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Last I wrote about LOTRO we had left Walstow in somewhat better state than we found it, and were being sent back to Snowbourn. Snowbourn remains much the same, a town under threat with less than ideal leadership. Fastred means well, but he has a tendency to charge out the door before putting his boots on. He comes across as really quite young – which is what he is so this is actually a very effective representation of his character.

Initially upon our return the spy plot that simmered under the surface when last we were here takes centre ground, amid a minor witch-hunt. Eventually however the real spy oversteps his mark, and is apprehended. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in that – but there is no time to celebrate because almost immediately we are sent flying back to Walstow which has again come under attack.

This is an instance – we do not actually have to gallop across the Sutcrofts (pity), but to be honest I think it is one of the weaker instances in Eastemnet. It feels like a distraction … which in fact is more or less what it is, because immediately after we help save Walstow we go immediately back to Snowburn which itself is now attacked. This leads through to the major instance ending the questline, and this one was a very great deal of fun. My one complaint, as I have felt at several steps in the Eastemnet instances, is that this should have been a skirmish. In particular this was tailor-made for Dol-Gulder style skirmish (in particular I am thinking Assault on the Ringwraith’s Lair). The final fight was – for me – quite challenging and resulted in me only having 200 health at one point. Ultimately though we prevailed, the general of the enemy was slain, and the forces of Sauron were pushed back … for the time being.

That essentially wrapped up the end of the ordinary questline in Sutcrofts, as far as I can tell. I did the last few quests in Snowbourn in a single evening’s play session – and not a massively long one either, so this was really just the conclusion of the story arc that has been running ever since we entered The Wold. However, I say conclusion but matters are left very unfinished. The battle was won, but Rohan is still over-run with invaders. Fastred has triumped, and by the end of the battle we are told he has grown more into his manhood, but he remains young and his people remain beset. We have not thrown the Orcs back across the Anduin, we have merely given them a blood nose. Many dangers lie to the east … and also behind us. Something is rotten in Rohan.

For my own part I am going to hold off moving onto Wildemore until I have completed rebuilding Hytbold. My work there has slowed of late, but I now only appear to have the Sutcrofts Quarter to complete, and I have done a fair bit of that, and hope to get more done soon.

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One year ago I started this blog. I was inspired by the New Blogger Initiative that was Syp’s creation, and I am moderately stunned I am successfully writing still a year later. Various folk have marked the one-year anniversary of the NBI. Wilhelm, AvatarsofSteel, Ravanel, all have good fact-filled posts, and I recommend them to you.

I was something of a later entry to the NBI – it took me almost two weeks to actually make my mind up to start. The reason for that is this was my third attempt at a blog, the first two falling by the wayside. The reason why this one has continued is no doubt that the NBI gave me one thing I previously lacked: focus. This is and remains primarily a blog about my computer gaming. An additional reason would be that, some weeks before starting this blog, I started playing World of Tanks, which has provided me with plenty to write about. It continues to do so today.

Of course, one rather significant event has happened in my life this past year – the birth of my daughter, Melian. This has had some practical consequences for my gaming – chief of which is that I have essentially stopped playing EVE Online. Given I am often operating in the circumstance that I might have to leave my computer at any moment single-player games that I can pause, or games like LOTRO or World of Tanks with little sense of loss, have come to the fore. Likewise World of Tanks does not require any great thought. One of the things that also attracted me to EVE Online was its intellectual depth, but I find now I do not have the energy, and also EVE Online is not a game really conducive to suddenly leaving the computer. A very good way to die.

Does this mean EVE is no longer part of my life? Hardly. While I am no longer actively playing EVE Online, in part at least due to Melian’s arrival, Melian’s mere existence means that EVE is never far away. After all, without EVE Online my wife and I would never have met, and so without EVE there would be no Melian. One day perhaps we will be able to introduce our daughter to this world, and try to explain to her how the creation of a few crazy Icelanders is so important in her life story.

Certainly at some point I wish to share with Melian my love of gaming, to play computer games with her and alongside her. There is a concept in Danish – hygge – which has no translation into English. Sometimes it is described as a sense of cosiness, but really that hardly does the idea justice. It can be spending an afternoon with your loved ones, having a good dinner, enjoying a summer family walk, seeing an old friend for the first time in years – all these and more are encompassed. It is a sense of both the ordinary, and how special the ordinary can be. I also believe the concept can extend beyond the physical, and I think it would be very hygge if Melian, my wife, and I were all playing the same game together one day.

Dreaming aside, I do have hopes for this blog for the coming year. Firstly I hope to continue writing. I hope to perhaps include some more book reviews, if only as a way of helping me think about what I read. I also hope at some point to continue writing the tale of my continuing recovery from suicidal depression, but they have proven very difficult to write indeed. Mostly though I hope to continue to have fun.

With that in mind, very many thanks to all those have contributed to this being a fun endeavour, especially all of you who have left comments and linked here. I would name names, but I don’t want to overlook anyone! At the end of the day this remains a very niche blog – I reckon I have half a dozen or so regular readers and perhaps 10-20 more occasional readers – but then a large readership was never an aim.

Here’s hoping to another year.

In the patch that occurred a few days ago Turbine did add a few new rewards to the anniversary festival, and extended it a few days. The only thing I really cared about however was getting the new horse – which I managed to do this evening. New horsie!

Essentially I imagine one of two scenarios. The first is that Turbine planned things this way, including no new rewards initially and then releasing them part-way through to generate extra interest in the latter part of the festival, and co-incidentally also showing how responsive they are to their customers’ concerns. The second scenario is that they suddenly realised they had some upset customers, and scrambled to put some new rewards together, and then extended the festival to allow folks the time to get the tokens.

A good rule for life is never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence, and I must say I rather suspect the second option is what happened here. The first option sounds just too contrived – a bit too much New Coke.

So I now have that which I want out of an Anniversary Festival, but my concerns that there might not be that many more anniversaries remain.

I must admit, I am finding it hard to get excited by the Sixth Anniversary Festival that is currently taking place in LOTRO. Petty as it may seem there is one aspect of the entire affair which sucks the life out of it for me – the lack of a new horse. Yes, yes, yes, I know this is a very shallow thing. There are two particular reasons why I like collecting the horses.

The first is that I have always enjoyed collecting the new horses at the various festivals. With the exception of the 4-year Grindaversary horse-collecting has always been something that gives me a focus to enjoy the festival without being too much effort. Not me for me grinding out most of the deeds. Plus I think Turbine generally does a good job on the horses, putting some care and effort into making them look good and thematic.

The second is that I have always enjoyed the “horse-races”. These are actually time-trials rather than actual races, but still they have tickled my fancy since I first paid attention to festivals. These have been even more fun playing alongside my wife, right from when I first introduced her to LOTRO shortly after the European servers went free to play. Of course until recently one was required to do the horse-races to get the festival horses, which also necessitated them when collecting the horses.

Without a new horse there is just less impetus to dive in and get things done. Indeed this time around we really found we only had one aim – the Eriador and Moria cartographer deeds achieved by collecting the various maps. We polished that off in just two short play sessions while Melian was taking a nap. Now I am really struggling to find something else festival related of interest to me at all.

On another note, I also find myself a little concerned at this lack of a horse. As far as I remember this is the only festival in over two years not to have an associated mount that could be earned by ways other than a random drop. Turbine’s license on the Lord of the Rings IP is only confirmed until 2014 (with an option until 2017, but to the best of my knowledge we have no idea of what conditions might apply to that). It might be that Turbine is starting to develop fewer resources to LOTRO in the expectation that the game is going to be up. Just by itself it does not mean much, but given things like the delay of the Rohan instance cluster it starts to add up to a picture of things not quite being right. Watch this space, as it were.

It has been quite some time since I have progressed much further along the solo questline in Rohan. I left off having been directed to Walstow, the final town of Sutcrofts, and of Eastemnet. Then I started to do Hytbold quests, and generally I have found after doing those (and often also killing a few warbands) I have not had time and/or inclination to continue with the Walstow quests. I did a few a couple of weeks ago, and tonight I finally managed to get my head down and get them completed.

Walstow is surrounded, and poorly defended. There are two large orc camps nearby (three if one counts the one in the pass to the East Wall). The situation looks pretty dire, and addressing this situation is what the first set of quests is all about. To begin with there are a couple of quests just in and about Walstow itself – strengthening the defences and gathering supplies. Next it is time to start to take the fight to the enemy, which involves a raid on the two orc-camps. Some of the quests one picks up in Walstow itself, and some whilst “on the job” – and in short order I ran smack into a minor failure of game design which I will get to in a moment. Also there is a business with tracking down a missing Rohirrim, which is interesting as the poor man clearly has had an encounter with a Nazgul or something similar in the recent past. Even so this portion is mostly about killing orcs, and that is something our characters are very accomplished at doing. The pressure on Walstow is relieved, at least for the time being.

That being the case, we are now asked to do a few more tasks. One of these brings out, I think, another minor failure of game design. The rest though follows the theme of the town trying to establish a little more permanency to their situation. Nothing over the top however – it feels much like a small sortie to establish intent. The folks at Walstow are in a bad way, but they are not defeatist. These tasks complete we take our leave of the town to return to Snowbourn to see what Fastred might want us to do next.

It is interesting to compare Walstow with Ethengels, as there are similarities to the two of them. Both towns are led by women Thanes in mourning for the slain. Both seek to persevere against the enemies that beset them, and both are filled with hardy folk. In Ethengels however there was a greater sense of threat as the role of the Reeve of Norcrofts is considerably in doubt. With Walstow and Fastred there is no real doubt which side Fastred is on – his hatred of orcs burns so brightly. Ultimately I think it is probably because the internal story of Walstow is just not as compelling. I must admit I left feeling rather dis-satisfied. Part of that might be to do, of course, with the two game design faults I mentioned earlier.

