Sunday 31 March 2013

One year Ravalation

One year ago, I was really excited for posting my first message on this blog. I remember being afraid that people would laugh at what I was writing and what my blog looked like. Ravalation was (and is) my first blog, and everything I did was scary. Luckily I got positive feedback from a few bloggers, and that made me confident enough to keep going.

And now all of a sudden it's my anniversary and I don't really know what to do about it. I thought it would be weird not to mention it at all, so I'll take the opportunity to look back at what has happened over here at Ravalation. Beware my navel-staring!

Here, eat some graphs

Everyone loves graphs, so I'm sure you're okay with me feeding you some.

It's cool to see how your little corner of the internet gets visited a bit more, coming from 74 pageviews a month, going to over 5000.

Total pageviews at March 30 2013, 2 pm: 39,743

For all those who ever referred to this site, thank you! It's much appreciated.

And it's even more fun to spy on you guys... mwouhaha. Not that I get to know much more than the origin of anonymous visitors. Still, it's fun to see where your readers come from. 

*note to self: be nice to Americans*

*note to self (2): stop sounding like a creepy stalker*

I love how there are people from all over the world reading my nonsense.

So what do you guys like to read about?

Top 5 posts of all time:
1) LOTRO: Should you play a lore-master?
2) LOTRO: Lore-master legendary items
3) LOTRO: Riders of Rohan legendary edition
4) LOTRO: My hideous appearance
5) LOTRO: A tourist guide to Rohan: the Wold

Okay, so you like LotRO I guess, and lore-masters in particular. 

Most people seem to want to read LotRO advice posts. While I do enjoy writing those and I'm happy that the relatively large amount of time that they cost to make pays off, I prefer to write about my adventures, including other games (at the moment especially SWTOR). This means Ravalation will probably never get super popular, but that's not really the point anyway.

Okay, I've played enough with graphs for today. Many thanks to Create a graph, a website meant to teach kids how to make graphs, but which kept me busy a whole afternoon (guess what that says about me).

Here, have another lore-master. Because you guys like them so much.

A short history

When I started blogging I only knew of two gaming blogs, but everything changed with the Newbie Blogger Initiative (NBI) in May. The NBI made me discover that there were loads of people writing about the games I loved, and from there on things started rolling.

What happened in-game?
I've always considered LotRO to be my main game. It's the first time since 2007 that I now don't. For some reason I don't get absorbed as much by the new raid as I've been before, and SWTOR proves to be much fun. We'll see where the road takes us.

I've changed Ravalation's layout a bit through the time (oldest to the left, current to the right).

Hall of fame

Blogging is fun, but it's not half as much fun without a readership. That's why here's a small hall of fame for my commenters, who wrote a total of 631 comments! I hope the individual numbers won't push you down into a "omg, what have I done with my life" sort of crater. I have gotten to know each of you a bit and I consider you my blogger friends. It's amazing to have you here!

Top 5 commenters:
1) Rakuno (51)
2) Lothirieth (44)
3) Danania (38)
4) Vaneeesa (28)
5) Rowan / Daniel (each 27)

I would like to thank all of you, both commenters as well as silent readers, for taking the time to read my ramblings this past year. On to another year of Ravalation!

Ravanel goes off to discover more adventures!

Thursday 28 March 2013

Appreciate your developers, before it's time for the naked gardeners

Someone needs to create our monsters...

I learned something new today: apparently it's Developer Appreciation Week ("DAW").

I'm usually not a sucker for events that memorate a special group of people. Mother's and Father's day (not to mention Valentine's day) cause spontaneous nausea ("I think it is silly and I know she says it is silly as well, but won't she just say that to be nice to me and secretly be disappointed when I don't bring her a present?" etc). And then there are these events that nobody does something about and which I had to look up, such as Secretary day, Programmer's day, World Smile day and World Naked Gardening day. (Yes, World Naked Gardening day, it exists. If you're interested, it's in two weeks.) So what then about Developer Appreciation Week?

Well, for a starter, DAW isn't organized by some huge organization and you're not supposed to wear a silly ribbon to show off how considerate you are. Rather, it's an (originally) small-scale initiative that was started in 2010 by a blogger, Scarybooster from Scary Worlds, to show his appreciation of developers (and perhaps to make up for all the stuff he posts the rest of the year!). I thought that was sympathetic, so here I am, doing what a blogger's gotta do for DAW: write a post in salutation of developers.

I've been bad

However, I just found out that I'm a very bad person. Apparently, in order to participate in DAW (yes, you need to do things, I told you it was better than the ribbon stuff) you need to "1. Tell the blogsphere about your favorite developer(s) in at least 1 post next week." And it just dawned to me that I could not comply: I don't know a single developer by name.


