute… where is Invulnerability? Sonic Scream? Wall of Stone?”

The answer is that each power type has two trees inside it… and the abilities within each tree are mixed up pretty good. You can pick and choose things from them, and while each one has a purpose in groups, like tanking or healing or crowd control, they add to your existing combat options, they aren’t the SOLE basis for them. Consider them powerful flavoring.

Then there is Movement, consisting of three choices; Flying, Acrobatic and Super-Speed. You start with whatever one you pick, and each one is pretty powerfu right out of the gate. They are throttled based on starting time… as you try to fly you take off, get going and then really get cooking along. Super-Speed really is zooming along, too. Acrobatics is some very cool bouncing/leaping/gliding/soaring just like the Bat-dude.

But each of them has a tree too, a large tree, incorporating attacks using that style of movement as well as increased speed or whatever.

You end up with, not one power set, but four, all with customizable trees, and everybody gets to have some powerful attack style. Nobody has to be the gimp just because they happen to like healing.

Now, when you do choose these abilities, and your costumes, you might be taken aback by what seems like very limited choices, and few options for customization.

One thing that is a little advanced is choosing a color pallette.

When it comes time to getting your gear customized, you have to set up a three color ‘palette’ using sliders and intensity gauges. It’s not bad, but when you want to have three colors work well together in nice harmony, with main colors and accents, it can be tricky.

Fortunately, one thing that is available are default templates.

When you make a character, you can choose ‘Custom’, or ‘Inpired by’.

There are lots of heros and villains that you can scroll through as inspirations, and for each one, there is a costume, color palette, combat style, power set and movement type already pre-chosen for you to get you started.

Now, me, I didn’t want to pick any of them. I really liked the starting palettes of some, or maybe the basic choices of inspired costume (like Catwoman’s for a bad guy), but I didn’t like all the power choices picked for me.

Fortunately, you can choose an ‘Inspired by’ template, and then hit ‘Back’ to return to the “Custom/Inspired by” choice, and when you select Custom, all the costime and color choices are kept… you just get to pick powers and attitude and all that, and then have a pre-selected costume to modify, instead of a blank canvas to start from scratch.

It helps get started, while still feel like you’re using your own creativity and making your own choices.

Now, about those choices… as I said, you might be surprised at how few your choices seem to be. Whether costume pieces or weapons, it seems slim. Two hander style? You get a big old hammer and like it!

But there is a reason for that… you pick up gear along the way!

That’s right, there are loot drops. Costume pieces that you pick up, and when you equip them, they have stats (like extra armor), and automatically adapt to your chosen palette.

That would be another tip from me to you, my friend. If your chosen costume only utilizes two of the three palette colors, as som do, make darn sure you like that third palette choice as well, because some of the loot drops you get might use it. Purple with ice blue and yellow might just clash a bit.

Another tip along the same lines; don’t spend 5 years trying to get the absolute perfect costume design out of the choices available, because you’ll find yourself changing pieces up as you go. Be more careful concerning your color choices, they’ll do more to set your theme.

Finally… once you actually get it started, I really like how you feel powerful, right at the beginning. Your moves are limited, but you can fight effectively, your movement is mighty darn fast when you’d like it to be, and they give you a few levels worth of experience so you can get points in powers as you go.

It’s darn strange, and I still haven’t quite landed on a character that has totally won me over, but I’m liking what I’m seeing.

With WoW, there are at times that sense that, if you can just make it to level 20, THEN you’ll get ability x that’ll make you feel badass. Or if you get to 40. Or 60. Or whatever. Just a little more playing and you’ll feel that you’re kicking tail and chewing bubblegum.

I think it says a lot that you can leap into DC Universe and, at level 1, feel like you’re a life taker (or saver) and heart breaker.

Into the Wilderness!

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft almost exclusively for a very long time now.

I know the game, in many ways I love the game, and the familiarity breeds a feeling of comfort. I know it’s ways so intimately that there is very little mystery left in the game for me.

