The Mithril Buddies – My Life in a D&D Gaming Group

I don’t play Dungeons & Dragons anymore. Not because I don’t like the game, but I don’t think I will ever find a group as good as my old one.

When I was living in Mississippi I got in touch with a group of guys and over the years we built up our group. Every Friday night we would meet and play and socialize.

We never had a specific name. The term “Mithril Buddy” is an in-game joke we came up with. (One of the few that weren’t R-rated.) We didn’t care about naming ourselves. We would just play and laugh together. And we didn’t only play D&D but many other games as well. It was a good way to cap off the week.

We went to SF/F conventions together, watched the LOTR Trilogy together as a “group project” and generally had a great time. One of the guys we used to play with isn’t in this picture, he was living in Arizona at the time. But along with him this was the core group and they are the Mithril Buddies, in every sense of the word.

I don’t get to see them as often since I moved to Texas. Some of the guys have moved away too. This picture is from August of last year, IIRC.  I get down there when I can, but it’s not as often as I would like.

No, I don’t play anymore. You can’t recapture perfection. But I will always have the fun memories and I hope I can see then again someday and ask them if the zombies are different colors.*

002

*Another in-game joke I used to torment them with

SWTOR Goes Free to Play

I suppose we kind of saw this coming but it was shocking news nonetheless. I view it this way. No gaming company goes f2p because they want to. If subscriptions are healthy and show a positive climb, then it escapes me why a company would decide to go f2p. It seems to me Bioware made this decision not because they wanted to,  but because they were forced to.

I still like the game but I am worried about its long term viability. I can’t help but be reminded of the slag mess Star Trek Online became when it went f2p. Then again it was a slag mess before it went f2p and I left that game when it became apparent they were not going to fully support a Klingon faction. A lot of people point to Lord of the Rings Online as a game that has succeeded as f2p. But even so LOTRO is pretty lean on expansions and updated content. Because the f2p model doesn’t demand content but it does demand microtransactions.

Companies have this pretty well figured out. They know all the ins and outs of the sociological aspects of what drives customers to purchase extra stuff (carrots) using a f2p model. Of course, part of the disconnect here is that no game is free to play. Not if you want to experience the entire breadth of content. Dungeons and Dragons Online has figured this out to an art form. Yes, you can play the game for free. But you can’t experience the entire breadth of the game for free. Looks like Bioware now wants to dip their biscuit into that gravy while it is still hot.

I don’t like this move, personally. I haven’t had very good experiences with free to play games. I didn’t mind when SWTOR went f2p for the first fifteen levels. That’s a good way to get people to try the game and if they like it they can purchase a subscription. But, sheesh, this damn game hasn’t been free to play for the first 15 levels very long before Bioware went whole hog and made the entire game that way.

I think this says a lot about their subscription base and how soft it is. I honestly do not believe they would have made this move if the subs were healthy. And it doesn’t really take many subs (relatively speaking) to keep a game healthy. Look at Eve Online. It has about 400,000 subs and it’s still going strong and certainly shows no signs of even thinking about f2p. Then again Eve Online provides a playing experience no other MMO does. It’s a niche game. SWTOR, despite its excellent voice over work, is still a standard MMO when it comes to playability.

Oh, well, nothing can be done. Sad to say this appears to be somewhat of an epic meltdown as regards SWTOR. Too bad because as I said in a previous review I liked the story driven content.  Which came as a surprise to me because I don’t like the Star Wars mythos at all. I also liked the voice over work and how it tied to story. It spoke to the writer in me, haha. I also thought the writing within the game along with the story arcs were pretty good. But I still have Eve Online to play and Skyrim…and let’s face it as a writer I need to be writing more than playing computer games anyway, haha. But I do like computer games. I have always found them a nice way to relax. We writers are already an angst-ridden lot. We need relaxation now and then, and computer games are how I relax.

I think I will let my subscription to SWTOR end and then I will move on. It’s really not a big deal because like I said I do have other games to play and I need to write a lot more anyway. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. And I’m really going to miss my avatar Gaella. 😦

Poor Gaella...she was my favorite avatar!

Opening Day and Working on the Novel

Opening Day for baseball! Plus I am sitting in the chair and editing/writing on the new novel. Yay!

Also, my new computer (laptop) is due to arrive tomorrow so with any luck I will be able to post here more often. 🙂

 

SWTOR is fastest selling game in MMO history…and it’s only Week 4

Star Wars: The Old Republic has sold two million physical copies in four weeks, outselling all other MMOs and expansions. What amazes me is these are only physical copies. Which means people going down to Target or Best Buy or whatever and picking up the game. This is how I bought my game. It’s how I buy all my games. I’m old school. I always prefer physical copies.