Just think about it. These people spend hours thinking about how that boring reward system is supposed to work. How many seals/coin/points/marks you get for doing that thing. What your character can and cannot do. Basically, how YOU are going to spend your time in-game. And in return we barely notice their work, and only shout out on the forums if something doesn't suit us. We don't even remember their names (or well, I should speak for myself, but I usually don't).

Okay, well, in that case perhaps they're happy we don't.

We ride through it without noticing, but even this grass was developed. And not by a naked gardener.

Staying positive

I consider myself as generally being fairly positive about the games I play and changes that occur within them, although even I have my weak moments (e.g. the barter wallet, the diminishing level of difficulty in LotRO). I really don't want this blog to be just full of rants. I want to show the beautiful things in gaming, and at the same time I don't want to be without any critical thinking either. It's a balancing thing.

The place of horror for developers may not be blogs, but rather their game's official forum. This is where players spit their dismay at whatever they don't like in their game. When changes are announced, players overrun the forum with complaints about 'nerfs' when they fear their class will not end up in the best spot. Developers are left with the though job to balance gameplay and need the forum for feedback. And on that forum it's hard to filter useful comments from all the trash. I find myself avoiding gaming fora because the general tone just makes me sigh all the time, so I'm happy I don't have a reason to hang out there. I usually keep up to date by hearing out Tiger and friends. But devs don't really have a choice.
...and someone our heroes


What I'm trying to say is that 'we gamers' aren't always so nice and thankful to our developers. We tend to only bring back the bad stuff (even while it might not actually be that bad) and forget about the positive things. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to show our developers our appreciation of the wonderful worlds they have created for us, you know, just for a change. So, whether one will read it or not, participate in DAW and write a post for your favourite dev(s)!

Tuesday 26 March 2013

SWTOR: Oops, I did it again

Remember how I, not so long ago, created vanguard Xialin just for the White Scalene armour? Well, I did it again.

The new Cartel packs drop some lovely stuff, of which I instantly liked the Genteel top. The only downside was that it has a light green shirt underneath the beautiful white clothing, which doesn't fit every character. It would've been better without that light green. Ah well, I thought, I don't have a character that would wear it and I'm not going to spend any money on those packs anyway.

But then Tiger came and said he got a Genteel top from a pack. He wasn't going to use it himself: if I wanted it. And of course, I couldn't say no. A few hours later, Fárah was born.

And that's right, Fárah is a sith sorcerer! I felt the top would really fit a caster, and I already had two consulars. Besides, Tiger keeps asking me to come play lowbie on Imp side, and I didn't have a suitable character for that. I also wanted her to be a Mirialan to fit with the light green part of the top, so I had to buy the race unlock for that (luckily there was one on the GTN). I surely know how to get rid of my money this way!

I also choose to wear trousers instead of the long skirt that came with the set. Tiger hates it, but I think it looks cool, a bit less 'sagey'. Better fitting for a sith sorcerer.

Since I'm a saint, Fárah was supposed to be a 'good' sith. A Mirialan born in captivity, discovered by the sith for her force sensitivity and therefore sadly enough ending up on the wrong side. However, there is no true 'good side' option for many of the quests, and Fárah has to do some creepy things now and then.

Getting electrocuted and actually liking it, seems pretty creepy to me.

I skipped all the quests on Korriban and Dromund Kaas involving killing or otherwise harassing slaves, as that would be hypocritical. I leveled fast enough by playing warzones anyway, and especially so with the double XP weekends. I'm already level 33 now, so I think I'll leave most Imp quests (which I haven't one on any character so far) for Yuniper and Shyala to discover. However, I'll need to do some (together with a Social Point slave) to get to Social II for the Slave Girl gloves and sandals, which I think would look great with this set. For the belt I'm not sure if I want to use the one of the Genteel set, or if I want the Voss reputation one (for which I'll need to get Champion with the Voss first).

Outfitting characters - will it ever end?

Thursday 14 March 2013

SWTOR: Zorn & Toth (Nightmare mode)

 TfB - I keep expecting the Cardassians to pop out behind me

After we killed the last boss of Terror from Beyond (TfB) Hard mode, my fellow guild mates had an enthusiastic idea. When we went into Explosive Conflict (EC) Nightmare mode a few minutes later, I really thought it would be like this (hilarious video by Shintar)... but I was wrong! Our third try, we actually got Zorn and Toth down but wiped afterwards, and at that point we got so close that we knew we could do it. I think we made it the fifth time, me of course dying just at the end, so they had to do the final boss with just one healer. It has to stay Nightmare mode, eh? To reward me for messing up so it stayed a challenge, I even got the Dreadguard earpiece that dropped.

The following days, my guild did the second and third boss on Nightmare mode, while I was ill and jealously watched over Tiger's shoulder. Luckily we did manage to do the third boss some months ago already with me healing. Just wanted to say I'm proud of my guild mates, yay!

Me providing the 'nightmare mode part' while my guild mates are being heroes

Tuesday 12 March 2013

LOTRO: The failure that is Dale

The other day, we did the new 6-man The Bells of Dale on T2 Challenge mode, and I was baffled. Five random observations.

1) You can solo heal at least up until the final boss with a red line lore-master

Okay, perhaps we were a bit sloppy and accidentally let our poor minstrel die on the first boss because our burg or AoE was hitting the boss too hard --> too many adds, overrun... but why wasn't it a problem? After our minstrel died somewhere at the start, we were like "oh shit, we need to be careful", and when we continued acting properly and killed the adds first, DPS lore-master solo healing was fine (we didn't have a captain). It wasn't even stressful.

We (accidentally) repeated this 'experiment' several times because we missed trash/adds coming around the corner, and it wasn't a problem whatsoever. I can safely say from experience that you can solo heal the first bosses on lore-master without any problem. The last boss I don't know about, that might be tricky (we actually kept our minstrel alive there for a change). Sure, I'm properly equipped with a second age book, the Beacon of Hope HoT and Water-lore pulses set bonuses, but this isn't very exceptional. I was even traited full reds. This was pretty surprising, as the devs have always said they didn't want lore-masters to be able to solo heal 6-mans.

I think the whole thing should be doable solo healing on a yellow or blue traited lore-master. I apologize in advance to our (actually quite capable) minstrel.

You can also do this without the dude with the lute.

2) There is a boss without any mechanics whatsoever

Really, I couldn't discover anything happening on boss nr 3? I mean the guy with the big hammer, don't remember his name. Sure, he does some AoE, I think, but that's hardly boss-specific. Turbine also went through with their trend of less trash: there's barely anything in between the bosses-that-shouldn't-be-called-bosses. But what they forgot was to make the trash in between even vaguely challenging.

3) The lore-masters cheat

I'm talking about the enemy lore-masters, of course! They keep spam summoning pets during the fights, which every greenie lore-master knows we can't do. Luckily they make very poor choices by picking lynxes and... squirrels?

4) I'd buy a house here, if there wasn't so much fire

I wanted to say something positive too before I get totally depressed, so I thought to salute the looks of the town. It's cool to see what they envisioned as Dale, and I always like fighting in a cosy environment (even if it's overrun by enemies). 

A cute little well in the middle of Dale, now announced gorthorog-free.

5) The overall (lack of) difficulty

We ran in without having done the instance before and had no clue whatsoever about the tactics. We were not really trying to play properly and let our minstrel die three times, with only a lore-master left to heal. We were generally just messing around a bit without much thinking. And we still made it as if we were a breeze blowing through town. Really, Turbine?

Sure, we were all seasoned players. T2 Challenge as it stands might be hard for an inexperienced pug. But shouldn't they be doing tier 1 anyway? In my opinion, the Bells of Dale is an all-time low in the recent history of Turbine scaling down the difficulty of our instances.

So what are the capable players in the game supposed to do? Raiding on T2 only? If you think I will keep doing the Bells of Dale just to get the rewards, you are wrong. Instances like Sari-surma and the Lost Temple (before the nerf) where the things I liked to do. They were actually a challenge. I play for fun, not to grind. And getting rewards without having to work for it is grind, not fun.

I understand there is a player base consisting of more casual players than me, and that's fine. But that's what tier 1 is for. Turbine seems to miss the mark with increasing frequency when it comes to balancing the difficulty of group content. The Bells of Dale is the most recent example of this.

Monday 11 March 2013

SWTOR: Flashy, save me!

I wrote earlier that I liked the smuggler story so much, but I could not have foreseen that I would level my little gunslinger as fast as I've done the past month. She's actually my highest leveled character after sage Ravanel now!

While the class story still is fun, I've become a bit bored with the landscape quests. Even though the quests look pretty cool, being fully voiced and all, it's the same bunch all over again for each character - there's only one planet per level range (two if you count Republic + Imperial worlds), as opposed to LotRO, where there are multiple regions to pick from. I'm not such a sucker for quests in the first place - they start to look all the same for me in each game. So what changed Y-u'no's life so rapidly?

Going lowbie

The answer is simple: lowbie PvP! I have been wanting to try PvP in SWTOR for a long time, but I was  afraid to queue up solo, because I didn't know how it worked and didn't want to mess up for everyone. I'm usually pretty terrible at PvP. Finally, a guild mate wanted to show me the ropes, while Tiger was sitting next to me, dictating me around giving me useful tips about how to play my character. And it was fun!

At first, I died a LOT. Even though I was supposed to be shooting at people from a far distance. I just forgot to move and couldn't keep up with everything that was happening around me. I ended up halfway the scoreboard as a general rule, but I was already happy I wasn't at the bottom!

It's nice to play warzones together with Tiger. The best thing is to queue up for warzones with a bunch of friends and try out crazy plans. I like the occasional solo queue as well, though.

Team Gank in preparation. No I don't need to pee, I'm dancing! Very important WZ preparation technique! What, you didn't know? *rolls eyes*

Twink twink

Then one day, Y-u'no got a mail from a guild mate. It was full of mods, armourings, augments and augmentation kits. The guy takes an evil pleasure in twinking his guildie's lowbie PvP characters and observes them obliverating their opponents. I like to think it's not *only* due to the new twink gear, but nowadays I'm more or less on the top of the scoreboard. Not at the top, of course, that place is reserved for Tiger. He has some sort of DNA code that makes him deal the most damage of everyone around him - doesn't matter what game (it's the same in LotRO). I'm still a noob now, but as I'm learning it gets more and more fun.

I've been playing PvP matches from level 15 or so onwards, and I've leveled quicker than I could've imagined. In addition, Y-u'no mysteriously ended up being the richest of all my characters - apart from just handing in the daily PvP quests, I've been selling some warzone stims and medpacs. A full stack of 99 currently goes for 99k of credits. Now I'm above level 40, I spend my comms on ranked warzone commendations, so I'm able to buy the PvP set when I hit 50 (or wait for the expansion and the level cap of 55 to use them) - although I'm not sure if I ever want to do serious ranked PvP on her: I may suck too much!

 Y-u'no's favourite spot, up high, where she waits for the targets volunteering to get shot at.

Favourite occupations

  • Hutball: what's possibly better than dominating the upper ramps and shooting at helpless people who can't do anything back?
  • Civil War: defending the middle from high up is Y-u'no's speciality. Assassins or operatives are my bane, but luckily on lowbie most aren't too bright and let me kick them in the nuts + send them back down.
  • Novare Coast: whether it's defending a turret, running around to help where needed or fight a hot battle over mid, I like this warzone. Only downside is when people don't call our incomings, but that's the case for all the defensive maps.

I realize I just gave away my secret warzone tactics to those playing on the Red Eclipse. I'll get prepared for flamey death!

It's official: even noobs may end up at the top of the scoreboard! (Click for a larger image.)

Who's that Y-u'no person again?

Y-u'no is a young flygirl with a multiple name disorder that just manages to make ends meet by smuggling goods. She doesn't like dangerous situations, but is sometimes forced to take part in them in order to earn her credits. Luckily she has a talent to escape certain death. In warzones, Y-u'no likes to keep a safe distance, preferably seated at a high place, shooting while others cannot reach her. Recently, she has specialised herself as a cybertech, crafting parts to keep herself outfitted with the best gear. She's now already level 43!

Saturday 9 March 2013

LOTRO: In defence of Erebor, a first peek inside

This Thursday, it was time to check out the new raid cluster, called In Defence of Erebor. The underlying story is that we're fast forwarded to the time that the ring is about to be destroyed and the dwarves and the men of Dale are being attacked by the Easterlings. It seems like Turbine managed to get something around The Hobbit theme in after all! I think it's a bit confusing, as the ring is still alive and kicking in the storyline as far as we're following it in-game, but alright, I'll try to follow.

Following new LotRO fashion, the raid consists of three parts, each of which separately accessible through the instance finder. No long runs through instances anymore. I find this fashion a bit unromantic and immersion-breaking, but then again I'm old and it does has its practical advantages. The different instances are called:
  • Flight to the Lonely Mountain
  • The Battle for Erebor
  • The Fires of Smaug
For starters, we went in on tier 1 to get an idea about what everything's like.

Flight to the Lonely Mountain

This fight is a sort of Barad Guldur gauntlet thing, but different. You get waves of enemies that you have to defeat, until the timer (visualized through a bar that slowly fills with yellow) is up. This was a total joke on tier 1, meaning it will be easy to pug it. We spent minutes just hanging around and waiting for the following wave to come (as depicted above), which was sort of okay, since the environment looks nice. Finally a raid in the open air again, hurray! Away with you, dark dungeons!

