Posts Tagged ‘Lord of the Rings Online’

Fishing On An Acid Trip

Friday, January 27th, 2012
We're not in Kansas anymore.

In anthropology there are two terms used to refer to how someone experiences culture: etic and emic. Similar to the concepts of objective and subjective, if you’re talking about your own culture, you’re probably giving an “emic” account. If you’re attempting to describe Final Fantasy XIV, you’re doing so from an “etic” perspective.

Or you’re a nitrous oxide-sniffing space alien. I get the two confused.

Full Disclosure: I have no experience with the first Final Fantasy MMO (FF XI), nor have I played any of the single-player titles (FF’s I – XIV). I’m not sure why I have avoided the franchise for so long. I suspect I may be intimidated by how the games are chronologically ordered: Some sort of Roman numeral, base 23, pentadecimal system?

So yes, I freely admit that I may not be this Japanese MMO’s target audience. But regardless of how etic my perspective may be, a game’s story and characters need to have some universal elements that are easily identifiable to any audience, regardless of their cultural background. Or at least I would expect an MMO of this caliber and budget to try to aspire to that level of appeal? Instead, my first hour with FF XIV was filled with enough incomprehensible psychedelic weirdness to make Hunter S. Thompson think he was Gomer Pyle.

After creating my dark-skinned, but distinctly Asian-featured fisherman (why is it almost always impossible to create a black female character in a fantasy game?) I was immediately subjected to a rather long and involved cut scene. Followed by another cut scene. Which was immediately followed by yet another cut scene. And another one. This long series of cut scenes was only briefly interrupted by a very protracted and awkward fight sequence in which I threw rocks at a pack of wolves for over 10 minutes, (seriously, it took me 10 minutes to kill three wolves!) and the 15 minutes I spent doing a boring and unintuitive fishing sequence.

My entire time in this game felt less like a game and more like an interact-able movie. The art design was gorgeous, but I rarely had time to explore it as I was yanked from one cut scene to the next. At every turn the game seemed to be yelling, “Look at this magnificent story we have created for you!” Never mind the fact that the story they were trying so hard to impress me with was nearly incomprehensible. Treants. Moogles. Woodsin taint. Greenwrath. Dance lessons? After a while I gave up trying to make sense of it, as the game didn’t seem to care whether or not I was actually having any fun.

I often complain about the fact that many MMO’s don’t have children in them. Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online are two notable offenders. This omission is always a bit immersion breaking for me, as I begin to wonder just how the inhabitants of a given world exist if they don’t procreate. But Final Fantasy XIV has the weird distinction of having too many children. And not just regular kids, but also adult humanoids who look like kids. This was further compounded by the fact that it was impossible for me to create a female player character who looked more than a day over the age of 17. As an adult woman I’m not interested in having a teenage avatar, but the game’s rather creepy fixation on young, scantily-clad girls dictated otherwise.

“Yes we’re sexist and ageist, but isn’t that flying, flute-playing marshmallow kitten thing just adorable?”

Banned: The Update

Thursday, December 17th, 2009


In my last post I discussed my recent experience of getting my Lord of the Rings Online account banned.

(For the record, although the email I received called it a “temporary suspension”, my Turbine billing account listed the game as “banned” until the year 2037.)

Four days after the initial notice, I received a second email from Turbine’s In-Game Support, stating that my account “…was identified as being compromised as it accessed our game from an IP address directly associated with gold farming, selling, powerleveling, and account hacking activities. Other accounts in addition to yours were compromised, and as soon as we identified this we suspended the affected accounts so that they could not be further abused.” Scary stuff! At the end of the email I was instructed to contact them again as soon as I had changed the password on my master Turbine account.

The following day I received a third email indicating that my LotRO account had been reinstated. Anxiously I logged into the game, half expecting to find my minstrel naked and penniless. Or worse – deleted.

Instead, I found nothing.

Nothing was missing. No gold or items had been taken. None of my characters had been touched.

Which leaves me mightily relieved and perplexed – all at the same time. I was grateful for the fact that resolution occurred in 5 days, not 2 weeks. Although I found the 2 week estimation to be excessive, and the lack of payment suspension to be annoying, it wasn’t the time or the money that truly bothered me. It was the lack of transparency.

Turbine originally claimed that they had reason to believe that my computer had been compromised, but they weren’t giving me the information I needed to take appropriate action. It’s rather unsettling to think that your computer may have been hacked, or that it contained a virus that managed to elude your best cyber defenses. I STILL don’t know what they saw in my account that caused them to take such drastic measures. Perhaps I was accidentally caught up in some type of preemptive anti-hacking initiative? Maybe it was a simple case of mistaken identity?

Or maybe Middle Earth now has ninjas?

Does Middle Earth Have An Unemployment Office?

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Well, it’s official. The US economic recession has now hit Middle Earth. My level 45 minstrel in Lord of the Rings Online has lost her job.

Earlier this week I received an email, supposedly from Turbine, stating in part the following:

Your account has been identified as potentially being accessed by a third-party. Turbine has temporarily suspended your account to prevent any further access to your account. Please note that this does not indicate in any way that Turbine has been compromised; in most cases this indicates a security issue on the computer used to play the Lord of the Rings Online. IMPORTANT: Please understand that this suspension is not a punishment, but a way to prevent further access to your account.

Being the natural online skeptic that I am, I initially assumed that the email was a phishing scam and considered deleting it. Unfortunately, a quick check of my LotRO billing account indicated that my account had indeed been banned – until the year 2037, no less. (I guess Turbine feels optimistic about the longevity of their game!)

The email went on to request that I run a full virus scan on my computer and then contact their online customer support to get my account re-instated. After completing the online support ticket I was given a friendly message stating that it would be at least 2 weeks before I received a response from my request.

TWO WEEKS????

This entire episode has me completely baffled. A deep scan of my computer via Avast Antivirus produced NO viruses. None. Since I have a dedicated gaming computer, I don’t browse the web or even have an email program installed on it. I’m behind an encrypted router. No other games on this computer have been affected, including Turbine’s other online game – Dungeons & Dragons Online – for which I have an active subscription. A simple dictionary attack of my username/password information seems unlikely, since I would think that Turbine would limit the number of login attempts.

So what happened?

Conveniently enough, although Turbine has banned me from playing LoTRO until I reach the age of 70, they neglected to suspend my automatic payments. I guess it’s ok for me pay for a service I can’t use while their customer service department tries to figure out whether or not I’m worthy of re-instating. Imagine if your cable TV company contacted you stating that they think your next door neighbor is leeching your cable signal. As a precaution, they’re turning off your cable TV service for the next few weeks, but they’re going to continue to bill you for it until they get the issue resolved.

ARGH! If any of you have experienced something similar to this, I’d love to hear your stories. Meanwhile, anyone need an unemployed minstrel?

Where Do Baby NPCs Come From?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Half-orcs are a well-known adversary in Lord of the Rings Online. They can be found in camps throughout the Lone-Lands, lying in tents, relaxing near campfires, or patrolling abandoned ruins. They are a continual menace to the human residents of the area and your character will spend a lot of time killing half-orcs.

Killing MALE half-orcs.

Because, you see, female half-orcs don’t exist. Ever. At least, they don’t exist in the online world that Turbine has created. Which leads me to wonder just HOW the half-orcs got there in the first place. Asexual reproduction, perhaps? Admittedly, I’m not intimately familiar with Tolkien lore. Maybe there is an explanation somewhere for why no female half-orcs can be found. But I suspect that it has more to do with developer oversight than with adherence to Middle Earth’s rules on orc family dynamics.

Gil in World of Warcraft

Gil in World of Warcraft

Over the years I’ve noticed a distinct lack of family or children represented in many online games. Most often NPCs stand around patiently waiting to dole out quests to passing players, with no mention of family, spouse or even a girlfriend. Sure, you get the occasional ‘hook-up’ quest, where one NPC wants the player’s help in getting the romantic attentions of another NPC. Or you get the ‘rescue my son/daughter’ quests. But the daughter/son in question is always inevitably an adult, never a child.

Another Turbine game, Dungeons & Dragons Online even has the sounds of children playing as part of the ambient background noise for the Marketplace area of Stormreach. I always found this to be particularly unsettling because there’s not a child to be found in the game – anywhere. I asked a former Turbine employee about this. Not only had he never noticed the lack of children in either game, but he could give no explanation for their absence. He guessed that it was a matter of economics; Turbine didn’t want to spend the resources on having the art department create child character models.

There are only two MMOs I’ve played that depict children – World of Warcraft and Dark Age of Camelot. Granted, the children in WoW look a little odd with gigantic feet. But nevertheless, they are honest-to-goodness children and can be found in several places throughout the game world. DAoC’s attempt at creating children consisted of shrinking the adult character models down to midget size, which looked a little creepy. But I give them points for trying.

Although I am not a parent myself, I’ve always found the lack of children in an online world to be off-putting and a bit immersion-breaking. After all, any population, be it human or otherwise, is going to have a hard time sustaining itself if it can’t reproduce. How can all of these adult NPC quest-givers exist if there are no families? Why are children – be they orc or otherwise – omitted from online worlds? Simple oversight? Budget constraints? Or something else entirely?

Communication Barriers

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I love Lord of the Rings Online. The pastoral quality of the game world makes me want to crawl inside my monitor and have a picnic.

Ok, maybe not in Angmar. But definitely in the Shire. They even have rainbows there.

Unfortunately, one of the game’s biggest assets – a rich and detailed game world that remains true to its source material – is also one of its biggest drawbacks. Transportation in LotRO is a giant pain in a blogmal’s behind. To their credit, Turbine has made improvements to the transportation and fast-travel mechanisms within the game since its launch. But LotRO remains a giant world that’s difficult to traverse. Which as a player lends a sense of isolation to the overall experience.

The game does provide personal mounts when your character reaches level 35. Having a mount certainly makes getting from point A(ngmar) to point B(reeland) a little easier, but there are some weird game mechanic quirks related to communication and transportation that, if not annoying, at least provide some unintentional humor.

One of these quirks is the inability to send more than one item through the mail at a time. I guess the entire mail system of Middle Earth is run by hobbits who have a low carrying capacity. This restriction is particularly expensive for crafters who want to move items around between their characters. Those postal hobbits have made a fortune off of me!

The second quirk worth mentioning is the inability to interact with NPCs – or do anything – while you’re on a mount. If you want to check your mail, turn in a quest, or sell that 20 pounds of sickle-fly filth that’s taking up room in your backpack for no apparent reason, you MUST dismount.

Why? Who knows. My guess is that someone forgot to tell them that the reins are supposed to go in the horse’s mouth – not yours.