This doesn’t take into account the number of digital copies that have been sold. That is to say, the number of copies downloaded over the Internet from clients like Steam or whatever. (I don’t know if SWTOR is on Steam, I’m  using an example.)

It’s an impressive number and I have to think it has grabbed the attention of the people at WOW. When you look at the number of SWTOR copies sold week by week, you see a big drop off. That’s normal for any MMO, however. The first week is always the big week and it tails off fast after that. I think one reason the numbers are so good for Week 1 is because the game was launched right at Christmas. You can’t discount that kind of market timing.

What remains to be seen is the retention rate. That’s a big if. How many people will resubscribe and continue playing the game? Any MMO that has 150,000 active subscribers can be considered a success these days. SWTOR has sold almost two million physical copies in one month. I think we can say the odds are pretty good it will retain more than 150,000 active subscribers from that pool.

Of course, one thing SWTOR has to keep in mind is that while 150K player base is good for your average MMO, SWTOR is not your average MMO. Bioware put a lot of money up front into the game. Therefore they need a high retention rate to make their money back. How much did the game cost to make? Figures have been bandied about. There was a rumor the game cost $300 million to produce. This number is totally unfounded and has been traced to a person who was fired from Bioware. More reasonable estimates put the figure closer to around $100 million. That’s still a lot of money… and a hell of a lot of groundless speculation. The only people who know the exact number are the suits at Bioware and they aren’t talking.

Another aspect of MMOs isn’t only the production money, but the continued bills of paying for servers, technicians, updates, everything else that goes into a mammoth enterprise like this one. To break even SWTOR has to have a pretty big retention rate of subscribers, I would think. One way you do that is by providing patches and extra content for the game. Again, I have seen speculation about this on other forums, but that speculation is groundless. They don’t know what the game cost to produce, they don’t know how many subscribers are currently active, they are just pulling numbers out of thin air. The only people who know those numbers are the employees at Bioware and they aren’t going to tell us that proprietary information any more than WOW will.

MMOs are a cutthroat business these days. You don’t open yourself up to attack from other companies by revealing either your strengths or your weaknesses. Bioware knows this, as does Blizzard.

Of course, all this is mere speculation. We don’t know how much the game cost to produce, we don’t know their operating costs, we don’t know how many subscribers SWTOR has…no one outside Bioware has that information. And anyone outside of Bioware who thinks they have hard numbers simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

But there is one number we do have. Selling two million physical units in one month is an impressive feat for any MMO. We will have to watch if the numbers continue to sell, what the final drop off rate of sales will be, and the retention percentage of subscribers. MMOs are all about numbers. The one number we kn0w is almost two million hard copies sold in only four weeks.

That is amazing.

SWTOR is the fastest selling MMO in history...two million physical copies in four weeks

SWTOR: Casual fun with glowbats in the classic mythos of Star Wars

I am enjoying Star Wars: The Old Republic quite a lot. I have been looking for an MMO since I quit Eve Online a while back, and bailed on World of Warcraft after the disastrous Cataclysm expansion. I think I have found my MMO at last.

I am a casual gamer. Period. I can’t and I don’t devote hours everyday to game play. I’m a writer and a publisher so gaming has a back seat. No problem. But finding an enjoyable game I can return to when I have a few free hours is a nice change. For the record, I do not like the mythos of Star Wars. In point of fact I absolutely despise it. I think Lucas is a hack and he proved it in his ridiculous and ill-fated attempt to channel Joseph Campbell’s hero mythology with his Star Wars arc.

From my perspective, because of how I feel about the original mythos, I cannot review this game without looking at the movies. As for them, the only one I can watch without puking is The Empire Strikes Back and that’s Lucas wasn't always a hack writer and director. He did make the excellent SF movie THX 1138.for a very good reason: it was written by Leigh Brackett, a real science fiction writer. Lucas views SF as background furniture for his story. He has no real love and appreciation for the history and canon of classic SF. It’s just a cartoon backdrop to him. Okay, I give him credit for the movie THX 1138.  But that was when he was young and hungry and his creativity was at an all time high. Star Wars? At the core it’s about a mass murderer (Darth Vader) who apologizes in the last reel and that makes everything all right and magically transforms him into a sympathetic character who finds final redemption and forgiveness.Think about that a moment. Try getting that story published in Analog or Asimov’s or any top flight SF magazine today. Hell, try getting that story published in the bad old days of SF pulp. Even worse, it’s a perverse parody (if not a downright misunderstanding) of what Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology was all about.