I should stress these are not bugs. The first is very minor – there is a quest to retrieve a valuable item from just outside Hytbold. When you get there a message pops up saying something like “You retrieve the trinket from near the ruins of a once-prosperous town”. The problem is, by now Hytbold is well on the way to being rebuilt. While not entirely restored as yet, no longer does it lie in ruins. It shows one is “meant” to get to Walstow before the Hytbold quests – but given one can start Hytbold at Level 84 and, so long one is not rushing content, this will likely occur long before Walstow. For me it happened before I even arrived in Sutcrofts.

The second is more annoying. In the raid on the orc camps you can complete all the quests in the northern camp. However, there is one quest one needs that fires when you are in the southern camp, but there is nothing really to point you to it. I had to look it up online. My wife, when she went through the questline, had to do the same. Landscape quests are brilliant ideas, but if you need to kill particular people I think they need to be carefully used. Here I think it was ill-used.

So I leave Walstow feeling something of the wearied adventurer. Fastred will no doubt want more blood – that is his thing. I can only hope Snowbourn has some other charms.

As I write this, assuming I am not totally incompetent at mental arithmetic, LOTRO has been down for forty-seven hours with no end in sight. From what I understand this downtime – to the business end (billing and the like) for Turbine’s systems has also affected both Dungeons and Dragons Online and Asheron’s Call, along with LOTRO. It was originally scheduled to be for twenty-four hours, but that at some point on Friday morning either something went wrong, or they just around to admitting something went wrong, as then the length of the downtime was extended. Not that much later however we started to be told there was no ETA for when the servers might be back up.

Whichever way one looks at this, it does not look good for Turbine. To begin with I have to ask why schedule a major downtime towards the end of the week? It just makes more sense to do so for Tuesday. That way on Monday one can do the last minute checks and planning, take the servers down early Tuesday morning, and then if something goes wrong have the entire week to get them back up before the weekend. Turbine are now looking at a potential lost weekend of revenue because of this.

To be fair to Turbine they have come out with a compensation package which consists some Turbine points (250, or half the monthly stipend I get anyway as a lifetime subscriber) and compensation days for subscribers. This is all to the good. I think generally folks understand things do sometimes go wrong, that companies can make mistakes, and it is the behavior of the company following the incident that determines its fate. A very good example of this is the Monocle-gate fiasco in EVE, where Hilmar’s apology was the critical first step in restoring relations between the players and CCP.

I do think Turbine could learn from CCP here. For all its faults and flaws, one thing I generally have in my time playing EVE is that CCP does the “communication thing” better than other companies. One example of this would be this long, detailed devblog from 2010 detailing an exploit, how it entered the system, how it worked, and what action was eventually taken to resolve. So a devblog after the fact would be a very good thing.

The thing is, just right now I also think Turbine need to sharpen up their act and say what the problem actually is. I realise they cannot give an ETA – since the polite answer to the question of how long it will take to fix something pretty much amounts to “how long is a piece of string?” (unless one wishes to lie and hope the lie turns out to be true). However, the lack of information on what has happened makes me think this is potentially critically serious. I do not actually think the following actually happened, but I do recall reading on Massively last November about a small MMO that had to shut down following a server issue because the game could not be restored. What this means there are precedents, and the longer Turbine goes on without saying what the nature of the difficulty is the more likely it is that conspiracy theories will start to emerge, even in community as generally relaxed as the LOTRO community.

I mean that last point seriously, if this were EVE right now and CCP had been this reluctant to divulge information it would be a community disaster of the first order, they would be excoriated in blogs and forums and the CSM would be demanding an emergency meeting. Turbine are fortunate their playerbase is more forgiving, but at some point even the LOTRO community’s patient will run thin, and they need to have a plan for when that happens.

Update(1905 GMT): apparently the game servers are now up and running, but the store and account information remains down. I will be interested to see if they are forthcoming as to what actually happened.

The story of Hytbold is simple enough – it is a town ravaged by the war in Rohan which Eomer asks us to help rebuild. Rebuilding a town takes a lot of work – and LOTRO certainly manages to make it feel like it! Gameplay wise this is meant to be the solo-endgame content of the Riders of Rohan expansion – a nice time-consuming project which gives one a real sense of achievement.

Game mechanics-wise each day you can do give quests which fall under the heading of “Aiding the Eastemnet”. In each of Harwick, Cliving, Eaworth, and Snowbourn there are three quest-givers which give out four quests between them. They each have a selection of different quests which they cycle through. Each quests give reputation of the faction to that area of Rohan, and also 5 tokens of Hytbold. Back in Hytbold itself there are a number of people who have quests to rebuild this or that area of the town, and each of those quests costs a number of Hytbold tokens. Some quests are reputation locked to being Ally or Kindred with the four factions of the Eastemnent.

Given one is limited to 5 quests a day, or to 25 tokens a day, that means a lot of grinding. Actually though it is not quite that bad, so long as one does not regard the quests as an obligation. I have been dawdling along with the quests. Hytbold is far from rebuilt, but two or three times a week I usually go through them. It provides a very nice bite-sized chunk of playtime with a definite goal.

Nevertheless when one is playing a bit more casually, as I am, there is no doubt this is going to take some time. It makes me feel that, after the next expansion, Hytbold is something that is likely to be missed for most characters and will become another piece of endgame littering the landscape after a rise in levelcap.