LOTRO: Weatherstock V – 2013

Weatherstock... Tolkien's world is just awesome...

Made it to my second Weatherstock! Was it better than the first?

lotro-band

You bet.

I’m pleased to report that Turbine moved swiftly to address the whole ridiculous forced emote saga by implementing an opt-out in the Options setting. This was well-advertised in regional for us noobs who only show up once a year and are completely bamboozled staring at our unfamiliar UI and going through our inventory bags wondering wtf are these things… and being ever so tempted to give the game one more shot. (I really need 48 hours in a day to do that though.)

I just as rapidly turned that setting off, and while occasional sneak peeks into the Combat tab revealed several people doing their best to force emotes from others, being immune to it was lovely. More importantly, because the musicians were immune as well, the music was uninterrupted and any attempted griefing didn’t make a mark at all.

Oh, there were attempts at emote spam and what-not, but there are the standard MMO tools for that. A new chat tab, select only Regional chat and/or say, voila, no spammy emotes visible. Or /ignore player. Hide one’s entire interface and all becomes immersive. Stuff like that.

Something extra special this year was Turbine’s delightful gift to Weatherstock attendees. Sending a tell to (presumably an organizer to) register your name and one would get a title, Weatherstock Wayfarer, to be awarded later in the week or some such. Some might say this is especially cunning PR as it may tempt one to check back into the game later, hmm?

Band players and organizers were also to get special titles, like Weatherstock Band and Weatherstock Steward (if my memory doesn’t fail me,) which is a really awesome show of support for such a special player-run event.

I am aware that this produces some whining from certain parts of the playerbase (like raiders or PvMPers) who feel ignored by Turbine while the “crummy roleplayers” seem to get all the special attention, but really, let’s look at it objectively. If you raid, quest, PvMP, etc. you are playing dev-created content. You are a consumer of content.

Players singing and dancing along to a lively tune

Players singing and dancing along to a lively tune

Roleplayers CREATE CONTENT for other players to consume. They also create community. A very stable social community. There’s a reason why roleplaying servers in many MMOs boast some of the better crowds which even non-roleplayers seek out.

It’s lovely to see one MMO where roleplayers aren’t an ignored subset, left to *ahem*, stereotypically, ERP, to their own devices. For an MMO as strongly based on lore and immersive and being true to Tolkien, it’s good to have some nods to this, even as all the commercial stuff like the F2P store has to come in for survival and to compete with other MMOs.

Speaking of the store, there was also a free coupon to claim a dance emote being advertised. Which I thought was also pretty cunning. Somewhere amidst the six hours, just to kill time while waiting in between sets, I personally opened up the store to take a peek at it (and note I still had some 2400 Turbine points left over before I lost interest in the endless laundry list of quests that were basically shuffling to and fro across long distances.)

From the player help being offered across the chat channels, even a total nub like me worked out how to operate the store, select a dance emote, enter the shopping cart, enter the coupon code, note the 95 Turbine Point cost being brought down to zero (yay, free!) and reap the rewards on a level 9 character.

Not that I knew how to operate it afterwards, or was the least bit interested in dancing (else there’s always Google or ask for help,) but yeah. Presumably for players a little more invested in the game than me, after sampling, this might tempt them to go buy the character-based emote or other dances for their main characters back on other servers or whatever – 95TP didn’t seem like a lot, even to me.

To get back to the actual Weatherstock…

lotro-elves

All the participating bands gave us some glorious music for some 6-7 hours. A digital concert. For free. In an MMO.

Seriously, the mind keeps boggling every time one thinks about it, and it really behooves everyone vaguely interested in MMOs to check it out at least once. Just to see what LOTRO’s music system is capable of.

I keep hoping for someone to have posted short videos cut from the lengthy concert on Youtube so that I can link to them, but so far, no one’s gotten around to it yet and I’m bursting to share already.

So I’ll direct you all to either the raw footage from MMOreporter or the entire Livesteam on Twitch.tv by Pineleafneedles if you want to catch all 7 hours.

Both have, to me, annoyingly loud commentators talking over the sound of the music or people wanting to be famous blocking the camera at times – which is a good avertisement for going to Weatherstock on your own to pre-set all your audio to your own preferences and direct your own camera, but failing which, it’s the next best thing, I guess.