So there’s that. But, what about the game itself? It is Star Wars after all and our characters run around with glowbats and operate within the trappings of the classic mythos with the force and Sith and whatnot. Well, as a game it’s quite entertaining. Are there problems with the game? Yes, there are. I see video artifacts sometimes, and one or two of the quests I have come across are definitely bugged. But I have not experienced any game breaking bugs so far. I do very little PVP other than the battle zones so I can’t speak for those servers. I hear there are ability timing issues and global cooldown problems. I haven’t experienced them but that’s not to say they don’t exist.  But it does appear Bioware is involved and engaged and working to correct the biggest problems with the game. They released a big patch yesterday with more content and fixes to come. They’re not ignoring the game and problems inherent within the game like Age of Conan did.

WOW has been around a long time in terms of MMOs. It’s pretty polished. Therefore, since SWTOR is only about a month old I discount the angst and tears and pearl clutching from whiners and self-indulgent WOW fanbois on the Star Wars forum. One suspects they would be unhappy with everything less than instant gratification anyway. If you just go by the forums you might think the game was a broken, buggy mess. It’s not. There are problems. They are being addressed by Bioware.

Then again maybe I am a little more forgiving because I used to play Age of Conan and Star Trek: Online. And those games are still a buggy mess.

Speaking for myself I bought a six-month subscription to this game because of my style of casual play. I wasn’t the only one. This game has already sold over a million units. It’s had a very fast start. But a six-month sub will give me enough time to level my toon and maybe start one or two more. As a writer I do love the story-driven arc of the leveling process. I think it’s very well done and it would be hard for me to ever go back to WOW and read quest text. And this coming from me, someone who always said the WOW quest text was very well written.

Finally, as far as comparisons go,  SWTOR never promised to be a WOW-killer or anything of the kind. To be fair the only thing that can kill WOW is Blizzard. Just like the only thing that can kill SWTOR is Bioware. But SWTOR is engaging and fun without being too serious like Eve Online. It’s darn near perfect for the casual gamer. If you want hardcore SF gaming, play Eve Online. I still plan to return to Eve now that they’ve brought back ship spinning. But I may wait until I get my new computer, it will make the transition that much easier.

All I have left to say about SWTOR is if someone like me who has never liked the Star Wars mythos can find something enjoyable in this game, then maybe you, too, should give it a look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and have a lot of fun swinging your glowbat and busting heads.

I’m on Soresu server and the name of my Jedi Consular Sage is Gaella. Come find me and we’ll do a quest line together and kill some Sith.  🙂

Enjoyable game so far, good story line.

Edit: Sorry about many of the grammatical errors in this review. I am having problem with my vision today. As close friends of mine know, the Lasik surgery I had some years back did more harm than good, and there have been recurring problems from time to time. Thanks for your patience and understanding. –KMH

My SW:TOR Consular Sage: Gaella

I have had the opportunity over the past couple of days to squeeze in some play on Star Wars: The Old Republic. There’s a lot I have to say about this game, some good some bad. For the most part it is good. It is very story-Yvonne Craig...an unexpected inspiration for my SWTOR character Gaella...oriented, which is what you expect from Bioware. As a writer I kind of like that part. Go figure.

I am still a little uncertain about the replayability of the game. World of Warcraft has more of a sandbox theme (it’s not really a sandbox by Eve Online definition, but those elements are there) than the linearity of SW:TOR but there are many little things about the new Star Wars game that I am finding enjoyable.

I will post a more exhaustive review later once I get deeper into the game, but so far I can say I am finding it enjoyable. I have been looking for a new MMO and I may have found one. I am only ever a casual player anyway, and this game seems to fit that general need.

As I was blogging about earlier I rolled a Jedi Consular and chose the advanced class of Sage. She’s sort of like a warlock from WOW, a mid- to long-range DPS class I enjoy playing. As I was making her she sort of came out to have the old Yvonne Craig look from a Star Trek episode, haha. Anyway, she’s pretty cute. Her name is Gaella:

My Jedi Consular Sage character Gaella. So far the game is pretty fun and entertaining, and what else can you ask from a PC game?

New Story in EQMM, Theater 13 Radio and Health Update

My new Haxan story is out in the newly published February 2012 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This is breaking news since I got the contributor copies a week or so ago. I think the magazine itself is out on the stands, however. If you pick up the magazine I hope you like the story when you read it.

I don’t have a file for the February 2012 magazine cover yet to help you find it on the newsstands, but when I do I will post it here. Last time I checked they only have the January cover image available. Meanwhile, I hope to have some really good news about upcoming Kindle stories from Argo Navis Publishing within the week. Again, I’ll post that information when it comes available. So keep watching the blog because that update is right around the corner.

Other that that it  has been a busy four or five days past. I’ve been working at The Observatory and we were pretty busy with late minute shoppers. I have also been fighting the downside of a head cold. The cold isn’t all that bad. I mean, I’ve had worse. But I’m dragging a bit right now and my sleep ;patterns are all out of whack. Not that they’ve ever been very solid to begin with. In the midst of all that our modem went out along with the router. So we upgraded and now we’re plugged back into the Matrix. More importantly, Theater 13 Radio was off the air for about a day which irked me, but we’ve got it back up now.