It’s a great game, but when the mystery is gone… well, you might find yourself looking wistfully at other games, wondering what they might have new to offer.

Maybe that’s why my relationship with Cassie is still so strong… I never know what she’s gonna hit me with next. Her mystery (and awesomeness) have endless depths. Plus, she has great graphics. 🙂

The Cataclysm expansion has been out for about a month now, and I find myself… well, kinda bored.

Even with pacing myself, and switching things up, and going back on alts in different zones and doing professions and all the various things the game has to offer… well, levels 80 to 85 are short. I’m sorry, there it is.

Level 1 to 60 is unparalled excitement and awesomesauce, but once you hit 60, it’s even worse than hitting a wall with your muzzle. I’ve done the exact same zones in Burning Crusade and Wrath far, far too many times over the years to feel any excitement there whatsoever.

So, I’ve hit a plateau where the game is still fun, and I’m really loving all the improvements and fun things to do… but the mystery is mostly gone, and I’ve been receptive to bringing a little suspense back into my nightlife.

In a moment of weakness, my wandering eye alighted on a sexy game in hot pants scrolling by, I saw one gameplay video too many, and I gave in to temptation.

I bought a new MMO game. I paid money for it, which implies a certain level of “now I have to play it to make sure I get some value”.

I’ll admit it, I was weak.

I’ve flirted with other MMOs before, but only on a trial basis. I’d purchased City of Heroes and played it, but I gave that up when WoW came along. I’ve gone out on a few dates with other games, but nothing ever really clicked before.

I even tried Champions as a trial, the newer offering of the superhero themed game.

It didn’t grab me.

But then she came along… DC Universe.

It was just so shiny!

It was superheroes, which I just can’t seem to resist as a concept, but also a tantalyzing promise of storylines and quests interacting with the major heroes and villains of the DC world.

Part of what drew me in, I’ll admit, is how I think of DC these days.

When I think of DC, I think specifically of the writing of Grant Morrison on Justice League of America, Flash and most recently Batman. I think of Geoff Johns and his runs on the Flash and Green Lantern, and the older Teen Titans work.

The trailer for the game that sets the theme of the MMO storyline felt right in line with that epic scope. I wanted to take part in it.

So, last night I basically impulse bought DC Universe.

Don’t get me wrong, I did read everything I could about it first. I’ve been following the articles written about it on Massively, I’ve watched some of the developer videos, I read some first hand impressions. I looked at gameplay videos.

It all looked pretty good. I’ll grant you, the thematic armors towards end game seemed kinda goofy, but I can roll with it for a brand new story.

When I purchased DC Universe, I decided to do so through Steam, for no other reason than to support direct digital downloads of games. I could have driven out to Best Buy, but hey… Steam rocks.

The downside of buying a huge game through digital download, of course, is that you might as well pack a lunch and bring a book, you’re going to be chilling out for a while. 

Four hours after purchasing the game, the download was complete, the SOE account was made, all the final ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s were crossed. I was ready to begin.

Cassie has been dubious about this entire enterprise, and with very good reason.

Quests, setting, all of that aside, it’s not a WoW clone. It’s what is getting called a ‘button masher’, an MMO in fighting game format. It’s designed to be friendly with a Playstation 3 controller, and so it’s less about careful positioning and range, lots of abilities and macros, and far more about pressing button sequences to build up complex combos. You can lock onto your target so when you’re furiously pressing buttons, you don’t have to worry about positioning. That kind of thing.

It’s more of a twitch gaming and combo sequence game at heart.

That may scare some people, but I for one have no problem learning combos. I’m sure if you sat me in front of Mortal Kombat, Skorpion would be tossing a harpoon and yelling ‘Get over here!’ in no time.

I did create a few characters last night, very briefly. I did play a little bit, enough to get one character through the first intro sequence to escape from Brainiac.

I’ll probably delete that character, but I got a better idea for what I did and didn’t like for classes and stuff. I’m sure it’ll help in creating a new one that’ll last.

Since I’ve been following along with the Massively articles, I am making my characters on the Zero Hour PvE server, and if I can get a character I like going, I’m sure I’ll ask them if they have a spot for another novice hero wannabe.

So far, all I’ve got is a character name I like, and nothing else. But there is that excitement about investigating a brand new game. 

My one regret is that you just can’t try this one before you decide if you’d like to buy it. It’s new enough that they really do want those initial sales, and I suppose they feel the franchise is strong enough to entice people in on the name alone.

I guess they’ve got a point, since I bought it, right? 

Time will tell how it turns out, but for now, I’ll be having a little fun getting the beat down done!

It sure is a strange feeling,wandering off the known paths and well traveled roads of a game I know by heart, and into the wilderness of completely new experiences and shadowy, hidden adventures. I literally have no idea what the future holds in store… I don’t even know what classes can do what!

A brave new adventure indeed. And not a little scary!

Dwelling on the positive

In no particular order, here are some of the things I love about the game these days, whether small change or large.

1) Mount speed scales with skill – so if you really like that striped orange kitty cat from Darnassus, you can still ride it as your max speed mount. Likewise if you love the clean purity of the Snowy Gryphon, but always felt forced to use a mount that had a faster speed.

I really like that change. I’ve always thought what a shame it is, once you’d earned those higher level skills, that you were retiring a once-beloved mount because of stats.

2) Professions matter – It’s nice, this early into the expansion, that if you’ve got a crafting profession, it is worth your time early on to level it and make gear. The Blacksmiths, Leatherworkers and Tailors can craft some mighty fine gear that is equippable at a nice, low entry level. It’s also interesting that the Plate tanking sets made by Blacksmiths are equippable at slightly lower levels overall then the DPS equivalents… subtly encouraging tanks to be better geared early on than DPS, maybe?

On the same subject, it’s nice that Engineers can now make Bows as well as Guns, for those that like the feel of an item as much as it’s stats, and Jewelcrafters can actually make Fist Weapons of decent potency, equippable at a low character level as compared to their item level, making them quite handy for those of us with Rogues or Enhancement Shamen.

3) Quest designs encourage more pew pew, less vroom vroom. It’s not used all the time, but it’s nice that sometimes when you’re sent out on a quest chain, the quest completion and assignment of a new quest happens out in the field, without calling you all the way back. I’ve come to enjoy those moments when I complete a quest’s objectives, only to have the turn in appear on my active window, and the next step of the quest be given to me right there whle I’m still where I need to be to keep going. There is a lot more gating on quests, where you have to finish every single quest available before anything new will be offered, but at least some effort has been made to let you keep on chugging forward with fewer pit stops back at base.

4) Zones feel like they have a story that builds up to a satisfying conclusion. Now more than ever, in playing through the redesigned zones, more of them feel as if there is a cohesive main story, and as you play through the quests, things build up nicely, ending in some major confrontation – with commensurate rewards. The first time I played through the revamped Redridge Mountains on Alliance side, I was amazed at how different it all was.

As a side note, I love how the Redridge Mountains quests on Alliance side seem to insinuate that what they did there is why you get those quests in the field later. In Redridge Mountains, you are sent to go pick up a gnomish field communicator, and once you’ve got it and it’s repaired, that is how ‘base’ contacts you for quest updates and follow ups.

Later on, in Vashj’ir or any other zone where you get those same style follow ups, with someone back at ‘base’ magically knowing you finished a quest and telling you what they want you to do next… is it assumed you still have the communicator, and everyone you meet has a sending unit and knows your code? Good thing it didn’t break when your ship got sunk, huh? Is there a way to turn it off, or are you transmitting what you’re doing all the time?

Can I turn it off when I go to the bathroom? Some things I’d rather not have the quest givers know. It’s nice that we’re chatting and everything, but let’s keep just a little mystery to the relationship, whattaya say?