(Have I mentioned how much more flexible the LOTRO camera is, compared to GW2? All screenshots in this post were taken from my sitting position. Didn’t have to move a muscle.)

lotro-vista

I know you’ll look at the length of all the videos and balk (or at least, I know I would. I can’t deal with videos very well, that’s why I blog) so lemme provide you with some of my personal favorite highlights to fast forward to:

From Weatherstock 2013 RAW Livestream Part 1 at 38:30, Run Like Hell (original by Pink Floyd) from one of the Lonely Mountain Band house bands Old Winyards.

Same video, same band, at 44:23, LOTRO-themed lyrics of U2′s All Because of You. Yes, I admit to a special fondness for cleverly converted lyrics.

The Songburrow Strollers, at 1:23:58, one of the competing bands gave a HILARIOUS rendition of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (original from Rolling Stones) re-entitled “Catfish Action” and very very hobbit-themed. This is a MUST WATCH!

Their final song is about plundering a biscuit jar and is also a good one to watch.

RKO (the Runic Knight Orchestra) did a beautiful rendition of Jim MacLeod’s Come by the Hills and a sneaky sneaky goblin-themed version of Jonathan Coulton’s Still Alive.

The Chosen Few did a very cheerful bouncey song about Grandma’s Feather Bed at 1:06:15 from the Weatherstock 2013 RAW Livestream Part 2. They also played a version of Still Alive following that and it’s interesting to compare how different it sounds from RKO’s due to the variation of instruments and arrangement.

Their final song was a knockout hit and another MUST WATCH. Living Next Door to Gandalf, it’s called. You’ll never think about Gandalf in the same way again.

A Rock and a Hard Place, a first time band at Weatherstock if I am not mistaken, did a nice version of Sympathy for the Devil from the Rolling Stones, re-titled Sympathy for the Dark Lord. Go Sauron!

The Breakfast Club did one of my favorites, Annie Lennox’s Whiter Shade of Pale, converted to an LOTRO-themed “Lighter Shade of Ale” followed by another great song, Petula Clark’s Downtown, now aptly entitled Breetown.

Flock of Smeagols, the band formerly known as Don’t Tempt Me Frodo, who would absolutely win best-named and best-dressed band prizes if given, played at 47:35… well, you’ll have to click the link to find out. God, I love this band. :)

lotro-youbet

One last favorite was Die Meisterbarden von Bree’s song – Jump by Van Halen – that they chose to play at the Battle of the Bands – where all the bands spread out to play their tunes and attract voters in the ultimate busking competition. Epic server lag hit as all the Weatherstock attendees started running about, so I doubt anyone has a good video of this.

(You can catch it instead at this pre-concert series from Pineleafneedle’s stream if you forward to 2:44:44 or thereabouts.)

There are a lot of other good songs that I haven’t covered. Picking and choosing from such fantastic bands is extremely difficult so do find your favorites and explore their other tunes. Mysteri from the LOTRO Players has a great summary in text of the whole band lineup and their tunes. So using that as a guide, one can more or less scroll back and forth in the raw footage for now. I’m sure some enterprising person will cut it later or at least provide timestamps for them all.

Well, we tried to bring it to 11... But Weatherstock was already too awesome.

Well, we tried to bring it to 11… But Weatherstock was already too awesome to crank up further. One of my last screenshots before the show-stopping lag hit.

I have to say, for such an epic event, things actually worked pretty great lag-wise. There was some stuttering with the march up to Weatherstock (which I managed to catch and thus get my squishy self up without having to worry about finding the correct rations for a summon.) There was a couple seconds of freezing on entering Weathertop as my ancient computer screamed in horror at trying to suddenly render the 100-200 players already up there. We were well-advised over Regional to set our graphics setting to Low (which I did) and to look at the ground or sky if necessary (which wasn’t, for me.)

On getting into the crowd, I had a bout of 5-10 minutes of constant logging in and crashing after a couple seconds to a minute or so. Which freaked me out until I put two and two together and realized that my very first crash had reset my graphics settings to the standard Custom high to very high I normally use to enjoy LOTRO’s scenery. So, of course, I would be logging in and then crashing out the next instant as the toaster known as my computer tried to render 500+ players’ varied costumes.

Cleverly, Turbine has an options to adjust graphics settings in the character selection screen before logging in. So it was a breeze to fix that back down to low and then log in and survive and stay connected. (Adjusting up to medium to attempt screenshots knocked me right out again after a minute, so yeah, low is best. And that’s why nearly all my screenshots are crappy.)