I bought Star Wars: The Old Republic and started playing. My character is a Jedi Consular named Gaella. So far I like the game a lot even though I am only at level 5. It is very story driven, and while you can’t escape comparisons to World of Warcraft there is enough different here to interest me. I also bought Skyrim but haven’t had time to install it and try it out. Skyrim is a single player game but with deep sandbox elements which is what I tend to prefer in a PC game. Once I get my feet wet in both games I’ll post reviews here.

I am still reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing. This is the second book in the Border Trilogy. I like it a lot so far, much better than the first book All the Pretty Horses. Yes, I am planning reviews of them, too. I know, I’m way behind, you don’t have to tell me! I’m running in place as fast as I can.  😀

Finally, we are running classic Christmas programming on Theater 13 Radio. These Old Time Radio programs include such classics as Jack Benny, Suspense, Gunsmoke, Lux Theater, Dragnet and a whole lot more. They all have a Christmas or holiday theme and we will run them through New Year’s Eve. We really hope you enjoy these old classic programs for the holiday.

Check out our special holiday programming!

 

SWOTR: Imperial Agent Snipes Her Way to Success

Another class I was thinking of playing when SWOTR comes out is the Imperial Agent. This class kind of interests me because it doesn’t depend on the glowstick for combat. Like all the other classes Imperial Agent bifurcates into two progression channels, the Operative and the Sniper. I was thinking I might like to play the sniper because that class seems like it operates on the edges of the fight and might offer something other than your usual hammer-fest.

Of course, this is all just thinking out loud on my part. I don’t know if I will get the game and if I do when I will have time to play. But I do remember that post awhile back how it was so relaxing to get out from under the word processor and relax by playing a game. Eh, we will see. I am not beholden to anything other than writing at the moment.

We will see how it all shakes out.

SWTOR: Consular Sage Kicks Butt in Spiffy Science Fiction Baroque Style

As many of you know I am looking for a new game to play. I quit WOW a while back and stopped playing Eve Online when they took away ship spinning. *Mark has sad face* I’ve dabbled in a few other MMO’s like Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online, and while the last game is absolutely beautiful looking and I like Hobbits I haven’t been swept away by the game play.

That might all change when Star Wars: The Old Republic is released on December 20 of this year. You can play a bunch of different types of characters. I was thinking about playing the Imperial Agent (with a sniper specialty) until I saw this trailer. It’s of the Jedi Consular Sage and hoo boy does she kick tail while dressed like a Baroque queen. I mean, how can that not be fun, right, kicking the hell out of people while dressed in style?

The trailer starts off showing the basic Consular and then how you can pick one of two paths: the Shadow or the Sage. I haven’t completely given up on playing the Imperial Agent (essentially a spy) but boy oh boy would it be awesome to go around kicking butt while wearing this Lucretia Borgia gear. A lot of fans of the game are ragging on her robes and head gear, but I think it’s rich from a story line viewpoint and gives the class a very different look from the usual armor.

Anyway, here’s the trailer if you want to take a peek. The music is awesome, too. I am no Star Wars fan by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I pretty much despise the mythos. But I am looking for a fun game. I think I might give this one a try.

Huh. So this is what relaxation is like? I like it.

Last night I played a little bit of LOTRO. I haven’t played any computer games for months and months. I have had no time. I’ve spent so much of my energy lately into writing (and all the facets that go into that) I have had no time for anything else.

It’s hurt me, I think. I have been so focused on writing I have lost track of other things and been unable to relax. It took an hour and a half of online gaming last night to make me realize that. For 90 minutes I didn’t have to think about writing, or marketing, or publishing, or editing, or story content, or…well, you get the idea. I could just put it all behind me and relax.

It was kind of nice. Maybe I should make Sunday night a regular thing to play some online stuff if for no other reason than to get my mind off all this writing stuff that, let’s face it, is beginning to feel like an anchor around my neck.

Other writers know what I mean. We get to a point, it seems, where everything we do is related to writing. I can’t remember the last time I read something for pleasure. No matter what I read I am always approaching it as a writer and wondering why the person used this tone, or did this certain thing with the characters and whatnot. I read critically, but I very rarely read for pleasure anymore. I miss that. I miss that a lot.

So that’s why I enjoyed my little time playing my Hobbit character Wobblefoot on LOTRO last night. Just messing around, not doing anything specific, but being able to put all the writing concerns on the back burner and get away mentally and physically.

I guess the trick is if I will remember to do this in the future or will I get stuck back in a writing rut and let the anchor drag me down farther….?

%d bloggers like this: