Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day

I logged into LotRO last night with no plans for what to do.  I have a Champion who’s 60th level and could use some better equipment and some improved traits, and I have a host of alts who could use some leveling up.  I decided though just to log in and go with the flow, to be social and join some friends.  Often, this is a recipe for some fun and memorable times.  Last night, it was a recipe for boredom.

8:30 pm – A good friend of mine from back when I used to play LotRO (before my ~8 month hiatus) was online, and I sent him a tell to see what he was doing.  He and some friends were in a fellowship for chat purposes, and didn’t yet have plans – all of them were in different areas doing their own things.  I finished up a few quests in Moria while they debated what to do.

9:00 pm – My friend invited me to join the fellowship, and I accepted.  There were four of us at this point, but one had to go soon.  My friend indicated that we should meet in the 21st hall of Moria and we’d find something to do.  I headed there.

9:15 pm – The 3 of us were in the 21st hall (Champ, Champ, Hunter – all 60th level).  My friend got a Captain and Minstrel to join us.  Discussions were opened about things to do.  We didn’t have a tank (Guardian/Warden).

9:30 pm – We agreed that we’d give Skumfil a try.  This is a 6-man instance in the Foundations of Stone (one of the higher-level parts of Moria).  We still didn’t have a tank and started trying to get one to join.

9:45 pm – My friend told the group he’d be back in 15 minutes or so.  He and his brother went to get some food.  I sat by the stable master in the 21st hall and read while I waited.

10:00 pm – My friend returned.  The Minstrel and Captain were doing some quests together in Moria.  The Hunter was in Esteldin looking for tailoring recipes.  The other Champion (my friend) was in the 21st Hall with me.  I bought a ride to the Shadowed Refuge, in the Foundations of Stone.

10:05 pm – I arrived in the Foundations of Stone.  I continued to read as I waited.  I had my headphones on and was listening to group voicechat so didn’t need to watch the screen.  I asked if it’d be long, and everyone seemed content to do their own thing while we waited for a tank.  I shrugged and continued reading.

11:15 pm – We got a Guardian!  There was much rejoicing.  The rest of the group started to get ready to enter the instance.  I indicated my concern that it was getting kinda late and I’d have to go soon.  I was assured that the instance wasn’t a very long one and that we’d be able to blast through it.

11:37 pm – We entered Skumfil.

12:48 am – After 3 (three) total party wipes and untold individual party member deaths, I reluctantly told everyone that I really couldn’t stay any longer and had to go.  I thanked everyone and logged off.


So what went wrong there?  Clearly this wasn’t an optimal playing experience.

First off, the other members felt pretty dependent on getting a tank, obviously.  Now, personally, I’d rather go in with fewer players or get someone from another class to fill the hole, than wait for several hours.  I used to have great times doing 6-man instances in LotRO’s old endgame instances (Carn Dum, Urugarth, Barad Gularan, etc) with 4 or 5 people, so it can be done.  I have very little experience though with the new instances and didn’t know what to expect, so I didn’t push for us to enter while underpowered.  This illustrates one of the things I like least about the holy trinity of classes – every group becomes dependent to some degree on having tanks/dps/healers, and sometimes it’s hard to find them when you want them.  My guild had about 20 people on at the time but only one was a lvl 60 guardian and he had to log off by 10:00 or so, so was unwilling to commit to anything.  I was grouped with members of two other guilds and neither of them could get a Guardian or Warden for, literally, hours.

Second, there were some coordination problems once everyone did join up.  I won’t point fingers but I will say that of the 20+ deaths we collectively suffered through, at least half could have been avoided with skill and preparation.  I don’t mind dying in LotRO… the penalty is item wear and my characters always have enough cash to deal with that.  I like facing tough challenges and dying can make the eventual victory all the sweeter.  We weren’t however on the path to eventual victory when I had to log off… it seemed likely that it’d take a long stream of additional total party wipes before we defeated that boss.  Again, not pointing fingers, but a full party of lvl 60s can most evidently conquer that content.

My feeling at the end of the night was one of frustration.  Don’t get me wrong, I love reading, but if I’m just going to read for most of the night, I won’t do it in my computer chair – I’ll instead sit somewhere more comfortable for that purpose.  When I sit down to play, it’s because I feel like playing.  I waited around for 3 (three) HOURS last night and felt like I’d made a mistake in joining the group, which is unfortunate.  I appreciated the invitation and enjoyed grouping with my friends, but… with just over 4 hours of playtime, I spent around 30% of that time actually doing something, and the rest of the time reading.  Now, admittedly, I could have gone off and soloed instead of reading, but the whole time I was waiting, I was given the impression that the group would be ready any minute now, and we’d all start the instance.  I didn’t want the rest of the group to wait on me so I made sure I was ready and in place once we agreed on the plan.

Sometimes, as was the case last night, grouping can be a pain in the ass.  The other Champ and the Hunter are friends, and the remaining 3 members were all nice enough people – very chatty in voicechat, and overall were fun people I’d definitely group with again.  I wouldn’t however rush out to wait for them again… I’d wait until they’re ready and in place and then ask for a summons.

A Capella

This is pretty impressive stuff.

Hidden UI Features

I was thinking this morning about all the hidden features MMOs offer, that only become available to users who are willing to ferret them out, whether by internet searching or asking another player.  I realized that most if not all MMOs have these features, and further that they’re damned annoying.

Case in point: in LotRO, if you want to see how many frames per second your computer is currently generating in-game, you hit Ctrl-F.  I mean, that’s obvious, right?  There’s no UI checkbox, no in-game hint to lead you to this knowledge.  As I recall, the devs told us about this during closed beta.  When I used to play I knew all these hidden features and so they didn’t trouble me, but upon returning to the game after an extended absence, I found myself struggling to recall how to access some things that are well and truly hidden.

Another example: the deed log, which tracks progress towards various deeds, is accessed via Shift-L.  Again, irony aside, this is anything but obvious.  Whenever I sit down to a game whose UI I don’t know, I systematically test (literally) every key on my keyboard to see what they do, then I typically open up the keybindings control panel to see what else can be done that isn’t assigned a key.  Neither the deed log nor the FPS meter are listed in the LotRO keybindings though – players learn about these either from reading the manual, checking online, or asking a player.

This is a design failure, plain and simple.  The game should give us one clear means to discover, within the game itself, how to access all elements of the UI that exist.  It’s especially galling since LotRO’s UI tends to be quite elegant and well-laid-out.

In WoW, if you want to hide the UI (e.g. to take a screenshot) you press Alt-Z.  In WAR you press Shift-Z to do the same.  I mean, come on.  In what way is this readily apparent or user-friendly?