There were one or two missing musicians and a restart due to lag, but nothing really major until the finale. Which was completely understandable with the tons of people trying to move. And also very fast thinking on the organizers’ part to set up a straw poll using a third-party website when everyone completely froze and it seemed impossible to get a fair and proper headcount. Seriously, not every guild is up to organizing something on such a scale as this. LOTRO is lucky to have the Lonely Mountain Band.

A big kudos goes to Turbine for supporting this concert as well. I’m sure there were tons of behind-the-scenes people doing their best to diminish the lag speedily (resolved itself fast enough for everyone to re-gather and hear the winners play, and didn’t crash the entire server either, which is awesome) and a GM or two on standby to address untoward griefing.

A big thank you to all the bands and all the organizers for creating such a lovely event that can even attract not current players of that MMO to log back into a game.

lotro-aerialview

I heard the final report for the max number of players present at Weatherstock V was something like 642 players. Phenomenal. Broke all the previous year’s records as usual.

Here’s to next year’s Weatherstock. Bigger and even better!

(I can hear Turbine’s server room guys weeping already.)

PSA: Weatherstock 2013 – Update LOTRO Today!

It may be deserted now, but just you wait! (5 year old screenshot FTW.)

Friendly reminder to all those interested in the greatest player-run music festival / concert to ever evolve in an MMO.

And it’s on a Free 2 Play game, so it won’t cost a cent to just log in and listen.

weatherstock_5th_annual_01_darkblue_600-Copy-512x600

Weatherstock will be happening in some five day’s time. They even have a Twitter account going.

It’s at an insomniac timing for my part of the world, but I think it’s doable. It’s a Saturday weekend so I just need to nap between GW2 WvW reset and wake up in time. Wish me and my alarm clock luck!

From last year’s experience, expect the event to stretch a little, just in case. Don’t go scheduling a raid at 5pm EST if you want to attend the whole thing.

Venue is, of course, Weathertop or the ruins of the Tower of Amon Sul, on the Landroval server.

You want to hit the human town of Bree by whatever means you have, and then jog or ride down the southeast road until you zone into the Lone Lands. Very nice people will be waiting by the inn there to escort your squishy self up if you are insufficiently leveled.

This time I’m going to be prepared and updating LOTRO beforehand.

So who can beat me in the number of iterations to sit through?

So who can beat me in the number of iterations to sit through?

I’m actually impressed, the launcher hasn’t crashed or stalled. Stay away this length of time from an NCSoft game like Aion and rest assured you will never be able to log in again without deleting it all wholesale. (Makes me tempted to also update Turbine’s DDO and peek in too, but argh, I have no more time for multiple MMOs…)

I may or may not be able to diagnose and solve last year’s black screen screenshot issue in the time remaining. Let’s hope all these updates just magically fix the problem.

Thank you to Beorbrand for the tip-off in my comments!

The Real Problem with the New Tomb Raider’s Trailer

Uhhh, aaahhh, oooh, *gasp*, uhhhh. Ooh, er.

There’s all manner of indignation ricocheting from about the internet about the new Tomb Raider reboot.

Depending on who you ask, this turns the strong and self-sufficient millionaire adventurer Lara Croft into a victimized young girl whom male gamers are supposed to feel ‘protective’ over, layered with audio and visual overtones of hypersexualized torture porn (tied up, impaled, almost raped…)

…while other folks are decrying the unoriginal trope of rape being the automatic heinous thing you do in female characters’ backstories to *ahem* ‘make them stronger’ for having survived it. (I’d have snuck in a TV Tropes link, but apparently they have collided with the rape content police recently.)

One person quotes another. A paraphrase here and there. Something else taken out of context. And lo and behold, the feminists are up in arms… again.

It’s kinda ironic considering that

a) The new Lara Croft is considerably less sexualized visually in her character design. She looks to have human proportions. For once. She’s not just “oh, boobies!”

b) The intent is to give Lara Croft an origin story. Show her progress from someone ordinary to the extraordinary larger-than-life game superhero we’re familiar with.

c) The real point of the attempted rape scene is to depict a decision point, a crisis moment in Lara’s life, where she actually takes a human being’s life for the first time.

To depict what might conceivably force an ordinary human being to kill another, while still yielding some measure of sympathy for the killer, because she’s the protagonist after all.

Considering how murder is frowned upon in general society, self-defence vs assaulting rapist seems an easily understandable way out. Admittedly, it’s a bit lazy storytelling, but could you do any better?

Give me an “original” scenario where one character is forced to take another person’s life – not in a soldier/sanctioned by war sense, thanks.