I expect this wing to be tough on tier 2, though. I bet those green puddles will heal the mobs for quite a bit more so we actually have to move them out, just like those Heartseeker-addicted archers will probably be a major pain. It will be fun to find out!

The Battle for Erebor

In this part, there's two bosses to fight at the same time. On tier 1, you choose two banners which define the terms - we choose Catapults and Inferno. This meant that we had to change targets when the bosses changed their shields around, there were some circles on the floor we should not stand in (no shit, Sherlock), and at the end there was some fire all over the floor, but that was it. Of course, things will become a lot more complicated on tier 2, where you have to choose four banners, or on tier 2 challenge mode, where you have to pick all six (!) banners.

If you start the fight, make sure everyone is at the bottom of the stairs. We learned this the hard way: 3 of our raid got locked out while still being on the stairs. However, we still steamrolled the place with just 9, so this part is possibly even easier than the previous.

The Fires of Smaug

The Easterlings are trying to smoke the dwarves out of their mountain. To us to close the steam emitting valves and kill the evil fire spirit fueling them. This is possibly the most challenging of the three raid parts on tier 1 to pug, because it requires some kind of coordination and planning. There are two bars that you have to consider: a yellow one, representing a time limit, and a red one, that you can prevent from tiering up by closing valves. There are also some adds. The goal on tier 1 is to kill the boss before any of the bars has filled.

We actually failed the first time, because we didn't know yet how to divide our players over the different tasks correctly, but we did make it the second time.

First thoughts

The new raid on tier 1 is easy, easier than Tower of Orthanc on tier 1. This kind of difficulty should allow people to pug it, and might be a good difficulty level for casual kinships. I personally do hope tier 2 is much, much harder! I'm positive so far: I like the general setup of the instances and there's definitely room for interesting extra mechanics on tier 2 which might result in challenging fights. I'm looking forward to trying that out!

Thursday 7 March 2013

SWTOR: Epic lightsaber fights (2)

Perhaps you remember my photoshoot of epic lightsaber fights a few weeks ago. Since then, I've tried catching more shots of sparring people, such as Tiger in action above.

Or less in action, below:

Orokeet photobomb! O_O

I tried really hard to get a cool picture of a non-force user as well, but it didn't become any better than this:

After my first successful Nightmare Pilgrim pug (!), we went to Hoth to kill the world bosses for the purple speeder I wrote about earlier. Now I only need to kill the Pilgrim once more. Also on Hoth, some jedi spanking took place:

I recommend a Sith self defence course!

Tuesday 5 March 2013

KOTOR 2: I'm a saint

To the left: Dark Jedi Robe; to the right: Zeison Sha Warrior Armor

So what's new? First the important news: I got two new outfits! To the left the improved version of the Dark Jedi Padawan robe, of which the main feature seemed to be that is was larger. It actually was too big: my hands were covered by the sleeves and I was in constant danger of stumbling over - but luckily you don't see it on the picture. The outfit to the right had better stats and an interesting look. The flap thing behind her butt is metallic if you look from behind. It was fun for a change, but I was hoping to find a more robey thing in the future.

Playing the good guy

I'm also already so light-sided that I'm almost floating around. I was talking about it the other day with Rakuno, and we both seem to be of the type of player that gets a headache when trying to play the evil guy in our first playthrough of a game. As he put it eloquently: "On the second (or further) playthrough then I go through the evil path. But by then it is more a sadistic experiment to see how much my choices the first time around mattered than anything else." Somehow, we always end up playing the good guy in my first playthrough.

To be honest, I myself rarely play a second, 'evil' playthrough. Playing evil makes me feel conflicted, and I can bear it only for so long. This is the reason I play the Republic side in SWTOR, even though the Imperial side has many much better-looking cosmetics (!). Even on the 'good' Republic side, there are times that I play a not totally light sided character, and then there's always that slight hesitation before I dare press the dark side button. The other way around, while you can even choose to roleplay a 'good guy' on the Imperial side, the social structure, polluted surroundings and general misery of people around you makes me feel so depressed that I can't bear to play there all the time. Still, I bravely do try to play my sinister Yuniper from time to time to find out how the story continues (as opposed to my five republic characters that I play regularly).

Have Rakuno and I both contracted the good-guy-disease? And if so, is it widespread? Either way, I must be a terrible person to live together with, I'm such a saint. Thank you, Tiger, for keeping up with me!

And finally, I found some robes that fit my saint character: to the left the traditional Jedi Robe, to the right Sylvar's Robe from the Tomb of Freedon Nadd. The latter has the superior stats, but I'm not really a fan of the part that makes her look like a man, if you check the right spot. Tiger makes me wear it, though! Cosmetics vs higher stats, sigh... almost as bad as playing the evil side!