(The best one I can come up with so far is that she has to kill someone in order to protect another person. It’s not that big a crisis point considering gamers are used to being the hero and killing rampantly, ostensibly for the sake of protecting another.

David Cage managed it in Heavy Rain where Ethan Mars had to strongly consider the possibility of murder in order to get a clue to save his son (and there were self-defence and various kinds of excuses there too. I’m sure some -still- criticize it for being contrived.))

It all sort of reminds me of the time I spent on a school project ripping apart an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess for being sexist and demeaning to women in its costuming and tasteless ‘damsels-in-distress’ plotting. Our team was on a roll, showing how the camera angles always fall to the level of the female’s busts (ahem, chest) but rise to the male’s heads, making fun of Xena’s characteristic ‘ki-yi-yi-yi’ screaming, deriding the stereotypical fantasy tropes, etc. and our teacher smiled and nodded…

…Some time after which, I discovered that an entire Xena online subculture had actually appropriated the broad tropes and practically idolize the Xena and Gabrielle pair for being depicted as strong women independent of any man, analyze episodes for clever double entrendre ‘lesbian’ subtext, and create reams of the strongest not-completely-teenage-angsty-fantasy fanfiction to grace the interwebs.

Foot, meet mouth. Suddenly, my arguments seemed hopelessly childish and surface-oriented only. I couldn’t see past the bare midriffs to the strong character personalities portrayed beneath.

How can the same thing be two completely opposite things all at once?

From our frames of reference. Perspective. Good to change it now and then to see if there’s any truth to the other guy’s POV. There usually are a few grains.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ve no doubt had a taste of my philosophy, which runs towards a sort of secular Zen/Taoist ‘balance’ spectrum of greys and I’m fond of espousing the Babylon 5 Kosh saying, “Understanding is a three-edged sword.”

There’s -always- multiple sides to every issue. And I find it fun to dig them up and lay them on the table, rather than see people go back and forth at each other hugging their precious one side to their chests and not listening to each other.

In Tomb Raider’s case, I think I’ve figured it out. The real problem, if you check the E3 gameplay trailer for yourself, is in the voice acting.

Not the plot, not the trigger word of rape, not the unoriginality (so many video games are derivative anyway, didn’t we just play fantasy Vikings with Dragons just a while ago?), not whatever horrible attack on feminism is supposed to have occurred.

If all the audio is off, the action generally looks quite good. Some of the face animation is a little stiff, but well, not everyone has mo-cap faces as a budget priority. Insert your own grunts and sound effects where appropriate according to your imagination.

Turn the audio on, and oh my god, it’s like Lord of the Rings Online female bandits all over again. You know, the ones you keep fighting in Archet and Combe while trying to keep the audio as low as possible in order to avoid awkward questions from any other person in the house about why you’re watching hardcore porn. *gasp* *heeve* *grunt* *uhhhhhh* *aaaaahhh*

Try it when your main character is also female. Oh dear. Anyone like orgies?

(I hear they’ve reworked those voices now. Phew.)

/Someone/ decided to give Lara Croft a voice that is a hair too feminine for the face and body, if you ask my opinion.

And then made it much much worse by making her act like a stereotypical girl, screaming and squealing at every turn of events. I’m not saying she has to be a stoic silent male stereotype either, but does she have to be that most annoying example of femaledom – the one that screeches at everything?

This is supposed to make me, the player, feel ‘protective’ of her?

Apparently I’m not the target audience the designer is envisioning. I’d probably just want to drown her somewhere to shut her up. (That was a figure-of-speech, please don’t kill me, any feminists in the audience!)

Do you hear Skyrim’s Lydia squealing like a girl every time some rocks fall? (Especially since she normally sets off the traps in the first place…)

Zoey is just an ordinary young woman in Left 4 Dead, and sure, she’s going to scream sometimes when confronted by zombies, but it’s not every damn time nor does it sound so… exploitative.

Clumsy characterization is the issue in the trailer. I dunno if it’ll be any better in the longer format game, but her voice is off, and doesn’t gel with the animations. If you want her screaming because she’s wounded, then her avatar has to look like she’s wounded and stagger properly, and the voice has to come with appropriate timing – not just play on as a softcore porn soundtrack with random exhalations just because.

It’s an audio uncanny valley. It doesn’t convey the intent of the storytelling and just makes it comical at best, and disrespectful to the character if you view Lara Croft as serious business.

A little bit of silence would go a long way.